It is not uncommon for women to lament that as they approach menopause, they are gaining weight, especially in their midsections. This potbelly, unaffectionately called a menopot, can make women feel insecure about their appearance and can also be a health issue.
A potbelly is more a product of aging in general than menopause, says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director of The North American Menopause Society, and it’s not just a problem for women. “Both genders gain weight as they age due to a decrease in metabolic rate caused by the loss of muscle mass,” she says. “As people age, they don’t burn as many calories when they exercise or sit still, so it is harder to maintain or lose weight.”
For women, the problem is compounded by the loss of estrogen, causing a redistribution of weight to the stomach and waist. Faubion says, “This hormonal change can cause women to go from a pear shape to more of an apple shape in midlife.” On average, women gain 1.5 pounds per year in midlife.
Is It Dangerous?
Weight gain, especially in the midsection, can adversely affect a woman’s health. Faubion says, “Heart disease risk goes up as we age, especially in women that gain weight in their abdomen. Even women of normal weight have a higher cardiovascular risk if they hold excess pounds in their midsection.” Excess belly fat has also been associated with a higher risk of many cancers (including breast and colon) as well as an increased risk of diabetes.
Faubion says the biggest complaint she hears from patients is that they haven’t changed their diet or exercise intensity and yet somehow, they are gaining weight. “What always worked in the past as far as maintaining or losing weight, won’t work anymore,” she says. “It’s like someone changed the rules of your body without telling you.”
What to Do About a Potbelly
1. Keep your weight down. Since it’s harder to lose weight as we age, it’s better not to gain it in the first place. Ideally, women should begin to adjust their diet and exercise routine before they are in full menopause to maintain their weight. Faubion says, “Use common sense. Older women need to focus on eating vegetables, fruit, and lean proteins. Limit simple carbs such as white rice and white pasta.”
2. Go easy on the alcohol. A big sabotage for many women is alcohol. “The kids are gone and there are more parties and dinners out, so older women tend to drink more. The body reads a glass of wine as a glass of sugar, so try to limit alcohol consumption for weight maintenance,” Faubion says.
3. Watch belly bloat. In addition to actual fat, a menopot can be exasperated by bloating, which can occur more frequently in older women. Erin Parekh, holistic health coach and culinary nutrition expert, says, “As women age, their stomachs can get more sensitive. They may need to play with their diet to see if dairy or gluten is contributing to their belly bloat. Fiber, while important, can cause stomach discomfort, so don’t go crazy adding too much fiber too quickly. To keep a healthy balance of gut bacteria, I recommend my clients take a probiotic supplement daily.”
4. Exercise daily. While weight maintenance is 90 percent food related, regular exercise is vital to good health. Aim for one hour of cardio/movement per day plus strength training. While sit-ups or other spot-toning exercises alone will not eliminate a meno-pot, strength training can increase a slowing metabolism and help combat lost muscle tone.
6. Keep stress levels in check. Parekh explains, “Higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol contribute to belly fat, even in women that are not overweight. So, it’s important for women to find ways to reduce their stress, especially as they age. Practicing mindfulness techniques and getting more sleep can help.”
Photo: Wave Break Media
How to Get Excited About Cooking for One
Last week I made chicken wings for dinner using a new rub and marinade. My husband, daughter, and son raved. When I saw that my son had come down in the middle of the night to eat more (a bowl of bones in the kitchen sink gave him away), I was thrilled that my culinary skills were so appreciated.
But I have a lot less enthusiasm when it comes to cooking for just myself. On an evening when my husband and kids aren’t home, I usually order in or just eat a bowl of cereal on the couch.
My feelings about cooking for one are not unusual. Liz Josefsberg celebrity health, wellness, and weight loss expert says, “People feel that it is fun to prepare something with someone else in mind. Cooking for a crowd is festive. It’s a communal and loving act. After all, food is love, right? ”
Conversely, when you cook just for yourself, you may feel less inspired. Cooking for one may feel more like a chore than a gift.
Why You Should Cook for Yourself
Healthy, mindful eating is an essential part of looking and feeling good, especially for women in midlife. Typical take-out food or restaurant meals tend not to be as nutritional as meals made at home. The food is usually higher in fat and sodium, and the portions tend to be too large.
Erin Parekh, holistic health coach and culinary nutrition expert, says, “When you cook for yourself, you control the quality of ingredients, the quality of the oils, the amount of sodium, etc. You know exactly what you are putting into your body.”
“Research proves that our metabolism actually gets started in a healthier way when we cook our food,” Josefsberg says. “The smelling of the food sets our mouth watering. The belly prepares for the incoming meal, unlike just eating prepared foods and fast food.”
Cooking at home is also more cost efficient. In 2018 Forbes reported that, on average, restaurant food delivery costs almost five times as much as cooking for yourself.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Cooking for one can be less stressful than cooking for a crowd. If you are the one eating, you don’t have to consider anyone else’s palate or dietary needs. This freedom can translate to a lot more creativity in the kitchen.
