In part 1 of this blog, I explained why and how your body becomes better at storing fat in your 40s and in Part 2 (this blog), I explain what you can do about it.
In your 40s, as you move through perimenopause, your body starts to become better at storing body fat, especially around the middle (I broke down the biggest reasons for this in part 1 of this blog).
Loss of muscle mass as we age coupled with various metabolic shifts that occur once sex hormones start behaving differently (particularly oestrogen) are the biggest reasons for weight gain in your 40s. Changes start to occur in your metabolism and how efficiently you burn your carbohydrates for fuel vs storing as body fat. Your adrenal glands (your stress response system) and thyroid hormone output can start to change as well.
However, the GOOD NEWS is that some simple diet and lifestyle interventions make a profound difference in preventing or reversing the dreaded perimenopause weight gain!
1) LIFT WEIGHTS
This is simply because lifting weights, also known as strength training, builds muscle and muscle mass is not only the key to a longer, healthier life, it’s crucial for a healthy metabolism and fat burning. You can start by using your own body weight as resistance, such as lunging, squatting, planks, press ups, uphill running or sprinting, and even yoga and walking. Then, when you are ready, start to include lifting, pushing and pulling heavier weights, such as bench press, deadlifts, and barbell squats and lunges. Strength training has been found to have a really favourable effect on your body’s hormones and improve hot flushes, cognition (brain health), mood, insulin sensitivity & blood sugar regulation and to strengthen and protect your bones.
2) EAT ENOUGH PROTEIN
I often get asked for a “perimenopause diet plan” but the absolute number ONE best thing you can do for your weight (and health) goals now is ensure adequate (preferably optimal) protein with each and every meal – including breakfast.
Ensure a minimum of 30g of protein with breakfast, lunch and dinner. “How can I get 30g of protein at breakfast?” I hear you ask. It doesn’t have to be as difficult as it sounds. Switching the focus from fruit, sweet and cereal based foods to savoury foods and meals is the first step. The typical Western style approach to breakfast doesn’t serve your waistline, health and symptoms in your 40s (or ever) so this has to go.
Think ‘dinner for breakfast’ from now on, for example, last night’s dinner heated up, chicken breast or thighs with salad or vegetables, omelettes made with chopped vegetables and smoked salmon or silken tofu, quality chicken sausages or turkey breast burgers, 2 poached eggs with 2 bacon or some chicken, bone broth, homemade chicken liver pate, tinned sardines or mackerel on bread such as the Seedful brand, or a homemade protein smoothie using quality, unflavoured protein powder from Pulsin, Sunwarrior, Form Nutrition or Bulk.com. Then add things like ground flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, coconut oil, avocado, nut butter, leafy greens, and minimal fruit such as a handful of mixed (fresh or frozen) berries.
3) CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CARBS
Whether it’s due to a slower metabolism, increased fat to muscle ratio, being less active or more stressed, we just can’t handle carbs like we used to in our 40s! Sigh. x§Your 40s (and beyond) is not a time to be relying on white flour products such as wraps, bagels, breads and pasta, or cereal-based breakfasts. Diets high in refined carbs like these play havoc with blood sugar balance more than ever before now that your cells are more prone to being resistant to insulin.
Switch the focus over to ‘complex’, fibre-rich carbohydrate sources that break down slowly into glucose and keep insulin under control. This supports/promotes insulin sensitivity. Go for 1 fist size serving per meal of sweet potato and/or other root/starchy vegetable, quinoa, brown or wild rice or buckwheat pasta or noodles. Or 2 fist size servings of beans and lentils. Always balance your carbs with protein and fat. If using bread/toast, use German dark rye or spelt sourdough and keep it to one slice.
4) EAT A NOURISHING, BLOOD SUGAR-FRIENDLY DIET
Perimenopause is NOT a time to restrict calories or specific foods, especially proteins and fats. It’s a time to be really well nourished with ENOUGH calories coming from:
Proteins: chicken, turkey, fish, red meat (grass fed, organic where budget allows), eggs, tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds. 30g + of protein with all 3 meals.
Healthy fats: olive oil, avocados, oily fish (omega 3), coconut, nuts, seeds
Slow-release carbs: root veg, beans, lentils, whole grains
Fibre + plant chemicals: colourful vegetables, berries, flaxseed, herbs, spices, green tea.
Your body needs a constant supply of many important nutrients, including the omega 3 fats DHA and EPA from oily fish, iodine, zinc, B vitamins especially B12, B6 and folate (B9), vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin A (as retinol, which is only found in animal foods), choline, selenium and zinc.
5) MANAGE STRESS
Chronic stress, unmanaged (e.g. where you are not supporting your nervous system to handle it better and keep your stress hormones at bay) means chronically raised cortisol, which means more belly fat storage. Implementing some simple daily habits that counteract the stress response (rebalance cortisol levels) is key now more than ever. Examples of such habits include walking mindfully in nature, 3-5 minutes of deep breathing each morning and night such as the 4:6 or 4-7-8 breathing practices, yoga, qi gong and being aware of things you’re grateful for each day.
6) SUPPORT + PRIORITISE YOUR SLEEP
Sleep isn’t as easy to come by in your 40s as it was in your 20s and 30s. This is in part due to the hormone changes I’ve already mentioned. Low progesterone impacts our ability to fall asleep and or stay asleep, as well as the quality of our sleep. Implementing a completely screen-free hour before heading to bed each night can be game-changing for your sleep. Keep the lights dim and do some relaxing yoga poses or stretches and focus on your breath instead. Read a book (under dim light), or do some gratitude journaling or ‘brain dump’ of your day and to-do list for tomorrow.
7) REDUCE (BETTER STILL AVOID) ALCOHOL
Alcohol needs to be detoxified immediately once it hits the liver and it pushes its way to the front of the queue, shoving oestrogen to the back. Studies have found moderate alcohol consumption to be associated with elevations in oestrogen, which increases body fat. So, really consider whether that extra glass of wine or G&T is worth it or not. For me, alcohol just isn’t worth it and I’ve chosen to go without completely. I understand that this isn’t for everyone, but even a small reduction and just being more mindful, can make a big difference.
In summary, weight gain in your 40s needs a different approach to the typical (and old school) ways of addressing weight loss. Simply exercising more and eating less aren’t going to cut it and in fact are likely to have the opposite (and a detrimental) effect. If you’ve read my previous blogs or if you’re part of my Instagram or email community then you hopefully understand and appreciate this already. I hope these 7 points bring you a sense of clarity and direction. Pick the point that resonates with you the most right now, the one you just KNOW you need to start working on first. Once you’ve mastered it (don’t rush it), move onto another point, and so on. You may be able to tick one or more of them off as mastered already, which is great!