63% of women in middle age are overweight or obese which is an alarming statistic. Once women hit their 40s, they typically gain an average of 1lb a year so we could easily be a stone heavier by the time we reach 55!
More alarming though, is the harm that obesity can cause; being overweight dramatically increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and some cancers. We now know that carrying too much weight around the middle can stimulate long term inflammation throughout the body as well as leading to the build up of fat in the liver. It really makes for bleak reading.
So what can we do about it?
The ‘midlife’ years can be a challenge for all sorts of different reasons and, yes, weight loss IS harder. How I wish I could tell you there was a magic pill and, just by taking it, you’d automatically revert back to the woman you were 20 years ago … Sadly, it’s not quite that straightforward.
The rules are different when it comes to weight loss when you’re over 40. It’s a path you need to navigate carefully to find your own magic formula. But losing weight, regaining your energy and getting back to your best is possible with the right advice, and some support along the way.
The wheel of weight loss
There’s more to losing weight than just eating the right things. What you eat is just one part. An important part, nonetheless.
Think of winning at weight loss in your 40s as being like a pie slice. There are other pieces of pie that that are important and can help or hinder weight loss.
Aside from diet, the seven remaining pieces of pie are thyroid hormones, the stress hormone cortisol, the fat storage hormone insulin, oestrogen, sleep, digestion and exercise.
Where are you out of balance?
You may not have given your hormones a second’s thought before but, given the rollercoaster you are on right now, it’s worth having some understanding of what’s going on chemically inside you and the impact it’s having.
OESTROGEN - progesterone levels fall rapidly as you stop ovulating as regularly and, although oestrogen is decreasing, too, it’s falling at a slower rate, meaning you can end up being oestrogen dominant (that’s too much oestrogen in proportion to progesterone).
THYROID – the thyroid is your internal motor and it comes under increased pressure in your 40s. Imagine a record playing at a reduced speed … That’s what happens when your thyroid is struggling to keep up. Low levels of thyroid hormones can bring mood changes, weight increases, constipation and a sluggish feeling.
Your hormones work together synergistically. When one or more is out of kilter, there is an effect on the others, too. This is especially true where the thyroid and adrenals are concerned.
CORTISOL – the stress hormone made by the adrenal glands, can also increase (particularly if you’re used to spinning too many plates), making sleep more difficult and leading to weight gain. Rather comically, we have not evolved a great deal since caveman times when the big stressor was the sabre-toothed tiger and we had to keep the energy round the middle so it could be easily accessed when you needed to run away from that tiger.
INSULIN is the hormone linked to diabetes, but it is also the fat storage hormone. As a doubly whammy, it additionally blocks fat burning. It’s made by the body in response to the carbohydrates you eat. The more refined the carbs, the more insulin produced and the more fat is stored. But, as we age, the cells in our bodies can become less sensitive to insulin, so the pancreas needs to pump out more and more to get the same job done.
DIGESTION. If your digestive system is not working quite as it should, this can leave you feeling – and looking – bloated. There’s a lot of research into the microbiome (your gut environment) right now, and there are proven links between the balance of bacteria in the gut and being overweight.
Anyone with an imbalance of good to bad bacteria in their large intestine will also find themselves absorbing up to 15% more calories from their food. So if you’re the kind of person who has suffered off and on with tummy troubles, it’s worth talking to a nutrition professional to get things checked out. Symptoms worth investigating include gas, bloating, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhoea (or alternating), feelings of nausea.
Extra bonus symptoms!
All this, and you might even be managing the symptoms of perimenopause (the run-up to the big event), menopause and beyond. These include delights such as night sweats, erratic menstrual cycle, insomnia, bloating, cravings, headaches/migraines, overwhelm, irritability, mood swings, anxiety/depression, brain fog, poor memory, loss of sex drive, vaginal dryness, aging skin (and hair), joint pain and fatigue. Yay!
Get some answers
If ever there was a time to get your hands on facts to shed light on the situation, this is it. Your GP might be able to run a few tests that will tell you whether or not you are going through the menopause. But what next? In clinic, I am used to working with the best private laboratories to provide my clients with tests that show us which hormones are out of whack – so that we can come up with a bespoke nutrition and supplement programme to tackle it. Email me or book a free call to discuss whether testing (and specifically which tests) might be right for you.
Watch what you eat.
One of the tragedies of this time in your life is the realisation that you really cannot get away with eating the same foods you used to. Your body has changed, and you need to learn to eat for this new way of being.
This means it’s more important than ever to switch from whatever kind of diet you’re on now to a low GL (glycaemic load) diet that balances your blood sugar levels. This means you will be eating foods that do not trigger as much insulin secretion in response to what you eat.
