In this article we take a look at the drivers that can lead to weight gain in our 40’s including diet, emotional wellbeing and environmental factors. Our understanding of these elements helps us to identify and implement changes that can help us to get to know our bodies and manage our weight more effectively.
Eating healthy, but can’t shift the extra pounds
In our 20’s we stayed up late, went out drinking, over indulged in junk food, over did things in general and we never really over thought our weight.
In our 30’s we might have pulled back on those behaviours, maybe had families and got a little more focused on our health. Of course we over indulged but if we put our minds to it we could get into the jeans again and be happy about our weight.
Come the mid to late 40’s however and the old tricks are not working so well. We are eating nutritious food and exercising but it seems to be so much harder to shift those extra pounds! How unfair?
Try and seek advice from friends and you often hear my two most hated phrases:
‘Just eat less and move more’, or ‘it’s all to do with calories in vs calories expended’!
This is actually pretty useless advice and does not serve people well, especially women.
Yes for some of us, it’s harder to lose weight as you get older and that’s just the way it’s going to be.
Getting to the root of the problem
Obviously you need to take a look at what’s on your plate each day BUT that’s not the only area to look at. When someone comes to me and wants to look at options for weight loss we might spend half our time talking about food. But the rest of the time we discuss sleep patterns, stress, energy levels, their daily routine and most very importantly their relationship with food.
So let’s take a look at just some of the reasons why despite our best efforts we can’t seem to shift those extra pounds.
Longer term stress leads to chronically elevated cortisol and this is not good news for our waistline because cortisol signals the body to store fat
When we are very stressed our brain activates our 'fight or flight' response. The body releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which pump sugar into our bloodstream to ensure we have enough energy to deal with the situation. This in-built survival response kicks in whether we are running from a wild animal or sprinting to catch a train. A similar response is triggered when we are dealing with longer term stresses be it a toxic work environment or difficult personal circumstances. Longer term stress leads to chronically elevated cortisol and this is not good news for our waistline because cortisol signals the body to store fat. Nice huh?
Tiredness and exhaustion
People tend to eat when they are very tired. It’s harder to get organised to eat healthily when your energy levels are very low. You are much more likely to reach for the quick fixes which will give you an immediate energy boost, but these foods ultimately drain your energy tank in the long run.
Ensuring blood sugar is balanced really helps with energy so avoid those refined carbs (white bread, pastries, biscuits) which give you an instant sugar rush. This high is followed by a huge dip, so naturally you reach for another carb laden snack to keep you going.
This roller coaster upsets your blood sugar balance and helps to keep your body producing plenty of insulin, the FAT STORING hormone!
Tip: eat enough protein, fibre and healthy fats to help maintain a healthy blood sugar balance and reduce the cravings.
(Check out my recent Facebook post on meal planning & prepping tips).
Perimenopause or Menopause
As discussed in a previous blog our hormones begin to shift in our later 30’s, so by our mid-40’s our oestrogen is very much up and down. Progesterone and DHEA (pre-cursor to oestrogen) become low and our testosterone can dip too which is one of the reasons why the libido takes a nosedive.
Fluctuating oestrogen contributes to mood swings, energy dips, anxiety and depression, pains and aches as well as changing the fat distribution on a woman’s body. Have you noticed that suddenly the weight just seems to stick to the belly area?
When we have hit full menopause this lack of oestrogen leads to decreased muscle mass and increased fat storage. It can also increase appetite as well as ghrelin (hunger hormone) while at the same time decreasing leptin which is the satiety hormone. On top of that we find sleep patterns are disturbed, hence one of the reasons for increased tiredness as mentioned earlier, making it more difficult for us when making health food choices.
(If you think you might be going through perimenopause check out my blog post where I discuss foods you should increase and reduce to help manage the symptoms).
Low or sub-optimal thyroid
Low thyroid is a real metabolism killer. Optimum TSH levels are around 2.0. (It can be worth getting tested by your GP or privately to see what your levels are).
