Weight loss after 40 can be frustrating as your metabolism and lifestyle change drastically with each passing decade.
Age-related weight gain happens to many women despite their best efforts to eat healthily and exercise. Most blame it on the slower metabolism related to reaching middle-age years. It seems hopeless, right?
Well, hope is not lost. Weight loss after 40 is possible, but you will need to approach it differently. Continue reading as you would be pleasantly surprised by the important pillars of weight management.
But first, let’s start by talking about why you gain weight after a certain age.
Why You Gain Weight After 40
Contrary to popular belief, muscle loss starts as early as your 30’s and the loss continues at a rate of 3-5% with every passing decade. (1).
Why does this matter in terms of weight gain?
It matters because muscle burns more calories than fat, and losing muscle leads to fewer calories burned throughout the day. Thus you will need to decrease the number of calories you eat to keep the same weight.
In other words, building muscle mass can improve your metabolic rate making weight loss after 40 possible.
How can you build muscle? While any form of movement is great, weight lifting and other forms of strength training can significantly decrease muscle loss and build new muscle.
Also, let’s clarify: walking is great as it will help you keep some of the muscles in your legs, but it is not enough. It is a great start, but if you truly want to preserve muscle, you need to incorporate other types of exercise.
Changes in activity levels
Another key factor in weight gain is the decrease in physical activity levels. Many women decrease their physical activity as life becomes busy and priority is given to kids, work, and other daily activities.
A good solution is to incorporate physical activity into their family and friends’ activities.
For example, go for a walk with your partner or your kids after dinner instead of sitting down to watch TV. This improves your physical fitness and creates stronger relationships.
Or help your family or group of friends become more active by scheduling fun and active activities over the weekend. For example, you could go out on a nice bike ride, hike, or enjoy the pool.
If you have a sedentary lifestyle with your family or group of friends, it might be hard to move them in a different direction, but you might be pleasantly surprised about their responses.
But, if it doesn’t happen with your family and current friends, go on solo adventures. Then, you will meet the right group of motivated people who enjoy an active lifestyle.
Lack of sufficient sleep or poor sleep not only makes you tired but can also have a significant impact on your weight.
Not sleeping enough can change how the reward system in your brain reacts in response to the sight of junk food.
People who don’t sleep enough tend to eat more sugar-loaded foods and more processed carbohydrates such as chips, cookies, and bread (2).
Moreover, lack of sleep changes the normal function of the hormones that regulate your appetite and satiety (3)
As a result, when you don’t sleep enough, you crave junk food, feel hungrier than usual, and it takes longer to feel full. Imagine how easy it is to gain weight with such a malfunction of your body.
Furthermore, lack of sleep can also tell your adrenal glands to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause you to gain weight.
Considering these changes in your hormone levels, paired with changes in the perception of the reward system, it is not surprising that many experts suggest that lack of sleep is a leading cause of weight gain.
As menopause approaches, there is more cortisol in the body, causing the accumulation of fat around the belly due to insulin resistance and the slow down of the metabolism.
In addition, having too much cortisol can result in more fat storage and muscle use for energy, further decreasing muscle mass and slowing down the metabolism.
Having a stressed belly is common for women over the age of 40.
Menopause-related stress & mood fluctuations
Let’s not forget that women in midlife can have significant stress and mood fluctuations, both of which are predictive of poor eating habits, including stress eating (5).
These fluctuations are completely normal and related to hormone imbalances. Interestingly enough, healthy eating, physical activity, and adequate sleep can improve stress and mood fluctuations.
Of course, more severe symptoms should be managed by a medical professional.
In addition, depression and stress can increase the body’s response to biological processes creating a hormonal imbalance that can further cause weight gain (6).
Depression can be helped with exercise, coping strategies, and healthy eating. Specifically, vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression. Or course, a high fat, high sugar diet could also contribute to this unwelcome feeling.
Changes in eating and drinking habits
Unhealthy eating is the most significant factor in weight gain. Perhaps you have not noticed, but you probably changed your eating habits.
Perhaps you are drinking more alcohol, eating a bit more every day, or eating sweets regularly. Unfortunately, simply increasing your portion sizes a little bit every day can result in extra weight gain over time.
Small changes can accumulate to big changes. So, take a careful look at what you are doing, or in other words, eat mindfully.
Weight loss after 40 is possible
The obvious thing to do to increase muscle mass is to exercise. Specifically, you must do strength training to preserve muscle mass.
Does this mean you need to lift weights? Well, weight lifting is one way to work your muscles. However, there are many other types of exercises you can do.
For example, yoga can help you build muscle but should be challenging. Power yoga, ashtanga, and vinyasa are varieties of yoga that help you build muscle.
Pilates is another great way to increase muscle strength and tone.
Whatever you choose to do, create an exercise routine that is sustainable in the long run.
Moreover, for weight loss, muscle-building workouts should be combined with aerobic exercise and stretching. It is common to focus a few days a week on cardiovascular activities and other days on resistance training. Flexibility exercises should be done at the end of each routine.
Keep in mind that you need a minimum of 180 minutes of weekly physical activity to be healthy. However, if your intention is weight loss, the recommendation is to workout 60 minutes a day, most days of the week.
Just accept that there is no way around regular exercise, so find something you enjoy and stick to it.
Move more to lose weight after 40
Beyond planned exercise, moving throughout the day can help you achieve your weight goals. For example, stand around more, walk instead of driving to nearby places, stand up and move for a minute or two every hour, or park further away.
When you think about it, there are dozens of opportunities to move more.
