Why is weight loss so much harder as you get older? You've always been able to lose weight if you set your mind to it, right? You go on holiday, put on half a stone, get back and go on that old diet that always used to work a treat.
Except that now you're in your 40's or 50's, that old diet just doesn't work any more. You literally have to STARVE to lose any weight, and you probably know that you've just lost fluid and muscle! The minute you look at a piece of bread, that weight's right back on.
So what's going on? Why is it so damned difficult to shed the pounds after 40?
Why you're struggling with weight loss
Well there are lots of reasons, and it's not always to do with what's on your plate (although that plays a big part!).
1. You're too stressed – cortisol, your stress hormone, pumps sugar into our blood so that you have enough energy for your ‘fight or flight' response. That extra sugar gets mopped up by insulin and goes straight to our fat cells for storage. A stressed body hangs on to fat for dear life!
TIP; Make sure you are getting enough rest and relaxation. Even 10 mins a day of deep breathing will help!
2. You're running on empty – when you're tired and exhausted (the older we get the more we seem to have to juggle), you haven't got the energy to be even thinking about healthy foods. You're more likely reaching for foods that are convenient and will give you an instant boost – usually refined carbs, sugary snacks, processed foods and take aways.
TIP; Have a good protein breakfast (a protein smoothie works well) and lots of protein rich snacks to give you sustainable energy throughout the day.
3. Your thyroid is killing your metabolism – low thyroid is very common as we get older, slowing down your metabolism to a crawl, making you exhausted and unable to burn off those carbs you're eating.
TIP; Get yourself properly tested and support your thyroid with the nutrients it needs (e.g. Vitamin A, zinc, iodine, tyrosine, selenium).
4. You've got some unwelcome guests living in your gut – our gut flora (our micro-organism friends) outnumber our own cells by 10 to 1! You could say we are just providing a home for the billions of them. I'm talking bacteria, yeast, fungus, viruses and parasites. We all have good and bad types and generally they all live happily together, but if you have too many of the bad guys through either too many antibiotics, poor diet, infection or other reasons, then they can hugely impact your weight loss efforts.
TIP; Rebalance your gut flora with fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, live yoghurt) and a good quality probiotic supplement.
5. You're eating foods that don't agree with you – if you're sensitive to a particular food, it can cause all sorts of problems – from bloating to headaches. But it can also mess with your metabolism and hormones, making it difficult to lose weight.
TIP; Eliminate any foods that may cause issues (eg gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, corn) for 3 or 4 weeks. Re-introduce them one at a time and check to see if you have any symptoms.
6. You're peri or post menopausal – your hormones start to decline from the age of 35, so by your mid 40's they can be really temperamental! Fluctuating oestrogen, high cortisol and low thyroid are common fat hoarders!
TIP; See a health professional to get your hormones tested, but also make sure you are including phytoestrogens and omega fats in your diet (flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds, avocado, lentils, beans, oily fish, walnuts, olive oil and coconut oil).
7. You're not getting enough sleep – lack of sleep has been shown to increase your risk of obesity. It's a vicious cycle – you wake up exhausted after a rubbish night's sleep, you reach for the wrong foods (to give you a quick energy boost), you end up even more tired and unable to sleep. AND insufficient sleep has been shown to increase your hunger hormone ghrelin!
TIP; Go to bed earlier (the hours before midnight are more restorative), keep the bedroom dark (artificial light interferes with our melatonin production), switch off gadgets and build in some relax time before bed. Lots more sleep tips here.
8. You're too toxic – chemicals from our environment, tap water, food and household products can build up in our bodies. The body tends to store them away in our fat cells to keep them away from our important organs. The body hangs on to the fat cells as a protective mechanism.
TIP; Eat organic food, filter your tap water, avoid processed foods and swap household and beauty products to natural brands where possible. Read more about hormone disruptors and how to avoid them. This is one of my favourite online stores for natural brands – www.biggreensmile.com.
9. You're sitting too much – our bodies are not designed to sit down for hours at a time. Not only does it impact our circulation and digestion, but research shows that it can increase the amount of insulin in our system (fat storing hormone!).
TIP; Take regular breaks from sitting. Set an alarm on your phone so you remember to stand up and take a walk every hour. Try standing when you're on the phone or on Facebook!
10. You're not eating enough FAT – if you've been on a low fat diet for a long time or you don't eat enough healthy fat, you are more likely to be eating too much sugar. Low fat products often contain more sugar or food additives. We need good fats to be able to make our hormones, to feed our brains and to absorb our vitamins. Fat doesn't make you fat, it actually helps to burn fat!
11. You're not eating enough PROTEIN – when we don't eat protein at a meal, the carbs release their sugars a lot quicker, stimulating too much insulin (fat storing hormone!).
TIP; Just by eating some protein with your carbs will help regulate this. Protein sources include organic meat, wild caught fish, organic eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, organic dairy, quinoa, spirulina.
12. You're malnourished – not eating enough fruit, vegetables, protein, healthy fats and fibre can mean that you're not getting the nutrients you need to function properly. As well as hormone disruption, lack of nutrients can put your body into a state of stress, and it's more likely to hang on to any fat stores.
