Top 4 Reasons for Weight Gain After Forty
by Ute Mitchell
It finally happened. You went to the doctor, you stepped on the scale, and you’re about ready to pass out because you, my friend, have put on fifteen pounds since your last visit. Not that you didn’t suspect it, because those capris you tried on recently, the ones you bought just last year, no longer fit. You can barely pull them over your hips, but there is no way you’re going to button those pants. Plus, you are well past that age where you can lie flat on your bed sucking in your belly and not get stuck on that mattress wondering how on Earth you’ll get back on your feet and breathe, too.
If this isn’t you, congratulations, you have been blessed with excellent genes and are envied by many. If you do recognize yourself in the above scenario, however, you’ll be happy to hear that you are not alone. As a matter of fact, there are scientific explanations for why you’re experiencing sudden weight gain after age forty, and there are solutions to the problem.
Reason #1: Metabolism. It is no secret that your metabolism slows down as you grow older. As a young woman I always wondered why my parents were eating so little. I was certain there was no way I could survive on that little food ever. The truth is, however, due to our slowing metabolism, by our forties, we burn up to 300 calories per day less than we did in our twenties. To be clear, 300 calories is worth about a bowl of cereal with eight ounces of two-percent milk, one banana, and a cup of coffee or about two-and-a-half glasses of red wine.
Solution: Track your food intake for a week without changing anything. If you’re currently maintaining your weight, cut about 300 calories from your diet. If you’re gaining weight, cut more. The idea is to create a calorie deficit so you can lose weight. Suggestion: replace refined and processed carbohydrates with their healthier alternatives—such as vegetables! They are lower in calories, more filling, and much more nutritious.
Reason #2: Muscle Mass. You lose muscle mass as you grow older. This process actually starts at the tender age of thirty. After forty, physically inactive people lose about three to five percent of muscle mass per decade. Muscles burn fat. Lose muscle, gain fat.
Solution: Get exercise and incorporate weight/resistance training to your workout routine. A brisk walk can burn calories, but it will not build muscle. Don’t feel like you need to be a heavy weightlifter. Start small, then work your way up. You might even start at home with push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges or find a workout buddy and hit the gym together.
Reason #3: Energy Use. The body’s ability to use up energy during exercise declines. This means that what worked ten years ago won’t work today.
Solution: Increase the amount and intensity of your workouts to achieve weight loss. This means if you used to exercise a few times a week for 30 minutes, you may need to increase frequency and duration now. Additionally, consider a brisker walk or run to increase the intensity rather than a stroll. If you walk at the same pace you grocery shop, it’s not going to meet the intensity guidelines.
Reason #4: Estrogen. Ladies, lower levels of estrogen can make it more difficult for the body to balance your blood sugar. The body uses starches and sugars less effectively, and this can lead to fat storage.
Solution: See point Reason #1. Decreasing the amount of carbs you eat in a day and increasing your protein intake will help in balancing your blood sugar and slow down weight gain.
It doesn’t seem fair that we have to experience these issues, especially since our motivation to diet and exercise actually tends to decline as we grow older. You may say to yourself, “Heck, I just want to live a little,” and I am not going to judge you. Just find a balance, and don’t let “living a little” become an excuse for laziness and complacency. You may not be striving for “Mrs. Grandma USA,” but with a healthy body you will have a much better chance of living longer.
All that said, some research suggests that older adults who are slightly overweight (but not obese) have a better life expectancy, so indulge in your one glass of red wine and that piece, or two or three, of dark chocolate absolutely guilt free.
Ute Mitchell is a freelance writer and certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. She is married, mom to three children ranging in ages from teenagers to adult, and is preparing for an empty nest. Gifted with early perimenopause symptoms like hot flashes, poor sleep, headaches, and sudden hair loss, she has made it her mission to research the best way to approach midlife nutritionally and using mindfulness techniques and shares her findings with women all over the country.