8 steps to losing weight for women over 40

Fit School, Epping, Pilates, Fitness, Running,Women, Mid Life, over 40 , Fat Loss, Strength, Diet

Women of midlife: how do you lose weight? Because so far, this attempt at a diet is not working.

This little plea from a journalist I follow on Twitter piqued my interest.

Mainly because a) many people went on to recommend intermittent fasting and I couldn’t explain within Twitter character limits why it’s a bad idea for women of midlife (more on why below); b) maybe it’s my age but the ‘tribe I’m vibing’ is all about this at the moment: what worked for me before, no longer works; and c) I come out in cold sweats at the largely unqualified responses which are based only on: this worked for me and will therefore work for you.

So, women of midlife: how do you lose weight?


1. Skip the calorie counting/intermittent fasting.

Unless you are seriously overweight, like out of control eating binges, 20 kilos or more over what you know to be a healthy weight (I’m not talking Diet Plan ideal weight labels here), or carrying enough excess body fat that it affects your ability to move/exercise comfortably, intermittent fasting isn’t a healthy long-term solution. Here’s why:

In the long-term management of your health and weight, maintaining muscle mass is your golden ticket. One of the main reasons women *think* they naturally put on weight as they age is that we *actually* lose muscle mass over the age of 40 unless we do something about it.* 

Sarcope­nia—defined as age-related muscle loss—can begin at around age 35 and occurs at a rate of 1-2 percent a year for the typical person. After age 60, it can accelerate to 3 percent  a year. [Harvard Medical School]

Why does this affect long-term health and weight?

Muscle mass increases your metabolism. Put simply, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you can consume without gaining fat. In terms of numbers, 1 kilo of muscle uses roughly 13 kcals per day, whilst fat uses around 5, give or take fluctuations for age, gender and body composition.

More than just being a tool for negating the effects of excess cake eating however, muscle has been proven to help manage, delay or prevent some conditions typically associated with ageing. Dementia or a loss in cognitive function are leading examples. Studies have shown that a loss in muscle mass can be directly linked with a loss in brain mass. So, in order to keep your brain bigger and to stay alert, you need muscle. 

What does this have to do with intermittent fasting?

Everything! Calorie cutting and starvation are ways to speed up muscle loss. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, around 20-30% of weight lost on a calorie restricting diet will be muscle. So whilst it may work in the short term, if you want to maintain muscle mass, it’s important to look at other ways to change your shape, if that’s your goal.

Fasting is also really hard, particularly for women. If you are still ovulating, trying to fast at certain points in your cycle will not only feel rotten but is counter-intuitive to your body’s natural rhythms that are trying to hunker down to create a uterine pillow! 

For conditions like osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, we need to use nutrition to nourish, not starve. 

The only caveat to all of this, as stated above, is that if you have a disordered over-eating pattern and you struggle with portion control (too much food), some kind of restriction may work in the short term but only under the guidance of a medical professional or nutritionist. 

2. Focus on building muscle (because of all of the above)

Weights + Protein = Lean Muscle. And yes, you can start at any age. Any age! Get resistance training into your life on a regular basis. Make it a project to workout with weights at least twice a week for 20-30 minutes and then eat (see below) to nourish your training.

3. Go Slow

Is it possible to lose fat without losing muscle? 

It’s possible to minimise lean tissue loss whilst losing fat. Slow and steady wins the race. For healthy fat loss, you should aim to lose around 1-2 pounds in weight each week at most. Fad diets, extreme weight loss or calorie restrictions and fasting may create quick results on the scales but can affect your metabolism longer term. At a time when your metabolism is likely to be lower (less activity and lower lean tissue) reducing it further isn’t a good idea.

This is where building health habits rather than starve/binge cycle and setting short term goals are the keys to healthy weight loss in older adults. If you’ve had a sedentary day, then no, don’t eat the cake. If you’ve already got two social nights booked into your week, skip the wine for the third. If you’ve sat on your butt all day and it’s 4pm, put your trainers on and get your heart rate up for 20 minutes.

4. Prioritise sleep

Argh! Another joy of changes in hormones. The sleeplessness gremlin. Want to lose weight? Focus on your zzz’s. Not only is tiredness the saboteur of willpower, it’s also the bringer of that pesky little ‘but I’m still hungry’ hormone, ghrelin.

You could be the epitome of self control until those mid afternoon munchies come a calling, which will be threefold if you’ve manage to get an early workout in. 

Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity and weight gain, mainly because of the lack of leptin if you’re not getting enough sleep. Leptin is the satisfied or ‘I’m full’ hormone. Studies have shown adults need at least 7.5 hours of sleep each night to get the right balance of hormones. So if you’re a 5 hours a nighter, switching to 7 hours a night can make a massive difference.

If you’re struggling with sleep, golden rules to stick to are:

  1. Limit caffeine intake, especially after midday. 
  2. Don’t drink alcohol late at night, its sedative effect will wear off.
  3. Get exercise in early, preferably outside to help reset your cortisol/adrenal balance.
  4. Consider a light lamp used at natural peaks in sunlight, especially on dark days.
  5. Have protein with your breakfast (see below).
  6. Switch off all blue-light or at least get blue-light reducing glasses to help switch into power down mode.

5. Identify your crutch

What’s the vice you’re clinging on to? This one’s going to hurt a little bit. What’s the one sneaky pleasure you aren’t willing to lose? 

Do you count the calories in a glass of wine so you can still have one, skipping an afternoon snack to make up for it? 

Or perhaps you’re a weekend socialite. Angelic and meticulously-on-the-health-plan during the week but falling into a bottle of wine (each) by Friday night?

Maybe luxury holidays are your thing. So you live life in a yo-yo of healthy weeks with binge-tastic vacations. 

It’s time to shake it up. Be a little honest with yourself. What’s really holding you back? What would your best friend tell you to do?

6. Check-in with your macros

Are you eating enough protein. Protein helps with satiety levels, healthy skin and nails, lean tissue growth, sleep and brain function. It’s all good for feeling fitter, leaner and more confident in your skin. Aim for around 2-2.5g of protein every day for every kilo of bodyweight.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan you’ll need to work harder to get your usable protein sources into your diet and perhaps consider a protein supplement. Working with a nutritionist would be advisable. 

If sleep is an issue, make sure you have at least 20g of protein before midday to help your brain synthesise the hormones you need for restful sleep.

7. Consistent activity

Sitting down all day and heading to the gym for half an hour won’t get you results as quickly as finding excuses to move around. You want to aim for at least 10,000 steps a day. If you don’t have a step counter or wearable activity monitor (like a watch) get one. It takes out the guess work and tells the truth. Also, as fabulous as yoga is for mindfulness and mobility, it doesn’t score highly on the activity scales. 

8. New goals

Have you ever considered you may need to set yourself new goals. No, you’re not 30 anymore. You don’t have the metabolism of a 20-something. You probably have more commitments than the average 20-something too. Your goals need to change and reflect what you want out of life. You’re far more likely to succeed if you actually know what you’re aiming for.

Want to find out more about our ‘done for you’ 28-day resistance training programme designed for women over 40? Click here: FS28

More posts like this:

6 Ways Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Work Out

Over 50 or Close How to Prevent a Saggy Bottom

61 Reasons to Exercise

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