One of the most common things I hear from my female clients is that they believe they can't lose weight because they're over a certain age. It's not uncommon for women who are 30 to chalk body fat up to their age, or for women over 35 to associate extra body fat with a slowing metabolism, or women over 40 to blame everything on wonky hormones. Regardless of your age, you have more control than you realize. I want to give you a few tips that will make weight loss over 40 more straightforward, easier and much less frustrating.
Before I begin...the first thing you have to do is own it. I'm not saying that your hormones aren't wonky. I'm not saying that maybe your metabolism isn't slower. And I'm definitely not saying that age doesn't change anything. But we all need to take responsibility for our own bodies.
Sadly, there is no pixie dust or magic pill or supplement that will make everything fall in place with your body. You have to do the brunt of the work.
Doing the work means knowing what to do.
That's why I'm here! So rather than tell you what I tell my clients to do, I'm going to tell you what I do. After all, I'm a 48-year-old mom of three kids who manages to keep herself in decent shape with a high priority on health...all while eating plenty of good food.
Make Weight Loss Over 40 Easy
I'll be the first to admit, my body has changed a bit. Not necessarily for the worse, but I've noticed changes in my body that were never a second though 15 or 20 years ago. I have no aches or pain (knock on wood), but I'm aware that I'm an older (and better) version of who I used to be.
As we make our way into our 30s, our body's natural collagen levels begin to drop. Fine lines and wrinkles begin to make their appearance. structurally, the same thing is happening in our bodies. Ligaments and tendons become more vulnerable, and all of the connective tissue that keeps our body humming doesn't have the coat of armor it once had. The foods we eat dramatically affect our body's collagen production. I'll talk more about that in a minute.
Muscle doesn't form quite the way it did when we were in our 20s, but it definitely forms. Our liver produces a protein called sex hormone binding globulin (or SHBG) that signals to our muscle fibers to grow. In our 20s, this was firing all the time. As we get toward our 40s, SHBG slows down. Exercise significantly boosts this protein. I'll talk more about that in a minute, too.
I don't think I need to explain how stress affects us. The years between 30 and 60 are often spent caring for people on both ends of the age spectrum, from our kids to our parents. Careers, finances, relationships, etc., all add to stress. Stress accumulates, so it's important to manage when it happens.
So what do I do to keep my body healthy, and what will work for you? Here are my top three pieces of advice.
I Focus on Diet, But Never Diet for Weight Loss
My diet is very important to me. I don't deprive myself. I don't count calories. I really never worry about my weight these days. I still have days where I feel bloated and gross, but that's life.
Ninety-five percent of the time, I eat really healthy. The other 5 percent I reserve for French fries, chocolate and red wine.
If you can be truly solid with what you eat, without overeating, your body will come together in a great way. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen over months. Your abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym, so the quality of the food you eat makes a difference.
I also eat a diet that is mostly carbohydrate. And when I say mostly, I mean 55 to 60% or so. Fiber, and the nutrients that come from fiber-rich foods are far too valuable to avoid.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to try to guide you to eating healthier.
- Am I drinking half my weight in ounces of water each day, knowing that just one glass of water will boost my metabolism by 30% for one hour?
- For two of my daily meals, does half my plate have some sort of vegetable(s) that are filled with fiber that pull toxins out of my body, and vitamin C that will help to boost my body's natural collagen production.
- Am I minimizing processed vegetable oils that create inflammation making it harder to lose weight?
- Am I eating every few hours, but not more than a natural feeling of fullness?
- Do I stop eating two to three hours before bedtime, knowing that if I eat too close to bed my body will not be able to metabolize fat as efficiently?
- Do I avoid snack foods that have 12 or more grams of sugar added to them? Excess sugar is more likely to throw off your blood sugar levels, triggering belly fat.
I Focus on Fitness, But Never Exercise to Burn Calories
In my opinion, the best reason to exercise for anyone who's concerned about weight loss over 40, is stress management. Yes, I love that my workouts give me strong abs and great muscle tone, but aside from what I see in the mirror, what's happening in my head means so much more. If I can maintain a brighter disposition in my life, everything is smoother. I don't struggle to workout, I look forward to it.
I certainly try to workout most days of the week, but my workouts are designed to benefit my body, not punish it.
Here are a few recommendations for you as you get ready for your next workout:
- A workout is really time for you to focus on getting stronger - physically and mentally. For some, a great workout is a hard 5-mile run followed by strength work. For others, a great workout means going for a stress-relieving 3-mile walk followed by long stretches.
- Consider what you want to do for your body. Does your workout need to be designed to strengthen your hips and lower back? Do you need to increase your mobility and flexibility? Do you need to build upper body strength?
- Know that high quality workouts can be done with no equipment whatsoever.
- You need to prioritize a little bit of time for movement. Plan for a minimum of 30 minutes devoted to exercise. Busy lives don't have magic little windows of time that appear throughout the day very often. You may need to make sacrifices to achieve this. For example, you may need to go to bed earlier to wake up earlier.
I Sleep to Maintain My Post-40 Body
Before you scroll through this section, please read. Sleep is as important as the food you eat.
First and foremost, I'm not the best sleeper. My husband's head can hit the pillow and fall asleep. On the other hand, it takes me longer to wind down and fall asleep. That said, my sleep hygiene is great.
Your hormones like to talk a lot. You have a bunch of hormones that talk throughout the day, helping you digest food and stay awake. When the night shift takes over, the daytime hormones start to doze off, and the sleep time hormones kick in, helping you develop muscle, metabolize fat, and repair your brain.
Let me say that again, but differently: when you sleep, your body develops muscle, metabolizes fat and repairs your brain.
All of our bodies prefer five full sleep cycles, each lasting about 90 minutes. I know that's not possible for everyone all the time, but it's important to at least try.
Sleep hygiene is not something most people think about.
Here are a few prompts to help set you up for a great, "clean" night of sleep:
- Are you turning off all screens an hour before bed, knowing that the blue light from laptops and phones stops my brain from releasing melatonin that helps to make me feel tired?
- Are you done eating 2 to 3 hours before bed? Eating too close to bed elevates insulin levels, blocking the release of human growth hormone (HGH) that helps your body burn fat and build muscle?
- Are you keeping your room as dark as possible so your brain doesn't receive signals that it's daytime, inhibiting your body from getting high quality sleep. This means lights from alarm clocks, too...face them away from you.
I Accept That Belly Fat Could Become a Problem on My Body!
What fun would it be being a woman if we weren't challenged with a bunch of hormones that do a swan dive in the years leading up to menopause, only to totally tank after we cross the threshold?
Our sex hormones, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone all diminish after we transition through menopause. The two biggies, estrogen and testosterone, play a big role in fat storage - and are key obstacles on the road to achieving weight loss over 40. When estrogen levels drop, women are more inclined to develop insulin resistance, a condition closely linked to both visceral (belly) fat and heart disease.
When your body goes through, or leads up to, this transition - from pre to post menopause - you need to change your diet to compensate.
You don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater! Keep the good things in your diet, and ditch the rest.
Here are a few prompts to help you make some healthy changes:
- Are you getting a majority of your carbohydrates from fiber-rich vegetables, grains and some fruits, all of which help to buffer blood sugar levels?
- Are you getting some healthy fats in each of your meals, in the form of olive oil, coconut oil, avocado/avocado oil, nuts or seeds?
- Are you minimizing alcohol, which can throw off blood sugar levels and trigger fat storage, particularly in the form of triglyceride.
- Are you avoiding high-stress exercises when you're experiencing higher-than-normal stress in your life? Elevated cortisol levels will naturally trigger belly fat.