TIP; Get some professional advice on your diet and supplement programme so you are getting the nutrients you need.
13. You're popping too many pills – regular use of painkillers, antibiotics, indigestion tablets, poor quality supplements and other medications can over-burden your liver and damage your gut lining. As well as potential side effects (many of which are weight gain), too many medications can cause a build up of toxins and can upset your gut flora balance.
TIP; Don't take these things for granted (all synthetic substances have to be detoxified) – and check with your Dr that you are having regular reviews of any medications you may be on.
14. You're not pooping enough – the more blocked up we are, the more we are going to be hanging on to toxins and excess weight.
TIP; Make sure you're eating enough fibre (wholegrains, fruit, veg, beans, pulses) and you're well hydrated.
15. You're drinking diet coke, slimline tonic and ‘no added sugar' products – artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight GAIN, not loss!
TIP; Just drink filtered water or herbal teas – so many flavours out there now, you're bound to find one you like.
16. You're eating on the run and bolting down your food – when you're busy it's easy to just scoff something at your desk or in your car. But when you eat too fast, you're not chewing your food and it can pass through undigested. And stress can add to that by inhibiting your production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes.
Not only are you missing the nutrients from the food, but undigested foods can damage your gut lining and seriously hamper your weight loss goals!
TIP; Make time for eating, even if its just 10 minutes. Concentrate on your food (don't read your emails while eating!), and chew each mouthful until its liquid. Appreciate and enjoy it!
17. You're drinking too much – alcohol, lattes and energy drinks. Too much alcohol can irritate your gut lining, but also encourage you to eat more (those late night carb munchies after too much wine?!). You might think your skinny latte isn't doing much harm…but there's a load of sugar in there from the milk, and the caffeine stimulates more insulin production. What about an energy drink? Forget it, all that sugar and caffeine is an insulin disaster!
TIP; Cut down on your alcohol (try having alcohol free days during the week), swap lattes for Americano's (less milk) or herbal tea, and avoid energy drinks altogether! Try green tea – it's been proven to help with weight loss and provides a natural lower caffeine alternative.
18. You're not drinking enough – water! How many of us drink enough water? Water helps to flush out those toxins, helps us eliminate regularly and circulate nutrients needed to keep our metabolism firing.
TIP; Try to drink 1-2L a day of filtered water – add some cucumber or lemon for flavour.
19. You're eating too many ready meals – it's so easy to get home from a busy day at work and pop a ready meal in the microwave. Trouble is, this won't help you lose weight.
Why? Because a/ processed foods are mostly made with vegetable oils that turn in to trans fats in the manufacturing process (trans fats encourage weight gain) and b/ the nutrient value is likely to be much lower than a meal cooked with food from scratch (see no. 12).
TIP; Avoid processed foods. Cook from real ingredients as much as possible. It's often just as quick to cook up a healthy omelette or stir fry. Or cook in bulk and freeze in portions for a quick healthy meal.
20. Your sugar cravings are out of control – you just can't resist that muffin for breakfast or that chocolate bar to help your afternoon slump. It's not your fault, your body is sending you powerful messages that you need energy, a mood boost or your unfriendly bacteria/yeast living in your gut need feeding (their favourite snack is sugar).
TIP; Feed your sugar cravings with healthy snacks like nuts, seeds, nut butters, oatcakes, fruit, hummus and crudites. Or whip up a quick protein smoothie.
21. You're on a blood sugar rollercoaster – when you eat those refined carbs (white bread, pasta, muffins, pastries, biscuits) you get an instant sugar rush, then a couple of hours later a huge dip, so you reach for another carb laden snack to keep you going. This roller coaster upsets your blood sugar balance and keeps you producing plenty of insulin (fat storing hormone!).
TIP; Choose low GL foods (whole grains, vegetables, protein, healthy fats, complex carbs) over refined carbs to keep your blood sugar nice and even.
22. You're not doing the right exercise – are you're going to the gym or doing your exercise classes, and wondering why the weight isn't falling off?
Firstly, exercise alone won't make much difference to your weight. You need to eat right too.
Secondly, your body gets used to long slow cardio, so it's important to mix it up with some resistance training, burst or high intensity training and core work or stretching. These types of exercise help to maintain muscle, and stimulate growth hormone and testosterone, which increase your metabolism and help you burn fat.
TIP; Vary your exercise programme, add in some resistance and high intensity training to increase muscle and burn fat.
23. You're a serial yo-yo dieter – (this was me!) – you're on the vicious diet treadmill. You've done every diet going. You lose weight initially, feel great, finish the diet, and pile it back on again (and some more).
We know these diets don't really work, but each new one has so much promise! And you'll be more disciplined next time? It's not about will power though – when you deprive your body of calories, healthy fat, protein or nutrients, it will go into survival mode, trying to protect you. That means your cortisol will rise, your cravings kick in and your metabolism will crash (see no 1, 2, and 20!).
TIP: Ditch the diets! Eat plenty of nutritious, low GL foods so that you give your body the nutrients it needs to work properly. The weight will come off naturally.
Phew! No wonder it's hard to shift that stubborn weight as we get older! But put some of these things right, look after your hormones and you'll have every chance to reach your ideal weight and feel fantastic again.