Once you hit 40, losing weight can feel like a lost cause. Dr. Robert Kushner, director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Northwestern Medicine Center in Chicago and author of “Six Factors to Fit: Weight Loss that Works for You,” told TODAY that the total amount of calories burned every day diminishes for most people with each passing decade.
“Our metabolism slows due to reduced muscle mass, and our daily physical activities, particularly the time spent in exercise, declines,” said Kushner. “If these biological changes are not met with a corresponding reduction in dietary calories, we will experience a slow and steady increase in our body weight.”
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Still, losing weight after you hit 40 isn’t impossible. Here are five expert-backed ways to tackle mid-life weight loss.
1. Tweak your diet
To adjust to your body’s slowing metabolism, it’s important to be aware of the calories you consume, said Kushner. He explained that choosing nutritious foods with fewer calories per bite will still help you feel full and satisfied.
“Instead of eating less of everything and feeling deprived, you want to replace more calorie-dense foods, such as fried foods, high-fat meats, cookies, cakes, candies (and) chips, with nutrient-rich, less calorie-dense foods, such as vegetables, fruits, salads, bean dishes, broth-based soups and whole grains like oatmeal,” said Kushner, adding that the high water and fiber content of foods like these increase their volume, making them more satisfying for fewer calories.
Here are three more ways to tweak your diet after 40:
- Make sure your meals and snacks contain lean, lower-fat protein sources. This strategy will help you feel more satisfied between meals, according to Kushner.
- Be aware of your starch portions. Few people overeat broccoli and salad, but it’s common to eat oversized servings of pasta, rice and cereal.
- Make sure you have a mix of food groups at meals and snacks. Instead of a big bowl of cereal with milk, try a smaller amount of cereal with fruit and a portion of nuts mixed in.
2. Keep track of what you’re nibbling on
Even if you’re eating reasonably well, you can still be in a calorie surplus. Whether you’re eating oversized portions, taking mindless bites while prepping family meals or grazing as part of a new work-from-home norm, all that noshing adds up. Tracking your food intake can be helpful. In one 24-week study, researchers found that time spent logging food intake was significantly linked to weight loss. If tracking your food (even with an app) sounds daunting, consider that by the end of the study, those who were still committed to tracking spent just 15 minutes a day doing it — about what you might spend scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.
Here four more ways to stay mindful about what you eat:
- Pay attention to when you start to feel content and stop eating at that point.
- Try to use a plate (or a napkin or another substitute) every time you eat and put your food down between bites.
- Reduce or totally eliminate digital distractions while eating.
- Ask yourself what you’re enjoying about your food. Pay attention to taste, texture and temperature.
3. Aim to get multiple types of movement each week
“To achieve and maintain a healthy weight as we age, it’s imperative that we incorporate a ‘movement portfolio’ into our daily lives,” said Kushner. He explained that your portfolio should include activities of daily living (like walking, using the stairs and house cleaning), active fitness activities (like bike riding and using the elliptical machine) and resistance-training exercises. Kushner also recommended trying to reduce the time you spend doing sedentary activities like watching TV. “These targeted action steps will boost metabolism and help maintain muscle mass,” he said.
Here are three ways to build more movement into your life:
- Set a reminder to take stretching or standing breaks every hour.
- Try a free trial of popular fitness apps, like Peloton or Aaptiv, to figure out what types of formal exercise you enjoy.
- Make a plan to work out and then get the plan in motion. For example, if you intend to go for a power walk in the morning, set your alarm earlier, get out your workout clothes and have your water bottle ready.
4. Develop a set of stress management tools
As you reach mid-life, the pressures pile up. Just think of the typical stressors, like caring for kids and aging parents, facing financial burdens and dealing with the demands of a job. When you’re experiencing stress, your body responds by releasing the hormone cortisol. If your stress diminishes, your hormone levels return to normal, but if you’re experiencing ongoing stress from “adulting,” cortisol levels will remain high. This can set off a series of biological events that may lead to an increased appetite with more cravings and a propensity to store fat in your belly.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of breath practice that involves deep inhalations and exhalations. It triggers the body’s relaxation response and can help lower cortisol levels. To practice, try setting aside five minutes several times throughout the day.
You can also try these stress-reducers:
- Participate in a Zoom yoga class.
- Use a weighted blanket when you sleep.
- Carve out a few minutes to think about what you’re grateful for.
5. Establish good sleep habits
When you’re under-rested, your appetite-regulating hormones get short-circuited, so your appetite goes into overdrive, but the hormones that tell you you’re full don’t kick in promptly. Studies also suggest that when you’re sleep-deprived, it alters the way you think about food, so you have stronger cravings for sweets and other less healthful eats.
Good stress management techniques and routine exercise will have positive effects on your sleep, but you may need to take additional steps to help you sleep better. For example, be proactive about going to bed and waking up at the same time most days, and allow yourself 30 minutes to unwind and disconnect from your digital devices at night. Eating a plant-forward, mostly whole foods diet that’s low in added sugar helps, too.
Here are a few other ways to improve your sleep:
- Stick to the healthy alcoholic drink limits of one drink a day for women and no more than two a day for men. More than that can lead to sleep disruptions.
- Skip long and late afternoon naps.
- Cut the caffeinated drinks by early afternoon.
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