You might even find that amusing if it wasn’t quite so true — though you don’t have to be middle-aged to get stuck with a stubborn spare tyre.
Anyone can gain weight around the middle and, increasingly, it’s a problem for all ages. It doesn’t help that modern-day living increases the risk of a thick middle. Stress in itself is enough to play havoc with your weight: the stress hormone cortisol can lead to sugar cravings which can bring about the notorious afternoon slump.
Ironically, so-called diet foods such as diet sodas and artificial sweeteners can also cause weight gain, particularly around the tummy. A study published in the Lancet found that people who regularly use artificial sweeteners tended to gain weight, and a recent study conducted by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research found that those who drank diet soft drinks had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who drank regular sodas.
An expanding waistband is not just a matter of aesthetics: it is often a sign that visceral fat is accumulating in the body, which is associated with higher cardiovascular risk, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers.
Unfortunately, it is also difficult to get rid of: tummy fat doesn’t respond to regular dieting or exercise, explains nutritional therapist Heather Leeson who is running a course called Fat Around the Middle based on the book of the same name byUK health specialist Dr Marilyn Glenville.
The 12-week course, which runs in Dublin, Galway and, soon, in Cork, teaches people how to tackle the eating habits that are putting their health at risk.
One of the first steps is to learn how to balance blood-sugar levels. If you are craving sugar and are feeling tired and/or dizzy, you could be experiencing the roller-coaster ride of blood-sugar imbalance.
“Going for long periods without eating is generally unhelpful,” Leeson explains. “Our body works best when it is fuelled regularly — little and often.”
She says exercise, vitamins and supplements can also play a big role in helping to shift that extra weight around the gut but only if targeted correctly. For instance, studies show that people with good levels of vitamin C burn 30% more fat when doing moderate exercise, says Leeson.
Portion size (they’re often much smaller than you think), meal planning, reading food labels and mindful eating also play a vital role in learning how to get the dangerous pounds off and, more importantly, to keep them off. “Diets don’t work. This is all about making long-term changes slowly and helping people to get away from thinking about weight but thinking about body fat and health,” says Leeson.
* The 12-week course runs from September 22 and costs €297. See positivenutrition.ie