Nutrients that support thyroid function are selenium, zinc, Vitamin A, iodine and tyrosine. It’s a good idea to increase your intake of seafood, legumes, seeds, good quality fish and meats. Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium (and taste great too)!
Tip: Private testing of TSH levels offers a comprehensive view of your thyroid function as it will include T3 (the thyroid hormone that does most of the work) as well as thyroid antibodies.
our gut microbiome (the little bacteria friends who live in our digestive tract) can help or hinder our weight loss efforts!
You might be surprised to know that our gut microbiome (the little bacteria friends who live in our digestive tract) can help or hinder our weight loss efforts.
Having a robust, diverse and strong gut microbiome is ideal. Antibiotics, sugar, alcohol, infections or a high processed food diet can damage our friendly bacteria.
Make sure that you are eliminating properly. Those bowels need to be working really well.
Address any food sensitivities that you may have. Food sensitivities can cause all manner of problems from bloating to headaches. An elimination diet with careful reintroduction of foods one at a time can work well.
Tip: You can help your gut by eating fibrous foods, those rich in polyphenols and fermented foods. You should also make sure that you are well hydrated. Think flax and chia seeds, kefir and sauerkraut, all of the highly pigmented vegetables and fruits and switching out your white or beige carbohydrates for those of the wholegrain variety.
High levels of toxicity from the environment, personal care products, tap water, plastic and ultra-processed foods can build up in our body. These chemicals are stored in the fat cells to keep them as far as possible from our major internal organs. The older we get the more toxins we build up. Yes, we have mechanisms in the body to detoxify but sometimes our poor liver is so overworked that it can’t do this job to the best of its ability. So what happens is that the body hangs onto the fat as a way to protect us from these toxins.
Tip: use a water filtration system for your tap water and try to include organic produce where possible. Wean out the plastic storage containers in your kitchen and switch to glass. Try to use more natural brands of cosmetic and household products, avoid air fresheners and scented candles. Did you know that scented candles release volatile organic compounds which are really toxic when inhaled AND that we inhale these even if the candle isn’t lit?!
So instead switch over to using essential oils or eco-soy candles infused with essential oils. Consider treating yourself to more natural body products. I like Aroma Buff.
Wondering if toxins are an issue for you? I have linked a questionnaire at the end which will help to determine if you might benefit from a detoxification programme.
You’ve done them all! The shakes, the drinks, the obsessive weighing and counting, the cabbage soup, the egg and bloody grapefruit one. Do you remember these?? Those of us in our mid-40’s have likely done a few of them.
You lose it and you’re delighted with yourself. Then your willpower cracks or some life event comes up and you end up gaining it all back again. You tell yourself that you have failed. You then begin to associate guilt with food and tell yourself that you have been ‘bold’ because you ate a pizza or a bag of chips.
I say enough of this!
Constantly being on a ‘diet’ is depressing and will affect your health and metabolism in many ways.
Tip: Of course you have to change the way you eat in order to reach your happy weight but why not look at things differently?
· What nutrients does your body need in order to function at its best?
· What habits do you need to make and which ones do you need to break?
· What foods are serving you and what foods are draining you?
I feel that a healthy relationship with food and being in tune with our body is so important and when we start to address those issues then we can bring about real lasting changes to our health.
So, there you go. I hope I’ve helped you to understand a little more about why it becomes more difficult to shift extra weight as we hit our 40’s. Mantras such as ‘eat less, move more’ and ‘calories taken in vs calories expended’ are simply daft when you consider the full impact of our lifestyle, hormones and in particular our ‘stage in life’ has on weight gain.
But as with so many changes in our bodies, a little understanding and healthy attitude to what we eat goes a long way to making the adjustments needed for our health at any stage in life.
Want more info?
If you would like more information on optimising nutritional health during perimenopause, watch out for my upcoming nutrition and lifestyle programme. Register your interest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We will contact you with further details before the programme goes live.
Mixed nuts photo by Marta Branco, Pexels