I went to sleep with a flat stomach and woke up with a muffin top
October 19, 2009 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I am a 35 year old female who has all of a sudden developed a potbelly. What to do? I have no experience with dieting and little with exercise.

My weight is at the low end of the normal range for my height and my BMI is 19, but in the last month or two I've developed belly fat where before there was a flat stomach. I am 110% sure I'm not pregnant, and I have never had kids. My eating, sleeping, and exercise habits have not changed lately (I really don't exercise, and my diet is mediocre but not terrible). I am not generally a vain person but I am really self-conscious about this. My pants are getting tight around the waist. I'm worried about what my husband thinks. How do I reverse this trend?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If your BMI is 19 you shouldn't worry about excess fat.
posted by dfriedman at 1:32 PM on October 19, 2009

Yoga would help a lot.
posted by jgirl at 1:35 PM on October 19, 2009

Absolutely not meaning to scare you, but please see your doctor. Sudden bloating/weight gain around the abdomen is a symptom of ovarian cancer. (IANAD but have experience with people being diagnosed with this most often silent disease.)
posted by meerkatty at 1:36 PM on October 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

Pilates strengthens the core, so it's good for you in several ways, and it gave me muscle definition in my abs.
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:40 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Alternately, you could have a non-cancerous ovarian cyst. My sister had one that grew to almost coffee can sized before it torqued around [painful] and sent her to the emergency room. Not a bad idea to get a doctor's appointment.
posted by jessamyn at 1:41 PM on October 19, 2009

Don't feel bad about wearing Spanx, particularly if your BMI is 19. This is not discounting anything that yoga or Pilates might do, but there are plenty of shapewear options out there that are more comfortable and less grannyesque than before.

(Also, remember that "spot toning" doesn't work.)

And I have no idea what your husband is like, but if he's even reacting to anything, he may just be reacting to a perceived lack of confidence on your part. I know it's hard to come to terms with things your body suddenly decides to do, but there are different ways of touching and enjoying each other that may even be more lovely with a little more softness. Try bellydancing! I bet he'd like that :)

But remember: it's more about what YOU like and what will make YOU feel comfortable. It's okay to be less than thrilled with some parts of your body, but if you're healthy and you can do the things you want to do, please don't let your thoughts of "imperfections" take over.
posted by Madamina at 1:42 PM on October 19, 2009

It's normal for body fat to redistribute itself around the time of the menopause - an appearance of a 'tummy' that wasn't there before is common (without necessarily gaining weight). At 35 you're young to be menopausal, so the first thing I'd think of is - have you started a new sort of hormonal contraception? That might cause hormonal changes that cause your existing fat to 'shift'.

As dfriedman says, you really shouldn't be worried about your weight, and really shouldn't be losing any.

Personally, if you rule out anything hormonal, I'd say take up belly dancing. It'll tone up your stomach muscles, but at least as importantly show you that a tummy is sexy!
posted by Coobeastie at 1:43 PM on October 19, 2009

As we age our body chemistry shifts and the old (i.e. young) lifestyle just won't cut it any more. It's time to start taking care of yourself a little better.
Localized fat in the belly or hips can be a warning precursor for future heart health issues, so it's best to tackle it now while it's manageable. Small lifestyle changes to diet (more vegetables, less starchy carbs) and activity (drive less, walk or bike more) made now will probably solve the visible symptoms and will definitely help the more important invisible ones - and benefit your general well-being as a bonus.
posted by rocket88 at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2009

First BMI isn't a very good measure.

Assuming no underlying medical condition then the only real way to lose weight is with diet and exercise. You might be able to get away with only one of these remedies but doing both is the only real assured way of losing excess fat. Start with something simple like don't eat after 6 and add some exercise 3 times a week and go from there.

