When I first started in this business 23 years ago, I was 27 years old, I only had one child at the time and managed to keep my weight down with very little effort. When you’re young, you just decide to lose 5 pounds by Friday, cut back a bit, and volia…jeans fit fine! Then along comes two more beautiful babies in my 30s…everything was still pretty good. My body still responded to exercise and slight dietary changes. At 40, things started to change a bit. My hormones were starting to change and a little more effort was required to keep the fat off. Now I’m at 50 and things are totally messed up. What the heck is going on? I work out with a trainer 3 times a week and I do an hour of cardio the other 4 days of the week, I’m following a very clean diet and I’m getting fatter!! Now anyone who knows me is aware that I am 5’10” and most people will tell me that I don’t look fat at all. I’m here to tell you that I just hide it well. When you are tall, the blubber is just longer, that’s all! I just had a Body Composition Scan at the lab and I am 36.4% body fat. A healthy range for my age is between 23-34%, so for myself that is not good.
Back when I was in my 20s and 30s, I remember clients coming in and telling me the story that I’ve just described. They would tell me how hard it is to get rid of fat despite their efforts. I gotta be totally honest: in my mind, I was thinking: “ya right lady, maybe you should just try backing away from the dinner table a bit.” I’m so sorry to all those ladies who did not receive my compassion back then, cause now I get it!! And as I talk to more women over the years, this is a common problem. So what the heck is going on?
My research and study into this topic are at least providing a bit of comfort in that we have a few excuses to explain it all. Let’s look at the top 5 reasons that are making us fatter (Oops…I meant me!). If you’re slim, please give us chubby girls a break okay…we have some excuses!
REASON 1 : A DECREASE IN BASAL METABOLIC RATE
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of energy (in the form of calories) that the body needs to function while resting for 24 hours. A peak operating metabolism can burn up a lot of calories and create energy. A slow metabolism, however, will store calories as fat. After the age of 25, our energy requirements decrease as the body’s lean muscle mass decreases. Women’s BMRs are 5-10% lower than men already and as our muscle decrease, this just gets worse. Women start losing testosterone at the age of 28 which explains why it is so difficult to build muscle in our 40s and 50s. This change explains why we just don’t require as many calories in our 50s as we do in our 20s. The number one thing we can do to increase BMR is to increase lean muscle mass. Lift weights. Hire a trainer. Go to Orange Theory. Go to CrossFit. Start lifting 3 days a week. Studies show that exercise has little effect on losing pounds but the health benefits are lengthy. What’s more important is the quality of calories that we eat. Our bodies are less forgiving when we feed it poor quality calories. Think: lean proteins, an increase in plant foods and a decrease in poor quality carbs. Come see Dr. Briggs if you are over 40 and want to have your testosterone levels checked. Women can be prescribed a low dose testosterone with the Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT). Plus testosterone helps increase libido and decrease headaches in perimenopausal women. An incredible book on this topic is The Secret Female Hormone by Kathy Maupin, MD. If you are in our clinics, our Tanita scale can give you your basal metabolic rate, just ask the girls if you can jump on the scale.
REASON 2 : HORMONES REGULATE HOW WE BURN FAT
Not only does testosterone decrease with age, there are dozens of hormones that determine whether we burn fat or store fat.
Low thyroid function (called Hypothyroidism) affects approximately 20-25 % of the population, especially over the age of 40. Many family physicians still use outdated lab values to diagnose poor thyroid function leaving much of the population with symptoms of depression, fatigue, constipation, headaches, dry skin, sensitivity to cold, hair loss, and recurrent infections. Low-thyroid makes you too tired to move. Thyroid hormones affect your BMR. Your adrenal glands (which sit above your kidneys) have a close relationship with thyroid. If thyroid levels are low, the adrenal glands become exhausted which leads to thyroid dysfunction. A vicious cycle.
ADRENAL GLANDS & CORTISOL
Cortisol, the stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, activates all fat cells to store fat. It’s a protective mechanism. Our bodies were designed to store fat in case a famine occurs (our creator did not know about Costco!!), but the stress response is supposed to be a temporary thing. You see a tiger.. you run and your body releases cortisol to increase heart rate and glucose to fuel muscles. Then it’s supposed to return to normal once we are out of danger. Chronically high levels of cortisol wear out the adrenal glands. Stress can definitely be caused by a life-changing situation but is increasingly caused by perceived stress and the demands that we put on ourselves. Women are masters at multitasking…we kinda screwed ourselves over with the whole equal rights movement. Not only can we get degrees and perform alongside the most brilliant men, we also continue to take on all the other roles of caregivers, homemakers, taxi drivers, social organizers and so much more!! Our jobs do not end when we walk in the door at night after working a 12-hour shift already. We definitely really find it calming to walk into the house and see a sink full of dishes while grown men are parked on the couch watching Alaska Bush People……Aghhhhh!!!!
There supplements available to help balance out the high cortisol levels in the evening. I really like some of the products by Lorna Vanderhaeghe (the pink bottles on our shelves) in particular, Smile 5-HTP. Go to yoga, hire a housekeeper if you’re going to work all day! Go to yoga in the evenings, meditate, and practice deep breathing. There are also many apps that can guide you through this process, my favourite is Inner Balance by Heart Math.
