We all tend to believe that weight gain is inevitable as we get older, but it’s not necessarily about age. By the time women hit their 40s and 50s many of them have had a lifetime of on-off exercising and yo-yo dieting, which over the years will have damaged their metabolism and made it harder for the same exercise and diets to yield results. So yes, they are gaining weight, but that’s because their metabolism is impaired, not because they are ageing or at the mercy of hormonal changes.
So how to deal with this? Here are some suggestions:
If what you’ve always done is no longer working, change it
That means rethinking how and what you eat. Ditch the calorie counting, the low fat (but often sugar-laden) foods, the diet shakes and the cutting out entire food groups. These might have worked the first time you tried them, and possibly the second and third times, but they are not a sustainable way of eating – you’ll feel deprived, so you’ll eventually revert to your old way of eating, and regain any weight you lost. In fact you’ll probably gain more weight than you lost, because depriving your body of food and nutrients will send it into starvation mode and slow your metabolism so that it will become harder and harder to keep the weight off.
Stop the quick-fix dieting
Permanent weight loss is achieved through permanent changes. Don’t approach a diet as a project with a start and end date, but change your eating habits – it won’t be a quick fix, but it will be a lasting one. Choose natural, nutrient rich foods. If you’ve only ever reached your ideal weight through reducing the amount you eat or cutting out foods you love, a lifestyle change probably sounds like permanent deprivation, but it’s not – choose the right foods and you shouldn’t need to reduce the quantity, and if you get it right 80% of the time, there’ll be no need to cut out the occasional treat either. You should also find that once you’re nourishing your body with good food (rather than punishing it by starving it) it will reward you by giving you more energy and you’ll start to feel more positive, which in turn will make you want to continue with the healthy eating.
Rethink your exercise regime
Many women make the mistake of using cardio to “burn” any extra calories consumed – the calories-in-calories-out theory. But you’re always going to be fighting an unhappy battle if you use exercise to punish yourself for eating, and it will always feel like a chore. Also prolonged, intense exercise can raise the stress hormone cortisol, which actually encourages fat storage. A far more effective way of keeping your metabolism raised using exercise is to do weight bearing or resistance based activity – pick up some weights, use resistance bands, do body weight exercises such as squats and push-ups. This will strengthen and increase your muscle mass, and the more muscle you carry around the more calories you’ll burn all day long, not just during your workout. Don’t worry, you won’t bulk up, but you will look more toned, your posture will improve (which will automatically make you look slimmer), and it will protect against osteoporosis too.
Around 10% of the calories you eat are used in breaking down and processing your food. This is called the thermic effect of food. Protein stimulates this effect more than carbohydrate or fat, which means it causes your body to use more energy when it is digested. So eating plenty of protein can boost your metabolism. A high protein meal tends to be more satisfying too, as protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrate and you therefore feel fuller for longer. It also supplies the key nutritional building blocks for muscle growth, so that if you do switch to weight bearing or resistance based exercise you’ll maximise your results.
Be honest with yourself
If your kids are growing up, becoming more self-sufficient and leaving you with more leisure time, are you eating out more, enjoying more wine at home, or cooking more indulgent meals to enjoy in your new-found peace and quiet? More me-time or us-time with your partner can very easily mean more self-indulgence, which will lead to weight gain. Early retirement can also bring about big changes in activity levels and eating habits. Take a look at how your lifestyle may have changed since you were last at your ideal weight and you may uncover the reasons for your weight gain.