Explaining menopausal fat
by Carol Bidwell
Los Angeles Daily News
LOS ANGELES -- You're a woman who's been dieting, but seem to be gaining instead of losing weight? The waistband of your jeans seems to be shrinking? And you find you have more food cravings than ever?
Don't worry -- it just means you're approaching menopause, reassured Debra Waterhouse, a Bay Area dietitian with a master's degree in public health who just penned her fourth book exploring the unique biology of women.
"The truth is that your body, as it approaches menopause, needs estrogen, and it gets it from your fat cells," Waterhouse said. "It's in your female blueprint. It's not your fault. It's not lack of willpower or anything else. I want women to know this and not be crazy about it anymore."
In "Outsmarting the Midlife Fat Cell: Winning Weight Control Strategies for Women over 35 to Stay Fit Through Menopause" (Hyperion; $22.95), Waterman warns that women's bodies begin preparing for menopause as early as the mid-30s. And before they turn 55, most women will gain an average of 12 pounds, and their waistlines will have grown by an average of two inches.
To keep weight gain to a minimum and survive menopause fit and healthy, she says, women must change both their eating habits and their exercise routines to outsmart their body's fat cells, which she talks about almost as if they were shrewd, thinking beings.
The most important advice for a perimenopausal woman: "Don't even think about a diet," Waterman advised. "Your body is programmed to fight any drastic efforts at weight loss because it needs estrogen from fat."
Instead of starving yourself, eat what your body's craving -- no, not chocolate cake three times a day -- really craving, like fruits and vegetables and milk and grains, which keep you satiated. And instead of having a cup of coffee for breakfast, skipping lunch and scarfing down everything in sight at dinner time, eat five or six small meals a day, just enough to fill your stomach -- which, by the way, is about the size of your fist.
And forget those halfhearted spins on the exercycle. To burn menopausal fat, exercise sessions should be scheduled three to five times a week "for as close to 60 minutes as you can," Waterhouse said.
"The first 30 minutes of what we're doing -- walking, bicycling, whatever -- our fat cells are laughing at us," she said. "As we get above those 30 minutes, they sort of give in and we start to burn fat."
Even with changes in diet and exercise, don't expect to emerge from menopause unscathed, Waterhouse warned.
"Maybe you can hold down the weight gain. But I'm not going to guarantee you're going to get your 20-year-old body back," she said. "That's impossible. Gravity does exist. But you'll come out of menopause at 55 healthy and fit."