Note don't fall into the myth of Spot Reduction You can't lose fat in one place - you're going to need to lose weight in general.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2009

Seconding seeing a doctor... but much more common than ovarian cancer are benign things like fibroid tumors. I was just diagnosed with one last week (stomach pooching was one of my symptoms). I am 36, also with no kids. Any menstrual anomalies?
posted by kimdog at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2009

Sudden bloating/weight gain around the abdomen is a symptom of ovarian cancer.

Or, more likely, a symptom of benign tumors/fibroids, sluggish thyroid and/or reduction in progesterone (common after age 35). See a doctor so that you can rule out any of the above.
posted by applemeat at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

Sudden weight gain without any change in diet is certainly medically relevant and something worth getting looked into. And if it's just fat distribution that has changed, without any net weight gain at all, that's definitely something to look into. (You could run it by your GP first but my guess is you're going to end up at an endocrinologist fairly quickly if there's nothing else obviously wrong.)

However, are you sure your diet hasn't changed? I thought the same thing a few years ago, but it turns out that my portion sizes had increased. (It took me reading some notes on recipes to really notice this.) Making a conscious effort to decrease sizes, as well as monitoring my weight closely, got me back where I had been without many other lifestyle changes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:47 PM on October 19, 2009

When I was in my 20's, I had the metabolism of a lab rat on meth -- I was one of those annoying creatures who could eat anything and everything and never gain weight.

Then I turned 34. And that's when my metabolism started changing. And I started gaining weight -- by the time I turned 36 I had gained 40 pounds.

Like you, I said that my diet wasn't terrible -- however, I took a close look at it and noticed that while I was eating vegetables, and I wasn't subsisting on junk food or anything, I was also eating an awful lot of things that had butter and cream and rich meats and...I was having pasta alfredo about once a week, for instance. I also occasionally had, oh, an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's "because I can eat it and it won't matter."

...It's started mattering.

The good news is, starting exercise and upping the vegetables does make a big difference pretty quickly. Not in the number on the scale -- in the way you look. I was 125 in my 20's, and I jumped up to 160. Today, I've only lost about 10 pounds off that, but I look a lot better than I did before I started reining myself in a bit. I signed up for a CSA, which floods me with fresh produce every week -- I lived on that all spring and summer, and when I went home recently for a family visit, I caught my father studying me at one point, and he finally asked, "....have you lost some weight?" Actually I hadn't, but the weight I had was just being distributed better.

I do have a tummy still, but a lot of that I also chalk up to having had major abdominal surgery when I was 26 -- I've heard that if you've had that, it's harder to keep your abdominals toned. I also have a wonky back, and trying to do a lot of ab work aggravates it, so I have to proceed with caution with the abdominal exercises.

You don't have to become a total gym rat and live on salad for the rest of your days, but take a look at where some of the more indulgent bits of your regular diet are and tweak that a bit (I went from pasta alfredo once a week to maybe once every couple months -- I still have pasta, but pasta puttanesca is a lower-fat choice, but still is bold and flavorful and so I'm still happy).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:54 PM on October 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm not totally convinced but I've found a lot of interesting stuff to think about regarding fitness and weight on this site:

Do you eat a lot of bread or pasta? Just wondering.
posted by sully75 at 2:04 PM on October 19, 2009

If your BMI is 19 you shouldn't worry about excess fat.

I disagree. She shouldn't worry about losing pounds on the scale -- in fact she should probably gain weight. But just because she's light doesn't mean she can't have an unhealthy bodyfat percentage.

Barring any serious medical conditions:

You probably have very little muscle mass, which, appearances aside, is not optimal for your health, and contributes to your slow metabolism. You should start a resistance-training routine using free weights. A proper strength program will increase your resting metabolism, bone density, flexibility, and joint integrity. Try the Stronglifts 5x5 beginner program. It takes about 45 minutes three times a week.

