Do you feel like since you’ve turned 40, your previous diet and exercise habits no longer keep your weight in check? If so, I know how incredibly frustrating this can be, but I promise you’re not alone. But rest assured, losing weight after 40 is possible when you understand what is causing the slow-down.
As a weight loss dietitian, I hear this common complaint from my clients. They say they’ve been doing all the right things and simply stopped seeing weight loss progress (or it slowed down considerably) as they approached 40.
Why is weight loss for women over 40 feel so challenging, and what can be done about it? Keep reading to learn how to lose weight after 40 without starving yourself or doing hours of HIIT exercises.
Why Losing Weight After 40 Feels So Hard
It’s common for weight loss to feel harder as you approach the perimenopause and menopause time. I see this in a lot of my clients, and I have to keep checking in with myself as well as I get closer to 40 (two more years to go!).
Are any of these things happening to you?
- You’re still losing weight, but it’s slowing down and you’re not sure why.
- You stopped losing weight, despite not changing anything with your diet and exercise.
- Your weight is slowly creeping up, and you can’t pinpoint the reason.
- You don’t have as much muscle as you used to, and you want to tone up.
Why are these things happening? There are a few key reasons, and they may not be what you expect.
- You’re losing muscle mass
- Your estrogen levels are decreasing
- You’re not eating enough protein
- Your sleep routine changed
- You didn’t adjust your calories after losing weight
- Your workouts are not challenging enough
- Your body is not as sensitive to insulin
As you can see, there are a myriad of potential reasons why your weight loss may have slowed or stalled completely after 40. All of these factors can have an effect by increasing cravings, reducing your muscle mass, and slowing your metabolism. It could also be that your body got used to what it was doing and it’s time to switch things up.
Does Metabolism Decrease After 40?
Until recently, the scientific community was pretty certain that our metabolism started to decrease in our 20’s. While it’s true that we start to see a slight decline around age 30, the amount is actually pretty minimal.
A newer research study on metabolism and age shows that we actually don’t start to see a significant decrease in metabolism until age 60. And this was a fairly large study involving close to 6,500 people. So whyyy do things feel so much harder after 40?
Well, you do start to lose muscle in your 30’s, which lowers your metabolic rate slightly. And if you’re approaching perimenopause or full-blown menopause, declining estrogen levels can further exacerbate this. But the amount is pretty minimal.
From what the research tells us and what I’ve seen in my own practice,
the biggest reason for mid-life (or pre-mid-life) weight gain is a change in habits.
This is an incredibly busy stage of life for many of us, and your healthy habits may slip before you even realize it.
Some examples are a reduction in exercise, changes in eating and sleep habits, or increased stress and cortisol levels (more cortisol = an increase in belly fat).
Or, maybe habits have not changed at all, but they need to be tweaked in order to counteract a slow steady decline in metabolism.
Knowing this is good news, because this means it doesn’t have to be so hard to lose weight after 40. Even losing weight after menopause is possible – It’s all about paying attention to your weight trends.
If you notice any changes, you need to increase your awareness of your habits. Most of the time, controlling your weight during this time (and beyond) is within your control.
How To Lose Weight After 40
Here are the top ways to lose weight after 40. These tips are also effective if you’re trying to maintain weight and prevent it from creeping up over time.
1. Reassess your calorie intake
Have you been tracking your calories for a while, but stopped recently? If so, you may want to try tracking again for a few weeks to see where you’re at. It’s easy to lose sight of what you’re doing or the portions you’re having otherwise, so you may just a restart to put it front of mind again.
PS – My goal for you as my client is to NOT have you track forever.
Or maybe you have been eating the same number of calories for a while and the scale is no longer budging. If this is the case, you may need to decrease your calorie intake a bit, increase your calorie burn via exercise, or both.
As you lose weight, your calorie needs readjust to your new weight, requiring you to go down lower at certain points in order to continue losing weight.
This combined with the gradual decline in metabolism in your 40’s can lower your calorie needs even further. But this does NOT mean you have to be super restrictive. It just means you need to be more selective with your calories, and choose mostly nutrient-dense foods.
Often, following an 80/20 diet approach can help make this process of balanced eating easier and more sustainable.
2. Up your protein
High protein foods are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Since the slow, steady muscle loss is one culprit behind your slowed metabolism, keeping your protein intake high can help you maintain and build more muscle.
This increases your strength, helps keep you lean, and helps jumpstart your metabolism.
Some of the best protein sources include skinless chicken breast, turkey, salmon, tuna, tofu, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils, nuts, and nut butters. Include at least 1-2 of these with every meal and snack to ensure you get in enough by the end of the day.
3. Non-starchy veggies are your friend
There are two types of vegetables – starchy and non-starchy. The non-starchy veggies are in the majority – the type of veggies that provide a lot of water and volume for a small amount of calories. This is also thanks to their high fiber content.
This means they will fill you up with a relatively small amount of calories. In essence, they are your weight loss ally in your 40’s and beyond. So instead of focusing on food you think you need to stay away from, focus on what delicious veggies you can add to your plate.
