Yes, You Can Lose Weight After 40!
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.
Luckily, there are several simple strategies for success that can help you lose belly fat and banish extra weight even after age 40. In this article, you’ll learn why it can be difficult to lose weight during midlife, what the risks of excess weight are, and how to lose weight with some simple, natural, dietary and lifestyle strategies.
Why Is It So Hard to Lose Weight After 40?
In your forties, your activity levels change, your metabolism slows down, your belly fat increases, and your muscle mass changes. As a result, losing weight may become more difficult than before. And all these factors are interdependent, so paying attention to all of them will yield the best results.
Changes in Activity
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.
As you enter your forties, you are also entering perimenopause, when levels of your sex hormones progesterone and estrogen decline. Besides regulating your menstrual cycle and reproductive functions, these hormones also impact restful sleep and relaxation. A decrease in progesterone and estrogen levels may lead to sleep disturbances, restlessness, and insomnia.1 Because changes in sleep patterns have been associated with weight gain, sleepless nights may make weight loss increasingly difficult.2
Your metabolic rate naturally continues to decline 5 percent each decade once you hit 40.3 Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) determines how many calories you just to survive. It is determined by a variety of chemical reactions inside your body. These reactions rely on your mitochondrial function and sodium-potassium pumps. Your mitochondria help to create energy, while your sodium-potassium pumps generate muscle contractions and nerve impulses.4,5,6,7,8 Both of these processes become less effective over the years and slow your metabolism.9,10 If you eat more than your RMR yet lead a sedentary life, you set yourself up for weight gain.
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
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
You may wonder if you should even try to lose weight in midlife. Shouldn’t you just accept weight gain during menopause as part of life? The answer is “No!” While accepting and loving your body is important, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight as you are reaching menopause is not about how you look. Excess weight in later life holds a variety of dangers to your health and well-being.18 Losing excess weight, and especially belly fat, may significantly decrease your risk of a variety of health issues, including19,20:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Fatty liver
- Breathing disorders
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and stroke
- Kidney disease
- Sleep apnea
- Chronic fatigue
- Thyroid problems
- Premature aging and early death
What Can You Do
The good news is that weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight is absolutely possible in midlife. All you need to do is to follow a few simple healthy diet, lifestyle, and mindfulness strategies.
Banish Gluten and Dairy
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.
Choose Healthy Fats
Healthy fats such as avocados, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and ghee have a number of benefits. These include reducing the risk of heart attack, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.23,24,25,26,27 They can keep you satisfied longer, reducing the risk of overeating and snacking. Healthy eating doesn’t mean deprivation! Healthy fats taste good and improve your brain health, and so may help you feel emotionally satisfied, lowering the risk of emotional eating.28
Protein is incredibly important in repairing your tissues, building muscles, combating fat, balancing your hormones, and increasing your overall health and well-being.29 Healthy proteins include grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, organic pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught fish, and wild game. I purchase my meats from ButcherBox and my fish from Vital Choice. I drink a delicious smoothie using The Myers Way® Paleo Protein to meet my protein needs. It’s organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free and sourced from non-GMO, hormone and antibiotic free, grass-fed beef with 21 grams of protein per serving. My new, limited-time-only Salted Caramel flavor has just released. It’s a great summertime treat that ups your protein without weighing you down with sugars.
Remember Your Veggies
Non-starchy vegetables, particularly greens, are rich in nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, and quite low in calories. They can nourish your body while helping you lose weight. Greens and veggies are low in calories, yet thanks to all the fiber, they can keep you full and satisfied longer. They may also prevent sugar spikes and sugar cravings, lowering your risk of reaching for unhealthy snacks or sugary desserts. If you are looking for an easy way to get 14 veggies in one serving, my Organic Greens powder is a simple solution.
Alcohol adds unnecessary calories and sugar to your diet. Drinking alcohol may also increase your appetite, leading you to consume more calories.30 When you’re under the influence of alcohol, you may also be tempted to choose less nutritious options, such as processed junk foods. I recommend reducing your alcohol consumption to an occasional glass of wine or eliminating it completely.
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.
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.
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.
Get Enough Sleep
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.
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.
Get Your Thyroid Checked
Unexplained Weight gain may be a sign of thyroid problems, including Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism. Visit your healthcare professional to have your thyroid checked. You can find more information in my book, The Thyroid Connection.
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.
This is for your health, not your looks. Excess weight can increase the risk of inflammation, pain, and disease. As you get healthier, you will have more energy for your family, friends, and activities you love. You may be approaching midlife, however, the best is yet to come! If you follow these simple dietary, lifestyle, and mindfulness strategies, you can lose weight in midlife and face your future in your best shape yet.