When you cook for one, you can ditch your typical repertoire of meals. If you never cook spicy foods or avoid making shellfish because your family doesn’t care for it, now is your chance. Parekh suggests, “Experiment with new recipes, spices, and cuisines. You don’t need to be intimidated because you aren’t cooking to satisfy anyone but yourself.”
Browse cookbooks or food blogs for inspiration.”Imagine you are cooking for a famous table of your favorite people. What would you prepare?” Josefsberg asks.
Keep It Simple
Many of the best meals require very few ingredients. “You don’t need to overwhelm yourself. You can make delicious, nutritious meals with just 10 ingredients or less,” Parekh says.” Just be sure to use good-quality ingredients.” Or think about subscribing to a delivery service like Blue Apron or Plated, which brings you creative recipes and the ingredients to make them.
If you are too busy to cook during the week, meal prep on Sunday. “Roast vegetables, broil a chicken, make quinoa,” Parekh says. “During the week, you can put the components together and have a healthy meal ready in less time than it takes to order a pizza.” If you can’t pre-prep, take some short cuts by buying a rotisserie chicken or cut-up vegetables from the salad bar on your way home from work. You can also keep cleanup simple by choosing one-pot recipes.
And don’t shy away from recipes written for serving several people. “Invest in good glassware that freezes well so that you can parcel large meals into individual portions and freeze for later,” Josefsberg says.
Let It Be About You
If you are the only one eating, you may not feel that it’s worth the effort of prepping a meal from scratch, but it’s time to change that mindset. Look at it as an opportunity for self-care. Set the mood: Put on some music you love and maybe pour a glass of wine. Get creative. And show yourself some love.
Looking for inspiration? Try these recipes.
Is It Normal… To Be So Anxious
From butterflies in your stomach to a full-blown panic attack, anxiety can take many different forms. At its core, anxiety is nothing more than a physiological response to a situation that creates internal conflict.
“It’s a feeling designed to give you caution and get your attention, so that you make adjustments in your environment or boundaries,” explains Theresa Moore, LCSW, LPC. “These are actually healthy feelings.”
Even if you’ve never been one to suffer from anxiety, you might find that changes the older you get — and, yes, it’s perfectly normal. In fact, getting older can be one of the major causes of anxiety for many people.
Why Does It Happen?
There are many things that can contribute to stress as we age, but in a country where we are expected to look, feel, and act younger than we are, watching our bodies go through the natural aging process can be one of the biggest — and it’s more than just the physical.
“We fear that it means that we will cease to be useful, engaging, or exciting,” Moore says, adding that a core fear from the moment we are born is a fear of being irrelevant or not belonging. “In our country we neither honor nor respect elderhood,” she says. “ We fear being thrown out or being seen as having no value to society.”
Add to that the fear of our own mortality and you can see where anxiety can get into your system and set up shop.
What Can You Do About It?
One of the first things you can do to manage increased anxiety is to realize that although you may not be able to control the aging process, you can control how you handle it. “There is a lot that is still within our control,” says Moore. “We can accept that this is a time of wisdom and life experience, and acknowledge that things are shifting and that this is the next step in life.”
No, we can’t expect to remain at our 40-year-old peak for the rest of our lives, but we can remain fit and active as it relates to our environment, nutrition, and mental health. And by accepting the aging process for what it is, we can enjoy the relationships around us and become more aware and present rather than disheartened or anxious.
“Our relevance has to do with relationships, not accomplishments and tasks,” Moore says. “That’s an important thing to remember.”
Do I Need Help?
Again, an increase in anxiety as we age is perfectly normal. The degree in which it manifests, however, can be problematic. And some women find that even “normal” requires a little extra help in the form of medication or therapy. How do you know the difference? “Anything that is ongoing or exhibits a significant pattern might indicate the need for a life coach or therapist to help you get some new tools for dealing with stress,” Moore says.
If you are anxious to the point that it is affecting your sleep, moods, ability to focus, memory, etc., then you should see your doctor or therapist and ask if short-term medication could provide some relief. “If you are so easily distracted that it is hard for you to complete a task and other people or co-workers are noticing, then that’s a problem that could possibly benefit from medication coupled with counseling,” suggests Moore. “Trying to do it on your own only increases the anxiety.”
If you are still unsure if you are just going through a phase or if it’s something more serious, check in with your squad.
“Having a good support system of people in your life who are objective and supportive is important regardless of stage of life, and this is the first place you should go to check things out,” Moore says. “These are the people who will tell you if you seem over the top.”
A stress-free life is pretty unrealistic, regardless of age. But accepting each stage of your life for the beautiful and wonderful gift that it is can go a long way in helping you manage, if not alleviate, some of the anxiety along the way.
Photo: Rido Franz
Need to Know: 6 Side Effects of Probiotics
With a growing body of research pointing to the importance of a healthy gut and microbiome, the demand for probiotics has grown significantly in recent years. Health-conscious individuals are now buying foods fortified with probiotics to promote good bacteria in the gut, which research has shown to boost health and stave off certain diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease.
