A woman measures her waist with pink measuring tape.
Avoid the accumulation of dangerous belly fat. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

I’ve told all of you about my mantra—lean and ease of movement—in some of my earlier blogs.

My plan to help me achieve this mantra is to eat small, frequent meals of complex carbohydrates and protein, plus one simple carb treat each day.

How many of you came up with your own mantra to help you make good decisions every day? I ask that question because I really believe everyone needs a little help to make smart choices, especially during middle age and menopause.

One of the most important reasons to choose what you eat wisely is because of the relationship between middle age, menopause and belly fat.

Even if you have always had a flat stomach, or mostly gained weight below your waist, you may have noticed that has changed as you’ve reached middle age (and beyond). A common complaint I hear from women who visit my practice is that they gain belly fat easily and have a difficult time losing it.

Why is belly fat so bad? There are several reasons, including both medical and personal issues, with belly fat:

  • Belly fat makes you feel unhealthy.
  • Belly fat can change your mood from cheerful to irritable.
  • Belly fat greatly increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes and overall weight gain.
  • Belly fat adds more insulation, which can cause or worsen hot flashes and night sweats.

In addition, belly fat is extremely powerful because it is inside your abdominal cavity, not just under the skin like fat elsewhere on your body.

When fat is so close to your liver, it can cause a condition called “insulin resistance.” This means that your insulin receptors on your cells require more insulin to make the sugar go into your liver, muscle or brain cells. Thus, as insulin increases to meet this demand, it increasingly makes you crave sugar and promotes fat storage.

When you answer the craving and eat sugar, the sugar goes directly to the belly fat and makes it bigger, which then makes your insulin increase even greater. You get the picture: The belly fat has a voice that says, “Feed me.” That “voice” is insulin, and the only way to shut it up is to starve it of simple sugar.

So, what’s the answer?

It’s simple: Get off the sugar.

There are simple carbs all around you every day, but you need to figure out how to stay away from them without feeling cheated. I was at a baseball game recently, and you can imagine how many simple carbs were right next to me—blueberry muffins, licorice, hot dog buns, slushes.

Here’s what I did before I went to the game: I had a late breakfast of brown rice, poached egg and mixed greens. Plus, I took a baggy of frozen grapes to munch on during the game. I was completely satisfied and had no craving for that blueberry muffin next to me.

You can’t always avoid simple sugars, but you can make smart choices.

Ice cream with the family? Choose a baby cone and throw away the cone (or get the ice cream in a dish).

Heading to a party or a baseball game? Eat a healthy meal or snack before you go and take a sweet snack (like frozen grapes) with you to help you avoid the cravings before they start.

And, keep repeating your mantra—whatever it may be. If you do not feed the fat, you will take back your power to be healthy.