6 Things You Must Do To Lose Weight Over 40

June 6, 2017
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With age comes many things: greater wisdom; deeper empathy; a greater sense of knowing who you are; and less happily, the very real possibility of a bigger pants size.

Starting in your 40s, it's easier than ever for the pounds to creep on—and tougher to take them off. Thanks to a slowing metabolism you could be burning 300 fewer calories per day than you did in your early 20s, according to the American Council on Exercise. What's more, falling estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause (which begin in your early 40s) can cause insulin sensitivity, which makes it harder for your body to control the amount of sugar in your blood, says Caroline Cederquist, MD, a board-certified bariatric surgeon and founder of the meal delivery service BistroMD. This can make your blood sugar levels more prone to spiking and crashing, which can increase your urge to snack—especially on high-carb, sugary junk, Cederquist says.

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Put it together, and it's no wonder so many women over 40 end up hitting a weight loss wall. But it doesn't have to be that way. With a few smart moves, you can outsmart your slowing metabolism and get lean—for good.

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Remember the golden rules of weight loss.

Sure, some things change after 40. But the basic tenets of successful weight loss stay the same, no matter how old you are. Before you take steps to ageproof your diet plan, it's a good idea to brush up on the basics.

  • You need to eat less. It doesn't matter if all you eat is grilled chicken, brown rice, and broccoli. If you don't cut back on your portions, you won't lose weight. Everyone's calorie needs are different, but in general, a woman eating 2,000 calories per day should aim to cut back by 400 to 500 calories, recommends Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color. (These 5 simple ways to cut 500 calories can help.)
  • You should aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Those drop-a-dress-size-in-a-week plans are tempting. But the slow and steady approach is more sustainable since you're more likely to build healthy habits (like exercising more and eating more veggies) that will help you stay leaner in the long term.
  • Skipping meals will mess with your metabolism. When you skip breakfast or dinner, it tells your body to squirrel away calories instead of burning them. Skipping meals also increases the chances that your blood sugar will crash, leaving you ravenous for a quick energy hit in the form of sugary carbs, Cederquist says.

MORE: 4 Painful Lessons I Learned When I Quit Snacking For A Month

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Rethink your nutrients.

Keeping your carbs in check—especially the refined kind—can help combat age-related insulin resistance and promote steady blood sugar levels, Cederquist says. Adding more protein to your diet can also help. Not only does the nutrient help stave off age-related muscle loss, but it also helps keep your metabolism revved, because the body has to work harder to digest it than, say, a bagel, Cederquist says. How much of each nutrient you consume each time you eat matters, too. In a perfect world each meal and snack should have:

  • Vegetables or fruit: Fill half of your plate with these. They’re high in fiber and water, so they'll take up lots of space in your stomach without contributing too many calories to your diet.
  • Lean protein: Your plate should have a serving that’s about the size of your palm. Good sources include Greek yogurt, eggs, chicken, and fish. (Try these 5 one-dish fish recipes to keep mealtime interesting.)
  • Complex carbohydrates: Your plate should have a serving that’s the size of your closed fist. Whole grains, beans, fresh fruit, and starchy veggies (like sweet potatoes) are all good choices.
  • Healthy fats: These can add up quickly when you're trying to lose weight, so it's worth measuring your fats. Aim for 7 to 10 grams every time you eat. That’s 1½ tsp of olive oil, a quarter of an avocado, or two tablespoons of nuts or seeds.

MORE: 5 Totally Unexpected Ways To Eat Avocado

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Eat fewer calories, more frequently.

Increased insulin resistance might leave you feeling hungrier. Dividing up your food into three moderately sized meals and one to two small snacks will keep your blood sugar levels steady while combatting the urge to nibble on junk, Largeman-Roth says. Piling your plate with more low-calorie, high-volume foods—like fruits and vegetables—can help fill you up, too. (These 20 low-calorie salads that won't leave you hungry fit the nutritional bill.)

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Be choosy with your treats.

Sadly, you can't scarf down burgers and chocolate shakes like you did in your 20s and expect to lose weight. But you can still enjoy your favorite foods. You just might need to save them for when you really have a hankering—and say goodbye to the treats that fall lower on your list of craveables. Instead of mindlessly dipping into that bag of chips just because it's there, think about what would truly satisfy you. Is it chips or are you actually craving something else? If you decide the chips are worth the calories, then help yourself to a small serving, and savor every bite. (That means no mindless munching in front of the TV.)

