AGING GRACEFULLY Part One, discussing childhood, growing up female, alcohol, Water retention and the aging process – enjoy


Women, periods, puberty, PMS, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause and menopause.

Men just get old.

Not exactly true, but women deal with fluctuating and declining hormones throughout their lives. Every woman knows the effect hormones can have on her body, her energy and her thoughts.

As teenagers, both boys and girls get a hormone hazing; acne and moods spare no one (and no parent). But it is the girls who, seemingly overnight, get a disorientating wake-up as they enter the state of womanhood.  One day they are carefree, playing dress up in mom’s shoes, the next day they’re having an uncomfortable conversation with the lady wearing the shoes.

Girls enter those awkward pubescent years with about 6% more fat than boys the same age. Girls continue to get fat, and by the time they exit puberty, they have 50% more fat than the boys of the same age. Boys, on the other hand, start off in a better place than the girls and actually lose fat during puberty.

Hormones are running riot in the young bodies of pubescent children. Boys have more testosterone, which increases their lean mass and so reduces their percentage of body fat, while girls have estrogen and progesterone, adding curves and the need for a training bra.

Bad skin, the onset of a girl’s menstrual cycle and mood swings make this a fun time, and hormones can be blamed for all of it.

Of the girls and boys who become obese as teenagers, 75% will continue the trend to be obese as adults. There is most unquestionably a genetic factor but this statistic is also a function of exercise and food habits, and these are, in turn, a function of parental influence.

It makes me grateful for being the age I am. Early in my teenage years, I didn’t pay any attention to what I was eating. Whatever was put in front of me is what I ate. The microwave was just being introduced and I don’t recall any fast food, unless you count the ice cream truck.

The food I ate was unprocessed, the servings I ate were determined by my parents and I was a very active child, involved in many sports and with no video games and no TV in my room.

The kids today have it tough in many ways. Fast food everywhere, huge portion sizes being the norm, more computer time, less physically active time, parents busy working longer hours; it all leads to more energy-dense food coupled with less energy burning activity which makes weight gain unavoidable.


As girls leave puberty, they become women and the hormone cycle begins. They will have to deal with this for the next four decades.

At birth, a woman has 100,000 to 400,000 eggs in the form of follicles. Follicles ripen and one turns into an egg. If that egg is fertilized, pregnancy may follow. If the egg is not fertilized the cycle starts over again.

PMS (Pre Menstrual Syndrome) is the result of the imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. If estrogen dominates, the female may feel anxious. If progesterone is too high the female may feel depressed. The balance depends on how much of each hormone the ovaries produce and how well they are broken down by the liver and excreted by the kidneys.

Stress, sugar, alcohol and medication can challenge the liver and the kidneys, making PMS symptoms worse.

Fatigue is one of the most common complaints around this time of the month. One of the reasons fatigue sets in is because the female body becomes very insulin sensitive.  Remember that insulin is your storage hormone, triggered by too many carbohydrates in the blood. The result is that insulin removes the carbohydrates from the blood and puts them into storage (i.e., fat). When carbohydrates are removed from the blood our blood glucose level drops, and so does our energy. The natural response to low blood sugar is hunger and cravings. Another major complaint with PMS is sugar cravings and overeating.

When PMS causes insulin sensitivity, women become more susceptible to the energy crash of low blood sugar after eating.  I can certainly relate to the constant feeling of hunger and fatigue at this time of the month but the biggest mistake would be to give in to the cravings and to eat something sweet. That sugary fix will make the whole situation even worse. It’s better to snack on nuts, cheese, or any other protein source, in fact, pretty much anything but sugar. Eating carbohydrate dense foods will spike insulin. Insulin will do its thing, crash your blood sugar and lock fat in its storage cell, Cravings will follow and the vicious cycle of eat, crash, crave persists.

Ladies, be aware that this is going to be a part of our life for the majority of our life, so create good habits asap. The week before your period try to get more rest, stop the processed food and booze (as they challenge the liver and kidneys), cut the sugar (read your labels because it is everywhere) and hit the gym for a little endorphin high.

The high estrogen will stimulate the adrenals and will reduce urination. As if we didn’t feel bad enough, during our period water is being reabsorbed leaving us uncomfortable and bloated. About 40% of women experience this. I have found that dandelion root tea is helpful but not the perfect answer. Again if you are eating sugar, processed foods and not sleeping enough you will make the situation worse. And water retention can feel and look worse than fat.



How we age is a function of how well we handle stress.
By the age of 70, we might expect to have only 70% the muscle we had as a 28-year-old and our sense of taste and smell will have dropped dramatically.

