Diets, dieting, weight loss are (sadly) a huge part of a woman’s life. I wonder how young you were when you went on your first diet? I think that I became aware of my size, and what our society thinks a woman should look like, around 11, maybe even a bit younger.
The sad thing is my body was just prepping for the huge growth spurt that comes in your tween years. There was nothing wrong, it was doing its job beautifully. But I had in my head the subtle conditioning of the messages in the magazines, newspapers and on the TV that I was only valued if I was at a particular size. When my now 13-year-old was in grade 1 there were girls talking about being fat. Oh. My. Gosh.
But first, a note about dieting, weight loss and fat
I don’t want to add to the narrative that we need to look a certain way or be a certain size. So I want to be clear that when I’m talking about weight or size, I’m coming from a health perspective. Not that you need to be super slim to be healthy. (Plenty of unhealthy super slim people around, anyway!)
There’s plenty of research that shows us abdominal fat is harmful for our health in the short and long term. Fat around your organs is called ‘visceral fat’. It produces hormones, increases insulin resistance, and triggers inflammation. It also impacts your mood, energy levels and your general experience of life.
My goal therefore is to reduce that risk for you, and help you enjoy life, feeling calm, clear and energetic – to menopause and beyond.
Hands up then, who used to know exactly how to keep their body size within a certain range? I say used to – because then you hit your 40s, and it stopped working, right?! I hear you, it’s so frustrating. (And I’ve been there too! Holy moly, it can feel insurmountable.)
In this blog, I’m going to talk you through three big reasons why your usual diets don’t work in your 40s. (And don’t worry, I’ll give you some tips to counter-act them and find some balance again.)
Diets and quick fixes don’t work
There seems to be a never-ending stream of people offering quick fix diets, shakes, meal replacements and so on. Everyone’s an expert and wants to share their ‘hack’ with you. But I want to let you know that quick fixes don’t work. Nope, they don’t. (And hey, even the slower long-term ones often don’t work too! Who’s been on low kilojoule diets for months with barely a change on the scales?)
The only way to a sustainable, healthy weight, especially in your 40s, is to understand how the body works, so you can choose foods accordingly. Also, I want to point out that being a healthy size doesn’t have to involve dieting or feeling deprived!
Fat is stored energy
Did you know that body fat is just stored energy? Our bodies are so clever (and still very primal – they haven’t adapted to living in the age of 24-hour supermarkets!) that they store any extra glucose we get from food as fat. Ready to be broken down and used when food is scarce. Except food isn’t really scarce anymore, is it?
Unlimited fat storage
Glucose from foods, especially those rich in carbohydrates, is carried by insulin into the cells. The mighty factories in your cells (mitochondria) turn the glucose into energy molecules. Any energy that isn’t needed right now gets turned into glycogen. There are only small storage tanks for glycogen though. Can you guess where the excess gets stored? That’s right, fat! We have unlimited storage capacity with fat cells.
Status: it’s complicated
How your body manages your weight and fat storage is a complex process, involving lots of hormones – including your reproductive and thyroid ones. I’m simplifying for brevity, but the big 3 are:
- Insulin – Insulin is your ‘fat storage’ hormone. Over-eating, especially white carbs like sugar and flour, results in high insulin levels. This in turn promotes fat storage and essentially stops fat burning. You might have heard of insulin resistance. I explain to clients that insulin resistance is like when you ask your kids to pick up their toys, and they ignore you until you’re SHOUTING at them. In insulin resistance the cells aren’t listening to the insulin, so more and more gets released by the pancreas, trying to get glucose in to the cells to make energy. If you are overweight – especially if your waist circumference is greater than 100cm – you are also very likely insulin resistant, which causes other appetite and fat storage hormones to go haywire.
- Ghrelin – Your ‘hunger hormone’, ghrelin stimulates our appetite. It’s that one that makes your tummy grumble when it increases before a meal. In a healthy person, ghrelin decreases up to 30 minutes after you’ve eaten. Trouble is, being overweight messes up the signaling and actually makes you hungrier. Oh! That’s not really helpful for achieving your health goals.
- Leptin – This one tells you when you’ve had enough. The ‘satiety’ hormone. Just like with insulin, excess fat causes leptin resistance. Your brain stops tuning in to the signals telling it you’ve had enough, and it’s time to stop eating. Instead your brain thinks you are starving all the time and you are hungry all the time. You might feel like you’re hungry again, even after a big meal.
There’s more to it than kilojoules in versus kilojoules out
I’m pretty sure that through your lifetime of diets, dieting and weight loss, you’ve heard of metabolism and how it impacts your weight, energy and many other things (like focus, attention and mood) depending on how slow or fast it is working. You might have a love-hate relationship with yours.
Metabolism includes all the complicated biochemical reactions in your cells that take nutrients and oxygen, and – voila – we have energy. Your metabolic rate is measured in kilojoules.
I hope this far into the blog you’re realising that your metabolic rate is more than just kilojoules in versus kilojoules out. Like most complicated processes, there are lots of things that impact how quickly or slowly it goes. Let’s explore a few of the things that can alter your metabolic rate (and the success of your diet) in your 40s.
So what changes in your 40s?
Everything?! Yes, I hear you, it can feel like you’re a stranger in your body. Or that your body is failing you. Your body is a miraculous thing. So complex, clever and intricate. If it were a machine, we’d be in awe of its wonder. It might feel like a clunky, failing machine though when it isn’t doing what you want it to do, no matter what you try.
