The Women's Journal

Waist Not, Want Not

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Focus On Your Waist, Not Your Weight


By Dr. Melissa P. Broyles

Your waist circumference is a better health indicator than your weight or BMI (body mass index).    

It can be considered the fifth vital sign, after blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiratory rate. Abdominal obesity, defined as a waist circumference greater than or equal to 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women, is linked to Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast and colon cancer, and fatty liver. Therefore, it is imperative to focus on your waist, not your weight.

One way to maintain your waistline is to stay away from processed foods, especially those containing high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup has similar effects on the body as alcohol. Just as you can develop a “beer belly” from alcohol, you can develop belly fat from high fructose corn syrup and other processed sugars. In addition, high fructose corn syrup, like alcohol, causes your liver to become fatty.  When food shopping, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. That is where you will find less processed and more whole foods. Choose food both for personal satisfaction and for nutritional value.

Another way to a healthy waistline is exercise.  After menopause, a woman’s testosterone level declines. Testosterone helps maintain muscle mass. The lack of testosterone and a diet of processed foods are the main reasons for the “menopause middle.” Therefore, exercise is not only critical to burn calories, but builds abdominal muscle mass. Yoga, Pilates, running and swimming are great choices to slim your waistline.

Many studies have linked obesity to insomnia.  Research shows that inadequate sleep (less than six hours per night) can lead to fat deposits in the belly. So, adequate sleep can improve your waistline. In addition to good sleep hygiene, consider chamomile tea or other calming herbs before bedtime. It is also important to maintain a healthy waistline to prevent sleep apnea (periods of not breathing while sleeping). Sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart failure, insulin resistance and systemic inflammation.

One of the most important things to focus on for a healthy waistline is stress reduction.  Stress stimulates sugar production. The more stress the body experiences, the more sugar gets excreted from the liver. As a result, your waistline increases. Also, many people overeat when stressed as it is their primary way of coping.  To avoid overeating, learn to distinguish between physical and psychological hunger.  Stress reduction techniques like breath work, biofeedback and meditation are beneficial modalities as well.

In summary, by eating whole foods, exercising, sleeping well, and reducing stress, you will not only reduce your waistline, but will also decrease your risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and fatty liver.  So remember, focus on your waist, not your weight.

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* Profile photo by Roy McDowell, Royal Photography, Wilmington, DE