Weight Loss After 40 -- Why It's So Hard, and What Works

A 10-step plan to win the battle of the bulge

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Every year, it seems, the needle on the scale is a little harder to budge. You cut back on portion size; you say, "No, thank you," to dessert; you sign up for a Zumba class -- and yet your jeans size goes up and your energy level goes down. What's going on?

Starting in our early 40s, our bodies go through a series of changes that profoundly affect digestion, metabolism, and other bodily functions. Thanks to hormonal and other changes, the very growth rate of our cells slows down. It's just something we have to learn to work around.

Sometimes, though, something's gotten off track, metabolically speaking, and there's an underlying medical issue that needs to be dealt with before the usual weight-loss measures will have any effect. Here's a 10-step plan for understanding the challenges that prevent weight loss over 40, and for learning how to overcome them.

1. Get to know your body's new biological rhythms -- and adjust to them.

In long-ago times, older didn't necessarily mean plumper. Think of those icons of the American prairie, the sinewy pitchfork-wielding farm couple pictured in American Gothic. But today, those of us over 40 face a twofold challenge: We're living longer, and we're no longer out there milking the cows at 5 a.m.

When it comes to burning calories, it's a fairly simple equation. What goes in must be burned off, or it sticks to our ribs. Acquiring weight is absurdly easy -- eating just 100 extra calories a day (100 more than what your body burns) will lead to a 9- to 10-pound weight gain over the course of a year, experts say. How much is 100 calories? Not a lot: A can of Coke contains 155 calories, a chocolate bar more than 200. Of course, that cola or chocolate chip cookie is no problem if we're walking or running it off. But after 40, our activity level tends to decline, too. So the challenge is to bring the two into balance.

Look back over the past year, and think about when your weight seemed to be holding steady and when it seemed to be trending slowly upward. What were you doing during the good weeks? What sabotaged you the other times? Make a list of what works for you, and what throws you off. Your own healthy habits in the past are the ones most likely to work for you now.