Here are the most common reasons I see weight gain or no change to fat mass with my clients:
- Hormonal imbalances
- thyroid (especially poor conversion of T4 to T3, or too much reverse T3)
- reproductive (oestrogen, progesterone, luteinising hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and testosterone)
- appetite and satiety (insulin, ghrelin, leptin)
- A history of dieting and deprivation (your body doesn’t like you starving yourself for long periods)
- A lack of, or disrupted sleep
- Nutrient deficiencies, especially those for making energy (including vitamin D)
- Your size and body composition (more fat mass and less muscle generally makes for a slower metabolism)
- Activity level (too much or too little movement stresses the body)
- Stress, worry and anxiety
Hormones matter more than kilojoules
During the transition to menopause, oestrogen levels reduce in the body. This is more like a roller coaster than a smooth descent, and why you can sometimes feel like you’re on a wild ride! If you’d like to know more about what happens with oestrogen during perimenopause, check out these blogs I’ve written. (Link to perimenopause category)
There are a few forms of oestrogen in your body, one of which is oestradiol. Oestradiol keeps your metabolism humming nicely. Lower levels of oestradiol have been linked to abdominal weight gain.
Here’s something you might not know – extreme kilojoule restriction and over-exercising REDUCE oestrogen levels. But wait, this is what we’ve all been taught as the solution to excess weight. Shocking right?! No wonder your diet isn’t working!
I talk about stress a lot on my blog and with my clients. That’s because in your 40s life can really ramp up. So many responsibilities (financial and otherwise), activities and things on the ‘To DO’ list. Your stressors are much more constant and long-term. Or sometimes there’s lots of small stressors, which add up to being stuck in stress mode for much of the day. We really are still primal beings and not designed for being in fight or flight mode for so much of our life.
Your body’s stress response (fight or flight mode) is designed to increase blood glucose levels so muscles can quickly access the energy they need to get us away from the wilder beast that’s chasing us. Great idea! Except now we don’t do the running away bit (which helps clear cortisol and the glucose from your body).
That increased blood glucose means that your body needs more insulin to get it in to the cells to make energy. (Find out more about how stress impacts your body in this blog.) Interestingly, high insulin levels stimulate cortisol and stress hormone release. Double whammy! You’re stressed, blood glucose levels get out of whack, so your body gets more stressed and inflamed!
Dieting + high cortisol are incompatible
Because of the impact on your blood glucose and insulin levels, it’s virtually impossible to lose weight when cortisol levels are high in your body. Did I mention that stress, cortisol and inflammation impact your female reproductive hormones? Yep, they mess with your oestrogen and progesterone levels too. When they’re already fluctuating from perimenopause, you don’t need anything else messing with them!
Apart from retiring to a cave and shunning modern life, what can you do? Getting rid of your stressors is something that doesn’t always feel possible. There’s much to be done to build your stress resilience. This reduces or dulls your body’s response to the stressors. Food is wonderful medicine for this, along with herbs and particular nutrients. Find some herbal tea blends that you can make to help soothe your body and mind in this blog.
In my program, ‘The Chaos to Calm Method’ we take a deep dive in to stress, what it does to your body (eek!), how you can build resilience, and I support you to develop your own tool kit of stress busters, so that you can reduce the impact of stress on your body.
Well, what do you do?
Getting older and moving through menopause is inevitable. But a change in your shape, or fat gain doesn’t have to be! Your old methods might not work. Usually this is because they fail to address the underlying hormonal root causes of resistant weight loss. So what should you do?
- Reduce your body’s response to stress
- Balance your blood glucose levels and insulin secretion
- Support optimal hormone production
- Think about overall health, not just weight loss
TIP: switch from a dieting mindset to ‘getting healthier’. Focus on long-term, sustainable healthy habits and lifestyle changes rather than a short-term quick fix that will likely be reversed as soon as you stop dieting!
Tweaking the way you eat, what you eat and when can help you feel happy, energetic and in control in your 40s – through perimenopause and beyond. Eating the right amount of protein and healthy fats helps support optimal hormone production and keep your blood glucose levels balanced.
Here’s some resources to get you going:
- Download ‘The Chaos to Calm Healthy, Balanced Meal Formula’ to help you work out the right amount and proportions of the macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein) to support and nourish your body while avoiding under or over-eating. A nourished body will naturally lose weight.
- Find recipes on my blog that support hormonal balance and health.
- Check out this blog with some really practical tips on how to help increase your body’s resilience to stress.
Easy, right?! Now, don’t go changing everything at once, you’ll feel overwhelmed and nothing will stick. Instead, pick one thing and do that for a week or so before you change something else.
But I eat healthy foods
Well ok Sarah, I hear you thinking, I only eat healthy foods, avoid sugar and still I can’t get rid of the fat. How frustrating is this?!
Your body will store fat if you’re eating:
- too much or too little,
- foods that are incompatible for your body, or
- in a way that encourages insulin secretion.
This is how it was for me for ages until I found Metabolic Balance and started eating the foods that were right for my body and biochemistry. Once I did it felt easy to get back to a healthier size and shape. Bonus was that I slept better, felt more energy, and my skin was baby soft again.
Improving your health by decreasing fat mass is achievable, regardless of age, and doesn’t have to involve dieting or deprivation! The way to do this, and gain long-term, sustainable health, is eating the right foods for your body. I love using Metabolic Balance in my programs for exactly these reasons. It’s been used for over 20 years by more than 1 million people to reset their hormones and achieve their health goals, using just whole foods.
Would you like to take a deeper diver into your health and hormones, to understand what’s going on and make feeling energetic and happy easier?
My programs are tailored to busy women in their 40s who are struggling with chaotic moods and changing hormones, but want to feel calm, clear and balanced (and make it to menopause without it ruining their lives!) Find out more, and apply for the program, by making a time to chat to me on a discovery call.