While it does get harder to shed those extra pounds as the years pile on, losing weight after 40 is not an impossible dream. With a little knowledge and a little commitment, you can melt those extra pounds off almost as quickly as they snuck on.
Losing Weight After 40
The common belief that metabolism magically slows down as we age is only partly true. You do burn calories at a higher rate as a child, but that is because you are growing — which requires a lot of energy. Your body's ability to digest and use the foods you eat does not just slowly wind down like an old-school clock.
What generally happens is that as you age, according to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, you tend to become less active, so you not only burn fewer calories throughout the day, but you may also start to lose muscle tissue. Your body now requires fewer calories, and your lack of lean muscle mass means that you are burning fewer calories while at rest than you did when you were younger.
If your eating habits have not evolved to accommodate these changes, your body has no choice but to store the extra calories as fat. Hormonal changes may also come into play, but a healthy diet and regular exercise can help you drop those extra pounds in a fairly short time, at any age.
Know Your Enemies
The biggest obstacle to losing weight over 40, according to the experts at the University of Massachusetts Medical School is a condition called sarcopenia. Simply put, this is the natural loss of muscle mass that occurs as you age. Lisa Arbin, CNM-ARNP at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, explains that this can be as much as 3 to 5 percent of your total muscle mass lost each decade once you have turned 30.
This is important because lean muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fatty tissue does — but that is not the only factor to consider. Having plenty of lean muscle mass also makes stronger and more capable of being active, which affects the overall quality of your life, explains Arbin.
Loss of lean muscle mass is not the only possible culprit impeding your quest to lose weight quickly. Arbin points out that a malfunctioning thyroid can also keep you from losing weight.
The only way to tell for certain if your thyroid is not working correctly is to have tests done by your healthcare provider. Treating any thyroid problems will not cause a sudden, dramatic weight loss, but it will help you drop those extra pounds through exercise and diet.
Schedule a Check-Up
The caution to see a doctor before starting any diet or exercise program has become so common that it seems almost meaningless, but it is actually sound advice. While many people who lose weight and gain it back or have trouble losing it in the first place blame themselves, that is being too harsh, state the experts at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
There are many factors that can interfere with weight loss, Wake forest says. Among them are:
- Birth control pills
- Quitting smoking
- Underactive thyroid
Many factors can come together to keep you from losing weight after 40, Wake Forest points out, but that does not mean that you should just give up. Having a full physical and blood work-up done can help to ensure you are aware of which factors are getting in your way.
Once you have identified any possible stumbling blocks, you and your healthcare provider can come up with a plan to compensate for or work around them.
Control Your Calories
Counting calories is one way to keep track of your portion sizes, but it's not enough, according to experts at Tufts University.
Calories are used to measure energy, but even more than the quantity of calories you take in, what matters is where those calories come from. This is especially important if you are over 40 and have a slower metabolism because of medication, hormones or inactivity.
Calories in starchy, sugary foods are fully digested in the stomach and small intestine. Calories from whole grains contain insoluble fiber, which passes into the large intestine where it feeds your gut bacteria.
Healthy gut bacteria can help reduce your risk of inflammation, and a diverse population of microbes in your gut is less likely to feed harmful bacteria that can develop.
Eating a diet that is high in nutrient-dense foods ensures that you are providing adequate nutrition to your body so that it gets the most value from each calorie, the Tufts experts say. Choose leafy green vegetables — and make sure they take up half of your plate.
One-quarter of your plate should be filled with lean protein and the other with complex carbohydrates, such as quinoa or brown rice. Supplement with fresh fruit, nuts, seeds and healthy fats, such as the essential fatty acids found in olive oil and avocados.
Pack in the Protein
Protein is important for a healthy diet, but just as with calories, there is an art to incorporating protein effectively into your diet, caution the experts at Des Moines University Medical and Health Services.
The issue is that your body has limits as far as how much protein it can absorb at any one time. Pounding down a high-protein drink that contains more than 40 to 50 grams of protein is wasted effort and wasted calories.
