Once you reach age 40, the weight-loss tactics you used in your 20s seem to stop working. You can no longer refuse dessert and fit in extra workout once a week to effortlessly drop a few extra pounds. Even if you make every effort to eat healthfully and exercise when possible, the number on your scale keeps climbing. Weight loss over age 40 still responds to eating fewer calories than you burn, but hormones, life's obligations and natural muscle loss makes this equation harder to achieve. Quick weight-loss efforts only backfire as they fail to teach you how to sustain any weight loss and endanger your energy and health. Stick to the safe rate of losing 1 to 2 pounds per week to get your weight on track.
How Turning 40 Affects Your Weight
From ages 30 to 60, you lose about 1/2 pound of muscle, but gain a pound of weight, each year. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so it helps boost your metabolism. As it diminishes, so does your metabolism -- meaning that if you are still eating like you did in your 20s, you're likely banking extra calories as fat.
Exercise can help you preserve lean muscle and increase your declining calorie-burn rate, but your children and parents are at ages that require extra care and time. Combine these obligations with a demanding job, and it's tough to meet the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise and two strength-training sessions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You're also approaching menopause, which affects your hormones. As you age, your body fat percentage naturally increases, and, instead, of storing most of your weight in the hips and thighs, much of it reverts to the belly.
How to Address Fat Loss at 40
A calorie deficit is still the surest route to losing weight. Quick weight-loss fads may tempt you, but they often provide you with such a low calorie intake that you may feel hungry much of the time, which may discourage you. Even if you can manage it for a while, you may end up missing out on important nutrients. Quick weight loss only expedites muscle loss, leaving you with an even stodgier metabolism that makes weight loss harder and weight gain almost inevitable. Any diet that has you consuming fewer than 1,200 calories per day is too low.
A manageable deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day, created by moderating portions and increasing physical activity, is doable by most women over age 40. It's also effective as shown by a 2012 study published in Obesity in which a combination of diet and exercise yielded the greatest weight loss results in post-menopausal women after one year.
The 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit yields a loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week, since 1 pound equals 3,500 calories. Losing at a faster rate, especially after the first one or two weeks of making changes, puts you at an increased risk of developing gall stones. Determine how many calories you need daily to maintain your weight based on your exact age, activity level and size using an online calculator and determine your deficit from that number. The average 40-year old woman burns between 1,800 and 2,200 calories per day, depending on activity.
Weight-Loss Diet Plans
A weight-loss diet plan when you're over 40 looks like any healthy plan, but with moderate portions that fit your calorie needs. No one diet is best; instead, certain habits help you succeed. Avoid sugary sweets, especially soda and baked treats, as well as refined grains found in white bread, pasta and rice. Your intake of alcohol, even that supposedly healthy glass of red wine, should also be limited.
Instead, focus on eating lean proteins such as fish, poultry, lean beef and tofu; whole grains, such as brown rice or 100 percent whole-wheat bread; and a wide variety of fresh vegetables. Diligent monitoring of portions may include weighing and measuring servings to make sure you don't overeat. Include some unsaturated fats at meals to support vitamin absorption and satiation; examples include, an ounce of nuts, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, 1/8 of an avocado or 3 ounces of salmon. For snacks, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, fresh fruit and a handful of almonds are options.
Lifestyle Interventions for Weight Loss
Commit to at least 250 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio weekly to lose significant weight. If you have trouble fitting it in, re-frame how you think about exercise. Take a brisk walk with your kids after school; go for a jog in the first half of your lunch hour; schedule at least one or two evenings as your time at the gym; or wake up 30 minutes early to fit in a brief sweat session. Two strength-training sessions are also a must in your physical activity routine to help offset the natural loss of muscle mass. At home, you could do squats, pushups, triceps dips, lunges and crunches if getting to a health center just isn't possible.
Stress can interrupt sleep, which is essential to maintaining a healthy weight. Too little sleep makes you lose motivation for exercise and causes your body to pump out more hunger hormones. Stress and lack of sleep also cause your body to produce more cortisol, a stress hormone that also drives weight gain. Yoga, meditation and other methods of self care are ways to help manage stress so you can concentrate on dietary and exercise efforts to lose weight.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Losing Weight
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Weight-loss and Nutrition Myths
- Today's Dietitian: Nutrition's Role in Sarcopenia Prevention
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Position Stand on Physical Activity and Weight Loss
- Obesity: Effect of Diet and Exercise, Alone or Combined, on Weight and Body Composition in Overweight-to-Obese Post-Menopausal Women
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010: Chapter 2: Balancing Calories to Manage Weight
- National Sleep Foundation: Diet, Sleep and Exercise
- Today's Dietitian: Cortisol — Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy