Around my waist in 80cm

I have something close to my heart that I need to deal with. I need to get it off my chest before it completely engulfs me.

It’s my belly fat. Visceral and otherwise. Post-menopausal women are attacked by it — some experience a slow growth and others wake up with a fat suit around their midsection. Unlike Leon Schuster or Mrs Doubtfire, we are unable to “take it off”.

I have consulted the best about my belly. Googled “post-menopausal belly fat” (I will get a second opinion about my condition from a doctor if necessary). The figures are shocking — both mine and theirs.

“A waist measurement of greater than 80cm for women is an indicator of the level of internal fat deposits which coat the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas and increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Apparently, post-menopausal women have a fall in oestrogen, which shifts fat storage from hips to abdomen and this produces the spare tyre/money bag/pouch phenomenon.

So what can be done about the sudden extra padding if we are to keep healthy? Not much, it seems. I’m tempted to give in graciously and use it as a platform (on which to rest my cheesecake).

There are options like the standard “eat less, exercise more”. I have friends who gym every day and nibble healthy snacks. They’re miserable and they still have jelly bellies. The happier girls have given in to elasticised waist bands.

What do most of my post-menopausal patients apologise for, when undergoing a first consult? “Look, please excuse my belly. I never used to look like this. I’ve tried core exercises and I walk the dog!” And they cry and rant about a problem that they did not come in for. “I understand — you are not alone.” I point southwards. “Really? You too? But you’re a physio!”

What did our post-menopausal great-grandmothers do with their bellies? They appeared sleek and slender as they aged. In reality, they wore corsets, which squashed their bellies into their armpits and this caused many other serious health problems that no-one mentions. “Was she a smoker?” “No, she had limited air entry from age 50 to 70 due to her corset!” On the other hand, the odd housewife walked around with a book on her head to improve posture and reduce emphasis in the abdominal region. I tried to re-introduce this technique in physiotherapy practices in South Africa and Australia. “My head is too pointy, it keeps sliding off!” complained the women (the book, not the head). Did women of yesteryear have larger, flatter heads?

Anyway, there’s another method from the past that improves posture. The puppet on a string is back in fashion.

Try this: you are a puppet and have a string coming out the middle of your head, it will pull you up towards the ceiling. Look straight ahead. Relax your shoulder girdle as the magic string pulls you straight up, pulling you taller and taller. Now pull in your belly button ever so slightly towards your spine — just 2cm — hold for six seconds. This exercise can be performed throughout the day. Easy, cheap and magically “takes off” 10kg. Good posture in post-menopausal women gives the internal organs some breathing space. The innards are able to regroup in the ever-compressing fat globules.

I have flashbacks of abdominal surgery I observed when I was a physiotherapy student. The patient was a middle-aged female. Huge belly. Doctor cut through layers and layers of fat. Then even more yellow fat globules. He dug a little deeper and eventually completely disappeared into the mound of flesh, only coming up for air now and again. He hauled out whatever needed fixing. Rearranging the innards through all that fat again was a bit like a braai — much coiling and recoiling of the boerewors for perfect fit. And then a quick shake of the pelvis (the patient’s) and everything settled back into the yellow mass of fat. Cauterise, stitch. I was never quite the same after that. I now have the inside story.

It seems there is not much I can do to rid myself of this miserable muffin top. Except to laugh it off. Perhaps a fat, belly laugh is all that is needed to keep in post-menopausal good health.

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