Fill half your plate with colorful non-starchy veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, leafy greens, artichoke, and asparagus.
4. Go easy on the alcohol
I know this is something a lot of my mom friends don’t want to hear (I love my wine too) but alcohol and weight loss do not mix well. This is especially true in your 40s and particularly if you’re trying to shed stubborn belly fat. You could be doing everything else right, but alcohol alone can still get in the way of your weight loss goals.
This doesn’t mean you can’t ever enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail. But I’d recommend choosing wisely. I tell my clients to prioritize their alcohol intake for special occasions – for example for mom’s night out versus a random Tuesday night (or a little every night to take the edge off).
Frequent or regular alcohol intake affects your other habits more than you realize and also reduces your sleep quality. This all becomes a domino effect, leading to more cravings for unhealthy food, less motivation to exercise the next day and excess calories.
So as much as possible, I’d recommend limiting alcohol to once a week at most, or special occasions where it will be more enjoyable and “worth it.”
5. Increase strength training
I see so many of my clients focus on cardio for weight loss, but strength training is equally as important. In fact, it’s more important when it comes to building muscle and speeding up your metabolism over time.
Strength training helps to maintain and increase muscle mass. This includes free weights, machines, and bodyweight exercises like push-ups, lunges, and squats. It’s recommended to perform at least 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps targeting different muscle groups, at least 2-3 days a week.
Cardio is still important to maintain your cardiovascular health and burn calories, but strength exercises should not be neglected. So when it comes to strength training vs. cardio, strength wins to keep you lean and prevent age-related muscle loss.
6. Prioritize sleep
Poor sleep can wreak havoc on your metabolism and hunger hormones. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to allow your body to rest and recuperate from the day. If you have trouble sleeping or feel like there’s not enough time in the day to sleep that much, there are things you can do.
But in reality, there may be things you’re spending time on that you don’t have to be doing. Maybe you’re scrolling social media for a half hour and getting sucked down the rabbit hole, or watching Netflix reality shows that really don’t matter to you.
One of my clients found herself getting addicted to scrolling Facebook every night for too long, and it not only kept her up later, but it triggered overeating. She found that following certain people triggered her and made her feel bad about herself.
She started setting 10-minute limit on her social media accounts and unfollowing people who triggered her (even if they were her friends) and this helped to drastically improve her bedtime routine and nighttime snacking habits.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine where you start winding down around a certain time. I set a daily winddown alarm on my phone to remind me when it’s time to shut the screens off and prepare myself for bed. Do this about 30 minutes before the time you want to fall asleep and do something relaxing like reading a book, listening to a meditation app, or do some gentle yoga.
My favorite bedtime ritual is drinking a cup of sleepytime or chamomile tea and reading for 10-15 minutes. Sometimes within 5-10 minutes, I’m already starting to dose off.
7. Manage stress
Trust me, I know this is easier said than done when you have so much on your plate. But managing stress doesn’t have to mean going to the spa every week or spending hours on an elaborate meditation practice. You can start just by making 10 minutes for yourself every day to practice some level of self-care.
You deserve to have time to yourself, it is not selfish and you need it for your mental health. I notice a very common trend in my clients who overeat, especially at night – they don’t practice regular self-care. And this leads to food becoming your self-care or coping mechanism.
If you see this trend happening to you, you can nip it in the bud by taking a few minutes every morning to do something for you – whether that be reading a book, going for a walk around the block, or doing 10 minutes of yoga before your kids wake up and need you.
Start your day with something for you, before the day gets away from you. This will translate to healthier habits (and a happier you).
8. Stay hydrated
Drinking plenty of water can help control your appetite, support healthy digestion, and keep your metabolism running smoothly. Aim for at least 8 glasses a day, and even more if you’re exercising regularly or in the hot weather.
To remind yourself to drink water, try keeping a glass of water or bottle by your bed so it’s the first thing you do when you wake up. This sets the tone for the day and can make it easier to continue this habit all day long.
9. Get regular doctor check-ups
Regular physicals are essential at any age, but especially after 40. As you approach 40, you may start to become more at risk for health conditions that can contribute to weight gain, such as hypothyroidism or insulin resistance. If you’re struggling to lose weight despite your best efforts, it may be worth a discussion with your doctor to rule out any underlying medical cause.
Losing weight after 40 may come with its own unique set of challenges, but it is entirely achievable. By being laser-focused on healthy habits, you can stay motivated to lose weight after 40.
These habits include a balanced diet, regular exercise including strength training, quality sleep, and self care, you can achieve weight loss or weight loss maintenance at any age.
But remember at the end of the day it’s not just about the number on the scale. If you’re finding yourself frustrated with the scale, remember that there are SO many other non-scale successes you are achieving along the way. This may be improved energy, more muscle tone in your arms, and less bloat.
If you need support and guidance on getting over a weight loss plateau, contact me to schedule a free discovery call to learn about my nutrition program. I’d love to see how I can help you feel more confident in your skin in your 40’s and for years to come.