You’ve reached your 40s, you see menopause on the horizon (or maybe it’s already here) — and suddenly your favorite jeans feel too snug. You feel like you haven’t changed what you’re eating, so it’s almost as if your body has betrayed you.
The truth is, after 40, losing weight — or even maintaining a healthy weight — is very difficult for most women. The hormonal changes that hit in your 40s are indeed working against you. But there’s good news. The weight gain that most women experience at menopause isn’t a done deal. Learn more about the steps you can take to lose weight and stay healthy.
The Effect of Menopause on Weight
As you hit your 40s and move into perimenopause and menopause, your body starts to change in some significant ways. You stop producing as much estrogen. As a result, your metabolism slows. That means you’re not burning as many calories as you used to, and those excess calories hang around as excess weight. Plus, the change in estrogen levels also results in an increase in fat storage.
And that’s not all. Your weight distribution changes. Where you used to carry any excess pounds in your hips and thighs, now they’re more likely to wrap themselves around your waist. Unfortunately, excess belly fat is particularly bad for you, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
At the same time, those hormonal changes cause you to start losing muscle mass. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, this is worse news for your slowing metabolism, creating a sort of vicious cycle. Added to that, many women show increased insulin resistance with age, which results in an even greater tendency to hang on to excess fat.
Getting control of weight gain during menopause isn’t just a matter of aesthetics or vanity. It’s an important health issue. That excess abdominal fat increases your risk for cardiovascular diseases, Type 2 diabetes, and respiratory issues. It may also increase your risk for colon, breast, and endometrial cancer. All this adds up to show why it’s so important to tackle that creeping weight gain.
Lifestyle Tips for Losing Weight After 40
If you’re going to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit. In other words, you need to burn more calories than you take in. You can do that by ingesting fewer calories, by burning off more calories through movement and exercise, or by giving your metabolism a boost since your resting energy expenditure decreases with menopause. A combination of all three methods is likely to be the healthiest.
The more you exercise, the more lean muscle mass you build. And the more lean muscle mass you have, the more efficiently your body burns calories.
Menopausal women can benefit from a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training. Aim for about 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise (think walking, running, biking or swimming), plus strength training (such as weightlifting) twice a week.
But don’t plan on the same exercise routine you had in your 20s. Your body may not recover as quickly, and if you have been sedentary in recent years, you need to ramp up slowly.
Take a look at these tips for exercising to lose weight and maintain muscle mass once you hit menopause:
- Consider tai chi. It’s gentle on the joints but shows excellent results in reducing abdominal fat.
- Take a class in something that sounds fun. Consider barre work, Zumba, or Pilates. If you enjoy your exercise, you’re more likely to accomplish your goals every week.
- Work with a personal trainer, if you can. Trainers can help you find exercise routines that you like and that don’t overtax your body.
- Consider resistance training with exercise bands. This type of exercise is excellent at increasing lean muscle mass, and the bands are easy to pack if you travel a lot.
- During strength training, perform more repetitions. This is a good choice even if it means sticking to a lower weight. Studies show the extra repetitions help reduce abdominal fat.
In addition to dedicated exercise time, you can increase your physical activity in small ways throughout your day. Take your dog for a long walk instead of just driving to the dog park. Ignore the elevator and take the stairs instead. Park as far from the front door of the mall or supermarket as you can. Develop the habit of pacing while you’re on the phone. Every little bit helps, and if you download a pedometer app to your phone, you can count all those extra steps.
Eating less is crucial once you hit menopause because your body needs about 200 fewer calories to get through the day. And 200 calories a day in excess of what your body burns off can result in a weight gain of 20 pounds per year (ouch!).
But what you eat matters during the menopausal years. Where you eat can make a difference, too. Often, after a lifetime of getting dinner on the table for the family, women are happy to head out to eat in midlife. But going out often means eating more and adding alcohol to a meal, all of which can lead to weight gain.
During your 40s, you can help yourself stay healthy and lose weight by limiting your sweets, alcohol, and carbohydrates. Most Americans eat at least 300 calories a day in desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, energy drinks, some flavored waters, and juices. Those sugary calories have no health benefits and just add to your belly.
As for alcohol, it contains more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, with no food value. Carbohydrates turn to sugar in your body, and foods such as bread and pasta contribute to abdominal fat. Studies show that reducing carbohydrates can decrease postmenopausal weight gain.
If you’re the type of person who likes rules and boundaries, choosing one of the nutritious diet types that are shown to be beneficial during menopause may be of value. Consider a low-carb diet, a paleo diet, a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, or a vegan diet.
Here are a few tips to help you keep your food intake under control in your 40s and beyond:
- Ask for a to-go box. Serving sizes in many restaurants are enormous, and you could easily down 3,000 calories in a single meal if you don’t watch out. Ask for a to-go box the moment your meal is delivered and remove half your meal from your plate before you start to eat.
- Eat early. Studies are now showing that when you eat can be almost as important as what you eat. Eat your larger meals earlier in the day (a big breakfast filled with protein, for instance), and taper off toward evening. Avoid those afternoon snacks that can pack on needless calories.
- Order dressing on the side. You may think you’re ordering healthy with that salad, but the dressing could contain more calories than all the other ingredients in the salad put together. So, ask for dressing on the side.
- Try intermittent fasting. Limiting your food intake to a certain window of time every day can be a game-changer when it comes to weight loss. Be strict about following your routine and talk to a doctor before trying any diet strategy.
- Engage in mindful eating. Becoming aware of your internal cues to eat, such as physical hunger, can help you avoid those external cues, such as candy bar ads or peer pressure, that cause you to eat when you don’t really want to. Planning ahead by stocking up on healthy options at home and reviewing restaurant menus ahead of time can help you make smart choices.
- Track your food intake. When you log what you eat, you’re more likely to track your weight and to lose more of it.
Dealing With Stress
Stress and body fat have a physiological connection. When you’re stressed, your levels of the hormone cortisol increase. Cortisol then tells your body to release more sugar as part of the body’s “fight or flight” syndrome. If you need to run from a mountain lion, that extra energy boost is a great idea. But if your body is responding to chronic stress by releasing cortisol continuously, you can end up with Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Excess cortisol is also associated with excess abdominal fat.
Minimizing stress is thus crucial during your perimenopausal and menopausal years. Try these tips to calm your body down:
- Go outside. Being outdoors (and even looking at photos of outdoor scenes) is proven to reduce stress.
- Take a yoga class. Yoga reduces stress, and it may help with other menopausal symptoms.
- Meditate. One easy way to do this is by using a meditation app that can help you lower your heart rate.
Medical Treatment That Can Help You Lose Weight After 40 in Greater Boston
At the heart of your difficulties losing weight after 40 is the lack of estrogen. This hormonal deficiency is also behind the night sweats, hot flashes, and mood swings that you may also experience with menopause.
One way to deal with all these symptoms is through hormone replacement therapy. Studies show that hormone therapy can prevent an increase in body fat, including abdominal body fat. It’s also proven and effective at dealing with the symptoms of menopause that plague many women in their 40s.
If you’re in your 40s and gaining weight, we may be able to help. At Hormonally Balanced, we understand the changes your body is going through, and we’re ready to listen and to provide the medical treatment that could reduce your daily discomfort and help you get to a healthy weight again. Contact us today to see what you can do to approach your 40s and beyond with energy and health.