MORE: 25 Sugar-Free Ways To Beat A Craving

As for how often you should indulge? Everyone is different, and it really depends on your weight loss goals. So figure out what works for you. "Some women do great with a 100 to 150 calorie treat every day, but others find that they need to keep it to two to three times per week," says Cederquist.

One thing to keep in mind? Alcohol counts as a treat, so don't let yourself go overboard. "You could fit two to four glasses of wine per week into a weight loss program," Largeman-Roth says. Just make a point to stick to the five-ounce recommended serving size, since it can be easy to over-pour when you don't pay attention. And yes, if you enjoy a glass with dinner, it means you should skip out on that piece of chocolate for dessert. (If mixed drinks are more your thing, don't miss these 8 low-calorie cocktails—that actually taste good.)

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Move more.

It's hard to lose weight through diet alone, especially after 40, when hormones like testosterone tend to dip. As a result, calorie-torching muscle mass, along with the numbers of calories your body burns during exercise, starts to take a nosedive, says Cederquist.

(Tighten your tummy and tone every inch in just minutes a day with these exclusive ballet-inspired routines from Prevention's Flat Belly Barre!)

Getting the recommended 30 minutes of daily activity is a good start, but now's the time to ramp things up even more by also working in at least 10,000 daily steps. Adding in four to five weekly resistance training sessions can help you maintain your muscle mass and burn even more calories, Largeman-Roth says. (Here's why weight-lifting is the best workout if you're 40+.)

Know yourself, and be honest.

Being over 40 doesn't automatically mean that you now have to cut out certain foods to get (or stay) slim—unless you know deep down that a food is truly getting in the way of your goals. "If having a square of chocolate leads to eating an entire bag of chocolate, having a square of chocolate does not work for you," Cederquist says. (Regain control with these 6 tips to stop overeating.)

In other words? If certain foods seem to open the floodgates for you without fail, it might be better to steer clear altogether and stick with treats that don't trigger a binge. It might feel tough at first. But instead of seeing it as deprivation, reframe your decision as a choice—and a positive one at that. "Acknowledge that these foods don't work for you and the health goals that are important to you," Cederquist says.

5 Reasons Why Most Supplements are a Waste of Time and Money

The majority of adults in the United States report taking a dietary supplement on a regular basis or every day. Heavy use patterns add up, and Americans now spend more than $30 billion per year on dietary supplements. But just because the masses are spending mad amounts of money on increasingly dubious products doesn’t mean YOU have to as well! Here are five reasons why most dietary supplements are a waste of your time and money.

1.) You Don’t Need Supplements

Have you ever had a friend who eats fast food, but balances it out by adding a diet soda? Just like diet soda doesn’t undo poor food choices, dietary supplements don’t replace wise meal and snack patterns. As their name implies, supplements are intended to supplement—not replace—healthy and wholesome food choices.

Of course, it’s easier to pop a pill than it is to put together a balanced plate of lean protein foods, fresh produce and whole grains. However, the vast majority of healthy adults can—and should—obtain all of the nutrients they need from food alone.

There certainly are circumstances when a dietary supplement is indicated, but these usually have to do with treating a diagnosed nutrient deficiency. Here are some situations where a supplement may be useful:

  • Iron supplements if diagnosed with iron deficiency
  • Prenatal vitamins with folic acid before and during pregnancy
  • Vitamin B12 for vegans and older adults with low B12 levels
  • Calcium and vitamin D for those at risk for or who have osteoporosis
  • Fluoride for older infants living in areas where municipal water supply isn’t fluoridated
  • Vitamin K in a single prophylactic dose for newborn infants to prevent bleeding
  • Omega-3 fatty acids for people at risk for heart disease who don’t consume fish

2.) Some Supplements Can Cause Toxicity

In an environment where “more” is often perceived as being “better,” consumers tend to think that if a supplement provides 100% of their needs, then something that provides 1000% must be 10 times better. The truth is, it doesn’t work that way with supplements.

There is no data that supports megadosing of supplements for health outcomes. (Megadosing is generally considered to be the practice of consuming 10 times or more the recommended amount of a vitamin or mineral supplement.) When taken in high doses, some fat-soluble vitamin supplements like vitamin A can cause harm by building up to toxic levels in the body. And even water-soluble vitamins (which is excreted through urine if you consume too much) can still have negative effects on your body. For example, the water-soluble nutrient vitamin C can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal discomfort if consumed at high levels.

