Weight Loss After 40: It Takes a Different Approach
Weight loss after 40 can be frustrating as your metabolism and lifestyle change drastically with each passing decade.
Many women are affected by age-related weight, 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 might be pleasantly surprised to understand 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 30s, and the loss continues at a rate of 3-5% with every passing decade (1).
Why does muscle loss 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. As a result, you will need to decrease the number of calories you eat just to keep the same weight.
In other words, building muscle mass can improve your metabolic rate, making weight loss after 40 easier.
Changes in Activity Levels
Another key factor in age-related weight gain is a decrease in physical activity levels. Many women’s exercise habits decline as life becomes busy and priority is given to kids, work, and other daily activities.
As menopause approaches, the adrenal glands secrete more of the hormone cortisol. Among other problems, this stress hormone can cause what is often known as stress belly – an accumulation of fat around the abdomen due to insulin resistance and a slowing down of the metabolism (2).
Having a stressed belly is common for women over the age of 40.
Having too much cortisol can also result in more fat storage and – even worse – the use of muscle energy, further decreasing muscle mass and slowing down the metabolism.
Considering these changes in your hormone levels, paired with changes in your brain’s perception of the reward system, it is not surprising that many experts suggest that lack of sleep is a leading cause of weight gain.
Lack of sleep can also trigger your body to produce excess cortisol.
Getting insufficient sleep or poor quality 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. As a result, when you don’t sleep enough, you tend to eat more sugar-loaded foods and more processed carbohydrates such as chips, cookies, and bread (3).
What’s more, lack of sleep also changes the normal function of the hormones that regulate your appetite and satiety (4).
As a result, when you don’t sleep enough, you crave junk food, feel hungrier than usual, and it takes longer to feel full. You can imagine how easy it is to gain weight with your natural bodily processes malfunctioning in this way.
Menopause-Related Stress & Mood Fluctuations
Let’s not forget that women in midlife can have significant anxiety and volatile mood swings. These problems are frequently paired with poor eating habits, including stress eating (5).
These fluctuations are completely normal and related to hormone imbalances. Healthy eating, physical activity, and adequate sleep can improve anxiousness and unpredictable mood changes.
Of course, more severe symptoms should be managed by a medical professional.
Depression and stress can also increase the body’s response to biological processes. This creates a hormonal imbalance that can further cause weight gain (6).
Depression and anxiety can be helped with exercise, coping strategies, and healthy eating. Specifically, vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression. Of course, a high-fat, high-sugar diet will also contribute to these unwelcome feelings.
Changes in Eating and Drinking Habits
Unhealthy eating is the most significant factor in weight gain at any age. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but if you’re experiencing weight gain, you have probably changed your eating habits.
Maybe you are drinking an extra glass of wine, eating a bit more every day, or eating sweets regularly. Unfortunately, simply increasing your portion sizes a little bit every day will result in extra weight gain over time.
Small changes can accumulate into big impacts. So, take a careful look at what you are doing.
Or, in other words, eat mindfully.
Weight Loss After 40 Is Possible
Many women have a healthy weight in their forties and fifties, it is possible. However, it takes a different approach. It is possible that what used to work for you does not work anymore.
Let’s review the components of weight loss after 40.
As we talked about earlier, the obvious action to take 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 quick 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 to be effective it 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.
For weight loss, muscle-building workouts should also be combined with aerobic exercise and stretching. A typical pattern that works for a lot of people is 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 and muscle increase, the recommendation is to work out 60 minutes a day, most days of the week.
To lose weight and be healthier after 40, you might just need to 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 instead of sitting, walk instead of driving to nearby places, stand up and move for a minute or two every hour, or park further away from your destination when you drive.
There are dozens of opportunities to move more when you think about it.
I love how the Apple Watch and other similar 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’s time to move!
Get Your Friends and Family to Move With You
A good solution for maintaining or even increasing movement in your daily routine is do physical activity with your family and friends.
For example, go for a walk with your partner or your kids after dinner instead of sitting down to watch TV. This won’t only improve your physical fitness, but it can even create a stronger relationship because it allows you to talk to each other.
Another idea to help your family or group of friends become more active is to schedule fun physical activities over the weekend. For example, you could go out on a group bike ride, hike, or enjoy the pool.
If you habitually have a sedentary lifestyle with your family or group of friends, it might be hard to move them in a different direction. However, you might be pleasantly surprised by their responses to your requests to do an active outing.