Eating this kind of diet really is enjoyable and filled with foods you’d probably heard you couldn’t eat, like good fats, avocados and eggs! A blood sugar balancing diet like this focuses on REAL food: meat, fish, eggs, tofu, lentils, beans and chickpeas, lots of veg, some fruit, nuts, seeds, and wholegrains. If this is a long way from where you are now, I’d love to help you move to this way of eating. Work with me and it will feel easy rather than an uphill struggle or – worse still – devoid of all those little props you have used to get yourself through these trying times.
Eat functional foods
These are foods that actually do stuff in the body. On one level, the food you eat can help balance your blood sugar and energy levels. On another it keeps you feeling satiated and it also nourishes you. The cherry on top is to use the very subtle, yet magical powers of food to help support your body in times of need.
At this time of your life, that means phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant-based chemicals (the good kind), which are structurally similar to oestrogen and exert a weak oestrogenic effect. They include soy beans, lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu, barley, rye, oats, alfalfa, apples, pears, carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and liquorice root.
Rest + Relax
Stress can make you gain weight and feel both tired and miserable as well as using up stores of important vitamins. This is why a stress action plan is a must. Self care in your 40s and 50s is no longer a ‘nice thing to do’, it is essential for managing symptoms of the transition to menopause.
This will also help with anxiety, which I see a lot in clinic with women of your age. It’s really common to feel anxious or worried now about things that never used to bother you, from minor things to the big stuff like ‘who the hell am I now?’
If you have not been good (and most women aren’t) at putting your needs first and doing nice things for yourself, start now. Write down 5 activities you really enjoy doing – even if it’s been a while since you did any of them!
Sleep and weight are intimately related. If you are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, you are setting yourself up to be hungrier, eat more, weigh more, and have a harder time losing weight.
Scientists now know that, if you are consistently surviving on too little sleep (that’s less than seven and a half hours of good sleep a night), you’re not going to be functioning at your best, focusing properly or thinking creatively. You are also sabotaging any attempts to take control of healthy eating and your weight.
Sleep deprivation causes hormone imbalance, and I’m not talking PMT, but the hormones that directly affect your feelings of hunger. Ghrelin (the hunger hormone – makes you feel more hungry) and leptin (the satiety hormone that tells you when you’ve had enough) are majorly disrupted when you are not sleeping enough.
Lack of sleep also messes with your levels of stress hormones and your body’s sensitivity to insulin, both of which contribute to weight gain.
So, after a night of bad sleep, if you feel ravenous, it’s not all in your head, but rather, in your hormones. And, it’s the refined, carb-heavy, starchy foods that are going to be calling your name, not the lovely healthy ones.
Do the right exercise
As the weight creeps on, it’s very common for women to start getting into the types of exercise that are very punishing on the body, like running and high intensity interval training. These very intense forms of exercise stress the body and, if your body is already stressed, it’s just too much.
Yoga, Pilates, Zumba and other dance-based classes are good, and don’t knock a decent walking workout. Resistance/ strength exercise (weights) is also good to help with the loss of muscle. Strength training also helps you shore up bone, maintain balance, and avoid injury – important for protecting your skeleton, both now and when you’re older.
Chemicals in your body care products – anything from shampoo and conditioner to body wash, body lotion and other moisturisers – contains chemicals, like parabens, sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate and ureas. These are synthetic forms of oestrogen that are known endocrine disrupting chemicals. Scientifically, these chemicals are molecularly similar to oestrogen and your body finds it very tricky to distinguish between the fake oestrogen and the real oestrogen. Unlike the friendly phytoestrogens mentioned above, these nasty ‘xenoestrogens’ have a much stronger effect than our own body’s oestrogen.
At this time in your life, you really don’t want to be overloading your body. These toxins place an additional stress on the body, can damage the cells in your body that produce insulin, disrupting its action (and not in a good way), can impair thyroid hormones and place extra burden on the detoxification system.
Get expert help
I know how hard it can be to see the weight pile on and feel powerless to do anything about it. Apart from your friends (except the skinny ones – what do they know?) no one understands what it’s like to feel overweight and unattractive, or to see the reflection of some frumpy old lady when you still feel young and vibrant on the inside.
Most of the weight loss solutions you have likely tried are based, possibly, on flawed science but also likely not designed for women of your age. If you need support with this my signature programme will tackle all aspects of what I’ve been talking about. The programme combines both diet and lifestyle elements, so we can work on your confidence as well as that expanding waistline. This is perfect for you if you experience any of the issues I set out at the beginning, and now is exactly the right time for a brand new you: new diet, new attitude and new healthy lifestyle habits.