I love how the Apple Watch and other devices can track your movement throughout the day and help you increase your activity level. But you don’t need technology to tell you that it is time to move!
A good night sleep
It is amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for you. First, it can help you curve sugar cravings and balance your hormones that regulate hunger and appetite.
Second, it can help you manage your cortisol levels, which are related to weight gain.
Third, as you will feel more energetic after a good night’s sleep, you will be more likely that you exercise!
Getting enough sleep is key to weight loss after 40 years of age, and hands down one of the best ways to improve your weight! Who knew that sleeping was so important.
Balance your hormones
Menopause is a hormone imbalance disorder that will make your body change forever. However, your lifestyle can help you balance your hormones to minimize the symptoms and improve the quality of your amazing life.
One way to balance your hormones is to reduce stress. It is amazing the hormone imbalance that can be created by stress.
For example, when cortisol levels increase due to stress, the areas involved in weight management and adequate sleep are affected. In addition, stress down-regulates (decrease the function) thyroid function (7)
Cardiovascular exercise can reduce cortisol levels and stress. In addition, regular exercise can help treat and prevent insulin resistance, another important hormonal regulator in weight management (8).
Eat a well-balanced diet
Consuming a well-balanced diet that includes protein and fat is essential for hormone balance.
Protein is necessary for adequate hormone production, including those that regulate hunger and appetite (8). While your specific protein level is based on many factors, experts suggest consuming 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal.
In addition, fat also contributes to the balance of the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite (9).
Healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, and fruits are important for overall health.
Last, eating too much sugar can also disturb hormone balance. Thus it is important to limit sugary drinks, sweets, and the overall amount of added sugars in your diet to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake.
Manage your weight
Your weight can impact the signals your body sends in response to the hormones that manage the feelings of hunger and fullness.
Beyond providing calories and disturbing sleep, alcohol can influence cortisol levels, disturbing your body’s natural state that promotes a healthy weight (8).
Vitamins, minerals, and herbs can help to balance your hormones. While you should aim to obtain as many nutrients as you can by eating whole foods, certain nutrients should be supplemented to achieve therapeutic levels.
Manage stress & mood fluctuations
To make things more redundant, to manage stress, it is helpful to exercise, move more, eat a well-balanced diet, sleep well, and balance your hormones.
Furthermore, meditation, traditional therapy, and alternative therapies can help you manage stress levels. Even something as simple as stop and take deep breaths for a minute can help you reduce your stress levels.
Find what works for you, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Read more about natural ways to cope with morning anxiety here.
Healthy eating is the most important aspect of weight loss. However, there are several approaches you can take to eat better. Nutrition is highly individualized so you need to find the approach that works best for your body and your lifestyle.
Most registered dietitians will encourage you to have a well-balanced diet. A diet with adequate protein, healthy fats, and healthy carbohydrates that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits.
Many nutritionists like to focus on the enjoyment of food and your life. In other words, they encourage you to find food freedom.
This does not mean to let yourself go and eat everything available to you but rather find a good balance between your wants and needs. It means to truly listen to your body and enjoy food while seeking to provide your body with all the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Mindful eating is the application of mindfulness techniques to eating. It involves being fully present when eating, with full awareness of your emotional state and physical condition.
Because mindful eaters are aware of all cues affecting their own eating behaviors and health, this technique can be a useful strategy to influence the food you eat to optimize health and achieve a healthy weight.
The keto diet is really high in fat, moderate in proteins, and very low in carbohydrates. Research points to the many benefits of this diet, including how it is easy to follow in the short term.
However, this diet can be unsafe for individuals with certain medical conditions. Thus, it is important to follow this diet guided by a healthcare professional.
Furthermore, in my opinion, it is not a sustainable diet in the long term. Therefore, it is important to understand that you will need to transition to a more sustainable eating pattern after following this diet.
One of the favorite diets prescribed by health care professionals, the Mediterranean diet, is a diet of abundance.
This diet encourages eating fish, lean protein, whole grains, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats such as olive oil. It also encourages an overall healthy lifestyle with meals in the company of friends and family.
This diet discourages the intake of processed foods.
The beauty of diet is that food tastes so great that it is easy to follow it for life, resulting in extraordinary results. Plus is one of the most effective ways to prevent heart disease and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Plant-based diets have been trendy in the past few years. A plant-based diet can either restrict all forms of animal products (vegan) or some types of animal products. For example, some vegetarians eat only eggs and milk, while others eat mostly plant-based proteins but eat fish.
Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to follow a plant-based diet. As long as you eat plenty of vegetables and plant-based proteins, you will see benefits.
This is not a weight loss diet but can result in better weight management as long as you select good food options.
This is a lower carbohydrate diet but has a better balance than other low carbohydrate diets. The best feature of the paleo diet is that it encourages dieters to eat less processed and more whole foods.
Don’t be! There are many diet approaches that you can take, so I suggest you pick one and if after really trying does not work, then pick another one.
However, for hormone balance, keep in mind that it is essential to consume enough protein and healthy fats, along with enough healthy carbohydrates.
It is not a bad idea to seek the advice of a nutrition expert, such as a registered dietitian, to help you find the best solution for you!
Weight loss after 40 looks different from weight loss in your 20’s. Beyond healthy eating and physical activity, other factors play an important role.
You got this. You can look and feel like you want to.
Dr. Su-Nui Escobar is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in Miami, FL. She is passionate about helping women over 40 live their best lives through healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Su-Nui is a doctor in clinical nutrition, able to translate complicated evidence-based science into practical advice. Su-Nui’s charisma and warmth have made her a frequent guest on Hispanic popular morning television shows.