3 biggest reasons women over 40 find it so hard to lose weight
Back in the day, if you needed to shift a few pounds for a special event or lose a stone after a prolonged period of not eating so well, it wouldn't take much to get back on track. Now, though, you’ve tried calorie counting and going 'no fat' until it hurts, and you have nothing to show for it. So, what’s going on?
The answer is, that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in your body that you cannot see.
Before you dive into this article, first put down the idea that your body should be behaving as it did in your twenties. That was a long while ago and everything was very different. You wouldn’t have the same expectations in other aspects of your health like, say, your joints or your ability to keep up with your best-ever park run time. Can you be OK with the fact things are different and that new rules apply?
These are three of the biggest things I see with clients over 40 in my weight loss clinic.
1. You’re not eating the right balance of foods for what your body needs now
The number one thing I see in my clinic is to do with how your body responds to the fat storage hormone insulin. Insulin is the hormone that is released to help your body manage carbohydrates in your diet.
This is an oversimplified explanation, but perhaps a helpful one. When you eat carbs, the body doesn’t want more than a tiny bit of stuff that eventually turns to sugar in the blood at one time, since too much can be dangerous. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into all that, but just start from that assumption.
Just so you know, all carbs are broken down into their simplest form – sugar or glucose - for the body to be able to use the energy in the same way proteins get broken down into their constituent parts, amino acids.
To help take the excess sugars out of the blood, your body makes insulin, which takes the glucose out of the bloodstream and shuttles it into storage – as fat. You can see why too much on repeat is not such a good thing. With no energy, what you’re left with is cravings – and never for the ‘right’ foods. But that’s a story for another time.
Over time what can happen is that the cells in your body lose their resistance to insulin. They stop responding in the same way, so your body needs to send in more insulin to do the job. Since insulin is the fat storage hormone, you can see why this is not helpful.
Essentially, insulin is dose-dependent on carbs, so the more starchy carbs you eat, the more your body will store fat. This is not the case for everyone, since we are all biochemically unique, but it is the picture that I see frequently in my nutrition clinic.
What that means is, often, the best diet for women in their forties is one that is low in starchy carbs like potatoes, rice, pasta, couscous, bread, pastries and any other foods containing sugar. That doesn’t mean you cannot eat them at all – just that you may want to be more careful if seeking weight-loss.
When I’m working with my clients, we are taking a strategic approach to eating as well as nourishing your body with things it does want and that are delicious to eat so that you can still go out and enjoy the afternoon tea your bestie bought you for your 50th birthday.
2. You’re stressed
If you’re a woman in your forties, you’ve had a number of years to crank up the stress. How ‘stressed’ you are now isn’t just what happened last week but the accumulation of stress over a period of time.
And that doesn’t have to be major stress situations – though, to be fair, by this age many of us have notched up work and family stress, a handful of house moves, a few bereavements and maybe even a marriage or significant relationship breakdown.
Maybe you’re the kind of woman who just cracks on with things regardless (there’s no prize for this – you’re just delaying having to deal with the mounting pressure), but what is inevitably happening behind the scenes is that your stress hormones are keeping your blood sugar levels high. (That’s how it goes with stress – the prehistoric programming to keep enough energy in a handy place where it is readily accessible for you to run away from the sabre-toothed tiger.)
There are all kinds of problems with this in terms of your health but, since we’re talking about weight, elevated blood sugar levels lead to more insulin secretion. Since insulin is the fat storage hormone – which, when switched on, stops you burning fat – this is terrible news for women wanting to lose weight. Your body has been pre-programmed since cavewoman times to do the exact opposite of what you want it to.
The answer is more complicated than just doing things to destress – though many women need support and accountability to actually do this work too. Sometimes functional testing is very helpful to work out exactly how this stress is knocking you out of balance.
3. Your hormones are out of balance
Women over 40 are at a far greater risk of hormone imbalance at this time of their lives than any other (although pregnancy is up there, too). We talked about insulin a moment ago. Obviously, oestrogen (or rather the relative lack of it) and progesterone are big. These are your main lady hormones and they both decline with age, wreaking havoc in their wake. What you might not know is that oestrogen has an impact on carbohydrate metabolism – yet another reason why starchy carbs are less helpful at this time of life.
Let’s add to that the ratio of oestrogen to progesterone. The former declines, but often the other declines faster, leaving some perimenopausal women being oestrogen dominant – that’s more oestrogen that you want in relation to the amount of progesterone you’ve got. And one of the symptoms of oestrogen dominance is weight gain.
We’ve also already mentioned stress hormones so now let’s talk thyroid. Your thyroid is the body’s internal motor and it dictates the speed at which everything runs, including your metabolic rate. Many of the symptoms of perimenopause (including low mood, weight gain, digestive problems and the like) are also symptoms of thyroid problems so, if you’ve not had your thyroid checked recently, it will be worth exploring that. Knowledge is power.
There are other things, of course, that impact on your weight. Like how well-behaved your digestive system is, how inflamed your body is, whether or not you have a food intolerance and such. All of these make a difference, which is why working with a nutritional therapist who takes in the complete picture before they create a strategy is far better than just jumping on the latest diet you discovered on social media. It’s about finding the right path for you – and the beauty of nutritional therapy is that many other health niggles can be fixed at the same time simply by getting back into balance.
When I’m working with my clients, while they have a goal of ‘I want to lose weight’, I know that my job is to get them back into balance and the benefit of the benefit will be that they finally find their happy weight and get their glow back.