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.
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.
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.
It’s usually not just due to losing muscle mass over time (more on that later). "It's multifactorial," says Fatima Stanford, MD, MPH, obesity medicine physician scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Numerous factors can sneak up on you and help you gain or hold onto weight, including your lifestyle, your food, your biology, and your sleep habits. The good news in that is that there are also numerous ways to tackle getting your weight to where you want it—you don't have to force yourself into one approach, and you get to choose what works for you.
Exercise can actually increase your energy. Just three hours of exercise weekly can improve the health of menopausal women.35,36,37,38,39 You may be able to add aerobic exercise into your everyday life without even noticing it! Take a walk during lunch with your colleagues. Go for a bike ride with your family after dinner. Put some music on while cleaning the house and add some dance moves. Jump on an elliptical trainer or treadmill instead of sitting while watching your favorite show.
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.
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.
"One of the reasons that it's difficult to lose weight in your 40s is that you are beginning to lose muscle mass, so the composition of your body tissue changes," explains Keri Peterson, MD, Women's Health advisor. "Having higher muscle mass raises your metabolism, so your body burns more calories." So when you're dealing with the opposite—less muscle mass—that means a slower metabolism. Argh.
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.