July 24, 2014 at 10:02 AM ET
Maintaining a stable weight is never easy, and if you’re a woman age 40 or over, it can be a daunting challenge. Weight gain does come more easily as people age, and it tends to accumulate in the abdomen, increasing health risks. And both biology and behavior contribute to this.
The “spread” of increasing amounts of abdominal fat is not inevitable, and can be avoided with mindful living. While metabolic and hormonal changes do play a role in boosting weight gain, these can be offset with an increased focus on healthy living — a combination of eating less, moving more, and moderating stress.
Why is Weight Gain So Much Easier Over Age 40?
Translated into calories, this means most women by age 50 need to consume about 200 calories less every day compared to calories eaten at age 30, just to maintain the current weight. And while exercise can contribute to weight maintenance, eating too many calories is the main reason for weight gain.
While hormonal changes do not directly trigger weight gain, it becomes easier to gain weight with an altered hormone profile. Declining estrogen along with increasing cortisol levels (a response to dropping estrogen levels along with increasing stress) can both contribute to fat distribution in the body— even without weight change. Elevated cortisol levels can also shift where fat goes — to the middle — even without a change in weight.
Contrary to popular belief, muscle does not “turn into” fat. This comes from eating too much, and not exercising enough. Losing muscle mass decreases how well your body uses calories, making weight gain easier.
To trim calories daily, it’s the small, steady changes that matter most. Try these seven simple and tasty nutrient-rich food swaps that cut calories and maintain good taste:
Instead of: “Starchy sides” like pasta and mashed potatoes
Try: Zucchini linguini (thin strips of zucchini), spaghetti squash, mashed parsnips or cauliflower
Instead of: High-calorie condiments like ketchup, regular mayonnaise, and barbecue sauce
Try: Whole-grain mustard, reduced-fat (not fat free!) mayonnaise, Sriracha or hot sauce
Instead of: Full-fat salad dressings and dips like blue cheese and ranch or sour-cream dips
Try: Balsamic vinegar alone, a “reverse” oil and vinegar dressing (instead of 2/3 oil and 1/3 vinegar, reverse the proportions), dilute ranch dressing with buttermilk; replace full-fat sour cream with Greek yogurt for dips.
Instead of: High-calorie liquids like fruit-juice based cocktails, sodas, juices
Try: Sparkling white wine, seltzer with fruit ice cubes or fresh sliced fruit, seltzer with a splash of real juice, a 12-ounce light beer, low calorie mixers for spirits like seltzer or diet sodas
Instead of: High-fat salty snacks like fried potato, corn, or vegetable chips:
Try: Air-popped popcorn, raw carrots and celery (with some Greek yogurt dip), home-made oven baked pita chips
Instead of: High-calorie sweet treats like ice cream, and candy
Try: Chocolate dipped strawberries or bananas, frozen Greek yogurt bars, frozen fruit or coconut water bars, frozen cherries (right from the bag)
The good news is mindful monitoring of calories — with a daily 30-minute brisk walk (contributing around 100 calories) — can “stop the spread” of unwanted abdominal weight gain.