Have you noticed that it gets a little bit harder to lose weight, or keep those extra pounds from creeping on as you get older? And while it’s true for everyone, women have the hardest time of all, especially as we approach menopause. While we’re quick to blame it on the holidays or our thyroid, the truth is, middle age weight gain happens to most of us, and it often, for five main reasons.
#1 It’s not your imagination. Your metabolism really is getting slower
Sorry to break it to you, but hopefully it makes you feel better to know you’re not alone. A slowdown in metabolism is one of the first things most people notice about their aging body by their early 40s. You find yourself saying things like “I used to be able to eat that when I was young” and “now I just look at that and I gain weight”.
Everyone’s metabolism actually starts to slow down in your 30s because you begin to lose muscle mass, and that loss of muscle really accelerates in your 60s and beyond. The change will be most noticeable in those who are more sedentary, while if you’re active and fit, you may not notice it until your early 40s. Since muscle is what burns most of our calories while we’re at rest (or sitting at our desks or in our car all day), the more muscle you lose, the slower your resting metabolic rate becomes. Many research studies have shown that eating more protein, along with some strength training, can help slow down the rate of muscle loss. Aim for about 20-30 grams at each meal. More than this is NOT better, because it can’t be absorbed by the muscles, and will probably add calories you don’t need. Breakfast is usually the hardest meal for most people to get enough protein. If that’s you, check out this post by EA Stewart, The Spicy RD, on High Protein Breakfasts Ideas.
#2 You’re eating (or drinking) too much
Most people swear that they aren’t eating enough to be putting on weight. But remember, if your metabolism is slowing down, the amount you eat has to slow down too. That means there’s no way you can continue to eat the way you did in your 30s throughout the rest of your life. You’ll have to gradually cut back a little bit each year, so that what you’re eating equals what you’re burning. For most people, it’s a matter of an extra 100-200 calories over what you’re body really needs each day. That’s the equivalent of a glass of wine and a few cookies each day – not much, but by the end of a year, it equals 10-20 pounds of extra weight. Yikes!! If you’re adding in some extra protein to help your muscles, make sure you subtract some extra calories from somewhere else. Maybe think about having that glass or wine and cookie on the weekend only.
#3 You’re not moving enough
Remember how great it was when you were in your 20s and you could go for a run everyday after work? Or spend all weekend hiking or biking or walking on the beach? Then you had kids, and more responsibility at work, and laundry, and hungry people at home to feed…. And suddenly, no more exercise. Remember #1 above – the part about your muscles and metabolism? Well, cutting back on exercise as you get older is really the worst thing you can do, and a total guarantee that you’ll gain weight. Try to put the focus back on yourself. Take 1 hour at least 3-4 times each week and work out so that you’re heart rate is elevated and you break a sweat. Your goal is 150 minutes of brisk cardio (fast walking, jogging, swimming or biking) each week with 2-3 days of strength training to rebuild those muscles. Need some ideas and inspiration? Check out these 5 Days of Full Body Workouts from Health.com
#4 You’re stressing out
Some stress can be good when it’s used to motivate us, but when stress is the kind that gnaws at you and gives you headaches and keeps you awake at night, and let’s not even get into stress eating… it’s definitely not good. Not only is that type of stress hard on your mind, it’s really bad for your body. When your body is under long-term stress, it reacts by over-producing producing certain hormones, including cortisol, which can lead to insulin resistance or prediabetes, excess weight around your midsection, and a whole host of other health problems.
If you’re one of the millions (again, you’re not alone) who suffer from chronic stress, try these 3 things to help remove yourself from the stress and put the focus on something positive: Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day doing an activity you enjoy; sit quietly for 20 minutes each evening before you go to bed and make a list of everything for which you are grateful; do yoga or try to meditate at least 3 times a week to practice being more mindful and living in the present rather than worrying about the future. I love this video by Kara Lydon RD on How To Meditate for Beginners.
#5 You’re not sleeping
You might think if you’re awake and busy, you’re burning more calories, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most people need an average of 7.5 hours of sleep each night, and if you don’t get that, the hormones that control your appetite get out of whack. Several studies show that sleep-deprived individuals tend to gain more weight over time. Lack of sleep also makes you feel exhausted during the day, so you’re less likely to feel like exercising, and more likely to reach for a sugary pick-me-up snack. Quality sleep is harder to get as you get older, especially for women who are approaching menopause. This post I wrote on sleep and hormones explains it more detail. Try to use some of the hormone balancing tips in that post to help get to sleep.
What do you think? Have you noticed that it’s getting harder to lose weight? Let me if you’ve made any of these changes and how they’ve worked.