How to fight fat after 40
You’ll gain 30lb a year if you eat the same in middle age as you did in your 30s. But don’t despair! A new book reveals how you can stay trim
05:03 EDT, 30 January 2012
Losing weight in your 20s and 30s is simple: just eat a bit less, move a bit more. Back then, I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and I remained a size 12 — regardless of whether or not I gobbled chocolate eclairs every day. But five years ago, once I reached 40, everything changed.
I was at a restaurant a year after I’d had my last child and the waitress said: ‘Ooh, you’ll be popping that baby out soon.’
I wasn’t even pregnant! I went to the toilet and took a look at myself. She was right. I wasn’t just fat, I looked as if I was about to give birth. I was 4st heavier than I am now — and 5st heavier than at my slimmest, aged 25.
Tipping the scales: Avoiding weight gain in middle age is difficult but not impossible
I kept telling myself that losing the
extra weight would be simple; that if I drank less or cut down on
carbs, the pounds would drop away. But though it took me a while to
realise it, my magical ability to shift the pounds had left me.
so many women of my age, I was working flat out looking after my
children and the older members of my family. I found it impossible to
concentrate on dieting. In
desperation, I tried mad fads. Subsisting on just vegetables for a week,
eating only orange and yellow-coloured food. Nothing worked.
I’d got fat in my 40s for many
reasons. I’d had four children — three of them in quick succession — and
my entire life revolved around food.
Fat fighter: Lucy Cavendish gained weight in middle age, left, but now at 45, right, she is a size ten again after learning she can’t eat like she used to
As soon as I got up, I thought about what I was going to have for breakfast. After that, I thought about lunch. After lunch, I thought ahead to dinner.
Like many other middle-aged, middle-class mothers, cookery books were my obsession. I worshipped at the altar of deliciously fattening food: risotto oozing with butter and parmesan; rich potato dauphinoise; chicken smothered in a creamy sauce; chocolate mousse…
But as Dr Pamela Peeke, author of Fight Fat Over 40, points out, this was my downfall. After 40, it is just not possible to eat like this and drink copious — or even moderate — amounts of wine and stay thin.
According to Dr Peeke, this is
because once we turn 40, our metabolic rate — in other words our ability
to burn calories — drops. We lose muscle tone. We get stressed and eat
more calories than we need, when what we should be doing is exercising
more and controlling portion sizes.
Her point is you can stay or become thin, but it will take more effort.
much I’ve learned for myself. It has taken a massive effort, but over
the past four years, I have gradually lost all that excess weight. At
45, I am a size 10. I feel and look great. I exercise, eat sensibly,
don’t drink much. I changed my habits entirely. I reassessed the way I
ate and what I was eating. I have shown willpower I didn’t know I had.
Do not be fooled into thinking it’s easy. It isn’t. It’s not like in your younger years when the pounds magically disappear simply because you cut out sugar in your tea. In your 40s, it’s a long hard graft… but it certainly pays off.
Here, Dr Peeke gives her eminently sensible tips for fighting the flab after 40.
CHANGE YOUR LIFESTYLE AND EATING HABITS
After 40, the rules of self-care change. You need to embrace this and re-evaluate your lifestyle.
Your reproductive system, libido, body composition, moods, skin and hair all change in preparation for the next 40 years of life. A 40-year-old woman has a very different body to the one she had ten years earlier.
A woman’s metabolism declines at the rate of at least 5 per cent 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 is able to burn.
At the age of 20, you may have required 2,000 calories a day, but by 45 you could require 300 fewer calories a day. If you continue to consume those extra calories, you will gain 1lb every 12 days or about 30lb per year.
While exercise and careful eating can minimise this effect, they don’t completely erase it.
CASE STUDY: ‘In 18 months I ballooned’
Carol Stonebridge, 49, is divorced, works in staff training and lives in Harwich, Essex, with her partner Ian, 46, who is in manufacturing.
If I could go back in time and give my 39-year-old self one piece of advice it would be not to put on weight, because it’s so much harder to lose it in your 40s.
I’m 5ft 6in and had always been a size 14. But in my early 30s, my love of snacks such as crisps and cheese saw my weight rocket. By the time I was 38, I was 14st and a size 18 to 20. I joined a Rosemary Conley class and lost 5st in six months, dropping to a size ten.
Back in shape: Carol has learnt to eat well so she’s now a size ten, left, after gaining weight in her forties
But my new slim figure was short-lived. I turned 40 and, divorced and with no children, I was overcome by the horrible realisation that having a family had passed me by. I was signed off work for a couple of months with depression.
