I turned 40 this year and I embraced the experience! Unlike in my 20s and 30s, I have a better perspective on how fast time flies and how we should enjoy the opportunity to celebrate ourselves. Age is just a number, right? How we feel in our body matters more. But what if you don’t feel good in your body?
I broke my foot late last year, which meant a huge change in my physical activity level. As a result I gained about 10lbs over 3 months. 10lbs heavier, I did not feel like myself, but my biggest frustration was not fitting into my clothes. Now, as a dietitian and weight-loss coach, based in the beautiful Collingwood area, I felt well-equipped to lose the weight and get back in shape. A few years ago, I successfully lost the same amount of weight.
But this time the experience felt different… it felt harder…. It felt slower.
I know I am not alone. After the age of 40, many women find losing weight more challenging. There are several reasons why.
Weight gain is a normal tendency for all of us as we age. However, for women, as we enter the “midlife transition”, there are more noticeable changes in our bodies that come with the weight gain. Perimenopause, which often begins in a woman’s early 40s, is the period of time prior to menopause when a woman continues to ovulate, but starts to experience a steady decline in estrogen production. Perimenopause lasts up until the point when ovulation stops, which is then called menopause. During this time, women may experience several different, frustrating, physical symptoms.
A common symptom I hear about, is the tendency to start gaining weight in the abdominal area. Studies have shown that the center body fat accumulation women experience during perimenopause is an increase in visceral fat. Visceral fat is the name for the fat accumulation around our organs. Having more visceral fat is associated with insulin resistance and increased risk of chronic disease. In addition, women in perimenopause tend to have a decline in their lean muscle mass. Declining estrogen levels, as well as increased cortisol (our body’s stress hormone), are likely contributors to this change in body composition.
So as women, are we doomed? Do we just have to accept that getting older means losing weight is impossible?
The answer is no - but your weight loss strategy DOES need to change.
Here are my top 3 tips to help women lose weight after 40:
1. Get enough protein!
In our body, protein plays many different roles, but it is most well known for helping build lean muscle mass. Lean muscle mass is more metabolically active (burns more calories) than fat tissue. It gives our bodies more shape and form, protects our bones, and it also affects how we feel in our clothing.
Since women start to have a decline in lean muscle mass around mid-life, we need to make sure that we are getting enough protein from our diet. Unfortunately, when we focus on calorie restrictions alone to lose weight, some women do not get enough good quality protein. Higher protein intake, paired with a reduced overall calorie intake and exercise, promotes more lean muscle mass overall, and greater reductions in abdominal fat mass.
To help get enough protein while also reducing calories, we need to focus on lower fat or lean protein choices at each meal. If you are a meat eater, meats like lean cuts of beef, skinless chicken, pork loins, along with proteins like fish, seafood and eggs, can be great choices. Aim for a 4-6 oz serving (the size of a deck of cards) per meal.
We also get a fair amount of protein from our dairy products, li