You may wonder if you should even try to lose weight in midlife. Shouldn’t you just accept weight gain during menopause as part of life? The answer is “No!” While accepting and loving your body is important, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight as you are reaching menopause is not about how you look. Excess weight in later life holds a variety of dangers to your health and well-being.18 Losing excess weight, and especially belly fat, may significantly decrease your risk of a variety of health issues, including19,20:
Have you noticed a little extra cushioning on your bottom, belly, and hips and increased difficulty losing those stubborn extra pounds? You are not alone. This is a common problem that women face as they are entering perimenopause and menopause. As a woman over 40 (and turning 50 this year), I understand your concerns. However, as a physician, I know that it is possible to achieve a healthy weight at this time of our lives.
2. Exercise More. Contrary to what your body may want to do, you must exercise more regularly as you age, not less! If you’re finding yourself slowing down, gradually start ramping it back up. It’s not a good idea to go from taking an occasional walk to running a 10K. That’s a fast track to getting an injury. But start finding ways to fit more physical activity to your life. The more you exercise, the more insulin sensitive you become (that’s the opposite of insulin resistant!)
A 2014 study found that the type of fat we consume might make all the difference. Participants in the study were asked to eat 750 extra calories every day for seven weeks. Those having excess calories from saturated fats had activated cells that promoted fat storage in the belly and increased insulin resistance. However, individuals who had a high consumption of polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, gained less abdominal fat and were more likely to increase muscle mass instead.
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.
When you’re under-rested, your appetite-regulating hormones get short-circuited, so your appetite goes into overdrive, but the hormones that tell you you’re full don’t kick in promptly. Studies also suggest that when you’re sleep-deprived, it alters the way you think about food, so you have stronger cravings for sweets and other less healthful eats.
Your muscles are important for bone density, strength, and overall health. However, your body starts to lose muscle as you age. Building muscle can increase your metabolism and help you burn more calories at rest. Muscle also takes up less space than fat, so you can feel leaner and toned as you increase your muscle mass. Good options to increase your muscle mass include light weightlifting, body weight exercises, and Pilates.
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.
Your body has to work harder (meaning it burns more calories) digesting protein than it does fat or carbs, so Palinski-Wade recommends the strategy of upping protein intake to many of her clients, including women who are 40 and over. "Although I don’t promote very high-protein diets, increasing your protein intake from 15 percent of your total calories to 30 percent can help you boost the calories your body burns during digestion, which may just help speed weight loss."
“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.”