The Over-40 Challenge
The number one reason it gets harder to lost weight post-40 is that your metabolism slows down every year, making it harder to burn calories. You also tend to lose muscle mass as you age, and muscle burns calories at a faster rate than fat does.
Plus, falling estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause (which can begin in your 40s) can cause insulin sensitivity, which makes it harder for your body to control the amount of sugar in your blood, says Caroline Cederquist, M.D., a board-certified bariatric surgeon and founder of the meal delivery service BistroMD. If your blood sugar levels constantly spike and crash, it can increase your cravings for unhealthy snacks, Dr Cederquist says.
So it’s no wonder why so many women over 40 ends up hitting a weight-loss wall. But don’t worry, you got this: Here are a few ways you can outsmart your slowing metabolism and get lean—for good.
Create a list of reasons you want to lose weight
Those who are most successful at losing weight after 40 do it when they have a very clear reason why they want to get leaner. Maybe you’ve been watching the scale creep up a pound or two every year and are ready to nix bad habits, or you’ve been given a wake-up call by your doctor that it’s time to get serious about how your weight is impacting your overall health. “You need to have a mental awakening that puts you in a state of readiness to change. If you’re not engaged mentally, it’s not happening,” says Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of The Hunger Fix.
Be mindful of portion sizes
“When it comes to losing weight, what actually moves the needle is always dietary change,” says Dr. Cederquist. It doesn’t matter if all you eat is grilled chicken, brown rice, and broccoli. If you don’t cut back on your portions, you won’t lose weight. Everyone’s calorie needs are different, but in general, a woman has typically been eating 2,000 calories per day should aim to cut back to 1,500–1,600 a day to lose weight, recommends Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D.N., nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color.
Consider intermittent fasting
There are different methods for practising intermittent fasting, including the 16:8 diet, which restricts eating to an 8-hour window and fasting for a 16-hour period. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting can not only be beneficial for weight loss, but it can also help you get prediabetes and diabetes under control.
Eat fewer calories, more frequently
Increased insulin resistance might leave you feeling hungrier. Dividing up your food into three moderately sized meals and one to two small snacks will keep your blood sugar levels steady while combatting the urge to nibble on junk, Largeman-Roth says. Piling your plate with more low-calorie, high-volume foods—like fruits and vegetables—can help fill you up, too.
Watch your alcohol intake
Alcohol counts as a treat, too, so save it for special occasions (Friday night date night?), and try sticking to low-calorie alcoholic drinks. “You could fit two to four glasses of wine per week into a weight loss program,” Largeman-Roth says. Just make a point to stick to the five-ounce recommended serving size, since it can be easy to over-pour when you don’t pay attention. And yes, if you enjoy a glass with dinner, it means you should skip out on that piece of chocolate for dessert.
Do muscle-building exercises
Losing weight through diet alone isn’t possible, especially after 40, when hormones like testosterone tend to dip, and you start to lose muscle mass, says Dr. Cederquist. Adding in four to five weekly resistance training sessions can help you maintain your muscle mass and burn even more calories, Largeman-Roth says.
But one common mistake to avoid is jumping straight into an intense exercise regimen, Dr. Peeke says. “That’s the worst thing you can do because it increases your risk of injury,” she says. Brisk walking, on the other hand, helps you shed pounds and keeps you pain-free. Be sure to talk to your doctor about recommending a workout routine that works best for you. Or, hire a personal trainer who can develop a fitness program that meets your weight-loss goals.
Along with your strength training, make sure you’re burning off even more calories—and keeping your cardiovascular health in top shape—by doing some sort of aerobic activity at least 30 minutes a day. That can be from taking a dance class, biking, or simply getting out and walking (aim for at least 10,000 daily steps).