In this edition of EmpowHER's "HER Health Expert", renowned fitness expert and author Dr. Pamela Peeke discusses the various body changes that a woman will go through throughout her life.
How many women out there are looking at their bodies this very moment and saying, “You know, all my life I was an hour glass…” now you look in the mirror and suddenly you’re a shot glass. Everything sort of filled in, in the middle.
And you say, “Did I do something wrong? I’m over the age of 40 and I’m trying to figure out what is going on. What’s the magic here? Is there some secret I didn’t know, so that I wouldn’t end up with this weight in my belly and I’ve read all about it and it’s not healthy for you. What’s really happening?”
Well, this is a wake up call to women. That means that for the first time in your life you’re really paying attention to the quality of your body, not just the quantity.
Honey, take the scale and pitch it. Look at your body composition. Say to yourself, “Hmmm… How much fat do I have, how much bone, how much muscle? Where is it located? What’s going on in this time of my life, especially after the age of 40?”
When I wrote, “Fight Fat After Forty”, I really looked at the whole issue of how the woman’s body morphs over her hormonal milestones, and especially the interaction with stress hormone. Which is called cortisol.
So, after the age of 40 especially we’ve got a lot of stress going on that is unique to this time in life, in a woman’s life. For instance, we’ve got career changes, we’ve got kids leaving, a lot of them coming back too. We’ve got change ups in relationships, personal, professional, we’re moving places geographically all heck’s breaking out.
We’re also caregiving parents and family members. It just goes on and on.
So, no wonder we have our stress hormones out of control. This is one of the elements that contribute to this excessive spread; the other one is change up in sex hormones.
Women don’t realize how powerful estrogen especially is in the distribution of fat on our body. Let’s look at that for a second. Most women don’t understand this body composition issue.
So I’ll start from the very beginning, in an average little girl as she’s growing up, if you look at her body composition, up until she begins her menstrual cycle, her body fat percentage equals her age. That’s right at some point in your life you had a body fat percentage of 9%. Pretty cool stuff. Now that’s assuming you’re average weighted.
Then viola, adolescence. Your body fat increases, and it should. You’re supposed to have breasts and hips, and thighs. Why, getting ready for procreation. It’s all just very primal very straight forward. So your body fat percentage increases. It can go upward of 20% sometimes as high as 25%. These are all ranges. And then you kind of try to hold on to it. A fairly normal range of body fat all the way through until you become pregnant.
What is that normal range? It’s awfully nice somewhere between 20 and 25%. Works like a charm. Anything below that usually means you’re either an athlete or you’re genetically predisposed, or both.
Once you become pregnant your body fat comes up again, but that’s obviously normal.
And then you come back down again and sometimes we don’t always come back exactly where the baseline was. So we start accruing some extra body fat over time. But generally speaking, a woman’s body prior to perimenopause looks like either a pear or an hour glass depending upon what you’ve got to offer upstairs.
Then the perimenopause hits. And one day you wake up and there it was hour glass to shot glass. Sex hormones are beginning to fluctuate. Estrogen is exquisitely powerful in its ability to be able to maintain that body fat distribution that women are used to. Or as it waxes and wanes, you begin to now, put more fat around the belly, especially in the “pinch an inch area”. Alright.
And if you’re eating too much and if you’re really putting on some weight and you’re also stressed you’ll also place some of that fat deep inside of the belly. Giving you that bowling ball appearance.
Interestingly you don’t have to be overweight or obese to redistribute your fat to your belly. So that’s why one of the most important lessons that I like to teach a woman is always, forget the scale for a second here, whip out a tape measure, and put that right around your belly button, and you want to make certain, that it’s well below 35 inches. Once it hits 35 inches or greater, we’re in trouble and you’re starting to pack on way too much fat in the belly and I’m sure that some of that is going deep inside of your belly too. And that’s dangerous stuff. That too much fat deep inside of the belly is highly associated with heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
So it’s really important to pay attention to body composition, quality of your body, as your moving through or progressing through perimenopause and menopause.