You don’t need me to tell you belly fat is particularly stubborn. And while it’s normal to blame those extra pounds on too many sweets, I guarantee they’re more likely a by-product of fluctuating hormones. Here are the ones to keep an eye on — and what you can do to prevent them from ruining your waistline:
In your 20s & 30s: Cortisol, a.k.a. the stress hormone, is enemy number one. High levels are linked to abdominal-fat storage, memory loss, increased appetite and cravings, and lower muscle mass, libido and bone density. And you’re not even exempt if you’re thin, suggests research from Yale University, which found slender women suffering from chronic stress and high cortisol have more belly fat than people with normal stress levels.
Hormone solution: Lower cortisol with dedicated stress management. Try deep-breathing techniques and meditation, and always get a good sleep. Eat a high-protein breakfast within one hour of rising and never go longer than three to four hours between meals or snacks. If your stress levels are really high, try the herbal supplement Relora, which helps lower cortisol and restores healthy sleep patterns. I generally recommend taking two pills at bedtime and one when you get up. Speak to your doctor to see if it’s right for you.
In your 40s: First, tune in to insulin, the only hormone that tells the body to store glucose as fat (as opposed to energy). The higher your insulin levels, the fuller your waist is likely to be. But that’s not all: High cholesterol and blood pressure, food cravings and trouble losing weight are all linked to high insulin. Next, learn about progesterone, which tends to decline in the late 30s and early 40s, and even more with stress.
Hormone solution: To balance insulin, eat healthy fats and lean protein and reduce your intake of starchy carbs (breads, grains, potatoes, rice). Instead of cereal for breakfast, opt for a smoothie with whey-protein isolate, berries, ground flax seeds and almond butter. These easy substitutions help stabilize blood-sugar levels, which will keep you from gaining weight. If you worry about progesterone, speak to your doctor or naturopath. They may suggest a natural-progesterone cream (available by prescription) during the second half of your cycle to better control the hormonal roller coaster.
In your 50s, 60s & beyond: Menopausal and post-menopausal women are prone to gaining in their mid-section due in part to a natural drop in estrogen combined with fluctuations in growth hormone. Growth hormone, which replenishes itself during sleep, is key to healthy bones, skin and hair, as well as developing strong, lean muscle mass. The secret to sabotaging this unwanted weight gain is to naturally stimulate production of these two hormones.
Hormone solution: Boost estrogen levels with phytoestrogenic herbs like sage, black cohosh and red clover or by eating fermented-soy foods like tempeh. Consult a health practitioner who’s well versed in the benefits of bio-identical hormones. Consider the supplement 5-HTP, which can ease moodiness while improving sleep and controlling your appetite. Finally, incorporate a lean protein source at each meal — and say sayonara to belly fat.