"One of the reasons that it's difficult to lose weight in your 40s is that you are beginning to lose muscle mass, so the composition of your body tissue changes," explains Keri Peterson, MD, Women's Health advisor. "Having higher muscle mass raises your metabolism, so your body burns more calories." So when you're dealing with the opposite—less muscle mass—that means a slower metabolism. Argh.
Difficulty sleeping can be a symptom of menopause, so it's not uncommon for women in their 40s to struggle with getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, this can also cause weight gain. "When you get less than seven hours of restful sleep, metabolic changes occur that can make it significantly harder to lose weight," says Palinksi-Wade. "The appetite hormone ghrelin is increased while leptin (which controls hunger cues) is reduced, triggering an increased desire to eat, especially for foods rich in fat and sugar. Insulin resistance increases, which can trigger the body to store fat."
Good stress management techniques and routine exercise will have positive effects on your sleep, but you may need to take additional steps to help you sleep better. For example, be proactive about going to bed and waking up at the same time most days, and allow yourself 30 minutes to unwind and disconnect from your digital devices at night. Eating a plant-forward, mostly whole foods diet that’s low in added sugar helps, too.
Chronic stress can increase cortisol in your body, and lead to high insulin levels. You may even end up craving more sugary and fatty junk food,41 resulting in more stubborn pounds and belly fat. Managing your stress will increase your overall well-being and can help with weight loss. Breathing exercises, meditation, dance, gentle exercise, journaling, and listening to uplifting music are some of my favorite ways to lower stress.
If you are taking the appropriate measures (e.g., eating enough of a calorie deficit for your age and body composition, stressing less, and working on strength training) and still not losing weight, and you also have other symptoms of hypothyroidism (such as constipation, fatigue, dry hair and nails), then it may be worth considering getting your thyroid levels checked," advises Dr. Peterson.
Before you try anything else, make sure there isn’t an underlying factor interfering with your weight loss, like a thyroid condition. Did you know that nearly 1 in 5 adults over 40 suffer from thyroid problems that can interfere with weight loss? Your thyroid is the main regulator of your body’s metabolism, so having an over or under-active thyroid gland (hyper or hypothyroidism) can truly interfere with weight loss. Talk to your doctor if you’re having trouble losing weight and also experiencing any of the following symptoms of a thyroid disorder:
Eating well isn’t just about skipping out on processed junk food. It’s also about filling up your plate with clean, healthy foods that can actually assist in your weight loss. Healthy fats like those found in olive oil, avocados and nut butters nourish your body while helping you feel full longer—which means you’re less likely to overeat. Incorporating healthy sources of protein like eggs and salmon will also help you feel more satiated as well as fuel the muscles you’re building through that regular strength training we mentioned above! Hungry during the day? Keep a small pack of heatlhy almonds or other nuts in your bag to snack on in a pinch. Just a handful will keep you satisfied until your next meal, all while providing healthy protein, fat and fiber. Don’t wait until you’re tummy is growling! Be prepared.
“Has something happened — a change in relationship or job? Has that affected the times that you’re eating, how and what you’re eating, and who you’re eating with? Those changes in eating nutritionally can affect your weight,” Weiner said. “If you used to eat with other people, you maybe had more vegetables. Alone, you may be eating less healthy foods.”
To jumpstart your weight loss, the biggest focus should be to develop habits that will help you build or maintain your muscle mass. "The most effective way that women over 40 can boost their metabolism is by building muscle through weight-lifting and resistance training," says Dr. Peterson (more on that to come). But nutrition and sleep habits also play a role here.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.