You're eating just like you have been all your life, but your jeans aren't quite fitting the same anymore. You suddenly feel like you "lost control" but you have no idea when or how or why.
It's okay! you have not let yourself go, and you are not doomed to be in a battle with diet and weight for the rest of your life!
There are a number of changes that go on in your body during this time that can work against you. One of the main reasons for middle aged weight gain is hormonal changes. For the ladies, during peri-menopause (the period leading to menopause), progesterone levels decline and estrogen levels remain relatively the same. This estrogen dominance slows down the metabolism, contributing to easier weight gain. Men experience lowered testosterone levels, which is linked to weight gain. These hormonal imbalances, paired with other prices of aging like decreased muscle mass, higher stress levels, and decreased activity levels are all part of the recipe for unwanted weight gain.
Good news, you can outsmart these dispositions and achieve a healthy relationship with your weight, your body, and your diet. Here are the 5 most effective strategies for taking control of your weight and your health as you get older:
1. Focus on clean foods
You might feel like you used to get away with eating junk every day. The truth is, no one really "gets away with it". Poor nutrition has consequences, it just isn't always weight gain. Transitioning your diet to one that focuses on whole, non-processed foods will make a drastic impact on the way you feel, the way you look, and the way you live.
2. Eat more protein
Not only does protein support muscle mass maintenance and growth (which diminishes as we age), protein revs up our metabolism and burns more calories when digested than fat and carbohydrates. Having a protein-rich breakfast within an hour of waking up, and including some with each meal/snack is optimal for reduced cravings and easier weight loss. Foods that are high in protein include eggs, fish, meat, and legumes. Higher protein intake can also help balance out your hormones, which are at the root of the weight gain issue.
3. Catch some Z's!
Yes, spending more time in bed is a huge factor for weight loss. There's a catch, it's not enough to just lay in your bed, you need to be getting enough deep sleep. Here's the obvious: when you're short on sleep, you are not as motivated to make healthy choices (like cooking a healthy meal, going to the gym, skipping the option of a sugary latte at 3pm). Your brain's frontal lobe, which is responsible for decision-making, becomes dampened when we are short on sleep. Like being drunk, the mental clarity is just not there.
Second, and less obvious, is that lack of sleep throws off two hormones, Ghrelin and Leptin, which are responsible for telling us when we are hungry and when we are full. Our hunger hormone, Ghrelin, is heightened when short on sleep. In addition, the hormone that tells us we are full is decreased, making you even MORE inclined to overeat. Aim for 7 to 9 hours each night of good quality sleep. Make sure the environment you sleep in is supportive of a good night's sleep as well!
4. Stress less
Our stress hormone, cortisol (which also increases with lack of sleep) is linked to higher fat in the midsection. Excessive stress can also affect your body's ability to regulate blood sugar, which is highly involved in the weight control equation. Of course it's difficult to simply "stress less"; but while you can't necessarily change the things that are stressing you out, you CAN change the way you handle and react to the circumstances. Spend more time practicing self care and decompressing in a healthy way at the end of the day. You will feel much less "short fused" and be able to handle stressful events much more calmly. Meditation has also shown to be extremely effective in the reduction of stress, depression, and even physical ailments. All you need is 10 minutes a day and an open mind.
5. Invest in your muscles
The more muscle mass you have on your body, the more revved up your metabolism and the more calories you burn every day. Resistance training will help to put on more muscle mass, AND this type of exercise continues to burn more calories AFTER your workout. In terms of fat loss, resistance training is a much better investment of your time than cardio (unless you truly enjoy straight cardio). If you're doing weight training, use weight that you can lift for at least 8 reps, but feels challenging to do 12 reps. No need to get fancy, just stick to basic compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, lunges, etc. If weights aren't for you then try pilates, barre, or yoga which use bodyweight exercises.
Finally, as a bonus tip, and an extremely important one at that, is to realize that you are beautiful at any size. It's okay to want to change your body. It's okay to wish to lose excess weight in order to become healthier and feel more comfortable. But do it while loving yourself all the way through.