As we age, we have less Hydrochloric acid (HCL), so we do not digest or absorb our food as effectively.  This can leave us deficient in certain nutrients, especially iron, protein, and B12.  Iron and B12 have a role to play in energy, so when they are low, we become tired, experiencing fatigue which a good sleep doesn’t remedy.

At this stage in the game, we’re unlikely to pull an “all-nighter”.

I’m not sure when it happened, the age at which I stopped staying out late several nights a week. I don’t recall being tired in my 20’s, even into my mid 30’s I was going strong with a full social life and getting by on five hours sleep. At some point after that, it all changed.

Aging is nature’s way of stopping us from making fools of ourselves. Right about the age when we lose the urge, and the energy to party is right about the age when, if we did keep going, we would embarrass ourselves by being that awkward elder in a room full of 25-year-olds.

We move from getting home when the sun is coming up, to afternoon BBQ’s that end before the sun goes down. We move from a girls’ night out to spa days. This natural progression of aging is subtle and yet, in this case, kind.

Late nights and cocktails truly stress our bodies. We are well equipped to handle these stressors in our twenties and thirties, but there is still a price to pay.


“The cause and the solution to all life’s problems.” – Homer Simpson

Two-thirds of adults in the USA drink alcohol, the average consumption being 2.65 gallons of pure alcohol a year.

This sounds like a lot but there was a time when alcohol was an essential part of life.

Western civilization, for over 10,000 years, had a water supply that was not safe to drink.  Alcohol was at least clean and served throughout the day. Consider the fine art of the Renaissance or Classical Rome or Greece; there is always a goblet of wine to be seen. Europe and beyond was a very merry place for quite some time.

In the Far East, they figured out how to boil water to make it safe to drink. In Asia tea was more popular than alcohol. The Eastern world saw two gene pools develop and this is still in evidence today.

Acetaldehyde dehydrogenase is needed to break down alcohol. If this enzyme is not produced, or not working efficiently, then alcohol is not broken down and becomes toxic.

In the West, if you had a problem with acetaldehyde dehydrogenase you would not survive.  Over the generations, a single gene pool survived; those who could break down alcohol in their liver.

In the East they were drinking tea and boiled water, so even those who could not tolerate alcohol were able to survive and breed. So two gene pools developed. It is not uncommon to meet someone of eastern descent who cannot tolerate alcohol at all. They will flush and become very ill as the alcohol becomes toxic.

Modern day medicine has used this to some people’s advantage and the alcohol addiction drug Antabuse works by inhibiting the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, causing those who are on it to get violently ill if they drink alcohol; like an instant and hellish hangover. The hope is that feeling sick will kill the urge to drink alcohol. It is a neat idea that sometimes helps, but alcohol addiction often runs too deep to be so easily thwarted.

Interestingly, women have less of this enzyme in their stomach and so they metabolize alcohol at a slower rate and will get sick quicker. Guys, don’t expect your lady to keep up with your drinking, or you might be holding her hair off her face as she hurls in defeat.

Older men have less ADH, as noted at many a wedding or Christmas party.
Menopausal women become lightweights, and suffer worse after-effects, whereas heavy drinkers likely have more ADH than is normal, giving them the annoying ability to be bright and breezy the morning after.

“Oh God, that man should put their enemy in their mouth to steal away their brain”. – William Shakespeare


Alcohol, unlike food, cannot be broken down and stored. Alcohol is permeable in both water and fat, which means alcohol can go straight through the wall of the stomach with no digestion necessary.

Alcohol is converted into acetaldehyde, which is toxic and therefore makes you sick. Acetaldehyde is broken down by the aforementioned enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and is converted into acetic acid radicals.

Alcohol has to be completely broken down by the liver and the liver will break alcohol down before it breaks down anything else. Alcohol will be broken down before fat and, with the stress of continuous alcohol, fat will build up in the liver and the liver is not meant to store fat.

When there is an excess of alcohol the liver will call on the MEOS system (Microsomal Ethanol Oxidizing System) to help out. The MEOS system breaks down things like medication, Tylenol, anesthesia and, strangely, broccoli. If the MEOS system is busy with alcohol then it is not able to deal with these other substances and they can become toxic.

If your medication tells you not to drink alcohol it is not because they don’t want you to get loaded; it is because you may not be able to break down the medication safely. There are far too many accidental deaths when people mix meds and booze.  It is often assumed that these deaths must have been as a result of partying to excess but, in truth, it might be purely accidental as the liver tries to break down a long, steady diet of alcohol with some pills mistakenly thrown in on top.

