The American standard of beauty demands women appear slender. Constant media onslaughts display happy, sexy, glamorous women who are a size 0-2, and ridicule anyone breaking free of the cultural â€œrulesâ€. Oh sure, once in a rare while a female celebrity will have the nerve to show her face in public, smiling, proud of her Aphrodite curves. Â No, no, no! Â Photos of the offending woman scramble the airwaves and frenzy the tabloids.
A 72-point font declares, â€œ________(Insert victimâ€™s name) balloons to a size 6! SICKX! Family braces for deathwatch!â€ Â The castigated actressâ€™s agent signs her up to hawk some sort of miracle diet plan. She swallows her pride (and little else), until she can declare she is once again free of the life threatening (i.e. career killing), pounds. Â The diet company forces her to wear a bathing suit, high heels, and feigned happiness in advertisements to prove she is thin enough to be sex-worthy. Â America forgives her earlier transgression, s-l-o-w-l-y, if at all.
Is it any wonder girls are beginning to diet at younger and younger ages? Unfortunately, each time we diet our estrogen levels drop, and our cortisol levels rise. The back and forth of gaining and losing weight over the years increases stress on our hormonal systems, and often weakens them to the point of dysfunction. Â When frequent dieters start transitioning into the menopausal years, they tend to gain more weight than women who resisted dieting in the first place.
The reality is we are born with more than 30 billion fat cells programmed to help us through lifeâ€™s circumstances. (Waterhouse, 1998, pp. 2-3) Recent research has indicated fat cells have a lot more going on than keeping women out of bikinis. According to an article by Karolinska University, (Fat Cell Research) fat cell properties not only produce hormones, but also include pathogenic factors that aid in the development of metabolic disturbances and secondary diseases. Why should we care as women? Because believe it or not, fat cells ARE our friends.
Hormonal signals tell the fat cells to pad and protect women as they enter puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. At puberty, estrogen surges tell the fat cells to plump the areas of hip, breasts, and thighs. The increase in fat cell size is needed to start menstruation. When a woman becomes pregnant, an estrogen increase allows the fat cells to grow and change to protect the mother and developing fetus. However, unlike puberty and pregnancy, a drop in estrogen signals the beginning of menopause. Our friendly fat cells want women to have a gentle transition, so they actually grow larger to store and produce additional estrogen. It appears this process starts in our 30â€™s, gains speed in the 40â€™s, and tapers in the 50â€™s. (Waterhouse, 1998)
Midlife Weight Gain
Why does fat pool around the waist as menopause appears? According to Waterhouse, the fat cells in the midsection are better prepared to produce estrogen than in other regions of the body.
â€œThe fat cells surround the liver and adrenal glands, which lend a helping hand to produce estrogen. The adrenal glands produce a form of testosterone, the liver produces the enzyme necessary to convert the testosterone to estrogen, and the fat cells surrounding the liver and adrenal glands provide the laboratory to get the job done.â€ â€“ Waterhouse.
(You can fight midlife weight gain with theseÂ Five Tips For Midlife Weight Management)
Doesnâ€™t that make a difficult-to-zip-up-the-jeans waist a little more appealing? If not, consider this – it has been documented that women who carry more weight have an easier menopausal transition than those who do not. (Kushi, 2006) The University of Pittsburg found that women with larger fat cells were able to produce 40% more symptom-easing estrogen. While this information is not intended to encourage a mega-calorie trip to the nearest buffet, it does shed light on the mysterious and frustrating weight gain associated with perimenopause and menopause. The body resists giving up its estrogen storing fat cells. In fact, the process of attempting to lose weight can trigger many uncomfortable menopausal symptoms. (Kushi) Repeat after meâ€¦we love fat cells. We love fat cellsâ€¦
Typical Female Changes By Decade
PER DEBRA WATERHOUSE
- 30â€™s:Â More PMS symptoms (hide the knives!), more cravings for sugar, carbohydrates, and fat, weight begins to creep upwards, the waistline expands about an inch, cellulite becomes more noticeable, the breasts seem larger, and there is more fat on the back.
- 40â€™s:Â Periods become irregular, cravings for sugar continue to increase, muscle becomes lost at the rate of Â½ pound a year, the average woman has gained an additional 10 – 25 pounds, and fat cells expand to store estrogen. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and headaches are often present.
- 50â€™s:Â Mood swings begin to even out, memory is getting better, hot flashes decrease, weight begins to stabilize once menstruation stops, and fat cells shrink back to non-storage size.
Whew! Â Next week Iâ€™ll write about some other symptoms that canoodle with our menopausal transition.