Are you finding 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 cake, 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 might be 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
A stressed body hangs on to fat for dear life! Cortisol, your stress hormone, likes to have an easy access fat store for emergencies, and that tends to be around your belly. You can be on the best diet and exercise routine but if you're stressed, it will be almost impossible to lose that stubborn belly fat.
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; Before you even try to change your diet, make sure you get enough sleep and take some good quality supplements to get your energy back. Then try starting the day with a good protein breakfast (a protein smoothie works well) until you have the energy to start eating better throughout your 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. Weight loss is going to be really hard if your thyroid isn't optimal.
TIP; Get yourself properly tested and support your thyroid with the nutrients it needs (e.g. Vitamin A, zinc, iodine, tyrosine, selenium).
4. Your gut microbes are out of balance
Did you know that your gut flora has a critical role in regulating your weight? Studies have shown that people struggling with obesity have different types and less diversity of bacteria in their gut. Microbial imbalances can cause all sorts of hormonal issues as well as cravings for sugar and carbs (causing more insulin and fat storage).
TIP; Rebalance your gut flora with fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, live yoghurt), prebiotics (eg onions, leeks, green bananas, cold potatoes) and/or a good quality probiotic supplement (try Feel's new Daily Biotic).
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 weight loss difficult.
TIP; Eliminate any foods that may cause issues (eg gluten, dairy, sugar, 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
‘Meno belly' is real folks! Oestrogen, cortisol and insulin are all hormones that can be problematic through and beyond perimenopause and they can really mess with your weight. Fat cells are also an alternative source of oestrogen for your body, so it can be reluctant to lose that valuable resource.
TIP; Make sure you're eating a healthy nutrient dense diet with minimal refined carbs. Include phytoestrogens (if you're not on HRT) and omega fats in your diet (soy, flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds, avocado, lentils, beans, oily fish, nuts, olive oil and coconut oil).
7. You're not getting enough sleep
Lack of sleep has been shown to sabotage weight loss. 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 as much as you can, 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.
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!). NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) has been shown to increase your metabolism without any exercise! That means anything you're doing that's not sitting.
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, eating fat can actually help with weight loss!
TIP; Avoid low fat products. Eat more oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil.
11. You're not eating enough PROTEIN
Protein turns on your satiety hormones, boosts metabolism, reduces cravings and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Protein also increases muscle mass, which burns more calories from your food.
TIP; Eat a protein source at every meal. These include meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, dairy, soy, quinoa or a protein powder (make sure it's good quality).
12. You're eating the wrong types of carbs
As we get past 40 and into our menopause transition, we just can't handle carbs like we used to! We tend to have a slower metabolism, increased fat to muscle ratio, a less active lifestyle and more stress, and this all means we are more at risk of insulin resistance.
I'm not recommending avoiding carbs though (you wouldn't get any vegetables if you did that!). It's just the refined ones we need to limit and replace with the complex low Glycemic Load carbs.
TIP; Choose lower GL carbs (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, brown rice, oats, quinoa, beans, nuts, seeds, pulses) over refined carbs to keep your blood sugar balanced.
13. You're nutrient deficient
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. Invest in some good quality supplements to supply your basic nutrients.
14. 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.
15. You're constipated
The more blocked up your system is, the more you are going to be hanging on to toxins and excess weight.
TIP; Make sure you're eating enough fibre (wholegrains, fruit, veg, seeds, beans, pulses) and you're well hydrated.
16. You're choosing diet, slimline or ‘no added sugar' products
If something is labelled ‘no sugar', they're probably using artificial sweeteners – these are not what they seem, they have been linked to weight GAIN, not loss!
TIP; Just drink filtered water or herbal teas (or try kombucha) – so many flavours out there now, you're bound to find one you like.
17. 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 mindful eating, even if its just 10 minutes. Concentrate on your food (don't read your emails while eating!), and chew each mouthful until it's liquid. Appreciate and enjoy it!
18. You're drinking too much alcohol
Alcohol is not good news I'm afraid. It's not just the empty calories, it can mess with your blood sugar, increase insulin (fat storing), disrupt your sleep, increase anxiety, damage your gut lining, and encourage you to eat more (those late night carb munchies after too much wine?!).
TIP; Cut down or cut out (try having alcohol free days during the week or do a dry month and see how you feel.) Try alcohol free alternatives or kombucha.
19. You're dehydrated
How many of us drink enough water? Staying hydrated helps to flush out those toxins, 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.
20. You're eating too many ready meals, processed foods and take aways
It's so easy to reach for something convenient when you're busy or tired, or just order a take away. I get it, I'm tempted too. Trouble is, it really doesn't help with weight loss (even if it's one of the ‘healthier' ones).
