Are you wondering why you’ve gained weight and why you’re finding it difficult to lose it, despite eating less and exercising more?
The good, and bad, news is that if you are over 40 there are probably reasons beyond calories and exercise that are playing a part.
I work with women over 40 in my clinics, with a wide range of health conditions, from hormone imbalances, autoimmune disease and digestive health issues. However, one consistent theme, when we dig down into what their main goal is (and my own!) is that they (I) want to lose the weight that has crept on, for no reason at all! That desire to fit into those favourite jeans is always there – lurking!
If you are genuinely eating a ‘good’ diet, or maybe you’re on a plan, doing Keto/ Paleo/Intermittent Fasting/Detoxing/Low Carb/High Fat/High Protein/Low GL – or you’ve tried all of the above AND you’ve been exercising like a lunatic AND it’s still not working – then you need to look beyond food and exercise.
Of course nutrition and exercise are important. Eating the wrong foods, eating too many of the right foods, eating at the wrong time, eating too frequently, or not frequently enough, are all important. However, when you’re over 40, your body is going through some key changes, and you need to acknowledge this and make some amendments rather than banging on with the old favourites that worked in your 20’s and 30’s, but no longer work. Also, it’s personal, what works for your friend, might not work for you.
Here are 3 key areas that can impact on weight gain and resistant weight loss in your 40’s
STRESS AND CORTISOL
We ALL identify with this, I can hear the sighs and see the heads shaking!
The stress hormone cortisol directs sugar into the blood stream to help us combat stress. If we don’t utilise that sugar, our ability to handle it reduces over time, and we gain fat around the abdomen. Cortisol increases the number and size of fat cells. It stimulates the appetite, we eat more and gain weight. Ongoing stress can suppress our thyroid function, so our metabolic rate slows and we gain weight.
We have to get on top of stress – it’s critical! We need to find time to chill out and do nothing. I love the Italian expression ‘Il bel far niente’, ‘the beauty of doing nothing’, from Elizabeth Gilbert’s film, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. If we can’t remove the source of stress, we need to find outlets for it, even for a short period, every day. The more I study and practise, the more important this becomes, especially if we’re too busy.
Effective practices for reducing cortisol include:
a) A short walk in nature – or ‘forest bathing’ to coin a trendy term.
b) Just 10-minutes of meditation. If you struggle with this, try one of the many free Apps. I like Insight Timer Or just a few deep gentle mindful breaths.
c) Yoga, pilates or Tai Chi
d) Journalling – getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper
e) Any activity that you can get lost in – gardening, drawing, laughing with friends
f) Work with a nutritional therapist who can recommend herbal support. Certain herbs help us adapt to stress. They are called adaptogens.
g) ‘Il bel far niente’ – just do nothing, sit there for 10-minutes and chill. Cats are masters at this!
h) By the way, over-exercising on a regular basis is a negative form of stress on the body, and WILL NOT HELP
HORMONAL IMBALANCES AND FLUCTUATIONS
At this time of life, our hormones start to change, preparing us for the menopause. Weight gain can be a symptom of these changes, but not an inevitable one. Oestrogen starts to swing, progesterone and testosterone decline. Cortisol and thyroid impact – everything. If we can’t sleep, maybe due to night sweats, we crave carbs because we produce more of the hunger hormone ghrelin. If we feel low, we crave carbs and sugar for a lift.
Our fat cells produce oestrogen for us when the ovaries slow down, so the body wants to retain fat tissue to keep more oestrogen in the building.
Obviously, some of the hormone swings are part of the natural process, but testing thyroid, cortisol and sex hormone function can help us direct a tailored nutrition and lifestyle plan. By balancing these hormones, we can find that weight management becomes easier. (See my previous blog on thyroid testing)
TOXINS AND ‘OBESOGENS’
Some toxins are known as obesogens (horrid word!). These are chemicals that promote weight gain. What’s your toxic burden? If you commute or live in a city, if you take certain medications, if you use plastic or non-stick food containers or pans, if you regularly handle till-receipts, eat non-organic food and use non-natural beauty products and home cleaning products, then your toxic burden is likely to be high. Your toxic burden is the total amount of toxins you are exposed to. Some chemicals disrupt our hormones and contribute to weight gain.
We can start to make easy swaps. Buy non-Teflon cookware and glass storage containers. Buy natural or organic beauty products (there are so many fantastic and effective ones on the market now). Eat organic where possible, or at least avoid non-organic versions of The Dirty Dozen which are foods that are sprayed the most with pesticides and other chemicals. We can also use non-toxic house cleaning products, or go for traditional water and vinegar and the like.
And we also need to support our internal detoxification processes. If our liver is overworked and we’re constipated, or we don’t regularly sweat it out, our ability to handle and eliminate toxins is likely to be compromised. I’m not talking about ‘doing a detox’, although that would be lovely on an exotic island somewhere, but things you can do on a daily basis. Drink plenty of water, in particular with lemon in the morning. Make sure you’re taking care of your gut with probiotic and prebiotic foods and fibre – especially 1-2 tbsp of ground flaxseed per day. Try some dry skin brushing to stimulate your lymphatic system (your internal drainage system). Eat foods that support your liver, such as brassica vegetables.
I hope you have found this Top 3 helpful. There are further factors to consider if you’re gaining or struggling to lose weight, including underlying illness and inflammation in the body, food sensitivities, imbalances in gut bacteria, nutrient deficiencies and requirements. Working with a nutritional therapist who is trained in the functional medicine approach will help you investigate, and address these, so please let me know if you’re struggling, and I can be of further help. I offer a free exploratory call on 07909 732017.
The most important thing is that, if what you are doing isn’t working, you really, honestly need to change what you’re doing. Be curious about your own health, look after yourself, get plenty of rest and relaxation until you find your happy, healthy place.
All the very best