Like most women, you probably dieted when you were younger in order to take off unwanted pounds. It was easy then. Few people were telling you to reduce the fat, sugar, salt, and calories in your diet in addition to adding strength and aerobic training to your exercise program. All you had to do (so they said) was reduce calories, and the weight would fall off. Well, over the decades, we've all wised up.

Today we know that no matter what age you are, proper diet and exercise go hand-in-hand to reduce body fat safely. For many women over 40, however, calorie counting and exercise fail to reduce fat around the waist and abdomen. What's going on?

Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of Fight Fat After Forty, has been researching a new variable in the game of weight loss, and it shouldn't surprise us. It's stress, and it's keeping the pounds on. Peeke and her colleagues have found the first scientific evidence that links long-term stress with fat accumulation in the waist and abdomen of aging women. Cortisol, the body's stress hormone, seems to be part of the problem. Add sustained high levels of cortisol due to stress and a few other ingredients brought on by middle-age, such as reduced hormone levels, and you have gradual fat accumulation, especially around the waist and abdomen.

Peeke's three-step program shows women over 40 how to get rid of fat by managing stress. Her program explains how to identify and control triggers for stress eating and how stress overeaters and stress undereaters can become more stress resilient. She shows how to choose the right foods to eat during the CortiZone (that late afternoon time when your body craves carbohydrates and fats). She explains how to distinguish those low-quality/high-stress foods that you've been eating (such as fat-free products) from high quality/low-stress foods (such as apples), which will allow you to lose the weight. She presents exercises that jump-start your day and your metabolism.

Dr. Pamela Peeke offers new insight into what may be keeping your weight on despite all your best efforts to take it off.

Pat Regel is a reviewer in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.

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