- Written by Dr. Stephanie Shelburne Dr. Stephanie Shelburne
Weight loss is without a doubt one of the most difficult and fascinating topics to discuss. Not least because there is the pervasive illusion that losing weight is as simple as calorie in/calorie out or increase exercise/decrease dinner size. Unfortunately, if you’re a woman, 40 years old or older, this just isn’t the case.
Chances are if you are in the above mentioned female demographic and googling weight loss, it’s because you woke up one day and discovered that seemingly overnight 10 or more pounds had inexplicably packed itself around your midsection, hips, and thighs. Worse yet, try as you might to employ tried and true tactics to budge it, it’s just not going anywhere.
Now you’re hungry, tired, incredibly frustrated and the internet searches keep telling you the same thing; calorie in/calorie out, or “eat this/do this and you can have six pack abs in two weeks”. Sound about right?
I’m going to drop a little TRUTH BOMB just to clear the air; if you are not factoring your hormones into your pursuits for fitness, health, and wellness, especially if you’re 40 or older, then you are pretty much setting yourself up for failure.
Look around at who’s delivering most of the information on the internet about fitness; 20-30 somethings, mostly male, if female then typically younger. If you rove through most of the information you will see that it is all basically the same. This is because it is coming from a pool of research that just seems to keep rotating through the fitness world; book to book, blog to blog.
It is very rare that the people you are looking to for help are actually conducting the research or even, for that matter, doing the database searches for the research. Typically, they have a team of people hired to ferret out the latest science, compile the general facts and figures (even if they're from animal studies) and bingo! A diet fad in the making.... or more like a guilt trip in the making.
So what gives??
The truth is that most of the information circulating out there in what's known as the "pop culture" world, even the stuff shared by the young female fitness “gurus” is based on a handful of small studies conducted on animals or if it happens to be a human trial, it's typically male participants. Guess what? That’s not you. You are not a lab rat nor are you simply walking around in a small curvy male body.
It’s only in the last decade or so that women-centered studies have finally started to be conducted and there is still only a small pool of literature to review for answers.
It’s no wonder that much of the information is slightly slanted toward a different demographic but assumed to be relevant to you.
What’s the missing ingredient; the biggest contributing factor that makes generalized fitness and health information less than suitable for you?
Hormones are the least talked about factor for women over 40 (and those women who have severe hormonal disorders), leaving most women suffering in silence. If you are 40 years of age or older, you are also working within the chemical framework of pre-menopause and menopause. This means your hormones begin fluctuating on an almost daily basis with not a lot of answers or relief from the medical field.
For this reason alone, the food you eat, the exercise you engage in, and even the thoughts you think have an even more critical impact on your body and mind. If you begin following much of the generalized advice out there, you will begin working against yourself rather than experiencing relief. The result will more than likely be even more weight gain coupled with adrenal fatigue and multitude of other inflammation related issues.
So, what’s a woman to do???
Here’s a few tips to get you started if you are looking for relief:
First and foremost, sleep is your best friend. Actually, let’s rephrase that, rest is your best friend. Chances are your sleeping patterns are quite disrupted as your body tries to work out all the changes that are occurring. Finding ways to get some rest is going to go a long way towards finding balance. I know you’re thinking, “you’ve got to be kidding me. With my busy life, rest is the last thing I have time for”.
But really, even just 15 minutes of quiet time will make an infinite amount of difference.
In fact, research shows that 15 minutes of rest can have the same result toward weight loss for women experiencing hormone disruption that an hour in the gym has for a younger person. Believe it.
If you have packed on those extra pounds, hustling to the gym and lashing yourself through hours upon hours of grueling exercise, is not going to help. In reality, the only thing you will really be doing is lashing your adrenal glands into a state of breakdown.
I cannot stress this enough… I have felt the result in my own life again and again. When I choose to dial it back a notch and make the time to just rest my thoughts and nervous system, I begin to experience better well-being almost instantly.
MOVEMENT VS. EXERCISE
If you google exercise and weight loss for women, you will be inundated with articles, entries, and images telling you how to blast fat and shred your abs, all accompanied with a photo of a yoga clothes clad young women with board flat abs. Inspiring?
Let’s hope not. Here’s another little truth bomb… chances are if you do not currently have that body, you will more than likely not have that body. And why should you???
Your body is your body. The best thing you can do for your own health and wellbeing is befriend what you have and then work towards your own unique example of fitness, strength, and balance.
If you’re a busy woman, you will more than likely not have hours to spend in the gym, unless of course, you’re a personal trainer or someone who makes a living in the gym. Nor should you want to spend hours in the gym!
Because guess what? Research suggests that one of the most effective forms of exercise for women over 40 is walking! That’s right, walking. Other effective interventions if you want to mix it up a bit? 45 minutes of Tai Chi, Qi Gong, flow yoga, or dance. 5 days a week.
