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Losing Weight After 40: What You Can Control and What You Can’t

Good fats aid in weight loss for women over 40

by Stephanie Margolis, R.D.

For those who are there or quickly approaching, losing weight after 40 can come with some challenges. For every decade of life after 30, our metabolism slows about 5%. This means if your resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy your body needs to lay on the couch and exist) was 1500 calories at 40, when you are 50 it could be 1425. This can add up quickly! However, for all the focus on metabolism, we need to take a step back and look at what actually impacts your metabolism.

  • Genetics: Your metabolic rate has a lot to do with your genetics. Unfortunately we can’t do anything about that, so … moving on.
  • Thyroid: The thyroid plays a major role in metabolism, growth, and body development. It is far more common for women to have under-functioning thyroid glands than men, but the change is gradual. This is why around age 40 we see more women come forward with thyroid problems. There are ways to eat to help your thyroid, but the first step is to talk to your medical doctor if you are concerned.
  • Muscle mass:  We know that as people age their body composition changes too, with fat mass increasing and muscle mass decreasing. The term for this is sarcopenia and naturally begins to happen around 40, mainly due to hormones. It is estimated you will lose 40% of your lean muscle between the ages of 40 and 80. This impacts your metabolism because muscle burns more calories than fat, so less muscle = less energy burn.

What’s a Gal to Do?

First off, know you aren’t alone! There is so much interest in the topic that there is an ongoing study called The 40-Something Study, which is a two-year, randomized control trial looking at different interventions to promote a healthy weight in women over the age of 40. Second, there ARE some proactive things you can do.

Weight Training

Good news for you! Since you are a Moms Into Fitness reader we can likely check this off your list. As noted above, retaining your muscle mass plays a large role in keeping your metabolism humming. While you may have to work a little more as you age, remember to work smarter not harder. Choosing intentional workouts is going to yield the best results as you age.

Add Good Fats

A study was done regarding the relationship between type of fat eaten and waistline measurements. It revealed that those who consumed more saturated fats saw a measurable increase in belly fat and insulin resistance. This was especially true if the individual had reduced amounts of estrogen (hello menopause!). On the flipside, those that consumed more omega-3 fatty acids (think: flaxseed, avocados, avocado oil, nuts, salmon) did not see the increase in their waistline measurement and even saw an increase in their muscle mass. Aim for two servings of fish each week and a serving of omega-3s each day from other sources.

Power With Plants

We’ve talked before about a variety of ways to add more plants into your diet. Adding more colorful, whole produce protects against oxidative stress and free radical formation. Both which are more concerning as we age. By eating enough plants, especially the green leafy ones, you are also getting enough magnesium which plays a big role in the health of your bones, brain, heart, and nervous system. The National Institutes of Health recommends 320mg per day and can be found in the aforementioned veggies, seeds, beans, and legumes.

Consider Fasting

We’ve talked a lot about intermittent fasting here and here we are again. There is solid evidence that intermittent fasting can help with weight management as well as lower your risk for certain metabolic diseases. The key here is to not restrict your eating so much that you are under-eating. Less than 1200 calories per day can slow your metabolism even further and promote muscle loss — both things we are trying to avoid.

If you do these things and nothing seems to be working, take a look at other things that could have changed. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you overstressed? Taking a look at your entire lifestyle, not just food, can help you address how your body and lifestyle are changing as you get older.