- processed foods (anything made in a factory) are mostly made with vegetable oils (it's cheap!). Unfortunately, these are the worst oils for your health (and weight)
- many processed foods are high in sugar and additives/preservatives (check the label on meals, sauces, dressings, fruit yoghurts, cereals, drinks etc)
- take aways are also mainly cooked using vegetable oils, and usually have high salt/sugar content
- the nutrient value is likely to be much lower than a meal cooked with food from scratch (see no. 12).
TIP; Avoid processed foods (unless they are made with healthy oils like olive oil – eg brands like Mr Organic, Hunter & Gather, Biona). Limit take aways and cook from real ingredients as much as possible. It's often just as quick to cook up a healthy omelette or stir fry. Try a recipe box delivery service (we love GreenChef or Mindful Chef). Or cook in bulk and freeze in portions for a quick healthy meal.
21. You're eating too much of the right things
Sometimes we are eating really healthy foods, and not realising we're just eating too much of them. Nut butter may be nutritious but a whole jar of it will not help you with weight loss! Watch out for ‘healthy' swaps that may not be helping if you're eating too much of them, here are some common examples;
TIP: Have a look at your portion size, hidden carbs/sugar and snacks (see 25).
22. You're not eating enough!
There are many reasons why not eating enough can cause weight gain or weight loss resistance. You may think calorie restriction or deficit is a good way to lose weight, and it can be for some, but what can happen is the body moves into ‘survival mode' thinking you're in a famine. This is a major stress for your body (increasing cortisol) and your metabolism will slow down to compensate for the deficit, encouraging your fat stores to stay where they are! This can also affect other systems like your gut, brain and hormone health, and may reduce your muscle as the body starts to convert that to energy. Getting enough nutrients can be another challenge (see point 12).
TIP; Make sure you're focussing on nutrient dense foods and you're not depriving yourself. Eat til you feel 80% full, and don't ignore hunger pangs. If you need help with this, seek out a good nutritionist.
23. You're not doing the right exercise
Are you going to the gym or doing your exercise classes, and wondering why the weight isn't falling off? There's a few reasons this might be happening;
- You may be eating more – exercise can make you more hungry (especially cardio), and you may end up eating more calories than you're burning
- You're too stressed – exercise increases cortisol levels so if you're already stressed out, doing too much exercise can be counter productive (it can signal to the body to hold on to fat stores)
- You're not doing enough weight training – building muscle is the most effective way to increase fat burning. When you train your muscles, it burns more calories, stimulates growth hormone and testosterone, which increase your metabolism and help you burn fat for longer.
TIP; Find the best exercise mix for you. Include resistance and weight training to increase muscle and burn fat. Add in some Pilates or yoga for core strength, flexibility and balance.
24. You're a serial yo-yo dieter
Are you on the diet treadmill (this was me!)? 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! 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 gradually, naturally and sustainably.
25. You're eating the wrong diet for your genes
Did you know that your genes impact the way you metabolise foods? And how you deal with insulin, fat and carbohydrates?
When we test our clients DNA, it enables us to properly personalise your diet so that you take advantage of your own genetic blueprint. This can be the missing piece of the puzzle for many women who want more sustainable weight loss!
TIP: Get your DNA tested and work with us to work out the best diet for you!
26. You're a grazer
If you are snacking between meals the body is constantly using up the sugar stores as energy, and doesn't always get around to burning fat stores.
TIP: Leave 4-6 hours between meals or adopt Time Restricted Eating (eg in a window of 8-12 hours) to help the body burn those fat stores for energy.
- oat milk has a much higher carb content than cow's milk or almond or soy milk
- granola can have way higher sugar content than other cereals
- cashew nuts are higher in carbs than other nuts
- smoothies can be loaded with sugar if they are fruit based
- porridge can be a high GL food if it's topped with sugar or syrup
- flavoured water can be full of sugar
27. You're emotional eating
This is a biggie for us women particularly. Do you reach for food if you're sad, stressed, angry, lonely or bored? Increasing awareness of WHY you're eating can help you work out what to do instead.
TIP: Depending on how deep rooted your relationship with food is, you may need to work with a specialist practitioner on this. Let us know if you need a referral.
It's very easy to think of weight loss as a simple equation of eating less and moving more. As you can see here, it's just not the case, especially for women over 40 who have a lot going on underneath the surface!
And believe me, I've struggled with my weight all my life. And total transparency here, menopause has put me back a few years. I am still over my ideal weight, despite knowing what I do.
So while you need to explore YOUR reasons for gaining weight (everyone's will be slightly different), I don't want you to stress about it. For me personally, now that I'm in my 50's, I've found it helpful to switch my focus from how much I weigh, to being healthy and feeling strong. I'm not worried about how I look in a bikini any more (thank goodness!), but I do want to increase my chances of living a long and healthy life.
If you're struggling with weight loss or health issues, and you want some help, contact us for more info on our testing and 1-1 support. Let's find any hidden weight loss resistance that might be hindering you. And at the same time, let's work together on getting you ready for a long and healthy future!