However, probiotics aren’t perfect. Ironically, these live microorganisms can initially cause some of the symptoms they’re purported to alleviate. While these symptoms will go away after the body has time to adjust, they can be irritating. To reduce the potential for side effects, it’s important that you choose high-quality probiotics from reputable probiotic manufacturers.
Before you take probiotics, here are six side effects that you should be aware of.
Headaches can be triggered by a variety of things, making it difficult to pinpoint their exact cause. However, complaints of headaches after taking probiotics may be valid. Amines, a group of chemicals including histamine and tyramine, may be partly to blame. Found in probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt and aged cheeses, amines can divert blood flow to the gut and restrict blood flow elsewhere. These fluctuations in blood flow are thought to be a trigger for migraines and other headaches. Most people find that their headaches go away within a few days or a week of starting probiotics. If your headaches persist after a few weeks, see a doctor.
If you suffer from allergies, be warned that some strains of probiotics may trigger them initially. Again, biogenic amines such as histamine are found in high amounts in many fermented foods, which can cause an allergic reaction in people with histamine intolerance. Those with histamine intolerance have low diamine oxidase (DAO) activity, an enzyme which is responsible for the degradation of histamine. When DAO fails to inhibit histamine, you get unpleasant symptoms such as sneezing, headaches, itching, or swelling. If you experience these symptoms after taking probiotics, you could have a sensitivity to histamine. To make things easier while adjusting to probiotics, try avoiding foods high in histamines for a week.
3. Mild Gas and Bloating
Although probiotics can relieve digestive issues and promote gut health, they can also cause bloating and gas. This is bad news for those who already suffer from chronic digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. Sometimes, bloating and gas are due to the dairy ingredients in some strains of probiotics. If you’re lactose intolerant, this can cause persistent abdominal discomfort. Fortunately, gas and bloating are also temporary symptoms of probiotics. If your symptoms persist, it could simply be the specific strain you’re using. Talk with a probiotic manufacturer and ask them about a different strain you could try to relieve gastrointestinal distress.
Your gut contains both good and bad bacteria. Usually, diarrhea occurs when bad bacteria enter the body.
Although there are studies to suggest that probiotics help alleviate traveler’s diarrhea, some probiotics can cause runny stool by stimulating your digestive tract. This usually goes away within two or three days. You can reduce some of the symptoms by taking digestive enzyme supplements with your probiotics. Digestive enzymes can help break down difficult to digest foods such as beans and certain vegetables, alleviating gas and bloating symptoms.
Probiotics are being closely scrutinized by researchers for their potential to treat acne. Unfortunately, probiotics might make the problem worse before it can get better. Problems in the gut often show up on our skin in some form or another. Before probiotics can start modifying the microbiome for the better, they may potentially trigger the body’s inflammatory responses. However, there is little in the way of scientific evidence to support this claim, despite many anecdotal accounts of worsening acne. There is still much that we don’t know about both acne and probiotics, making it hard to decipher the exact mechanisms behind each.
6. Increased Risk of Infection
Although probiotics are considered safe for most people, those with weakened immune systems should take care when taking probiotic supplements. According to research compiled in a 2015 review, cases of systemic infections such as fungemia (yeasts in the blood) were linked to taking probiotics. However, don’t let this fool you into thinking that probiotics cause infections. In fact, the opposite is true for healthy persons. A study published in The BMJ found that children who drank probiotic milk for seven months were less likely to get sick and have absences from day care.
More Tips for Reducing Probiotic Side Effects
Keep in mind that there are many different strains of probiotics. Moreover, our bodies are unique and will react differently to each strain.
For most people, the benefits of taking probiotics far outweigh the potential side effects. To reduce your side effects and weather through the adjustment period, you need to …
Take them on an empty stomach. Probiotics should be taken first thing in the morning on an empty stomach to avoid fermenting with other foods. Take them with a glass of water — not coffee! Coffee can also speed up the digestive system and may potentially cause diarrhea with probiotics.
Be consistent. Take probiotics every day at the same time to boost their efficacy. This will help you see results quicker and promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.
Eat enough fiber. Make sure that you’re getting enough fiber throughout the day. Probiotics promote good bacteria in the gut, which feed off dietary fiber.
Try different strains. Don’t get discouraged if one strain of probiotic doesn’t agree with you. Try another and keep a diary log of how it makes you feel.
The Bottom Line
Probiotics have gained widespread popularity for their potential to treat a variety of health issues, from obesity to depression. However, they aren’t a magic solution for everyone and may cause unwanted side effects.
Talk with your doctor first before starting any probiotic supplement. They can examine your unique health history and recommend whether probiotics may be beneficial to you.
Brenda Kimble is a writer and wellness blogger for sites such as Longevity Live and Thrive Global. When she is not working, she is doing yoga, crafting with her kids, or strolling the streets of her Austin, Texas, neighborhood.
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