INSULIN: THE FAT STORAGE HORMONE
Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar. In your 20s, you can live on fishy crackers and super cherry nibs, but it will catch up with you. The North American diet is excessively high in bad carbs and a lack of exercise. The combination affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. The body has to produce more and more insulin to keep blood sugar under control and eventually we get fatter and the receptor sites wear out. This is when the diagnosis of diabetes comes in (not to be confused with Type 1 Diabetes which is when the pancreas cannot produce the insulin). People with upper body fat (apple shape) tend to be predisposed to insulin resistance which then also leads to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Normalizing insulin levels is the goal and can be done by eating a diet low in processed carbs and increasing activity levels (even walking).
Too much estrogen (common in our 40s due to declining progesterone) is one reason why women have a difficult time losing fat around the abdominal area. It’s the same reason men get man boobs and beer bellies! Too little estrogen (postmenopausal) creates the very same problem as the body attempts to salvage estrogen by storing fat around the middle. This is why women who have been slim all their lives can develop a spare tire at the age of 52!
REASON 3 : FOOD CHOICES OR FOOD SENSITIVITIES
We are becoming more inflamed as the diet increases in saturated fat, fake fats, artificial sweeteners (my addiction is diet coke), refined carbohydrates, processed meats and cheese, diet foods, and high sugar drinks (yes, including workout drinks). Chemically altered foods disrupt liver function, cause imbalanced hormones, nutrient depletion, and damage the digestive tract. A damaged digestive system, including poor gut bacteria, (research Gut Microbiome) is also known as leaky gut and is caused by years of food sensitivities, bacterial overgrowth in the digestive tract, candida yeast, and chronic stress (that damn cortisol!). It results in hormonal changes, bloating, poor digestion, puffiness, water retention, headaches, and cellulite. Eating foods that are only natural and rich in fiber and nutrients help to mend the problem. Food sensitivity testing and Nutrigenomix testing can help diagnose problematic foods or genetic predisposition to certain food intolerances.
REASON 4 : LACK OF SLEEP
The older we are, the harder it is to get a good night’s sleep: the less we sleep, the more likely it is that we gain weight. Why? When we are sleep deprived, ghrelin levels increase at the same time that leptin levels decrease. The result is craving sweet or salty high energy calorie dense foods. Studies also show that sleeping less than six hours impairs glucose metabolism. So the longer we sleep, the more efficiently our inner fat-burning and sugar processing engines work. So, do what you need to do to get more sleep. I personally love my Melatonin. Take enough to get you into a deep sleep and enough to make you stay in that deep sleep!
REASON 5 : IMPAIRED REWARD CASCADE-DEPLETED SEROTONIN/DOPAMINE POOLS
Normal levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter linked most closely to satisfaction, lead both to emotional satisfaction and a sense of fullness after a meal. Low levels, on the other hand, can lead to depression and a tendency to binge on sweet and starchy foods. For some, binge eating begins as an attempt to fill an emotional void left by a lack of serotonin. However, what begins as a seemingly innocent attempt at self-soothing, creates a complex cycle of addiction in the body. The binge eating provides a brief period of solace and calm, but the effects are temporary. Eventually, the demand for food to pacify only increase over time and the entire coping mechanism begins to fail leading to an increase in depressive feelings.
So what causes low serotonin? Chronic stress, impaired digestions, poor nutrition, lack of sunlight, toxic overload, and certain drugs and substances such as caffeine, alcohol, aspartame, nicotine, some antidepressants, and some cholesterol-lowering meds (check with your doctor). 5HTP may help to increase serotonin levels as well as managing stress, exercising, and eating a diet low in sugar and adding a bit of protein to every meal.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that allows us to stay focused, energized, and motivated. When levels are low people often crave stimulants such as caffeine and sugar. Too much dopamine can result in addictive compulsive behaviors.
To naturally balance serotonin and dopamine pools, add healthy lean protein to every meal, eat healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, and avocados, do exercise that you enjoy, get massages regularly, and engage in healthy sex.
If you suspect that you have an impaired reward cascade or have developed an unhealthy relationship with yourself and/or food, perhaps seek the counsel of a psychologist.
As I write this, I’m thinking, “we’re all screwed!!” In the last few years, I have had these conversations with hundreds of women. We are feeling hopeless despite our efforts. This frustration has pushed me to learn as much as I can. I recently completed a Fellowship in Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine. After 6 months of studying, it is more clear that losing weight is multifactorial and complex. As I work harder and harder, I have definitely become more healthy, but my body just isn’t where I want it to be. I want to feel comfortable on a beach while on holidays, I want to wear jeans and not have a muffin top, and I want to feel sexier when I’m naked!
I know this is a shared goal which is why EA has made the decision to bring in Dual CoolSculpting®. For over ten years, we have explored and used many devices claiming to reduce fat…but most of them had disappointing results. When we first looked at Coolsculpting® a few years ago, we were concerned about side effects and discomfort. Recently, Coolsculpting® has revamped their treatment heads to increase comfort, decrease side effects, and decrease treatment time. We decided to further expedite the treatment time by having Dual Coolsculpting® which means that you have two treatment areas on the body going at the same time. Real Self-Reviews for CoolSculpting® are high and after interviewing many practitioners across the country, I am confident that we can finally provide great results for patients.
So while I continue to exercise and eat clean as much as possible, I’m going to give myself a break and speed up the process of decreasing my fat stores. I’m going to treat my tummy, my inner thighs, and the fat on the upper part of my butt. I am super excited. I’ll keep you all posted!