How to fight the fat after turning 40

Our metabolism slows as we get older – and for a lot of women 40 is the tipping point. So how can you prevent weight gain?

We know that women’s bodies are complex biological systems but why is it that turning 40 seems to mean developing a permanent ring of fat on your waistline? Dr Pamela Peeke, author of Fight Fat Over 40, reckons she has the answer.

It’s all down to our metabolic rate – and stress. In simple terms, as soon as we turn 40, our ability to burn calories drops, our stress levels soar and we lose muscle tone.
We also eat too much when what we should be doing is exercising more and controlling portion sizes.

“Ideally, it’s best to eat every three hours,” says Dr Peeke, who spent three years investigating the link between stress and fat. “Fuel up in the morning by eating breakfast. Have a satisfying lunch, then taper down your eating as evening approaches.”

The key, she says, is to consume about 60% of your day’s calories by 6pm. “And don’t expect to see a change overnight,” warns Dr Peeke. “You must stay realistic and be patient.”

Here are Dr Peeke’s tips for fighting the flab after 40…

Change your lifestyle
After the age of 40, the rules of self-care change and you cannot eat the way you did when you were 20. That’s because a 40-year-old woman has a very different body than she had 10 years earlier.

A woman’s metabolism declines at the rate of at least 5% per decade of life, starting at the age of 20 due to the natural loss of muscle mass that comes with age. The less muscle mass you have, the fewer calories your body can burn.

For example, at 20 you may have required 2,000 calories per day to live. By the time you are 45, you could require about 300 calories less per day.

If you have continued to consume the same number of calories as you did when you were 20 until the age of 45, you can expect to be at least 30lbs to 50lbs heavier.

Adapt to the stresses of life
If you are a woman over 40, your life is especially frenzied juggling kids, other halves, ageing parents and your work life. Not to mention the fact hormones are starting to flood your body which can lead to mood swings and intense cravings for food.

Much of the fat gained during this time will accumulate around the waist. I call it Stress Fat since it is the main source of fat that gives you energy to fight or take flight in stressful situations.

Too much stress is dangerous since it places a woman at risk of heart disease, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

Don’t however be tempted to resort to extreme calorie restriction to make up for this loss of calorie-burning metabolism. Calorie restriction depresses the metabolism further. A healthy body starts with a healthy mind. It’s not about squeezing into a size six or trying to lose 20lbs before your daughter’s wedding.

I always tell my patients that ‘fit’ looks and feels better than ‘thin’.

Tackle the Cortizone
Overeating in the late afternoon and evening is one of the biggest culprits behind stress-induced weight gain in women over 40.

I refer to the hours between 3pm and midnight as the ‘CortiZone’ when levels of the stress hormone cortisol plummet and fatigue sets in.

Desperately seeking energy, most people gulp coffee and eat food high in sugar in the hope of boosting energy levels. Avoid this ‘stress-eating’ by planning. Stick to foods that don’t overly stress the body like wholegrain bread, skimmed milk, vegetables and fruit. These foods are your ticket to maintaining greater resilience in the face of daily events which would normally send you to the coffee maker.

Be realistic. If you know you have a tough day ahead, arm yourself with a daily eating plan and take a walk whenever you can.

Eat smaller portions
Declining metabolisms mean women over 40 should eat less. You can try using a smaller sized bowl for your breakfast cereal or a smaller plate than normal. This will make it difficult to over-eat.

Avoid foods with processed, refined sugars like sweets and pastries as well as pasta, rice and bread. Strive for five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Remember that even when you eat healthy foods, too much of a good thing can put the weight on. Find out which foods are bingeables.

These are foods of which you cannot just have one, and you usually end up eating the whole thing. Avoid these as they are nothing but trouble.

Exercise more
All women over 40 should do 45 minutes exercise five or six days a week. This period may however be broken up into 10 minute slots throughout the day and be just as beneficial. Walking is a great exercise. It’s easy, can be done anywhere, burns calories and reduces stress. If you like to cycle, take step classes or jog.

However, if the idea of a tough workout makes you cringe, don’t worry. Go for a stroll and save the pavement pounding for tomorrow.

Never give up
Being fat is not simply about food choices, it’s about how you cope when life seems tough. You can start a healthy new routine but then some unexpected event occurs and everything goes wrong.

Many women put their self-care on hold and often the result is weight gain. It’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

It’s about acknowledging this and getting your diet back on track.


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