Do you feel like you’re gaining weight no matter how much you exercise or how little you eat?
We hear this a lot. You’re doing the same thing you’ve always done but the weight is piling on. So you start exercising harder and eating like a bird. Nothing happens. Even your usual ‘no-fail weight loss tricks’ won’t budge the pointer on the scales.
Welcome to life post-40.
This is a pretty common scenario. Not everyone will experience significant weight gain but 3-5 kg’s is not uncommon and we’ll all experience altered body shape.
Take heart, a little bit of knowledge and you can nail this.
It’s Partly Due To Hormone Shifts…
We’re moving into the perimenopause phase of our lives before transitioning through to post-menopause. During this time our progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone go a little helter-skelter.
The hormones progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, insulin, and thyroid all need to work together in symphony to help you maintain a weight you’re happy with.
They’re the regulators of our metabolism, fat storage, blood, and blood sugar. If one goes out of whack it can lead to weight gain as well as cravings (hello carbohydrates and sugar), tiredness, and sleep issues.
…And Partly Due To Ageing
As we age our fat increases and muscle mass reduces in a process called sarcopenia. The amount of muscle we have contributes to how fast our metabolism is, so a slowing down makes it more difficult to maintain our weight. In addition, as the ratio of our hormones change the body shifts where it deposits fat. It tends to move from the hips and thighs to settle around the belly area.
Over-exercising and eating like a bird won’t help.
If anything this will cause you to hold onto the weight or – eeek – gain more!
The key is in balancing your hormones. Eating more can often help too. By that we mean eating more of the good stuff like vegetables. We call it ‘adding in’ frequent serves of things of whole foods (lots of plants work well) and ‘crowding out’ things like refined sugars and carbohydrates.
10 Reasons You May Be Gaining
1. Too Much Stress
Cortisol is the stress hormone. When we produce too much cortisol it naturally assumes – as it did back in caveman days – that we need to run for our lives. So it puts us in ‘fight or flight’ mode and dumps extra sugar into our blood to give us the fuel to escape.
As we don’t usually use it in modern times, insulin then comes in to save the day and mops the extra energy up by storing it as fat. The body then holds onto it for dear life in order to form a protective shell against perceived threats.
The moral of this story is that if you don’t find a way to reduce your stress levels your body will think it’s in constant danger and you won’t be able to shift that fat.
2. Not Enough Sleep
A good night’s sleep is rejuvenating and helps to regulate your hormones. If you’re experiencing disturbed sleep the adrenals will produce more cortisol (number 1) as well as encouraging the body to hold onto its fat stores. Science has also shown it increases the hunger hormone ghrelin.
3. Not Doing The Right Exercise
Choosing the right form of exercise is key at midlife. Over-exercising is a ‘thing’ and will put the body back into the mode of overproducing cortisol and storing fat (see number 1). However, done well exercise helps balance the hormones and lowers cortisol levels.
Indeed, no matter how old you are exercise is essential to a healthy life so we don’t want to discourage movement. Particularly not in 2020 when sitting is touted as the new smoking and many of us are doing way too much of it. Weight loss/management is driven by what you do in the kitchen 80% of the time but a well-exercised 40+ female body will thrive and muscle and metabolism will be at optimal levels.
The general consensus is that moderate exercise is the best option post-40. Long walks, Pilates, yoga, stretching, deep breathing, swimming, weight lifting and more and more research is coming out on the benefits of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) – short bursts of high intensity alternating with lower intensity exercise. Regarding HIIT I would recommend proceeding with caution if you’re experiencing sleep issues/stress-related issues until you are more balanced.
Getting the heart rate up and strengthening your muscles feels good and is good for you but if you go too hard your body will go back into stress mode (see number 1). There is no one size fits all though, if you’re someone who has always done triathlons and endurance sports you will know how your body works best.
4. Sugar & Refined Carbohydrate Overload
We talk about sugar and refined carbohydrates a lot (refined carbs convert to sugar) because they can exacerbate unwelcome menopause symptoms and are easily converted into stored fat.
Over time a high-sugar diet can lead to insulin resistance. Put very simplistically the pancreas produces the hormone insulin to convert sugar to glucose for energy. During insulin resistance this process is impaired, the pancreas produces more and more insulin to try and move the sugar from the blood to the cells for energy. When it doesn’t work it leads to blood sugar crashes, more cravings, fat storage and a predisposition to diseases like Type 2 diabetes.
