…by Mary Pearsall Remember the good old days when taking off 5 or 10 pounds merely meant eating less and exercising more? I had the formula down pat – if I wanted to get into my “skinny” jeans, I just stopped the double order of onion rings and rode my bike a few extra miles. Whoosh! Off it came.

Now that I am in those marvelous menopausal years it just doesn\’t work that way any more. I hear the same lament from my clients and I am sure you have experienced the same if you are a boomer woman. I feel your pain. So, what is the problem here and what do we do about it?

1. Hormones, hormones, hormones. Aren\’t you tired of hearing about these pesky little critters – and – experiencing the havoc created when they are out of balance? Hot flashes, night sweats, migraines, and of course weight gain, are but a few of the problems associated with an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone. The ovaries produce estrogen, and as the production starts to fall, our bodies start to look for it elsewhere. Fat stores are one of the places the body accesses estrogen. So if your body is struggling to maintain hormonal balance, body fat becomes very valuable, and the body holds on to it for dear life.

Solution: First off, get yourself to a health care professional to get your hormones levels checked. There are a myriad of replacement therapies, and every woman is different, so there is not a one size fits all remedy. Keep in mind that very often, since we continue to produce estrogen, low progesterone is the culprit. Natural progesterone creams are widely available and easy to administer. But do get a level or you may do yourself more harm than good.

2. Stress. Adrenaline and cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormones, are released in our bodies in response to a physical or psychological threat. When the threat passes our bodies are meant to return to relaxation and go on with life. This worked well for our ancestors with the occasional bear attack. But stress today tends to be continuous and chronic, so these hormones stay in our system. Our bodies interpret prolonged stress as a famine, and store every spare calorie as fat.

Solution: Stress of some kind is a given in most of our lives. It is important to identify where your stressors are and do your best to reduce or eliminate the cause. If that is a problem, then learning some stress coping techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, time outs (for yourself or you kids!), mini-vacations – anything that will give you peace and/or comfort. Girlfriends are especially helpful in this area. Use them!

3. Diet. Combine a high stress life style with a low fat/ high carb diet and weight gain is inevitable. Irritability and anxiety cause you to crave and eat sweets, starchy foods (some would say comfort foods) and caffeine, which results is a temporary elevation in energy and mood. However, this is short lived, your blood sugar plummets because of the insulin surge and you crash! And on and on you go. Yo-yo diets also contribute to the stress put on the body and really wrecks your metabolism. Again, the body goes into starvation mode and hordes most of the calories you consume.

Solution: Now I do not believe that carbohydrates are evil, but there are ones that you should eliminate or significantly reduce if you want to get off the weight gain merry –go-round. Carbs are measured by glycemic index with white bread topping the charts at 100. The higher the glycemic number the faster the sugar goes into your bloodstream and the faster you crash. So, cutting out white rice and foods made with white flour such as muffins, pretzels, bread sticks, bagels and pasta will go a long way toward improving your diet. Fruits and vegetables are your friend, the wider variety the better. And protein helps to keep you satisfied longer so you do not get those nasty cravings.

4. Lowered metabolism. As we age, we lose muscle tissue – about ½ pound a year after the age of 28-30. Muscle is where fat is metabolized, so the less muscle you have the slower your metabolism.

Solution: Yes, we do lose muscle as we age, but the good news is – no matter how old you are – you can regain that muscle and increase your metabolism. Weight training is an essential component to your exercise program, so start to add that into your regimen. If you are totally clueless about how to do this, consult a fitness professional. If you are already engaged in an exercise program and have hit a plateau – it is time to step it up. Going longer and harder one or two days a week will help to jump start your metabolism. Also, try a different exercise routine that recruits different muscles so you will surprise them. When our bodies get used to a certain type of exercise and intensity, they will maintain, but will not make any progress, whether weight loss or increased fitness is your goal.

5. Insulin resistance. The low fat/high carb/processed food diet mentioned above causes your body cells to be resistant to insulin. Insulin delivers glucose to cells and cells have receptor sites to let in the insulin. If receptor sites are less, the glucose “hangs around” waiting to get in and is ultimately stored as fat.

Solution: Insulin resistance does not affect everyone – actually about 25% of the population is prone to this condition. If you know you are one of them again, cut down on those high glycemic carbs, eat a protein and a carb together to level off blood sugar, and eat smaller more frequent meals.

All of these elements could be an article or even a book in themselves. Indeed, volumes have been written. You now have at least an idea of how to overcome the weight gain nemesis that can wreck havoc with our physical and psychological well being during the peri-menopausal years and onward. One last suggestion that is enormously helpful – get support! However that looks for you – girlfriends, church group, mothers, aunts, neighbors. We can all do it – with a little help from our friends.

Mary Pearsall is an ACE (American Council on Exercise) Certified Personal Trainer, Lifestyle Fitness Coach, Licensed Practical Nurse and Master Phone Fitness coach. Her mission is to assist her clients to achieve their health and fitness goals and to make exercise a part of their lives forever. Visit her website at www.mypersonalbest.net. Email: mary@mypersonalbest.net Phone: 719-596-1771