Diet-wise, try cutting back on sugars, starches, and processed foods. That can make a big difference. You might try logging all of your nutrition for a week or two using something like fitday.com just to see what's really going on.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:42 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, BMI is BS. It's like trying to determine your health by the number on the scale. It's maybe a better indicator, but not good. So saying "my BMI is 19 = everything is fine" is flawed. It all depends on your shape, where the fat is, what kind of muscles you have, etc. Maybe BMI is great for guys, who come in fewer shapes, but for women with varying hip widths, breasts, apple vs pear shapes, etc, it's just not helpful.

First you need to figure out what the "pooch" actually is. Is it actually accumulated fat? Is it like squishy fat on top of firm muscles? Or are your abdominal muscles weak? If you contract your abdominals, does the pooch go away?

If it's fat accumulation, then we're just talking calories in versus calories out, ie, diet and exercise. As you get older, your metabolism changes, and your body picks different places to store fat. There are various theories about what foods make your body put fat in what places; you might want to check those out. I think that's the basis behind low-carb diets, that refined carbohydrates and/or high GI (glycemic index) foods tend to put fat around the stomach area.

If it's weak abdominal muscles, then PILATES PILATES PILATES. Beware of crunches, which can make the pooch worse. You know how some people have a six-pack that sticks out and some people have a "scooped"-looking six-pack? Pilates is all about the scoop.
posted by thebazilist at 2:55 PM on October 19, 2009

remember that "spot toning" doesn't work

Spot toning actually does work (as in, if you lift weights using arm-muscle motions, you will build your arm muscles and they will look more toned). It's spot reduction that doesn't work. You can't control the distribution of fat, but you can control the underlying size and shape of the core muscles through weight-bearing exercise.
posted by Miko at 3:08 PM on October 19, 2009

Oh, do you smoke? I remember reading (when I was a smoker) that smoking causes the body to distribute more fat around the abdomen.
posted by Miko at 3:09 PM on October 19, 2009

nthing the calls to discuss it with your doctor -- it could be indicative of a medical condition that's better to address sooner rather than later.

That said, I'm thin as well (our BMI's are probably about the same, for what that's worth), and when I hit 35 or 36 I noticed I'd suddenly developed a little tummy pooch as well -- ah, the glories of middle age. I don't diet and I suck at doing crunches/sit-ups, so I try to keep it in check with yoga and a few of the non-crunch/sit-up exercises on this page.
posted by scody at 4:29 PM on October 19, 2009

Spot toning actually does work (as in, if you lift weights using arm-muscle motions, you will build your arm muscles and they will look more toned).

"Toned," as it is commonly used, is synonymous with "defined" -- it means that the muscles are visible. The only way for your muscles to become more defined is to reduce bodyfat. And doing arm exercises won't reduce your arm fat. See also.

I'll also add that it's worthwhile to realize that, besides the fact that the strength of your abdominal muscles has no bearing on how much fat is covering them, you don't need to do any situps or crunches or abdominal-specific exercises to develop strength in your core. The role of the muscles in the trunk, including the erector spinae (lower back) and rectus abominus (6-pack), in most everyday and athletic activities is isometric. That is to say that these muscles contract not to move a load, but to prevent movement, e.g. to maintain the position of the spine. That is also the way these muscles function in the compound barbell movements around which a strength program like Stronglifts is based, e.g. the squat, the press, and the deadlift.

So, long story short -- when you squat, press, and deadlift, you develop strong abs, while at the same time developing strong everything else, as opposed to an exercise which only hits one muscle group and utilizes it in a way that does not reflect its normal anatomical function.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:42 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I could have written this a couple of years ago. This happened to me at about 32. Same thing -- a rather alarmingly sudden "holy shit where'd the belly come from and how do I make it stop!" After ruling out ovarian cancer, fiberoids, thyroid issues, and so forth, my gyn diagnosed me with an acute case of "oh honey, you're over 30."

It sucks, I seriously thought that I was home free, given the fact that I got past 30 without the stereotypical post-30 pooch. I was already getting a relatively decent amount of everyday activity, but now I need to exercise for real, like on purpose.