Des Moines advises spreading out your protein evenly throughout the day, aiming for about 30 grams per meal. This way, you can ensure that your body is getting the full benefits of the protein rather than taking in more than you can use.
The experts at Des Moines also recommend that you remember to enjoy what you eat. A diet that is very restrictive, boring or bland will not hold your interest for long — especially since you are a grown-up woman who is used to making her own choices. Choose lean protein, such as chicken and fish, but don't shy away from eggs, nuts and an occasional treat of some luscious cheese.
Count Your Carbohydrates
Simply put, the first is sugar, the second is starch and the third is fiber. Sugar is the type of carbohydrate that is metabolized the quickest, ISSA explains. This can raise your blood sugar, prompting an insulin response. Once the insulin mops up the extra sugar, your brain can signal hunger, sabotaging your diet.
ISSA points out that low-carb diets work because they remove the negative impact this insulin response has on your body. Lowering the amount of carbohydrates in your diet keeps your blood sugar levels regulated, helping you avoid that spike-and-drop cycle. The lack of easily metabolized sugar in your bloodstream encourages your body to burn fat for fuel, instead.
Some people cannot function on a severely low-carbohydrate diet, ISSA cautions, so if you find yourself feeling overly sluggish or experience problems with mental fog, increase your carbohydrate intake a little at a time until the problem is solved.
Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, vegetables, beans and legumes, are metabolized more slowly, so concentrate on eating those to avoid insulin spikes.
Focus on Fats
About 28 percent of Americans over 40 are on some sort of cholesterol-managing medication, according to the University of California - San Diego, so it might make sense to you that cutting all fat out of your diet is a good idea.
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Fats are necessary to help your body absorb vitamins A and D, and they help lubricate your joints and keep your skin supple.
The best types of fats, according to UCSD, are the polyunsaturated fats found in walnuts. These not only lower your levels of low-density lipoproteins — or LDLs, which are known as bad cholesterol — but also raise your high-density lipoproteins, or HDLs, the good cholesterol.
Other healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil and avocados, according to UCSD, do lower the overall lipids, or fats, in your blood, but they also lower both bad and good cholesterol.
When counting calories and trying to add protein and healthy fats, include some walnuts as well as the essential fatty acids that can be found in fatty fish, such as mackerel and salmon, avocados and olive oil rather than pinning your weight loss hopes only on olive oil.
Engage in Regular Exercise
One of the most effective ways to overcome a sudden weight gain at 40 is to commit to a consistent exercise program. The positives of exercise go beyond the extra calories burned.
Physical activity releases endorphins, remind the experts at Concordia University - Saint Paul. This helps elevate your mood, which can go a long way toward helping you stick to a new program of diet and exercise.
The most effective calorie burning exercise is cardio, states Concordia - Saint Paul. Cardio includes walking, jogging, running, cycling, dancing, swimming and any other exercise that gets your heart rate up.
You can do a gentler cardio workout for a longer period of time, such as walking for an hour, or do a more intense session for a shorter time, such as sprints. But cardio is not the only type of exercise you will need to keep your sluggish metabolism up and running.
Your best bet, advises Wentworth Institute of Technology, is to do a combination of cardio and weight training. Weight training, or strength training, may not burn as many calories as cardio, but it will help you build lean muscle mass.
The more lean muscle you have, the more calories your body burns while it is at rest. Building strength also makes it easier to carry out your daily tasks and still have energy left over, which may lead you to a more active lifestyle at any age.
- University of Massachusetts Medical School: "Mission (Im)Possible: Keys to Losing Weight After 40"
- Wake Forest Baptist Health: "Obesity"
- Tufts University: "Is Calorie Counting Dead?"
- Des Moines University Medical and Health Services: "Clearing the Confusion: Diet Myths"
- International Sports Science Association: "3 Science-Backed Methods for Losing Fat"
- University of California - San Diego: "Cholesterol Levels Improve With Weight Loss and Healthy Fat-Rich Diet"
- Wentworth Institute of Technology: "Cardio vs. Strength For Fat Loss"
- Concordia University - Saint Paul: "The Science of Weight Loss"
- Mayo Clinic: "Aging: What to Expect"