Is it harder to lose weight in your forties?

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I’ve always been one of those irritating people who can eat all the chocolate, drink all the wine… and not really see the difference on my waistline.

My Nana has long told me (with far too much glee in my opinion) that I’ll wake up one day “Forty and fat.” Charming.

As annoying as it is, it turns out Nana might have been right. I can already (with three months until the big 4-0) feel changes in both how I look, and feel. And although I know there are far more important things in life than the size jeans we wear, as a lifelong lover of exercise, maintaining a healthy weight in my forties is a priority for me.

So; is it really harder to lose weight in your forties… or is it a myth? Something we use as an excuse for letting the pounds rack up? Let’s look at the science

  • We have less muscle mass in our forties than in our younger years, and as we know, it’s muscle mass which aids our metabolism in burning off calories.
  • Another factor which can make it harder to lose weight in your in forties is the peri-menopause, the period which describes the transition into menopause which for some women can last for a whopping decade.
  • Once menopause commences, there is a decrease in the hormone estradiol, which slows the metabolism further.
  • Changes to activity levels and eating patterns also play a part. Most women in their forties I know are drowning in a sea of responsibilities! Looking after elderly parents, raising kids, working long hours, trying to stay in touch with friends. We simply don’t have the time to exercise with the frequency we did in our younger care-free years.

Enough with all the bad news though. The good news is that with a few key strategies, you can continue to manage your weight well into your forties and beyond. I have trained hundreds of women over the years, and I can say unequivocally that weight loss and maintenance throughout your forties, although trickier; is not impossible.

Here are my top 5 tips for weight management in your forties.

  • Repeat after me: Weight training will not turn me into a gladiator. Yep, you heard me! So many women are reticent to lift weights in case it makes them look ‘bulky’. I’m here to tell you that the amount of weight-lifting you’d have to do to build that level of ‘bulky’ muscle, is just not going to be a worry for your average exerciser! Resistance training is a win on so many levels. It will build your muscle mass which in turn will aid your metabolic rate. It’s time-efficient, twenty minutes a day is more than enough to strengthen and tone. It doesn’t just help build muscle; strength training also increases your bone density which reduces your chance of developing osteoporosis. Another bonus with weight training is that you don’t need to join a gym, or in fact need much space at all! Pick up a pair of handweights, a resistance band and a mat and you’re good to go. Youtube has some great free content suitable for absolute beginners.
  • As your metabolism slows slightly during your forties, it follows that we need slightly fewer calories throughout the day. Of course, we may well have fallen into some eating habits which were fine in our roaring twenties, but which will impede our weight management in our forties. Keeping a brutally honest food diary for a full week will help you identify where you are consuming unnecessary calories. Whether it’s the 3pm office biscuits, the extra serving of mash with your evening meal; it’s really difficult to eat consciously amidst the chaos of family life. Commit to diarising everything you eat and drink for a week and see if there are any ‘easy wins’ there which you could remove. There are some great apps out there which can help with this too. It is certainly harder to lose weight in your forties than it was in your twenties, so we need to take a more detailed approach!
  • Reduce stress. Easier said than done this one I know! But stress leads to an increase in the hormone cortisol which encourages us to store fat, rather than burn it. Plus, if like me you’re the type of person who over-eats when stressed, chances are the more stressed you feel, the more calories you’ll consume. Handily, a great antidote to stress is exercise… so when you feel overwhelmed, try doing some physical activity! Whether it’s getting the dog out for a walk, doing a quick online workout or playing footy with the kids, any activity will raise your endorphins and lower stress hormones. Mind-Body exercise classes like Yoga and Pilates have the double benefit of looking after your mind whilst also challenging your body.
  • Steer clear of fad diets. If there was a magic way to lose weight within a week, someone would’ve found it by now… and that person would be a multi billionaire! It’s important to remember that body composition and metabolism change as we age and your go-to weight loss hacks may no longer work for you. Restricting certain food groups has long been a popular ‘quick fix’, but in our forties and beyond, our nutrient intake becomes even more important to our general health. The one thing these restrictive diets have in common, no matter how they are marketed, is that they do not provide a feasible long-term solution which can be adopted for life. Instead of searching out a ‘diet’, take time to read up on the foods that will top up your energy levels, stabilise hormonal changes and aid your sleep. If you’re finding it hard to lose weight in your forties, The Happy Menopause: Smart Nutrition to Help You Flourish by Jackie Lynch provides women with the tools to help them manage their menopause and associated weight gain.
  • Make your sleep a priority. If you want to manage your weight in your forties; getting a decent amount of sleep is absolutely key. The amount that adults need varies but the NHS recommends we aim for 6-8 hours per night. When we don’t get enough sleep, metabolic changes start to occur. The appetite hormone ghrelin increases, while leptin, the hormone which controls our ‘I’m full’ feeling, increases. This combination can quickly lead to a vicious cycle of under-sleeping and overating. For tips on improving your sleep quality and bedtime routine, check out this article.
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