After the age of 40 women need to approach weight loss differently. Your body is undergoing some major hormonal and metabolic changes and if you want to lose weight and keep it off you HAVE to take this into consideration. Midlife weight loss needs a holistic approach; nutrition, exercise, stress, movement and sleep all need to be addressed; they are your five pillars of weight loss. But what do you focus on first? What is going to have the biggest impact and give you the best results?
Step 1 - Nutrition
This step is your foundation. The science around weight loss can be confusing but one thing we know for certain is that in order to lose body fat you need to be in a calorie deficit. Good nutrition will account for 80% of your weight loss results so it's vital that the deficit is sustainable which means making the right food choices.
My 7-Day Kickstart Plan is the perfect place to start. You learn how to create a sensible deficit, which foods will help you maintain that deficit and how to build good nutritional habits that are sustainable and support your health and weight loss goals.
Step 2 - Stress
If you're not effectively managing your stress levels, weight loss will be hard. Too much cortisol (a stress hormone) leads to fat stores around the middle. Women over the age of 40 are far more susceptible to stress (lower estrogen levels make us less resistant to cortisol) so if you want to successfully lose weight you simply can't ignore this.
I've written several articles about how stress impacts your weight:
Step 3 - Sleep
Most people don't connect stress and sleep with weight loss but sleep is you body's time to rest, restore and regulate. Lack of sleep will negatively impact your major weight loss hormones such as insulin, cortisol and leptin meaning that even if you're following a great nutrition plan, you will struggle to lose weight if you don't sleep well. Aim for 7-8 hours good quality sleep every night.
Steps 1, 2 and 3 are entirely interchangeable. You could (and some people will) argue that getting good sleep or managing your stress levels is more important that getting the nutrition component right. And it's true...
- When you manage your stress levels you will make better nutrition choices and good quality sleep will be easier.
- Good quality sleep means you're less likely to reach for caffeine or sugary foods to get you through the day and your cortisol levels will be more balanced (higher in the morning and low at night).
- Good nutrition keeps your blood sugar balanced which means your cortisol levels will be lower and you'll sleep better.
So choose the step that is most pertinent to you. If you're constantly struggling to get by on 4-5 hours of sleep every night then start with that. If you constantly feel anxious or frazzled then start by taking steps to manage your stress. My personal preference is to start with nutrition - you see quicker progress which is more motivating - but there's no reason why you can't focus on your nutrition whilst aiming to get to bed 1/2 hour earlier and adding a 5 minute breathing meditation into your schedule.
Step 4 - Movement
There's a big difference between 'movement' and 'exercise'. Exercise is a workout: going to the gym to lift weights or take a spinning class, going for a run or playing squash. Movement is all the other active stuff you do during the day that isn't exercise; going for a leisurely walk, gardening, washing the car etc.
Daily movement (or NEAT - Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) is VERY important. The vast majority of your daily calorie burn will be attributable to NEAT so unless you have an active job, build a daily walk into your schedule, take the stairs rather than the escalator etc.
TIP: Get a pedometer or download an app and slowly build up your daily steps; 50,000 steps/week is a good target.
Step 5 - Exercise
Exercise is a useful tool for weight loss but it's the least important step; you can't out exercise poor nutrition, inadequate sleep and chronic stress.
However, once you've addressed steps 1-4, you're ready to add in some exercise.
It's important that you choose to do something you enjoy otherwise you'll never stick with it. But the best types of exercise for fat loss for women over 40 are:
After the age of 40 women can lose approx 225g of muscle per year and because muscle is more metabolically active, when we lose muscle mass we burn less calories. Strength training also protects your bones against osteoporosis.
Pushing yourself for short, intense periods has been proven to be far more effective for weight loss than exercising at a more moderate rate for a longer period - like running at the same pace for an entire workout.
Step 1 - Good nutrition. Download my 7-Day Kickstart Plan to get you started.
Step 2 - Manage your stress levels. Make time to put yourself first.
Step 3 - Get 7-8 hours sleep every night
Step 4 - Move more. Aim for 50,000 steps per week
Step 5 - Add in some form of exercise that you enjoy.