Weight gain is extremely common in women at midlife, with a tendency to accumulate excessive kilos around the stomach (hello, tummy rolls and muffin tops). These changes – albeit highly unwelcome – stem from a myriad of well-researched metabolic factors, from aging to decreasing estrogen levels leading up to menopause.
Why does this happen?
Such changes in body weight are not only potentially harmful for self-esteem – they can also jeopardise one’s health and well-being. In particular, excess abdominal fat is a major risk factor for “adverse metabolic consequences, including dysglycemia, dyslipidaemia, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease”.
Another factor contributing to midlife weight gain, which unfortunately isn’t modifiable, is genetics. To put it simply, due to different combinations of genes passed on from previous generations, some women are much more susceptible to accumulating unwanted kilos in their 40s. If the previous generations of women in the family have tended to gain weight in midlife, it is reasonable to expect that the current generation will gravitate towards the same direction.
Of course, this is not to say that hormones and genetics are the only ones to blame. As easy it is to put the responsibility on factors that are either unmodifiable or have to be medically corrected, lifestyle changes are a big part of the problem.
Due to varied reasons, from being too occupied with other tasks to experiencing health problems that make physical activity more challenging, many women change their dietary and lifestyle habits once they’ve entered their 40s. Unhealthy food choices and reduced physical activity are the leading risk factors for excessive weight gain.
Weight gain and insulin resistance
As mentioned above, midlife weight gain is a risk factors for many metabolic conditions, one of which is insulin resistance.
When we consume carbohydrate-containing foods, they get broken down to sugars which enter the bloodstream. To put it simply, the pancreas produces insulin to help transfer these sugars from the blood into the muscle cells and the liver. This way, sugars can be stored and used for energy.
When insulin resistance occurs, the liver and the muscle cells do not respond adequately to insulin release, and in order to battle that, pancreas starts producing more and more insulin. Eventually, this can develop into type 2 diabetes and cause cardiovascular disease.
Weight gain, especially in combination with hormonal imbalances, is a serious risk factor for insulin resistance. The flip side is no better, as once developed, insulin resistance causes additional weight gain – therefore, the best treatment for insulin resistance is certainly prevention, which means, among other factors, maintaining healthy weight.
Ways to prevent and battle midlife weight gain
Fortunately, there are several lifestyle changes that can help women avoid carrying excessive kilos around in their 40s! Moreover, most of these tips, whilst being highly effective, are also very straightforward and easy to follow!
In other words, there is no magic formula or a miracle weight loss program, despite what the media may be telling you. Focus on achievable weight control basics, such as:
- Making time for exercise. Although guidelines vary between regions, generally health professionals recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week for weight management, as well as overall health and wellbeing. This is just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week! And don’t worry, you don’t have to jump straight into high intensity sessions – brisk walking, dancing or travelling up and down the stairs are all perfect options, as well as anything else that elevates your heart rate a little bit and makes you feel good. If you’re into more vigorous physical activity such as jogging, aim for at least 75 minutes a week to reap the same benefits. And finally, don’t forget to add a couple of resistance exercise sessions to your regime every week, as it not only helps tone and strengthen the muscles, but also promotes additional weight loss benefits.
- Avoiding added sugars. To start losing weight, it is essential to create calorie deficit – and definitely not at the expense of nutritious, wholesome foods. By simply cutting out added sugars, you may be able to reduce your daily calorie intake by up to 300! Added sugars do not provide any nutritional benefits to your meals and are often found in discretionary items such as soft drinks, juices, cordials, energy drinks, sweet caffeinated beverages, cookies, cakes, pies, chocolate…you get the idea. Bottom line: in order to lose weight, you pretty much have to keep your sweet tooth in check.
- Increasing protein and fibre intake. Lean proteins and fibre have a very important thing in common – they help you fill fuller for longer and keep your insulin levels at bay whilst providing amazing health benefits. Lean proteins can be found in wholesome, nutritious foods such as poultry (remove the skin), meat (cut off excessive fat or buy lean cuts), fish, beans, legumes, nuts, tofu and low-fat dairy products. In addition, you can make a healthy protein snack using commercially available supplements such as protein bars and powders – don’t forget to check the carbohydrate content. High-fibre foods are vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains – make sure to include a good variety in your diet.
It also pays off to discuss the steps above, as well as any concerns you may have, with your primary care provider. Your health practitioner will go through your goals and long-term plans and help customize the plan so you can achieve those in the safest, quickest way possible. Besides, you might require hormonal therapy, which only a doctor will be able to prescribe.
Speaking of seeking professional help, it also makes perfect sense to hire a personal trainer to help build a healthy, sustainable weight loss program, including exercise schedule and basic nutrition advice. Hiring a personal trainer will help you feel much less overwhelmed with the process, since your coach will assess your current condition and help create a personalised plan, taking your timeframe and health into consideration.
“Trial and error” is not the best approach when it comes to weight loss, as picking an inappropriate nutrition plan or starting an exercise program that you don’t end up enjoying is likely to kill your motivation and affect self-esteem. Asking for a personal trainer advice ensures you get it right from the get-go whilst receiving ongoing support from a knowledgeable, competent professional, so it’s definitely worth it.
Weight gain in women at midlife is a known phenomenon, but it doesn’t matter that nothing can be done to prevent and treat it. It won’t necessarily be easy, since successful weight management requires permanent lifestyle changes such as healthy diet and regular exercise. However, sticking to these healthy habits reduces the risk of dangerous health conditions and helps you become the happiest, healthiest version of yourself – which is why you should start today!