Your liver cannot break down alcohol faster just because you are drinking faster.  Your liver will break alcohol down at a steady rate and when we consume too much for too long the liver gets backed up and everything else that needs to be broken down stays intact and potentially toxic.

Given this knowledge, it’s probably also a good idea to listen to your doctors when they tell you not to drink before surgery.

Excess alcohol may temporarily make you feel fabulous, but prolonged excess can lead to thin arms and legs because of muscle loss, a swollen belly caused by a swollen liver, and even a big nose and possible hair loss. Attractive, not!…


Alcohol consumption can be a life or death stress on the body. Over time and prolonged alcohol abuse, healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue which stops the liver from functioning properly. Blood flow is blocked which affects the breakdown of nutrients, hormones, and medications. There is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver.

We may handle alcohol differently but all of us who do drink can expect to, at some time or another, experience the following…

1.    The Hangover.  Water is lost from the cells, especially the brain cells and, as these cells start to rehydrate, we get that hangover headache.

2.    Water Retention. The sick joke is that, with alcohol, you get both dehydrated and then bloated. There is a hormone call ADH (antidiuretic hormone) which, as the name suggests, does the opposite to a diuretic. It makes you hold onto water.  Alcohol temporarily inhibits ADH which means that you are able to get dehydrated. Post alcohol, the ADH hormone kicks back in with a vengeance. It rehydrates the body big time, causing us to swell in all sorts of unwanted places. Post party you can expect puffy eyes, rings that are too tight on your fingers and sock lines around your ankles.

3.    Poor Eating Behavior. When we drink alcohol there comes a point where our taste buds become dull. I doubt that you have experienced your best meal ever whilst drinking. Many times meals are not memorable because you failed to even taste them. Your dulled taste buds may cause you to overeat as you chase the taste. Your fluctuating blood sugar may also cause you to succumb to your sweet tooth or fast food craving.

4.    Weight Gain. We all know those fancy cocktails are loaded with sugar and calories but there is a bigger reason that alcohol causes weight gain.  We have talked a lot about lipolysis, the breakdown of fat for fuel. High carbohydrates will trigger the hormone insulin which will shut lipolysis down. Declining estrogen and testosterone slow down lipolysis and so does alcohol consumption. If the liver is breaking down alcohol then it cannot be breaking down fat at the same time.
To give you a rough idea of how that looks, two vodkas in three hours can reduce lipolysis by 75%. You can do your own math but if two vodkas has that much impact, what does four vodkas do, a bottle of wine or three beers do you for you?

The point being; alcohol slows down the breakdown of fat (lipolysis) in a major way. This brings me to a very common conversation; the debate about which is better – the person who has a couple of drinks per night versus the person who drinks more but drinks just one night a week. The argument might be that alcohol every day is slowing down lipolysis every day whereas drinking more alcohol once a week just throws lipolysis off for that day; and meanwhile, lipolysis can be effective throughout the rest of the week.
I was talking about this in one of my seminars and a lady who had attended left me a scathing Yelp review, accusing me of promoting binge drinking!  I will, therefore, leave you to come to your own conclusion. I will only say that alcohol consumption causes weight gain by the calories in the drink, the food we eat is more likely stored as fat and our diminished ability to break down fat.


1.    Do not drink on an empty stomach. The small intestine is more effective at absorbing alcohol so the longer we can keep it in the stomach the better. If we have a reasonably full stomach, we can keep the valve between the stomach and the small intestine locked down.

2.    Drink water with every hard drink.  This will help to limit dehydration and make the next day a bit more bearable.

3.    Avoid carbonated drinks as they speed stomach emptying.

4.    Do not take Tylenol as it broken down by the MEOS system. Tylenol is hard on the liver, especially when combined with alcohol.

Sleep to lose weight and build muscle



I did not really value sleep until I hit my forties. Thinking back, I trained every day, did a business degree while working part-time, lived in three countries, competed and had a pretty active social life. I know I saw many a midnight and have always been awake before 5.00 a.m. but I do not recall being tired – until my forties.

Lack of sleep is a recognized stress and it makes losing weight very difficult. Men especially like to get heroic oversleep, priding themselves on how little sleep they get. Few of them have a six pack.

So how much sleep do we need? If you are awoken by an alarm clock I would argue that you are not getting all the sleep you need.

Today the National Sleep Foundation calculate that on average we get six hours and 40 minutes sleep on a weekday; compare to pre-light bulb nights when people averaged ten hours a night. Our sleep patterns are strongly linked to what we have allowed ourselves to become accustomed to.

People who sleep less are more active, and yet they will have trouble losing weight. Women who eat less, exercise more but sleep less gain more weight than women who sleep seven hours a night.

