When you were young, you probably didn't spend too much time thinking about preparing your body for the future. In your teens and twenties, you're in peak condition and it's the perfect time to start exercising. Cut to 20 years later and, if you didn't start exercising, you probably wish you had since there's something we all start to experience in our 40's—weight gain.
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.
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.
Yeah, you've probs heard that diet tip before—as it's wise for anyone trying to lose weight. Fried foods contain a whole lot of fat and contribute to weight gain—simple as that. But again, in your 40s, you deal with natural physiological changes that make it *even* tougher to shed excess weight, so overdoing it on fried foods has larger consequences. "A 20 year old can get away with eating empty calorie meals. A 40 year old usually cannot on a semi regular basis," Mirkin points out. "Until we are age 20, [our] bodies are building muscle. After age 20, it stops."
Gluten and dairy are two of the biggest culprits behind the ever-increasing rates of chronic illness, autoimmune diseases, and obesity. Gluten has been linked to increased inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, sleep disturbances, mood fluctuations, and skin issues.21,22 Consuming dairy can lead to inflammation, gut issues, and increased risk factors for a number of health problems. Banishing both gluten and dairy is one of the number one actions I recommend for you to take control of your health and your weight. To learn more read my book, The Autoimmune Solution.
Pay attention to what you are eating. Read labels and ensure your foods are organic, nutrient-dense, and anti-inflammatory. Avoid eating in front of the TV, while standing up, and when busy with other tasks. Keep a regular eating schedule. If you are craving something, check-in with yourself to see if you are truly hungry or just thirsty, stressed, or bored.
Hormonal changes are one of the main reasons that women tend to lose more muscle as they approach menopause. Diet and exercise also play a role.12 On average, adults lose 3 to 8 percent muscle every decade after age 30.13,14 By the time you reach 80, you may have about 30 percent less muscle than you had at age 20.15,16 Muscle loss over time can lead to slower RMR, increased fat, weight gain, weakness, and fractures.17
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:
Focusing on being healthy means getting about 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. This level of exercise can keep your heart healthy and work on things like lowering your cholesterol and/or blood pressure. This is a great place to start if you're getting into exercise after a long break. There's no reason you can't start here and progress to more intense goals as you build strength and endurance.
For a sustainable plan, "I don't like to hyperfocus on calories. It's important to have a high-quality diet of lean protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables," Dr. Stanford says. "Processed foods lead to weight gain, so the less processed the food you eat, the better." And the more satisfied you could end up being. Her example: A nice meal of salmon plus some grains and a vegetable and a salad can give you a lot more volume than a Shake Shack stop would, and would give you more of a sense of being full afterward. When it comes to the high-quality diet she advocates, "nothing is bizarre—we know that lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are constant no matter how the guidelines for healthy eating have changed over the years," she says.
Unfortunately, you can't just focus on one area of your body. "Women should focus on all muscle groups in order to lose weight and build muscle because there's no such thing as spot training," Diamond reminds. "With that said, women have a tendency to gain weight in the midsection as we age and focusing on the core and a well-balanced workout will help to reshape body composition."
Starting in your 30s, you can lose three to five percent of your muscle mass each decade if you don’t stay active. Note the last part of that point: “If you don’t stay active.” As you get older, "there's a lot of competition for your time and energy," says Dr. Yancy. For some men, that can push exercise out of the picture. But it doesn't take heroic efforts to put it back into your life.
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.
Oxidative stress occurs when the balance between free radicals in the body and our ability to fight against them is uneven, with free radicals prevailing. Free radicals can cause disease and there is an association with an increased risk of formation of free radicals as we age. That's why after a certain age, building up our defenses (through having lots of antioxidants in plants) can help reduce this imbalance and stack the cards in our defense system instead.
I am 59 and have been on a injury / weight gain cycle for several years. I have never been overweight till my first accident , then I gained weight and kept gaining and now that I am almost 60 , I want that great body and high energy back. The older I get the more problems my weight causes , legs hurt , falling asleep in my chair , I am too young for that. So I am eating better and boxing , which is a great workout . I plan to sky dive for my 60th next year.
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
“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.”