In a nutshell: Insulin resistance equals fat storage. It’s a rollercoaster. The more insulin we produce, the more fat we store. The more fat we store, the more we crave carbs and sugar. The more carbs and sugar we eat, the more insulin we produce.
5. Not Enough Fat & Protein
Women used to avoid fat like the plague and some still do but GOOD fat is essential for a healthy weight, satiety, and – as an aside – our skin loves it too. Fat is key to making our hormones, helping our body absorb nutrients and healthy brain function. Good fats include nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut/olive oils, and oily fish like salmon and tuna. As a rule, if you’re not eating enough fat you’re usually compensating with sugar. In fact, that’s how much of the ‘low-fat’ industry works. They remove the fat but add sugar (see above) so go for full fat every time.
Don’t stint on protein either as it keeps you nice and full and helps to keep blood sugar levels stable thereby not over-stimulating insulin (see number 4). A good trick is to pair protein with your carbs: eat your fish with some sweet potato, make a stir-fry with eggs with quinoa and peas/broccoli/spinach or have some overnight oats soaked in soy/almond milk with banana and slivered almonds.
6. Failing At Fibre
If you’re not eating enough fibre you’re likely not pooping enough and if you’re not pooping your belly could be feeling quite well-upholstered (and maybe bloated) and your body will be holding onto toxins and excess fat. The natural remedy is to load up on high fibre foods like fruit, veggies and wholegrains. such as the suggested foods in number 5.
7. Food Intolerances
While you may have been able to eat whatever you want all of your life food intolerances can rear their head at midlife. Alternatively, they may have been there all along but you are now more sensitive to them. Intolerance to certain foods can trigger blood sugar imbalance and inflammation encouraging weight gain which is difficult to shift. Common intolerances for women during menopause include gluten, sugar and dairy. Eliminate them for three or four weeks and keep a diary of how you feel.
8. Thyroid Issues
Problems with your thyroid are extremely common as we grow older and – as we explained earlier – this can cause everything in the body to become sluggish especially your metabolism and energy levels.
Hello weight gain.
Whenever anyone says they’re doing all the ‘right things’ and eating well I always ask about their thyroid health because if it’s playing up it doesn’t matter what you do you won’t be able to lose weight. I highly recommend is a full count thyroid test. The standard practise in Australasia is to only test TSH levels. You need your T3 and T4 levels for a clear picture which is why I recommend finding a good functional medicine practitioner who will do this for you.
Tip: The thyroid loves zinc (pumpkin seeds), iodine (seaweed foods like kombu and kelp) and selenium (brazil nuts).
9. Digestive Disorders
You can’t go far these days without hearing about the gut (aka digestion). This is because it’s incredibly important. Indeed, 90% of our immunity lies in our gut and a healthy balanced gut flora or microbiota (bacteria, fungi, viruses) equates to efficient weight management as well as optimal health.
Our gut is host to millions of flora – both good and bad. In fact, we have far more bacteria in our gut than we do cells in our body. As a rule, all of them co-exist harmoniously. However, if we allow them to get off-kilter by not eating well, taking too many medications, and/or being over-stressed (see number 1) it can lead to cravings (see number 4) and an imbalance of good guys and bad guys. This can lead to weight gain and a host of other conditions.
Tip: Take a probiotic and include fermented foods (sauerkraut and kombucha) in your diet to help keep your gut microbiome healthy.
10. Toxins/Xenoestrogen/Endocrine Disruptor Exposure
We live in a world that is packed with chemicals, hundreds of thousands of them. They’re in our food, environment, personal care, medications, and household cleaners. Potential side effects can include imbalanced hormones and weight gain. There’s even a new term: obesogens. Endocrine disruptors that contribute to weight gain and obesity. These toxins disrupt hormones but they also interfere with the metabolism and the thyroid contributing to body fat accumulation.
We hope these 10 pointers are helpful. The fluctuating hormones of the menopausal years, the slowing down of the metabolism with age, thyroid issues, insulin imbalance and high cortisol can all contribute to weight gain.
There can be a plethora of other reasons too. Drinking too much (alcohol and/or coffee are often culprits here) and not drinking enough. Keeping hydrated with plain water will be your best friend if you’re trying to maintain your weight.
Read about water and weight loss and get some great water recipes here.
We’ll cover midlife, wine and weight in an upcoming issue.
Questions? Or if you need more help or a programme to follow, email me here.