My 50-year-old friend has intractable weight gain, particularly round her tummy. I’m 45 and have good and bad tummy days, which can vary from flat to fat in a day. Exercise isn’t shifting it at the moment. Is it the same cause?
‘These are different but both common problems,’ says women’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Fat Around the Middle* (marilynglenville.com). ‘Leading up to menopause, extra pounds often settle around the middle because your body tries to compensate for declining oestrogen. Some oestrogen is manufactured in the fat cells there, which offsets some of the loss from the ovaries.’
Your waist should measure less than 80 per cent of your hip measurement. If your hips are 40in, say, your waist should be under 32. A higher ratio increases your risk of breast and other cancers, strokes, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
The key to weight loss is a low-carb diet, plus exercise. The standard thinking is to reduce fat intake with skimmed milk and low/no-fat foods. But research shows people on low-carb diets lose much more weight, and have better lipid profiles (cholesterol and triglycerides) than those on low-fat diets.
Cut out refined carbs, particularly white bread/pasta/rice, cakes and biscuits. Instead eat lots of vegetables with small amounts of brown rice and oats (wheat can make bloating worse).
Exercise is vital. Your metabolism (the speed at which your body functions) declines with age, mainly due to muscle loss. From 40 to 50, women can lose 5lb of muscle. The more muscle you have, the more fat you burn because muscle is metabolically active even when you are still.
Do regular cardio exercise such as brisk walking, dancing or tennis, plus resistance exercise such as weight training, press-ups, gardening and vigorous household chores.
‘Flat to fat’ tummies are probably due to intermittent bloating; excess fat is more consistent. Check with your doctor for any underlying problem (eg, gluten/lactose intolerance). Other causes are wind, overeating or eating too quickly, constipation, food intolerance, candida (yeast) overgrowth and water retention.
The first stage of digestion happens in your mouth, so chew well and eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register you are full, so eating too much too fast can cause bloating and weight gain.
Keep a food diary and note trigger foods. These are often beans, chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans, broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, onion and leeks, sugary foods and fizzy drinks. Limit fruit to three portions daily away from main meals, and avoid fruit juice.
Check for candida (thrush). This yeast overgrowth feeds on sugar, causing bloating, discomfort and fatigue. Your doctor may help, or you can take a home saliva test for candida (£140.40, from naturalhealthpractice.com). Candida can be controlled by dietary changes, principally cutting out all sugar until it has gone, and natural remedies. (Natural Solutions to IBS* by Marilyn Glenville, which will be published in February by Macmillan, covers this.)
Consider supplements. Digestive enzymes are key to breaking down food and absorbing nutrients, but they decline as we age. Try Extrazyme 13 (£21.95 for 90, one capsule just before or with a main meal) or Advanced Probiotic Support by NHP (£29.98 for 60 capsules, both from Victoria Health, tel: 0800 3898 195, victoriahealth.com). Yoghurt drinks with live cultures (eg, Actimel) may help.
DON’T BE SAD
If you have the winter blues, which affect about 17 percent of us, or more severe seasonal affective disorder (Sad), affecting up to seven percent, consider using alight box daily. Then eat new LED LitePod is Kindle-sized so easily transportable and powerful. From £120 from sad.uk.com. You can also rent a lightbox from healthyhouse.co.uk. NB Do check cautions, such as eye conditions including glaucoma.
KEEP YOUR COMPLEXION OUT OF THE RED
Rosacea is notoriously difficult to treat, but a reader with this distressing skin condition recommends Medik8 Red Alert Serum (£28 for 15ml), ‘which is so good I use it morning and night’. The product was specifically designed to treat areas of redness on the face. This reader also has facials every six weeks with a facialist experienced in rosacea and recommends the Skinceuticals Serum 10 AOX+, formulated for sensitive skin (£67 for 30ml, skinceuticals.co.uk). She reports that her redness and spots are greatly improved. ‘Before, I wouldn’t go out of the door without foundation or tinted moisturiser.’ Medik8 products are available from trained retailers only.