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.
Very soon, I’ll stand up in front of the graduating class of my former high school and give the commencement speech. I’ll focus on the usual “work hard” and “follow your dream” themes, but, in reality, I just want to shout out to all those 17-year-olds — “have that ice cream cone, you’ll still fit into your skinny jeans tomorrow! ” Or “it’s OK to skip a workout, your muscle mass will help you bounce back!”
Even if you’re eating reasonably well, you can still be in a calorie surplus. Whether you’re eating oversized portions, taking mindless bites while prepping family meals or grazing as part of a new work-from-home norm, all that noshing adds up. Tracking your food intake can be helpful. In one 24-week study, researchers found that time spent logging food intake was significantly linked to weight loss. If tracking your food (even with an app) sounds daunting, consider that by the end of the study, those who were still committed to tracking spent just 15 minutes a day doing it — about what you might spend scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.
Developing good sleeping habits is crucial when it comes to weight loss.40 The exercise and dietary tips with discussed earlier can support your sleep cycle. Avoid sugary and caffeinated foods, especially as the evening approaches, so you can feel tired and calm, instead of jittery. Limit blue-light exposure in the evening by wearing amber glasses that block harmful wavelengths from electronics. Develop a night-time routine that calms you down before bedtime.
Erin Palinski-Wade, RD and nutrition and diabetes expert, adds that you can use fruits and veggies to help exercise portion control, too. "If you aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, it can help you to reduce the portion size of the other foods while feeling just as satisfied," she explains. "And since vegetables provide few calories, this strategy can reduce your overall calorie intake at each meal, helping to promote weight loss.
If you were very active in your younger years, you may have had some injuries. Like a spicy pepperoni pizza does after dinner, those injuries from your carefree days can come back to haunt you. These ghosts of injuries past show up in the form of early arthritis, bone spurs, tighter muscles, pinched nerves, etc. After our 30’s, new injuries also take longer heal. No wonder we slow down.
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.
It's a myth that eating at night leads to weight gain, Palinksi-Wade points out; it's more about what you're eating at night that can be an issue when it comes to weight management. "Since most of us don’t have a salad for a midnight snack, if you find you tend to eat calorie-dense, high-sugar foods in the evening (like a bowl of ice cream) setting guidelines as to when to stop eating may help you to lose weight faster."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sarah Mirkin, RDN, author of Fill Your Plate Lose the Weight, recommends 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal. "It’s important to take in that amount of protein at all your meals, and ideally include high protein snacks as well," Mirkin says. "This helps to prevent lean muscle protein breakdown that decreases muscle mass percentage, increases fat percentage, and slows the metabolic rate. Muscle burns calories. Fat doesn’t."
“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.”