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You are here : 3-RX.com > Home > Obesity -

Weight gain during life’s changes frustrates women

ObesityAug 12, 05

For most of her life, Janice Hall was small. Not just petite, at 4-foot-10, but thin, too.

But after having her second child, a son, at age 40, her body seemed to shift. “I noticed a huge difference in being unable to lose weight,” recalls the Rochester nurse.

Over time, she attributed it to the postpartum period, then age, then stress. But after she hit 50, meticulously trimmed her calories, continued her workouts and still saw the scale number climb, Hall got irked.

“I said ‘What the heck?’ I hadn’t changed anything, I didn’t eat junk food, I was working out. I was like, what is this?’”

Actually, Hall had already guessed three of the four reasons why her metabolism — and most women’s — can go haywire:

It works out to at least one glitch per adult decade when a woman may find her arms and belly thickening and her jeans tightening.

She might stay that way. She might reverse it. She might even be able to wind up with a better body than ever. It largely depends on how much work she’s willing to do.

Pregnancy pounds
Even in one’s 20s, when the body’s metabolic furnace still burns fairly fast, recovering from Pregnancy can slow it down and, in some cases, all but shut it off. Mary Minh of Rochester had her daughter 16 months ago, and despite daily walks through area parks, she feels her body isn’t burning up food as it did before.

“I used to be able to feel it when I was dieting — I could feel full, and then empty,” she explains. Now she has to stringently diet and exercise hard “to get that ‘oh good, it’s coming off’ feeling.”

She’s contemplating having her thyroid — the gland that controls metabolism — checked, which doctors encourage: Roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of women have postpartum thyroiditis, when the gland becomes inflamed and dysfunctional because of hormonal shifts.

“These levels can be transient for the first eight weeks, but they should be back to normal within 15 weeks,” explains Dr. Jamesine Williams, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Unity Health. “If not, a blood test is indicated because we need to know if it’s your thyroid, or if the depression and lethargy are just that part of having a baby.”

Other factors making it hard for new moms to slenderize: Little or no time to exercise, high stress and little sleep, all of which make the body cling to the fat it’s already got.

“It really takes time because of those factors,” says Williams. “It won’t be the one to two pounds per week you might normally drop off if you were trying hard.”

Stress and the 30s
Women who hit and pass age 30 may experience a metabolism shift even if they haven’t had a child, specialists note.

One long-standing rule of thumb: As the body ages, the metabolism slows about 5 percent each decade, or about 75 calories less per day at age 35 than at age 25.

No big whoop?
That works out to an extra eight or nine pounds a year, unless you’re doing something daily to burn it off.

Thankfully, after 30, life tends to get busier, which may take care of the lingering calories. On the other hand, notes Brighton family practitioner Dr. Mary Claire Wise, after 30 is also when life’s stresses tend to pile up: Marriages become strained, kids’ demands increase, parents age, finances complicate, private time dwindles.

These stressors cause the release of cortisol, which not only increases the appetite but also stimulates the release of insulin, the hormone that encourages cellular fat storage.

Pair the two — an ever-slowing metabolism and a stressed body craving food while shooting out extra insulin — and women may find their bodies thickening despite unchanged diets and exercise regimens.

“Of the two, I think the high stress level is more to blame, especially in this day and age,” says Wise, whose holistic practice specializes in metabolic disorders that can be missed in traditional testing.

Reaching menopause
And then there’s peri-menopause — the time around age 45 when the previous factors show up in full force.

Lack of sleep may be heightened by hot flashes or Headaches; hormone levels swing as wildly as in adolescence; and life stress can be heightened. By last year, Hall, now 52, was fed up. “I wasn’t even eating a third of what I used to, and still I was just gaining weight,” she says.

Observes Wise: “It can surprise women how fast this can come on. It can happen within six months.”

However, Wise adds, the right treatment can counter it quickly, too: Increasing exercise to at least a half-hour per day; eating mostly lean protein, fruits and vegetables; getting enough sleep; drinking eight glasses of water a day; reducing salt; and being checked for metabolic disorders.

Her treatment of Hall, which so far has led to a six-pound drop, includes supplements, dietary restrictions and varied exercise done almost every day.

Wise also encourages women to develop a spiritual life “because it’ll send your body the other way when stress attacks. And stress is the biggest factor linking all of these.”

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