Studies also indicate that weight bearing activities for just 20 minutes a session performed 3 days a week, dramatically increase your body’s ability to balance hormones.
Keep in mind this says ‘weight bearing’ not necessarily weight lifting, although weightlifting can be great.
If you start walking and you add in a little bit of intermittent intensity (especially if your body composition is mostly fast twitch muscle fibers) a couple days a week, you will have a recipe for overall wellness and strength that will serve you far better than hours in the gym “shredding your abs”.
What might a perfect hormone balancing “workout” look like?
- A daily stroll with friends (or at least 5 days out of the week…and make sure plenty of laughter is included)
- with three of those days including some hills or faster paced walking intermittently (studies suggest the perfect combination is 30 seconds of rapid pace followed by 90 seconds of regular pace, 8 times)
- 3 days a week, weight bearing exercise (guess what, walking is considered a weight bearing exercise, so is Tai Chi or any other exercise that requires you move yourself around unaided). If you want to ramp that up a bit, there are simple, in home, things you can do that will help build muscle.
And that’s pretty much it. If you are doing more than that and you are fatigued, you are contributing to your weight gain.
In reality, any movement you can do, if you spend time on a computer, stand, sway, dance…
One more interesting tidbit of information that you may not likely hear from the mainstream; as your hormones are changing, so is the actual structure of your pelvis. This is one reason it is not unusual for women to suddenly begin experiencing back, knee, and/or foot pain. The subtle, unannounced shift to the pelvis creates a shift in posture and gait. Self-awareness is key during these shifts.
Prolonged sitting and poor posture exacerbate the situation. One of the best interventions?
Squatting. Yes, squatting, swaying, and dancing are your new best friends. (:
I saved the best for last….or at least the most confusing. Eating, dieting, and hormones…oh my!
Again, you may ask; what’s a woman to do?!?!
For starters? Stop dieting.
Seriously. Just stop it.
It is now time to have a different relationship with food. It is time to listen to what your body really needs rather than following the latest dietary trends. As all of us know, when we’re 20 something there seems to be a lot of wiggle room for trying this and that fad without too much repercussion. That is no longer the case when you are 40 or older. It’s time to find an adult diet that suits your entire body, mind, and spirit. Sorry to be so blunt, but there it is.
So, what is the right diet for you? Well, here’s the crux of the situation. Only you can know that for sure. But just like everything thing else above, it requires you to slow it down a notch and really begin listening to your internal messages rather than the external shouts of society.
That being said, if you are in the midst of menopause or you are estrogen dominant there are a few things that are often touted as superfoods that you will want to avoid:
Maca: while maca is touted as a superfood, most of the research conducted with it has been on men. Maca is considered an adaptogen, so the assumption is that it will help balance hormones in both men and women. In many cases, it does exactly that. However, for the estrogen dominant or menopausal, maca can increase issues experienced; like hot flashes, disrupted sleeping patterns, digestion issues, headaches and that “wired/tired” feeling that is so complete frustrating.
Soy: Hopefully, by now, you’ve gotten the memo that soy is not a woman’s best friend…at any age. This is especially true for women experiencing hormonal fluctuations.
Processed foods: Seriously, the repercussion of eating processed and manufactured foods defies description. At this point in your life, it is time to give them up. Rather than put your energy into dieting, put it into discovering your natural rhythms, nourishing your body, mind, and spirit with appropriate real foods. Do not eat diet products with sugar substitutes! Note, that I can’t even bring myself to call these items ‘food’. They aren’t.
Refined sugars: Unless you have been stranded on a desert island with no digital access, you are completely aware that refined sugars are not your friend. I will reiterate it here, with a caveat. Natural sweetness, in its whole state, can be a nice occasional treat. How about a bit of raw honey drizzled in a cup of tea? Or maybe some real maple syrup perking up a bowl of yogurt? Yes, please. The key? Occasionally. The other key? Real and natural….as close to the “root or fruit” as possible. No agave syrup, no coconut or date sugar, or other refined sweeties.
And there are some things you will want to add:
Fat: Trust me on this one... fat will not make you fat. Unless of course, you are eating processed fatty foods and refined sugars. If, however, you are eating nutrient dense fats, yes including animal based fats, you will begin feeding your body well.
Collegen: Typically, I'm not a fan of isolating nutrients, however, research demonstrates that for women over 50, a TSP to TBS of collegen a day can do some pretty great stuff. I put a teaspoon in my coffee in the morning, along with my full fat cream and it is a perfect start to my day.
Protein: Without going overboard, moderate protein consumption will help balance your hormones and your mood. This is especially true if you are someone who suffers from anxiety. (caveat: it needs to quality, humanely sourced if it's an animal product, including fish. Avoid farmed fish and intensive/conventionally raised meats)
A word on stevia: it is possible to get stevia that is made from the whole leaf, in fact, it is a medicinal intervention. This is the only type of stevia to use, if you are going to use it. Most stevia found in the baking aisle of your market have been processed and refined.