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Oh, Do You Know the Muffin Top?

How to tackle the layer of belly fat that develops in women approaching menopause.
By Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH
WebMD Magazine

Ask any woman about her least favorite body part, and most of us will point to our middles. And in my experience, bellies can become especially anxiety-provoking when excess fat spills over the top of our jeans. Yes, the dreaded "muffin top."

Any woman can get a muffin top. But women are more likely to gain excess belly weight -- especially deep inside the belly -- as they go through perimenopause and into menopause, when their menstrual cycle ends. That's because as estrogen levels drop, body fat is redistributed from the hips, thighs, and buttocks (where it used to be stored as a fuel reserve for breastfeeding) to the abdomen.

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Developing a pooch of subcutaneous (below the skin) fat -- what I call the "menopot" -- is perfectly normal. But if you gain more than 2 to 5 pounds, it's likely to go deeper into the abdomen, creating too much visceral fat. You need some fat in your belly, but when it becomes excessive, I call it "toxic fat." That's because excessive amounts of visceral fat increase inflammation in the body and ultimately contribute to several conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

That's the downside.

The upside is that you can do something about it. The first thing I want you to do is to whip a tape measure around your waist across your belly button. Your goal is to be well below 35 inches. If you're 35 or greater, you have too much internal belly fat.

Next, take a look at how you eat. Remember the "big three" diet rules: Pay attention to the quality and quantity of your foods, as well as the frequency of your meals and snacks. In other words, choose whole foods (veggies, fruits, whole grains) and high-quality fats, carbs, and proteins. Eat smaller meals, more often -- being especially sure to eat a healthy snack after 3 p.m., when fatigue and frustration drive many women to reach for junk food.

Finally, get moving -- to truly trim your waist, you need to use both diet and exercise.

How to Whittle Your Middle

Not sure how to start? Follow these three tips to use the power of your mind (and your body) to tackle your muffin top.

Work your whole body. The magic formula for blasting body fat is combining cardio, weight lifting, and core work. The trick with the cardio is to do intervals -- alternating high- and low-intensity bursts within one workout -- and work up to burning 400 calories per workout, four to five times a week. Weight train twice a week, either at home or at the gym, and do yoga or Pilates to trim that core.

Visualize your reward.Close your eyes and see yourself without the bigger belly. What do you look like? What are you wearing? How much lighter do you feel? Do this daily. Without a goal in mind, you will be stuck doing technical tasks (dieting, exercising) that might feel meaningless.

Combine discipline with self-love. Sure, you need discipline to drag yourself out of bed for that early morning exercise class. But the stronger your self-love and respect, the more you'll see that discipline as one route to realizing your dreams.

Reviewed on September 02, 2010

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