If you do take vitamin and/or mineral supplements, it is wise to stay below the Institute of Medicine’s Tolerable Upper Intake Levels. These upper levels tell you the maximum daily intake you should ingest and are based on available research.

Supplements can also harm people who have certain underlying health conditions, or who take prescription medications for those conditions. For example, someone taking the blood thinner Coumadin could experience serious harm from high levels of vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting.

The effectiveness of seemingly run-of-the-mill medications can be altered if taken in conjunction with certain supplements. For example, oral contraception for birth control can be rendered inactive if taken with the supplement St. John’s wort. St. John’s wort can also interfere with other medications, including antidepressants, causing them not to work as intended.

Pregnant and nursing women should be especially cautious with supplements, including herbal supplements. While taking a prenatal vitamin with iron and folic acid is always a good idea during pregnancy, the ability of other agents in supplements to cross the placenta or be transmitted through breast milk can pose a threat to an unborn baby or infant. Most supplement products have not been tested on populations such as pregnant and nursing women or infants and small children, and individuals in these groups should avoid taking them.

3.) Supplements Don’t Prevent Disease

Although supplements are often confused with drugs, supplements are not drugs. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—the agency tasked with oversight of the supplement industry—supplements are, “Not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure diseases.”

If you read the fine print on your supplement bottle, you should find that exact FDA statement. But supplement manufacturers take great liberty in their marketing of these products, often implying the relationship between their supplements and a particular performance outcome or health benefit.

While there are certain health claims that some supplements can carry, these claims are few and far between, and apply to just a small fraction of the actual supplements sold every year. You can become an informed consumer and see if the supplement you are taking has an FDA-qualified health claim, or if it boasts the more common but less rigorous structure-function claim. Check out the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements for research briefs to learn which supplement claims are really worth listening to.

4.) Active Ingredients and Amounts are Often Unknown

If you are a supplement user, take a look at the supplements that you take. Ask yourself, “Why am I taking this supplement? Is there evidence-based data to support this supplement’s use? Is there an established body of peer-reviewed published literature that proves this supplement works?” And lastly, “Do I even know if what it says is in the bottle is actually in the supplement bottle?”

That last question brings us to the next point about why most supplements are a waste of time and money: Supplement manufacturers do not have to disclose the amounts of ingredients, or sometimes even the exact ingredients in their products. A well-known supplement industry practice is to hide behind the term “proprietary blend.” Citing protection of secret ingredients and formulas, manufacturers are not required to divulge how much, or even what is in the bottles they are selling.

To recognize actual health benefits, some supplement products go so far as to include prescription drugs in their supplement ingredients. Red yeast rice extract, which purports to control cholesterol, has actually been found to contain statins. Statins are prescription drugs that should not be included or sold in over-the-counter supplement products. This supplement helps lower cholesterol, but only because it includes a prescription drug that was developed to lower cholesterol.

On the other end of the spectrum, some herbal ingredients have been found to not contain any active ingredients at all.

5.) Natural Means Nothing

In the supplement world, there is no legally defensible definition for the term “natural.” In fact, when it comes to the natural products industry, the word “natural” more often than not means nothing. The perception of a natural supplement product is that it is not artificially fabricated. This is highly ironic given that the vast majority of dietary supplements are synthetically created in a laboratory environment and likely do not contain any natural, plant-based or nonsynthetic ingredients.

Other marketing jargon and catchphrases frequently used to sell supplements include “prescription strength,” “high potency” and “medical grade.” As with the word “natural,” these terms mean nothing for you—just more profits for supplement manufacturers.

When it comes to sports supplements, most are just as unnecessary as are herbal products. While there is some data to support the use of creatine in sporting events that require bursts of speed, pounding a protein shake after your workout does not by itself build muscle. Dietary protein plays a role in muscle recovery, but it is the repetitive motion and stress on those muscles over time that builds mass—not your protein drink.

Supplement Summary

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the vast array of dietary and sports supplements available in the marketplace. But just because you haven’t heard of a particular “cutting edge” supplement—or you can’t pronounce it’s name—does not mean you need to buy it. Exceptional athletic performance and optimal health come from hard work and a body fueled by good food, not expensive and worthless lotions, potions and pills.

Katie FerraroKatie Ferraro Contributor

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RDN, CDE is a consultant dietitian and diabetes educator specializing in nutrition communications and family feeding. As a mom to 5 small children and creator of the popular blog The Fortified Family, Katie believes that good food fuels strong families. You can read more of her work at www.fortifiedfam.com 

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