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Everyday Fitness

with Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP

Living life to the fullest is all about striving for a mind-body balance every day. Achieve a mental, nutritional, and physical transformation for life with tips from wellness expert Pamela Peeke, MD.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Lifestyle Rx for Muffin Tops and Menopots

Of all the anatomical parts in a woman’s body, it’s her middle that gives her the greatest amount of frustration and anxiety. If a woman is carrying an extra 10 or more pounds, she’ll feel anguish over the muffin top she sees every time she pops into her jeans. Women over 40 have a greater tendency to pack on the belly weight as they course through their perimenopausal years and beyond. I call this belly fat the Menopot. All women will have a Menopot and the normal amount of fat is ideally no more than 5 pounds. However, most women are carrying double digit Menopots and too much Menopot leads to a major muffin top.

It’s time to deal with this bountiful belly. It’s time to change.

No one ever changes their behaviors without the presence of two factors. The first is a feeling of pain or angst about something in your life great enough to grab your attention and force you to want to change. For example, you look at yourself in a pair of jeans and what you see is a belly that’s spilling over your waistband and a zipper that’s ready to pop. Now, you may have been walking around like this for a while and you’ve been surviving by simply dissociating yourself from the problem. “Muffin top, what muffin top?” And then one day, something happens and you awaken from your dissociation and you realize you can’t go on like this. You’ve reached rock bottom. You have to change and you’re ready to do whatever it takes to resolve this girth control problem.

The second factor that must be present before meaningful and sustainable change takes place is a reward. People only change when they’re transitioning from something unpleasant to a joyful rewarding place. What’s the reward for all of the work it’s going to take to reverse your bulging belly? Well, that’s up to you. Some women dream of wearing a tucked-in blouse, belt, and jeans. Others are already suffering the medical consequences of too much inner belly fat and their reward is ditching the medications and living a longer life. The point is that everyone has to clearly identify their reward and use that as a motivator and a driver to make the changes necessary to achieve their goal.

I’m going to assume you really want to change and you’re willing to get down to work right now. OK, before you get started, whip a tape measure around your waist across your belly button. Your goal is to be well below 35 inches. If you’re 35 or greater, you have too much belly fat and that’s associated with increased heart disease and diabetes. Keep this in mind as you begin your journey.

Here are the three belly-blasting steps to get you started and on your way to whittling your waist.

MIND:
Visualize your reward. Close your eyes and see yourself without the bigger belly. What do you look like? What are you wearing? How much lighter do you feel? How much more energy do you have? How proud will you be when your doctor marvels at your accomplishment and you can take fewer medications or perhaps get rid of them all! If you have any trouble with the reward, think about what gives you joy in life. Make a joy list. Are you holding back on any item because your belly’s in the way? Feeling bad about your body and not going dancing? Can’t bend over to do your gardening the way you like to because there’s a belly in the way? Keep working at this until you can come up with a joy that can be turned into a reward that can power you through to your goal.

MOUTH:
Remember the big three. Pay attention to the quality and quantity of your foods, as well as the frequency of your meals and snacks. Quality means you’re concentrating on consuming whole foods (veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins). It also means you’re eating real foods, and not processed science fair projects. Real foods also mean eating high quality fats, carbs, and proteins. Don’t be afraid of healthy fats, or the monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) like olive and canola oil. They not only quell your appetite, but they leave you feeling full and satisfied. Nuts, pumpkin seeds, avocados, natural peanut or almond butter, edamame, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and olives are just a few examples of these terrific foods.

Also, research has shown that when you incorporate MUFAs in your diet, you’ll decrease your belly fat load. Quantity is all about reining in those portions. Eat slower and stop before you’re full and you’ll notice you’re eating about 400 to 500 calories per meal instead of 2,000! Bellies show up because we just plain eat too much. Frequency means you’ll eat every three to four hours from breakfast through dinner. In the best of worlds, you’ll lighten up dinner and finish by 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. at the latest. The later you eat, the easier it is to pack on the belly. Research shows that if you overeat at night, you’ll gain twice the fat compared to the day time. Lighten it up and eat earlier. Wake up hungry and ready for your “breakfast”!

MUSCLE:
Work your body. The magic formula to blast your belly is a combination of cardio + weight lifting + core work. The trick with the cardio is to do intervals of intensity and try to burn 400 calories per workout. Or, break it up into 10 or 15 minute segments with intensity. Mix it up and cross train with other activities (treadmill, outdoors, elliptical, rower, biking indoors and outdoors, jump roping, brisk walking, hiking, etc). It’s great to get in some kind of cardio every day, but just make sure to hit it hard no less than four to five times week. Weight training is vital if you want to see a real shape shifting in your body composition. Twice a week is all it takes and most plans don’t require a gym. In both Fight Fat after Forty and Body for Life for Women, I made a point of showing you how to use your own body at home to get an effective whole-body workout. Finally, working your core does not mean countless crunches. Instead, I like to draw upon simple Pilates mat work and slower, more concentrated abdominal contractions to achieve a maximal benefit. Yoga and Pilates are terrific to integrate into your program to provide a terrific mind and body experience.

Here are three final belly-blasting rules.

1. What you do from 3 p.m. on will determine your girth size. This is the time of day when women start to lose it. Make sure you have a planned mid-afternoon snack (peanut butter on a WASA cracker with a dollop of jam; carrots and hummus; protein shake). This will control your appetite at dinner. Be careful not to overeat at dinner. Watch out for after dinner eating and don’t be taking the boys (Ben and Jerry) into bed with you. It’s the ménage a trois guaranteed to pack on the belly!

2. If you don’t wake up hungry in the morning, you overate
the night before.
The key is to use your sleep as a semi fast time. You don’t want food in your stomach during the two hours or more before you go to bed. If you do wake up hungry, I’ll guarantee your belly will feel flatter in the morning.

3. For a flatter belly, get seven to eight hours of restful sleep. It’s a fact that women who don’t get enough sleep and/or their sleep is poor quality have larger bellies. They’re less likely to be mindful of their mouthfuls and are much less likely to have the energy to work out. Get your zzz’s!

Think Small Lose Big

Posted by: Pamela Peeke, MD at 7:30 am

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