But, if your family and current friends are just not interested, try breaking out to go on solo adventures. That way you can make new friends by meeting groups of motivated people who enjoy an active lifestyle.
A Good Night’s Sleep
It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for you. First, it can help you curb sugar cravings and balance your hormones that regulate hunger and appetite.
Second, it can help you manage your cortisol level, which is related to weight gain.
Third, as you will feel more energetic after a good night’s sleep, you will be more likely to exercise.
Getting enough sleep is key to weight loss after 40 years of age, and it’s hands down one of the best ways to improve your weight! Who knew that sleeping was so important? You do now!
Balance Your Hormones
Menopause is a normal change in the balance of your hormones that will alter your body 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 and anxiety. Stress can have an astonishing impact on your hormone balance.
For example, when cortisol levels increase due to anxiety, weight management and adequate sleep are affected by the bodily systems involved. In addition, stress negatively impacts thyroid function (7).
Cardiovascular exercise can reduce both cortisol levels and feelings of stress. In addition, regular exercise can help treat and prevent insulin resistance, another important hormonal regulator in weight management (8).
Eat a Well-Balanced Dietlanced 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 (9). While your specific protein requirements are based on many factors, experts suggest consuming 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal.
Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, and fruits are important for overall health. Not only are they loaded with beneficial vitamins and minerals, but they also provide important fiber. When you eat fiber, you feel fuller for longer while consuming fewer calories.
Finally, eating too much sugar can have a powerful negative impact on hormone balance. For that reason, it’s 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. Because sugar is relatively high in calories, it takes only a little to make up that very small percentage.
Manage Your Weight
Being overweight can disrupt the signals your body sends to manage feelings of hunger and fullness. Leptin – the body’s appetite suppressor – is higher in slim people and lower in fat people.
Beyond providing extra empty calories and disturbing sleep, alcohol can also influence cortisol levels, disturbing your body’s natural state that promotes a healthy weight (11).
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, there are some nutrients that may need to be supplemented to achieve therapeutic levels for certain individuals.
Manage Stress & Mood Fluctuations
As discussed above, to regulate mood and manage stress, it’s helpful to exercise, move more, eat a well-balanced diet, sleep well, and balance your hormones.
Other ways to help reduce stress levels include meditation, traditional therapy, and alternative therapies. Even something as simple as stopping and taking deep breaths for a minute can help you reduce your anxiety.
Find what works for you, as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Read more about natural ways to cope with morning anxiety here.
Healthy eating is the most important contributor to 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. By well-balanced, we mean 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 letting yourself go and eating everything available to you but rather finding a good balance between what you want and what you need. It means truly listening to your body and enjoying food while aiming to provide your body with all the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Mindful eating is the application of mindfulness techniques to the way you eat. It involves being fully present when eating, with full awareness of your emotional state and physical condition.
Because mindful eaters are aware of all the 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 very high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates. Research points to the many benefits of this diet, including how easy it is to follow in the short term.
However, following a keto diet can be unsafe for individuals with certain medical conditions. Therefore, it’s important to be guided by a healthcare professional when you start on this eating pattern.
In my opinion, the keto plan is not a sustainable diet in the long term. Therefore, it‘s 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 plan 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.
The Mediterranean diet discourages the intake of processed foods.
The beauty of this eating style is that food tastes so great that it’s 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.
The plant forward diet is different from vegan or vegetarian diets because while it focuses on eating plants, animal proteins are also allowed.
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 benefit.
This is not a weight loss plan, but it 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 similar low-carbohydrate diets. The best feature of the paleo diet is that it encourages dieters to eat less processed and more whole foods.
Intermittent fasting (IF) can help with weight loss without counting calories or cutting entire food groups. This straightforward plan alternates between periods of fasting and periods of eating. The goal is to abstain from eating for periods of 12 to 24 hours.
There are very few rules to follow on intermittent fasting.
Don’t be! There are many diet approaches that you can take, so I suggest you pick one that looks like a good fit for your lifestyle and personal preferences. Follow the program well for a few weeks; if it doesn’t work for you, then pick another one.
For hormone balance, however, remember that it’s essential for you to consume enough protein and healthy fats as well as enough healthy carbohydrates.
It’s always a good 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 20s. Beyond healthy eating and physical activity, other factors play an important role.
You got this! You can look and feel the way 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 is the former spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.