Perimenopause can be challenging for many women, especially when it comes to weight gain. Meno-middle (weight gain in the abdomen) is one of the most common complaints of perimenopausal women, and most of them have been told that an extra 10–20 pounds is simply a rite of passage at this time of life and they should just accept their “middle-age spread.”
This is crap.
Unfortunately, it’s not just about willpower. Or calories in, calories out. There are hormone imbalances to consider, but the likelihood is that you may have a Vitamin P deficiency.
“What is this Vitamin P?”, you ask.
Show me a woman who’s gained weight and I am willing to bet she is sucking the pleasure out of her life. Because the diet industry and our culture tells us that the battle of weight loss necessarily includes a fun-free diet, grueling workouts, and white-knuckle willpower. But it doesn’t work over the long-haul. As humans, we are not wired to live this way.
When we separate pleasure from food, we alter the biochemical responses in our brains. This results in carb-cravings, decreased absorption of nutrients, and slowed fat burning. Often, we associate the pleasure of food with weight gain. Actually, the reverse is often true. Pleasure, when approached in a healthy way, can actually help us lose weight.
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The Biochemistry of Pleasure and Food
One of the chemicals that increases our appetite is neuropeptide Y. It tells us to search for food. It is naturally elevated in the morning, which makes sense because that’s when the body is readying itself for action. Neuropeptide Y is also elevated whenever we are deprived of food. Its presence is particularly enhanced after dieting. Whenever we sink into a low blood sugar state – which usually means we are also in a crappy mood – neuropeptide Y increases and signals us to consume carbohydrates.
So, if you deny yourself the pleasure of food through low-calorie eating or if you restrict yourself, the body responds by chemically demanding pleasure and satisfaction. No matter how stingy we are with eating, the body will not be denied.
Next, we have endorphins. This is the class of chemicals most people associate with pleasure. They are produced in the brain and digestive system. The simple act of eating raises our levels of endorphins. This response tells us that eating is an inherently pleasurable experience (because it should be). The other less well known thing about endorphins is that they stimulate fat to be burned as fuel. The greater the endorphin release in your digestive tract, the more blood and oxygen will be delivered there, which means greater metabolic efficiency.
The third piece of the puzzle is cholecystokinin, CCK. This is produced by the body in response to protein or fat in a meal and performs a number of functions. First, it helps digestion by stimulating the small intestines, pancreas, gallbladder, and stomach. Second, when it’s released in the brain, it shuts down appetite. And it also stimulates the sensation of pleasure in the cerebral cortex, the highest portion of the brain.
So, in putting all this together, we find that the same chemical that functions to metabolize our meal also tells us when it’s time to finish that meal and makes us feel good about the entire experience. It shows us how pleasure, metabolism, and a naturally controlled appetite are interwoven.
The Bottom Line
The truth is that weight loss is not about willpower or calories in/calories out. Both are myths given to us by the diet industry that doom us to failure. Fad diets don’t work because they strip out pleasure and wreck a delicate biochemical process; one that is more complicated during menopause because of hormone imbalances that work against weight loss. Worrying about weight gain causes us to strip out the most pleasurable aspects of food; an approach that is likely to backfire quickly. This is in addition to the cortisol increase that all that worry produces.
Try adding back some pleasure into your mealtime. If you eat healthy foods 90% of the time and allow yourself to eat “pleasure” foods 10% of the time, you will be fine. And remember, pleasure doesn’t just apply to food choices. It can mean setting a beautiful table, playing relaxing music or lingering over your meal. You decide!
p.s… If you’re a midlife woman who’s struggling with weight loss, check out my new Scrap the Scale program. We have a whole class on pleasure! Get the details here.
Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Dr. Anna is the author of Perimenopause: The Savvy Sister’s Guide to Hormone Harmony. Order your copy at www.perimenopausebook.com.
Dr. Anna is available for 1-1 consultations. Find out more at www.drannagarrett.com/lets-