I hear it all the time: middle-aged women wondering why they can’t shake the extra layer of fat from their midsection. “I used to have a tiny waist,” they’ll lament. “I exercise. I eat right. What’s going on here?”
Take heart. You’re not alone, and in many cases it’s not your fault. You’re fighting an uphill battle on two major fronts. First, if you’ve had children, the pregnancies have stretched the skin and muscles of your abdomen to their limit, and frequently beyond. In general, the older you are while pregnant, the less resilient your body tissues, and the less they snap back into place once the baby is delivered. Moreover, in some circumstances an actual separation of the abdominal muscles occurs during pregnancy, which no amount of crunches will correct. Short of plastic surgery, there’s not much you can do to fix that.
Second, as we approach midlife, our hormones gradually begin rearranging themselves in a way that’s not conducive to maintaining a girlish figure. Estrogen, which causes your body to preferentially deposit fat in the breast and hip area, diminishes, allowing the more androgenic (i.e. male) pattern of fat deposition in the abdomen to take over. The breasts sag and the belly gets bigger. The result is a silhouette that looks less like an hourglass and more like a grandfather clock.
All of this is said not to discourage a healthy diet and regular exercise. On the contrary, these are your strongest weapons to fight the battle of the middle. However, know that a somewhat larger midsection is to be expected as you get older, and reflects no shortcoming of your own.