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Why do women find it harder to lose belly fat as they age?

How can I reduce my belly fat when losing weight?This is a question that many of us agonise over and are desperate to improve. Having a larger waist measurement can indicate that you have too much visceral fat and are putting yourself at risk. 

Visceral fat is a type of body fat that is stored within your abdominal cavity. It is found near or around your internal organs, including the liver, stomach, and intestines. This is commonly referred to as ‘belly fat’.

Why is it dangerous?

Even if you are not particularly overweight, it is well known that having an apple shape/carrying excess fat around the belly is linked to many concerning health conditions. To name but a few: 

  • risk of stroke
  • high blood pressure
  • heart problems
  • bowel cancer
  • type 2 diabetes

How do I know if my belly is too large?

According to current NHS guidelines you should try to lose weight if your waist is:

94cm (37in) or more for men

80cm (31.5in) or more for women

You're at very high risk of some serious health conditions and should consider seeking nutritional guidance or see a GP if your waist is:

102cm (40in) or more for men

88cm (34.5in) or more for women

While anyone can have this type of deep visceral fat around their inner organs, it’s important that you make some changes to get your body into a healthier place.

So why do women find it harder to lose belly fat as they age?

Women generally store more fat in their bodies overall. This is especially true after the menopause. When the menopause hits and oestrogen levels drop to an all-time low, women suffer from hot flashes, mood swings and bone loss. To top it off, as oestrogen levels decline, women typically gain belly fat.

A recent study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism shows that postmenopausal women who undergo hormone therapy to relieve menopausal symptoms tend to have less fat tissue, especially in the belly, compared to other postmenopausal women.

Drinking alcohol, changes in activity levels and sleep patterns are some other the main culprits.

Glasses of wine

Are the calories from alcohol the same as from other food sources?

Simply put, alcohol is an energy dense food, which is otherwise quite poor in its nutrient content. That is why the calories from alcohol are sometimes labelled as “empty calories”.

In theory, there are several reasons why drinking alcohol should lead to weight gain: 

It is calorie dense – 1 gram of alcohol has around twice as many calories as a gram of carbohydrate or protein. 

Your liver has got a special affinity for ethanol - an alcohol derivative. It turns almost all of it into energy. Therefore, your body stops using its fats and carbohydrates as energy sources when a lot of energy comes so easily from alcohol.

When your body gets too much energy from alcohol, it starts to shunt the extra energy into the production of storage products like fats.

What can I do to get rid of belly fat? 

Get a good night’s sleep

Research published in the International Journal of Obesity links sleeping less than five hours per night to abdominal fat gain. Subsequent research has identified that poor sleep can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases the tendency to store fat around the waist.

Reduce alcohol consumption

The UK government advice of a maximum of 14 units is indeed a maximum and is based on the average person. Many of us are not able to deal with the effects so well as others. This may be due to:

  • increased age
  • female
  • height/stature 
  • body composition

The body cannot metabolise alcohol well as we age, and the toxins tend to be stored as belly fat.

So by drinking; for example: ½ bottle per night; you will be consuming nearly an extra 8,800+ calories per month (four weeks). That equates to a shocking 114,400+ calories (or over two stone) extra per year in alcohol alone. 

  • Not only is alcohol devoid of proteins, minerals, and vitamins, it actually inhibits the absorption and usage of vital nutrients such as thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin B12, folic acid, and zinc. Many people who drink too much are also deficient in niacin (B3).
  • Alcohol will rob you of your vitamins and minerals.
  • Elevated blood pressure: Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Having more than three units in one sitting temporarily increases your blood pressure but repeated over drinking can lead to long-term increases.
  • It also causes puffy, grey, tired looking skin.

You may see yourself as only a social drinker but many of us just do not realise how damaging the effects can be; especially when others around us are consuming even more.

Eat a diet that is high in fibre

A study published in today’s Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that aiming to eat around 30 grams of fibre each day can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your body’s response to insulin just as effectively as a more complicated diet.

  • Eat a more balanced diet that includes a minimum of five portions of fruit and veg every day.
  • Eat more beans, pulses, fish and eggs.
  • Drink plenty of water. Being dehydrated can lower your metabolic rate by up to 20%.
  • Avoid adding sugar or salt to your meals.
  • You need to burn more calories (energy) than you consume. As you exercise, calories are burned and your body fat percentage decreases. So, exercising not only helps you lose belly fat, but it also sheds fat from other areas. Running and walking are two of the best fat-burning exercises, however using a cross trainer or bike will get results.

Having a plan to target all the gaps in your current lifestyle is key. Don't wait - start making some changes now

References:

Yi, S., Nakagawa, T., Yamamoto, S. et al. Short sleep duration in association with CT-scanned abdominal fat areas: the Hitachi Health Study. Int J Obes 37, 129–134 (2013) 

Feb 2017 Nancy Ferrari; Harvard Medical School

Jeff Minerd, Contributing Writer, MedPage Today March 27, 2018

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Great Dunmow CM6 & Chelmsford CM1

Written by Hayley Smith

Great Dunmow CM6 & Chelmsford CM1

I am a Registered Assoc Nutritionist. I work as a Nutritionist, Weight & Food-wellness coach from Great Dunmow & Springfield Hospital Chelmsford.

Specialisms include:
Weight Loss & Healthy Eating
Eating disorders & Weight gain
Sports Nutrition
Bloating
Inflammation & Gut Health
Lowering blood sugar, cholesterol levels & cardiovascular risk

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