All thoughts of taking care of myself went out the window, and while I still cooked healthy recipes at home, I ate the wrong things at work or when out with friends.
In 18 months, I gained as much weight as I had over eight years in my 30s. But while in my 30s I’d put the weight on all over, this time it seemed mostly stuck around my waistline.
In October 2010, with only two years until my 50th birthday, I decided to join Rosemary Conley again. I was horrified to find out I was almost 15st.
It took me much longer to lose the weight. But after nine months, I’d lost 5st and have been 9st 13lb and a size ten since last summer.
I’m being strict with myself because I know my metabolism is slower, and though it wouldn’t take much to gain a few pounds, it would be difficult to lose it.
TACKLE STRESS FAT
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 during stressful situations. Too much is dangerous since it places a woman at risk of heart disease, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
You may be tempted to resort to extreme calorie restriction to make up for this loss of calorie-burning metabolism. Don’t. 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 20lb before your daughter’s wedding. I always tell my patients that ‘fit’ looks and feels better than ‘thin’.
DEAL WITH THE CORTI-ZONE
Over-eating in the late afternoon and evening is one of the biggest culprits behind stress-induced weight gain in women over 40. I call the hours between 3pm and midnight the Corti-Zone — the time when levels of the stress hormone cortisol plummet, and mindless, unfocused, stress-driven eating dominates.
Rather than accepting this, most people fight it. Desperately seeking energy, they gulp coffee and eat sugary foods in the hope of boosting energy levels.
Once stress eating has started, it sets up a mindset of hopelessness and continued eating. Instead, plan and be realistic. If you know the day is going to be tough, arm yourself with a healthy daily eating plan as well as stress-reducing solutions.
IT’S ALL ABOUT PORTIONS
Portion sizes are easier to measure than calories and, in my opinion, more important because declining metabolisms mean women over 40 should eat less.
In the morning, try measuring out your breakfast cereal serving as dictated by the food label on the carton. It may appear small, but memorise it. This is what a serving looks like.
You can also try using a smaller sized bowl or plate than normal. This will make it difficult to over-eat.
CASE STUDY: ‘I want to be a healthy role model’
Avoiding middle-aged spread: Jayne has cut down on carbs and exercises regularly
Jayne Reid, 45, is a
business development specialist and CEO of her own company. She lives
in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, with her husband Bruce, 46, and her
Until I hit 40, I thought middle-age spread was something that happened to lazy people who ate too much.
But my sister, who’s two years older, kept warning me that I would gain weight once I got to 40. I was horrified to discover she was right.
I’m 5ft 6in and a size ten, but at 9st 12lb, I’m 5lb heavier than in my 30s. Despite eating less and exercising more, I can’t shift it.
In my 20s, two aerobics classes a week was all I did to maintain my figure.
After I’d had my children in my 30s, I started running twice a week, upping it to three times after holidays and Christmas. My weight was a constant 9st 7lb.
In contrast, for the past two years I go to the gym five mornings a week and devote three sessions to weight training.
I’ve also eliminated carbs from my diet during the week, and reserve wine and puddings for the weekends.
That said, I’ve come to the conclusion that to shift those extra 5lb I’d have to starve myself.
I’m not prepared to do that — not least for the sake of continuing to be a healthy role model for my daughters.
Over 40, I believe you need to do at least 45 minutes of aerobic physical activity five or six times a week and 30 minutes of strength training twice a week.
Training with weights stimulates muscles to activate all the body’s other systems (endocrine, cardio-vascular), which then adapt and grow stronger to support your stronger muscles.
Many women don’t have a block of time every morning or evening to fit in a workout, but accruing exercise throughout the day is just as beneficial. It can be as simple as a brisk walk outside or on a treadmill, cycling, swimming or lifting light weights.
DON’T WORRY IF YOU HAVE A SETBACK
Each woman’s response to food in the face of stress is different. After a particularly hectic or worry-filled day, some women can’t force down a sandwich; others are ravenous.
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 with the best intentions, but then some unexpected event occurs and throws a spanner in the works.
Many women put their self-care on hold at times like these — and often, the result is weight gain.
When your best intentions for healthy eating and exercise are thwarted by events outside your control, understand that you haven’t failed — as baseball fans say, you’ve just been thrown a curveball: something unexpected has happened. Acknowledging this and moving on helps get your diet back on track.
Extracted by Sarah Hughes from Fight Fat After 40 by Dr Pamela Peeke. Case studies by Sadie Nicholas