In 2006 The American Thoracic Society put some numbers to this theory.
People who slept five hours were 35% more likely to be overweight and 15% more likely to be obese (compared to someone who got seven hours of sleep). Those who slept six hours were 12% more likely to be overweight and 7% more likely to be obese.

Sleep deprivation interferes with the body’s ability to break down carbohydrates.  Lingering carbohydrates means the presence of insulin, our fat hormone.
When we sleep we inhibit cortisol secretion. Waking up too soon will stimulate the hormone cortisol, and elevated and prolonged cortisol makes us store fat, especially around the mid section.
Sleep deprivation will drive leptin levels down and ghrelin levels up, which will trigger cravings and overeating.
Growth hormone is released when we sleep. Growth hormone is a big player in determining how much fat and how much muscle you have. Reduced levels of HGH may reduce your muscle mass which will, in turn, increase your body fat percentage.

Sleep Deprivation can alter our body and so much more beyond that. Sleep deprivation has been used as a torture tactic and, to a lesser degree, can cause depression and moodiness. In women, sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, endometriosis, and dysmenorrhea (painful periods).

One thought with regards to the cancer risk of poor sleep is that melatonin may be a protective hormone. Melatonin production is stimulated by the dark and so we produce melatonin when we sleep. When the light/dark cycle is interrupted by shift work or lack of sleep women have been shown to be at greater risk of menstrual irregularities, conception problems, miscarriage and breast cancer.
Melatonin had been thought simply to be the hormone that helps us sleep. But we now find it has many important functions; protection against breast cancer is one of the most vital.

Lack of sleep will make it harder to lose weight. Short sleepers tend to eat more and crave more sugar. Short sleepers retain a layer of water bloat which is especially noticeable around their midsection. If you are already sleep-deprived it would be a mistake to get up an hour earlier to get in an extra hour of exercise.

The good news about sleep is that you can play catch up. You cannot undo a bad meal but you can catch up on sleep. If your week gets busy, the extra hours you get on a weekend can be powerful. One suggestion that was made to me years ago, and has proven a good lesson, is not to sleep in. Sleeping in will help us catch up on lost sleep but it will also throw off our sleep pattern, making it more difficult to go to bed on time that same day. A better idea is to go to bed early and get up at your usual time. This will allow for the extra sleep you need while keeping your nighttime schedule constant. If going to bed earlier feels like a challenge, there is a simple solution; remove all light bulbs.


The party went well, drinks flowed and the night ended the next day.  Your alarm rouses you and it’s back to reality. Your headaches a little but what hurts more is what you see in the mirror. Your face and body are bloated, making sweats and a baseball hat the uniform of the day.


Water weight is a peculiar thing. Our body is about 60% water but when we retain water that can go up to 65%.  If you weigh 150lb that could bump you up to 158lb

Water weight is heavier than fat. If you take a bucket of fat and a bucket of water the bucket of water will be heavier. As a trainer I would hear more complaints about “bloat” than I would about gaining fat because water weight is heavy. It can feel almost suffocating, whereas fat can surprise you; you don’t know it’s there until one day those jeans don’t fit.

There are two hormones which regulate our water balance.


Antidiuretic hormone controls the amount of fluid released from the kidneys.  Dehydration will trigger ADH, causing the kidneys to release less water. You know this is happening because your urine will be a strong orange color. There is less water in your urine giving it a stronger, more concentrated color. ADH, also called vasopressin, will be activated by alcohol, diuretics, sweat loss, sauna, and pain. The easiest way to avoid the bloat of ADH is to keep hydrated.


This is the hormone that causes more complaints than any other. It is a very fast acting hormone which hits hard. When aldosterone is present it means there can be no sodium in your urine. That is huge because water will always follow sodium. If sodium cannot leave your body because aldosterone is present, then neither will water so you start to expand.

Aldosterone can be triggered by stress and can really mess up an important day for you. A lady getting ready for her wedding may be so stressed that instead of looking better on her big day she looks a lot worse. Once the wedding is over the stress subsides and so does the water weight. A little too late.

It can, however, work in your favor. Vacation weight loss is not unusual. The extra sleep and relaxation you get on vacation can take pounds off you, and just in time for you to feel more comfortable in that bikini.

The late nights and parties are definitely best suited to those in their twenties.  As we get into our thirties, forties, fifties and beyond we are less equipped to deal with that kind of stress.

Hope you enjoyed part 1 of Aging Gracefully. Please share if you enjoyed and as I say in the video, please contact me with any feedback

joanne lee cornish


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