Got frustrating belly weight that you can’t lose? In this episode of Flipping 50 TV, I address why exercise alone isn’t enough. It IS a big part of the puzzle, but this is an integrated process! Your daily habits and thoughts all matter.
Today’s question comes from 58-year old Mary whose biggest struggle is belly fat. She writes, “I hate it and can’t get rid of it. I am on bio-identical hormones and just can’t get rid of the tire. [I] Don’t want to go through surgery. Please don’t tell me to start running. Can’t do it.”
Relax! I’m not going to tell Mary, or you, to start running. Given Mary’s dislike, that would contribute even more to the cortisol level that’s putting belly fat on in the first place. Let’s take a look at what’s going wrong and how to change it.
Cortisol + Insulin = Belly Fat
Belly fat isn’t just inconvenient and frustrating. It’s a bigger health risk, particularly if stress is a major contributor. Visceral fat in the belly puts you at greater risk for heart disease. It’s time to deal with that muffin top!
Things that can elevate cortisol:
- Not eating regular meals
- Over exercise – too much of a good thing – both too long or too frequent interval training
- Lack of sleep quantity or quality
- Lack of a regular sleep schedule
- High self-reported stress levels 7-10 [in Mary’s case stress is at a 10]
When food enters your body, insulin is released to offset blood sugar levels. That’s supposed to happen, but when there’s too much blood sugar, and you’re already in a perfect storm during midlife with hormone changes, then fat storage increases and fat burning comes to a halt.
First, you want to understand how to avoid too much blood sugar and insulin sabotage.
When you eat too much, or too much sugar, blood sugar levels will rise. Did you know the same is true when you eat too little? You can have elevated blood sugar if you are a chronic dieter or going low carb.
There are plenty of signs that you have elevated cortisol. You’re short with people (or yourself) and moody. You’re indecisive, you can’t focus, and small things set you off. You don’t sleep much, and potentially don’t sleep well when you do go to bed. You operate more on coffee than food. You can go and go and rise to the occasion, but then you just drop. You’re probably known as a warrior, someone who gets it done at all costs. The problem is, the costs are yours.
You’re probably smart, hardworking, and savvy in your career. Others probably wonder how you do it all. But that begins to take a toll at some point. Midlife, menopause, and beyond are usually that point.
Here’s what’s going on with Mary:
- Doesn’t eat regular meals
- Walks 4-5 miles a day, but says “no cardio”
- Quality of sleep is a 3, and sleep time is 6 hours
- Bedtime/wake time time varies
- Bioidentical hormones (not going to do all the heavy lifting if lifestyle habits aren’t in place)
- Depression, thyroid meds
- Doing 2-3 sets of 20 repetitions for arms with weights
- Stress is a “10”
All of the intuitive things like eating less, exercising more, paying too little attention to sleep, being extremely busy, things you think could keep you thin forever, will be the exact habits that lead to burnout and a breakdown in your metabolism and hormone balance.
Let’s start with Minute Made Meals
Start by getting in three regular meals – full of whole food featuring protein, healthy fat, and limited but good carbs. Commit to eating regularly to reduce stress.
Make it easy, even if your days are crazy.
Start with a smoothie. Most of the women in Flipping 50 programs say it’s a relief to not have to plan or think about breakfast. Just drop greens, berries, avocado, protein and chia seeds into a blender with water or almond milk. Blend and walk out the door. Travel a lot? You’d be surprised how easy it is to pop a Nutribullet into your carry-on and know you have breakfast covered. Stop at a grocery store before you get to your hotel. It may seem hard at first but after you’ve done it, it’s just a part of your travel day.
If you start your day with antioxidant-rich whole foods you’re choice the rest of the day will be so much easier.
Muscles in Minutes
Mary walks 4-5 miles every day. Walking is a great activity, no argument there. Yet that is a lot of the same activity and not ideal answer for stress.
After 75 minutes even low-level activity like walking or 45-60 minutes of moderate-to-high intensity activity – can elevate cortisol. Surprise, right? More is not better.
Sometimes tracking your daily steps can lead us to believe we’re getting exercise … and we are moving…but a 4 miles walk in nature is not the same as cumulated steps while at work – as far as effect on stress levels. And cortisol (from stress) seems to be the greatest challenge for Mary.
It is best for your body to de-stress with some shorter and higher intensity exercise. If walking is your ideal, two days a week find a hill and charge up for 1:00 and recover on the way back down. Repeat that 5 times the first week, 6 the next and build up to doing 8 times. Then vary your intervals doing 30 seconds hard and 1:00 recovery one day and 2 minutes hard and 4 minute recovery the other.
Sprinkle a couple of long walks into your week, and then introduce weight training. Your arm work is not going to help your metabolism and belly fat, but a good overall full body exercise program will.
Belly fat does respond well to exercise… as long as it’s the right kind of exercise.
If you can’t walk outdoors either because it’s too hot, too cold I’ve got an answer to that!
- front knee – rear kick
- lighter move for 1 minute
- Jab, cross, jab, cross, knee
- Lighter move for 1 minute
Weight training- 10 minutes twice a week to make it easy to commit!
- Chest Press
- Bent Arm Pullover
There’s slim chance of getting slim without a good night’s sleep. Sleep and routine go hand in hand. So high stress, no regular meals, bedtime and wake times that vary, all add up to belly fat.
For Mary, I would start by planning an evening routine to help control your tomorrows. Here’s a list of sleep-habits that can help reduce stress, therefore cortisol, therefore frustrating belly weight.
- Dinner done by 6 or 7
- Include some healthy carbs like a sweet potato or quinoa to dinner – they boost serotonin and help you relax for sleep
- Add magnesium if you need it – with dinner – it’s one of the micronutrients most women are deficient in and can help with sleep and being more regular with digestion
- 2-3 hours between dinner and bedtime
If you’re a woman over 50, you should love your bed. Sleep Number has been a game changer for me. I’ve got a dual temp layer too that means I’m always comfortable. If I’m hot… I turn the temp down… If I’m cold I can turn it up…. without affecting my partner.
Some medications can also negatively affect your frustrating belly weight, so be sure to check with your doctor. However, with many of these changes you should feel better overall and reduce stress levels so you can shed the belly fat.
The Key Flip of the Day:
Belly Fat is most often related to stress-driven cortisol- from dieting, over-exercise or incorrect exercise, irregular meals or sleep. All fixed with simple flips.
Thanks for watching! Leave a comment. I love to hear from you!