Many women have trouble sleeping during menopause due to hot flashes, night sweats, stress and the other fun stuff that goes along with low estrogen levels. Migraines anyone?? The bummer is poor sleep is linked to hunger and weight gain because of two more hormones: ghrelin (the “feed me” hormone) and leptin (the “I’m full” hormone). Here’s a short blog I wrote on that topic. If you’re sleep deprived, these hormones get out of whack.
Let me see if this sounds familiar: you’re over forty and exercising regularly. You eat a balanced diet and pass on dessert at parties. And yet, you can’t get rid of those extra pounds. If this scenario describes you, you’re not imagining things. Oftentimes, losing weight does get harder as you get older, even if you’re someone who has always been able to easily manage your weight with diet and exercise. Starting at age 30, most people begin to lose about half a pound of muscle per year. What does this have to do with weight loss? The more muscle you have on your body, the better your metabolism works. So it’s not just in your head: losing weight after 40 is more difficult than when you were younger. But you don’t have to feel like weight loss after 40 is impossible. Here are six ways to lose that extra weight after 40.
While quality zzz’s can become ever-elusive as you age from busy schedules, back pain, or menopausal symptoms like hot flashes or insomnia, getting enough sleep is an essential component to weight loss. A good night’s sleep actually burns calories! Plus, studies have shown a strong link between lack of sleep and over-eating the following day. This is because the hormones ghrelin and leptin are thrown out of whack when you don’t get enough sleep, leaving you feeling more hungry but less satiated at every meal, which leads to overeating.
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:
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.
Soda and other sugary soft drinks are all empty calories that may result in weight gain and health problems. Don’t be fooled—diet soda is not better. It’s full of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and often caffeine that can disrupt your health.31,32 It can interfere with your hunger hormones, increase your appetite, and lead to weight gain.33,34 Herbal teas and green juices are a good option.
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.
As we age, we tend to become more insulin resistant which can put us at risk for type 2 diabetes. When you eat foods that break down into sugar, the pancreas pumps out insulin to escort the sugar out of your blood. People with Insulin resistance don’t use insulin effectively so that cells have trouble absorbing sugar which causes a buildup of sugar and insulin in the blood. Researchers still aren’t 100% in agreement as to why, but at the end of the day, people with insulin resistance gain weight, particularly around the middle. And some research shows that lack of estrogen may cause insulin resistance.
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.
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.
In your forties, your body may have an increasingly difficult time digesting carbohydrates, which may lead to weight gain. Living a stressful life can lead to an increase in the stress-hormone called cortisol, which can make you more prone to gaining belly fat. Estrogen loss may also lead to fat redistribution in your body and cause belly fat gain.11
While it seems like ankle weights should help our leg muscles tone faster than without the weights, our legs aren’t designed to carry around heavy feet. There is more risk for injury of tendons and ligaments than toning leg muscles. If you want to focus on leg toning, your best option is some body weight workouts or exercises such as lunges with weights.
3. Keep a food journal or use an app to track what you eat. As we get older, our metabolisms naturally slow down. That means you need less food. If you’re still eating as much as you did in your 30’s, you’ve probably had to buy a whole new wardrobe or 2 by now. Apps like “My Fitness Pal” or “Lose It” help making weight loss goals easier by keeping you on track. Or you can go old school and write everything down then look up the calories. Not all calories are created equal, but one is for sure, taking in more than you burn leads to more body fat.
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."