Women’s weight loss at any age 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. 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 your 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.
The stress to keep your body as it once was and maintain a younger, more shapely figure can easily become a consuming thought. Weight loss begins to feel more out of reach as the body continues to change in ways that can’t be explained or fully controlled. This is often the point where drastic or extreme dieting programs begin to look more appealing and pivotal for making any type physical changes.
As a nutrition professional and coach, this is one of the most common female client situations I see and work with.
As emotions continue to 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.
YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL JUST AS YOU ARE.
To every woman who is reading this, I want you to know you are beautiful. As females, we 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. I want you to be kind to yourself and to 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. Understand that, yes, lifestyle and dietary habits need to be accounted for, but the actual reason (hormones) is out of your general control.
Regardless of what you’ve read or been told, rediscovering a balance of health and body positivity isn’t out of reach. With a little effort, self-compassion, and patience, you can celebrate a whole new meaning to this stage of your life. Here is some of my most valuable advice for getting there.
YOU’RE NOT 25 ANYMORE, FOCUS ON ATTAINABLE RESULTS
The first step to setting up any weight loss plan should be sitting down and writing out your goals and intentions. Acting as the navigator of your journey, these goals and intentions you set will steer you in the right direction and keep you on track when things get challenging.
WRITE YOUR GOALS AND INTENTIONS DOWN
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 hard part comes when women must identify what is realistic and what is not. It can be hard to understand and make sense of the emotions that follow as these changes occur, and the onset of denial and grief that follows.
ASK YOURSELF THE HARD QUESTIONS
Does it make sense focus on weighing what you did when you were 25 now that you’re 40? Are you taking into account the changes that have gone on since then? Hormones, lifestyle, exercise, diet, medical, childbirth…
Are you expecting things to happen quickly? Have you considered the changes you may need to make to your lifestyle, eating habits, dietary sources, practices, and overall efforts?
Lady 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’ll just watch what I eat. I expect to drop at least 20 lbs in a month or two. Nothing else has worked in the past. I know have to be strict and drastic about my goals to look the way I want. The number on the scale is what matters.”
Lady B says….“I will adjust my calories to support my body’s needs but still be in a weight loss deficit. I plan to track my intake to make sure I am accountable and I understand my body is in a more ‘sensitive’ place metabolically. Balance is important so I won’t restrict myself of things I enjoy, I know food shouldn’t control me. I don’t need a strict time frame because my health is my priority and I want to meet my goals in a sustainable way that is realistic to me.” Which of these do you identify with most?
WOMEN’S WEIGHT LOSS INVOLVES 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 women’s weight loss 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.
This is the time to be smarter and more realistic. If we’ve ever had the pleasure to chat about diet and nutrition, 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 women’s 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. Significant reductions in waist circumference and body fat were also maintained beyond four years.
Dietary habit changes can feel uncomfortable and out of the norm initially. Any new methods like nutrition tracking or working toward better food sourcing can feel foreign and chore-like. And while 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 (called sarcopenia). Research studies support that we lose about a half-pound of muscle each year, on average, starting at the age of 30. That number rises to almost a full pound once we enter our 50s. This also helps to explain women’s weight loss troubles during these times because muscle burns more calories than fat.
In a 2016 study on 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.
Having 6+ years experience as a fitness professional, I’ve always educated my female clients on the best techniques and approaches to counteract all of the changes that occur pre, peri, and post-menopause. One of the most influential and important keys to women’s weight loss with age can be attributed to strength training. These benefits 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
So, just like many things health and wellness related, women’s weight loss after 40, or before, isn’t about one or two changes coming together. It requires a multitude of factors and equal parts effort-work-acceptance to create healthy, long-term changes.
If you or someone you know has been struggling emotionally, mentally, or physically, with weight loss or body image, I’m here help. As the in-house nutrition coach and creator of the Balanced Habits nutrition program, together we can find a healthier, more positive and confident version of you with the one-on-one support and programming you need to compliment your goals, body, and lifestyle.