Weight Loss For Women After 40
Weight loss at any age as a woman can feel nothing short of challenging, frustrating, and downright impossible. First, there is that short phase of eating what you want and barely gaining a pound. Yes, the wonders of a 20-year-old metabolism. Then you enter your 30s and are in your prime. During this stage, the body’s internal light switch starts to optimize hormones for creating new life and a noticeable but not alarming change in the body’s ability to keep weight off occurs. Then comes the 40s.
Middle age or to put it in a more “fun” context, the fifth decade! The female body enters the hills and valleys of major hormonal changes. Suddenly it feels like the pasta dinner you once enjoyed two servings of becomes, “I look at a noodle and it goes straight to my…” During this time the average woman will gain four and a half pounds as she starts to transition into menopause. You may find the stress to keep your body as it once was and maintain a younger, more shapely figure becomes a consuming focus. Weight loss begins to feel more out of reach as the body continues to change in ways you can’t explain or fully control. You may even resort to extreme dieting approaches to try and combat it.
As a nutrition professional, this is one of the most common client scenarios I see.
During this time emotions run high. You may begin to notice more weight gain – especially in the midsection thanks to changes in estrogen, increased cellulite around your thighs, and the onset of grieving for what you were once seeing in the mirror. Weight loss seems resistant to everything you try, even with the most disciplined efforts to reverse what’s happening. A lethal combination of dysmorphia, body shaming, food obsession, and guilt.
First, I want you to know you are beautiful. Women are the most resilient and powerful beings on this earth, and there is nothing more beautiful than a woman who has endured many challenges, persevered through life up to this point, and still continues to strive forward. Be kind to yourself and be kind to your body.
Second, yes you are 100% right in thinking that losing weight after 40 becomes much harder. It is a very real and very true struggle. At this point in life, you are experiencing biologically driven body changes. I promise it isn’t “all in your head”. But don’t assume you are the source of the problem, blaming anything and everything for what is happening won’t solve what’s actually going on. In fact, it doesn’t even identify the actual issue, it just creates self-induced hysteria. These changes have nothing to do with what you are or aren’t doing, yes lifestyle and dietary habits need to be accounted for, but the actual reason (hormones) is out of your control.
Regardless of what you’ve read or been told, rediscovering a balance of health and body positivity isn’t unattainable. Here is my most valuable advice for getting there.
You’re Not 25 Anymore, Focus On Realistic Goals For Your Body
The first step to setting up any weight loss plan should be sitting down and writing out your goals. Acting as the navigator of your journey, the goals you set will steer you in the right direction and keep you on track when things get hard. A 2015 study found that when people wrote down their goals they were 33% more successful in achieving them than those who formulated outcomes in their heads.
The tough part comes in identifying what is realistic and what is not, this could certainly be attributed to the heavy feelings of denial and grief that comes with age and unwanted change. But if you want to see sustained weight loss, you have got to work with what you mama gave you! I’ll ask this…would it be realistic if you set a goal to weigh what you did when you were 25 but don’t take into account the changes that go on as you age, things like hormones, lifestyle, exercise, diet, medical, etc.? Are you expecting it to happen without needing to change your current habits….I mean it was so back easy then so why wouldn’t it be now? Are you willing to do anything to see the scale move?
Person A says…“I’m going to drop my calories super low and cut out dairy-sugars-and carbs. I am going to the gym for more cardio and only plan to go out for dinner on the weekends. I’ve never had to count or track my calories. I expect I will drop at least 20 lbs in a month or two. Nothing else has worked in the past so I have to be strict and drastic about my goals to look the way I want. The number on the scale matters.”
Person B says….“I will adjust my calories to support my body’s needs but still be in a weight loss deficit. I know I will need to track my calories to make sure I am holding myself accountable and understand my body is in a more ‘sensitive’ place metabolically. Balance is important to me so I won’t restrict myself of things I enjoy because I am only human. I don’t need a timeframe because my health is more important to me than anything else and getting there in a sustainable way is healthier and more realistic.”
Which of these do you identify with?
Which of these sounds more realistic?
Work On Healthy Dietary Habits
Getting older means you can’t eat what you want when you want and not expect the scale to go up. Healthy dietary habits are a HUGE component to successful weight loss after 40, and your 40s are NOT THE TIME TO TRY FAD DIETS. I’m going to say that one more time, your 40s are NOT THE TIME TO TRY FAD DIETS. At this point, you need to be smarter and again, more realistic. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of chatting with me about diet, you already know my motto. “No two metabolisms are the same” and this means no two dietary plans should be the same either. Achieving weight loss means finding what works for you, modifying your habits to compliment your lifestyle, and making sure what you follow fits your needs.
A 2003 study on menopausal weight gain and the efficacy of dietary and activity intervention found that women exposed to a program of combined exercise and caloric restriction dietary interventions for 54 weeks had improved body weight and reduced abdominal adiposity, as well, significant reductions in waist circumference and body fat were maintained beyond four years.
Dietary habit changes can feel uncomfortable and out of the norm initially. Any new methods like calorie tracking, monitoring protein and water intake, even opting for more dietary balance, can feel foreign and chore-like. Although these may not sound appealing, their importance is invaluable for healthy weight loss after 40.
Don’t Overdo Cardio, Opt For Strength Training Instead
Exercise is essential for a healthy lifestyle. As we age our bodies begin to lose muscle mass and strength (termed sarcopenia). In fact, supporting research studies show that you lose about a half-pound of muscle each year on average starting at the age of 30; and that number rises to almost a full pound once you enter your 50s. This also helps to explain weight loss troubles because muscle burns more calories than fat.
A 2016 study of postmenopausal women in their late 50s and 60s found that those who did an hour of strength training twice a week for 8 weeks significantly reduced their body fat.
To counteract everything going on, you will need to add in strength training. The Key benefits of strength training include:
- Slows and/or reverses sarcopenia
- Improves muscle mass, muscle quality, balance and movement control
- Reduces inflammatory molecules and pain related to bone and joint problems
- Decreases in total body fat mass
- Increases in general and maximal strength
- Improves average metabolic rate
- Increases the hormone isrin (plays a role in converting white fat [bad] into brown fat [heat generating/good])
- Lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol
If you or someone you know has been struggling emotionally, mentally, or physically, with weight loss and body image, our team is here to help. Find a healthier, more positive and confident self with one-on-one support and programming specific to you.
“YOUR GOALS, OUR PURPOSE”
Aubree “Aubs” Shofner
Fitness & Nutrition Professional