Remember how we said that the more muscle you have on your body, the better your metabolism works? Having more muscle increases your resting metabolic rate (RMR). This helps you burn more calories at rest—which is what you want if you’re aiming for weight loss after 40. So if you’ve been avoiding those weight machines or dumbbells, now’s the time to dedicate yourself to strength training. It is never too late to start strength training! If it is new to you, take advantage of any free personal training sessions that might be offered when you join a local gym or health club. This is often to familiarize you with the equipment and the layout of the facility, but can be a useful tool to get you started on a routine. Of course, if you have the finances to hire a trainer for a few sessions that’s another way to go.
It’s usually not just due to losing muscle mass over time (more on that later). "It's multifactorial," says Fatima Stanford, MD, MPH, obesity medicine physician scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Numerous factors can sneak up on you and help you gain or hold onto weight, including your lifestyle, your food, your biology, and your sleep habits. The good news in that is that there are also numerous ways to tackle getting your weight to where you want it—you don't have to force yourself into one approach, and you get to choose what works for you.
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.
If you're a breakfast person, what you eat in the a.m. can set the tone for the rest of your day as far as weight loss goes (whether you're 40 or not!). "A breakfast rich in lean protein, fiber, and plant-based fats is the best option for curbing hunger and cravings later in the day," notes Palinski-Wade. In other words, start off with a breakfast that fits this bill, and you may end up slashing calories throughout the rest of the day.
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.
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.
What does that mean for you? That the weight loss process naturally becomes harder as you get older...that's just a fact and accepting it means you can stop punishing yourself or feeling ashamed about your body. Instead of focusing on the negative, focus on the things you can control: Your workouts, activity levels, diet, stress management, sleep management and, most important, your attitude.