Alcohol goes straight to my belly -- cutting back keeps my pants looser. On the bright side, I have it on very good authority that the extra T&A looks damn good on me.
posted by desuetude at 6:23 PM on October 19, 2009

Yeah, it's called getting old.


As stated above, if nothing has changed in your life, then at least one thing has changed: your body is older.

I really don't exercise, and my diet is mediocre but not terrible

You're not going to be able to get away with that any longer if you plan on looking the same. In fact, you're going to have to try very hard just to break even. I mean, daily exercise, healthy food, healthy portions, plenty of sleep… yes, it sucks. I was 135 lbs. (guy, 5'10", ectomorph) 'till I was 30. Thought it would last forever. My mother warned me, told me my father was the same way. It hits you like a piano, falling gracefully from the sky, landing with a resounding, unflattering boom.

* This is all provided you don't have any other serious ailments, which you can't assume. Go see a doc to make sure.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:53 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Toned," as it is commonly used, is synonymous with "defined" -- it means that the muscles are visible. The only way for your muscles to become more defined is to reduce bodyfat. And doing arm exercises won't reduce your arm fat.

To be very clear, I wasn't using it "as it is commonly used", I was using "toned" to mean what it sounds like - taut, tight, larger muscles. It's not true that the only way for muscles to become more defined is to reduce body fat. In fact, working out with weights while maintaining the same percentage of body fat can indeed change the shape of the body, as the muscles change shape. I'm speaking from experience about that. I understand that a lot of people may confuse 'toning' with 'spot reduction,' but I'm not doing that, and I commented specifically to note that there is a difference. One has real and visible effects, while the other is not actually possible.
posted by Miko at 7:14 PM on October 19, 2009

I'm worried about what my husband thinks.

Why? What does he think?

Me, I think a cute little pot bellies can be sexy. And fun to poke.
posted by rokusan at 11:06 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just started swimming when I noticed a belly starting where there was none before. I don't really like exercising that much either, but I feel in better shape than I have in years and less bloated, less belly, more muscle.
posted by Rocket26 at 9:11 AM on October 20, 2009

Yes, get checked out by a doctor, for all of the potential reasons mentioned above. Also worth looking into: are you having GI issues? Could this be gas bloat?

Yes, eat better and exercise. No, don't try to lose weight. In fact, as you gain muscle mass, you may gain a little weight. Muscle weighs more than fat.

About those abs. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Do a half sit-up. Does your belly pup up and out? That's your rectus abdominus. It's long and runs the length of your torso in the front center. It's the muscle that gives you that six-pack shape. Run your hands along it and poke, see where it's hard to understand where the muscle is.

Now do a half sit-up, but reach your right hand far past the left of your left knee, so that you're twisted to the left. The right side of your torso will be hard. Those are your obliques; they're located on both sides. Once again, press in to understand where they're located and how they feel when they're activated.

Now relax everything, and pull your belly button in and up towards your spine. The sides of your abdomen shouldn't be hard like they were when you were twisting, and high on your abdomen, in the center where your ribcage ends, should be softer than it was when you had the rectus activated. Your belly should be tighter and flatter. That's the jackpot right there: your transverse abdominus. It helps to support the spine, hold internal organs in place, and flatten your belly. It's generally a pretty neglected muscle. (If your belly didn't pop out while you were doing the sit-up, it's because you had the transverse activated as well.)

Avoid crunches at first. Instead, practice activating your transverse. Do it lying down to get the hang of it. Do it sitting up. Do it driving, walking, cooking. If yours has been neglected, you'll feel it strengthen up pretty quickly; you'll be able to contract it harder as time goes on.

When you've got it strengthened, and when you are automatically contracting it with all your movements, you can start in on the crunches if you like. I highly recommend pilates at that point, as it targets that muscle, along with your other "core" muscles.

I wish you the best.
posted by moira at 12:34 PM on October 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

« Older Falling in love, with caveats.   |   How to export AutoArchive e-mail exported &... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.