How to Lose Weight Before and After 40
Stay slim and energized with our age-specific diet, exercise, sleep and tech recs.
Buffer “Bad” Foods
Simply put, eat kale first, french fries last—if you have any room left. Prioritizing veggies and protein at the beginning of a meal not only guarantees a nutrient-rich diet but also fights weight gain. “Eating processed carbs last can lower the hunger-stimulating effect of a dip in blood sugar that typically occurs after a processed carb-rich meal,” says Alpana Shukla, MD, the director of clinical research for the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine in NYC.
Let Tech Trim You
There’s something about cold, hard data that keeps you honest. “Tracking what you eat and how much you exercise can help you spot problematic patterns and find ways to improve your health,” says Brie Turner-McGrievy, PhD, RD, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Apps including Cronometer and Lose It! win a thumbs-up, as do devices like the Garmin Vívofit, Apple Watch and Fitbit.
If you’re standing in front of a vending machine or your pantry pondering what to eat, you’ve already lost the battle. “Willpower is a finite resource,” explains Susan Peirce Thompson, PhD, author of Bright Line Eating. “When you’ve been making decisions all day, your brain may be overworked by the time you’re trying to figure out what to eat. That’s why you’re less likely to be able to resist tempting foods.” The solution: Plan ahead (for the day or week) whenever possible.
Know That Diet Isn’t Everything
Get to that Spin class! “If you reduce calorie intake and lose weight without exercising, up to 35% of the weight you lose could consist of muscle,” warns exercise physiologist Richard Weil, director of the Mount Sinai St Luke’s Weight Loss Program in NYC. “That’s bad news for your metabolism.” Cardio will minimize muscle loss, and resistance training can build muscle.
Decrease Your Downtime
All those CrossFit sessions don’t make it okay to sit for hours afterward. Sedentary pockets of time are still bad for you. “Food consumed by an inactive body is likely to be stored as fat,” says Marc Hamilton, PhD, director of the Texas Obesity Research Center at the University of Houston. While scientists are still researching how active you need to be to fight fat storage, one thing’s for sure: “If you’re inactive more than you’re active, you’re on the wrong side of the seesaw,” says Hamilton.
Go to Sleep Already!
Unless you’re up late watching Game of Thrones to avoid spoilers tomorrow—we totally get it—head to bed. “Not getting enough sleep is associated with hunger and increases your risk for obesity,” says Neil Kline, DO, a spokesperson for the American Sleep Association. Blame your hormones for this one: With sleep loss, leptin drops and ghrelin rises, making you more likely to eat. Clock your seven to nine hours and tip the scale in your favor.
Perimenopausal hormonal changes can disrupt sleep patterns. “This may make you tired during the day and impact hormones that influence your appetite,” explains Neil Kline, DO, a spokesperson for the American Sleep Association. Quick naps (think 30 minutes) can re-energize you. When naps aren’t possible, improve your sleep hygiene: Limit caffeine to mornings, take your bedroom temperature down to between 60 and 67 degrees and practice relaxation techniques like meditation.
Up the Cardio
As hormones fluctuate during the transition to menopause, women are more likely to gain body fat, especially in the abdominal area, according to experts. The most effective type of exercise to blast ab fat is cardio. To slim down, you’ll need more than 2.5 hours of moderate activity (like brisk walks) or more than 75 minutes of vigorous activity (like running) per week.
Monitor Your Meds
Oh, what a bitter pill: Medication you take to feel better can make you feel worse—thanks to excess pounds. “Many antidepressants, steroids, antihistamines and beta blockers can be culprits,” says New Orleans–based obesity researcher Donna Ryan, MD. “Talk to your doctor about alternatives. Some are weight neutral or may even produce weight loss.”
Build Some Lean Muscle
Combining cardio with strength work is very effective at improving your overall shape—so don’t spend every workout on the treadmill only. “You can experience sarcopenia, the loss of muscle with age,” says exercise physiologist Richard Weil, director of the Mount Sinai St Luke’s Weight Loss Program in NYC. “Cardio will break down muscle and lower your resting metabolism.” Bring it back up by getting strength training into the mix.
Shrink Your Eating Window
If you eat dinner early (finish by 6 p.m.) and “breakfast” later (around noon), you’ll expand the time between your last and first meals, a form of intermittent fasting. This practice, which isn’t new but has been getting a lot of buzz, requires a 12- to 18-hour window of not eating to boost your fat burn. It’s an easy way to limit calories without counting them, says registered dietitian Julieanna Hever, RD, author of the The Vegiterranean Diet. Research suggests it may help prevent diseases like diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Talk to your MD before getting started.
As we get older, we’re more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition that can lead to weight gain. “Make sure you have your annual physical and get a comprehensive blood test that includes the full thyroid panel,” suggests Alpana Shukla, MD, director of clinical research for the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine in NYC. Treatment may help you get rid of extra pounds.
Eat. More. Fiber.
Your metabolism is slowing down but your hunger may not be. Feel fuller by upping your fiber intake with whole grains, legumes, fruits and veggies.