The spare tire, the muffin top, unlovable handles: you’ve heard all the horrible names for those pudgy pinch-able inches that are often the most stubborn to get rid of. In fact midsection weight-gain is one of the most common complaints I get from patients. Often someone tells me they’re trying harder than ever with their workouts, killing themselves doing abs, and eating a “cleaner” diet, but none of it seems to be working. They’re doing two or three times the work they did in their teens and twenties, with diminishing results.
This extra-work-for-less-payoff is a huge clue that belly fat is being caused by an overlooked factor: Hormonal imbalance.
Hormones and Aging
Some of this is an effect of aging. As we get into our late twenties and early thirties, many of our fat-burning hormone levels — including levels of testosterone, DHEA, growth hormone, and thyroid hormone — start falling. In addition, the hormones we like nice and low, the fat-storing hormones — including insulin and cortisol — start going up.
Because people often don’t associate hormone levels with weight gain, they employ all sorts of unsuccessful strategies to solve the problem. They start dieting or doing juice cleanses. They’ll drastically increase the amount of cardio they do. Even though it seems like these strategies — particularly increasing cardio — should work, they’re problematic.
Don’t Do More Cardio, Do the Right Cardio
One reason the cardio pathway to weight loss is unsuccessful is that too often, it takes the form of exercise like long stints on the elliptical, jogging all morning, or hour-long power walks with friends. While these all have health benefits, burning midsection fat isn’t one of them. That’s because this kind of long-duration exercise doesn’t kick off what’s known as the hormonal effect of exercise.
The hormonal effect of exercise is a state initiated by employing specific muscle fibers that are only activated in intense bursts of activity. When the effect is achieved, the right hormones are recruited and initiate up to nine times the fat-burning.
The best way to kickstart the hormonal effect? Bursting exercises. In other words, training with high intensity for short bursts of time, followed by a few moments of rest in between. The much-cited illustration of the difference between the long-duration exercise and the bursting exercises that helps with fat-burning is the picture of the marathon runner’s body versus the sprinter’s body. The marathon runner might be thin, but still be flabby and have a high body fat percentage, including the overflowing midsection. A sprinter, who bursts into action then rests, has a lean, muscular, muffin-top-less body.
Sleep the Fat Away
Another hormonal factor to take into consideration: sleep. A good night’s sleep is my number one recommendation for patients who want to lose weight. Lack of sleep is a form of stress on the body. Not only are key hormones for weight loss released in the evening during deep sleep, but lack of sleep can stimulate production of a hormone that will contribute to weight gain: cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that responds to stressors and protects us from starvation and harm. But sustained high cortisol levels cause us to store fat. Unfortunately for us, cortisol doesn’t distinguish between types of stress. So lack of quality sleep, because you’re out late with your friends or up working, raises cortisol, and if you have high cortisol levels you’re metabolically setting up your body to store fat.
Make Sure You’ve Got Enough Fat Burning Hormones on Board
Exercise and sleep are only two pieces of the squishy midsection puzzle. No matter how great your sleep and exercise patterns are, you also have to make sure you have adequate amounts of fat-burning hormones to be utilized. So hormonal supplementation may be the key. In patients with the spare tire, hormone levels are often low, and low in a variety of ways. That means there’s no one pill or hormone someone can take to tighten their belly. A holistic picture is needed. The best way to do this, as well as to get on a hormone-optimizing exercise, sleep, and food lifestyle plan, is to work with an Age Management physician like myself and Dr. Jill Stocker at The Body Well.
For more information or to schedule an evaluation, call (323) 874-9355 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org