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, like milk, yogurt (especially Greek yogurt), and low fat cheeses. Focus on M.F. %s (milk fat percentages) that are under 2%, since these will be lower in fat and calories.
Looking for plant-based proteins? Tofu, legumes (beans and lentils), or edamame are all great lower calorie protein options. Nuts, nut butters and seeds also give us some protein, but if you are trying to lose weight, I wouldn’t recommend using them for a primary protein source. Their fat content makes them quite high in calories! Aim for 2 tbsp, 2-3 times per week.
2. Make friends with fitness!
Do you see exercise as a sort of currency for calories? Or does it feel more like punishment?
Years of weight loss attempts leave many women feeling “estranged” from exercise. The reality is that it’s an important part of the weight loss puzzle - especially resistance or strength training.
While cardio will burn calories efficiently, resistance exercises will help you maintain and build more lean muscle mass as you lose weight. In fact, studies have shown that sufficient resistance training can help reduce waist circumference, which is a marker of abdominal fat distribution.
Strength training includes options beyond just lifting weights at the gym. It can be yoga, Pilates, or Barre, which all use body weight resistance. You can use weight machines, free weights or resistance bands. Aim for 20-30 minutes of strength training 2-3 times each week, in addition to your regular cardio routine.
Most of all, find something you enjoy doing! If you enjoy it, it will be easier to do on a regular basis.
3. Get honest about alcohol
This may be a hard one for some to acknowledge.
Having a drink is part of our social experience! We drink for enjoyment!
However, many of us also drink alcohol to help relax and unwind when feeling stress. In the age of a global pandemic, with the baseline stress we all have been experiencing, I have seen many reach for alcohol on a more frequent basis to deal with the stress.
The funny thing is, heavy drinking may actually have an opposite effect on our body’s response to stress. Research has found that heavy drinking is associated with increased cortisol levels. Higher cortisol levels have been linked to increased appetite and abdominal obesity.
Each standard alcoholic drink contains ~100-150 calories. If you are trying to lose weight, those extra calories can undo your hard work very easily. Not to mention that, when we are inebriated and our executive functions are lowered, there is a greater chance of giving into food cravings and overeating.
Take an honest look at how much and how frequently you are drinking. It is recommended for women to consume no more than 2 drinks per day, for general good health. If weight loss is your goal, you may want to consider reducing your intake even further, or avoiding it altogether, until your goal is met. Perhaps we need to find new, healthier approaches to coping with stress and unwinding at the end of the day.
I share these tips not only from my professional experience, but also from my own personal experience. I have not yet shed the full 10lbs I gained, but I am getting there. I am focusing on a healthy, balanced approach that will keep me strong and in my best health for my next milestone birthday!
I work closely with women in Collingwood, Blue Mountains, Thornbury, Grey Bruce and beyond to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals so they can feel confident and live their best life. Find out how you can achieve success by booking your free discovery call today.