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.
Changes in your activity levels are one of the main reasons that losing weight after 40 may be more challenging than before. Like many women, you may be putting others first and simply not finding time to exercise. You may also notice that your joints can no longer handle the same activities as before. However, a lack of exercise can lead to muscle loss and fat gain.
There appears to be a connection between estrogen and body weight regulation. With lower estrogen levels, lab animals tend to eat more and be less physically active. Levels that are too high or too low appear to lead to fat storage. And, lower estrogen levels may also slow down your metabolic rate (the speed at your body converts stored energy into working energy).
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.
As you reach mid-life, the pressures pile up. Just think of the typical stressors, like caring for kids and aging parents, facing financial burdens and dealing with the demands of a job. When you’re experiencing stress, your body responds by releasing the hormone cortisol. If your stress diminishes, your hormone levels return to normal, but if you’re experiencing ongoing stress from “adulting,” cortisol levels will remain high. This can set off a series of biological events that may lead to an increased appetite with more cravings and a propensity to store fat in your belly.
If you are taking the appropriate measures (e.g., eating enough of a calorie deficit for your age and body composition, stressing less, and working on strength training) and still not losing weight, and you also have other symptoms of hypothyroidism (such as constipation, fatigue, dry hair and nails), then it may be worth considering getting your thyroid levels checked," advises Dr. Peterson.
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.
Once you hit 40, losing weight can feel like a lost cause. Dr. Robert Kushner, director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Northwestern Medicine Center in Chicago and author of “Six Factors to Fit: Weight Loss that Works for You,” told TODAY that the total amount of calories burned every day diminishes for most people with each passing decade.
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.
Sleeping enough is important, and if your lifestyle is making you cheat sleep, then think about what you can do to get enough. Sometimes, however, biology is keeping you from enough shuteye, and it's imperative to solve that. "Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to additional weight gain," says Dr. Stanford. If you are making all the right efforts to get restorative sleep and still don't feel restored, consider seeing a sleep doctor, who can drill down on the problem and help you find some solutions.
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.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is where you exert maximum effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise followed by short recovery periods, and it’s a great way to amp up your weight loss. If you’re currently only using doing steady state cardio workouts like jogging or elliptical weight loss exercises, for example, you could benefit from incorporating HIIT workouts to your regimen. Because the intervals get your heart rate more elevated, they help you work harder, not longer. Studies show that HIIT also burns more fat than other workouts. If you’re looking to try HIIT for the first time, check out these HIIT workouts on Get Healthy U TV!
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.