Weight Gain With Aging: What’s A Girl To Do?

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By Heather Reichert, RD, CDE
Registered Dietitian & Team Beachbody Coach

 

Throughout my 12 years as a registered dietitian, I have counseled numerous clients regarding weight loss who came in saying, “All this weight came on after I hit 40 (or 50)”.  In fact, many women would even come in prior to having a hysterectomy to get “prepared” for the dreaded weight gain that they had heard so much about.  So, why is this such a problem?  We aren’t doing anything differently, so why, all of a sudden, does our body rebel?  The answer actually lies in the question.  The answer is… because we AREN’T doing anything differently.

As women age, hormones change.  The “change” affects the reproductive system but that is not where it stops.  These hormonal changes trigger a loss of muscle, usually starting around age forty.  By age fifty, this muscle loss begins occurring at a much faster rate.  This sign of aging is known as sarcopenia.  Sarcopenia actually means vanishing flesh.  Nice, right?  Women frequently get checked for osteopenia after menopause, but sarcopenia often goes unaddressed.  This is a huge problem in our aging population that does not get near enough attention.  Weak muscles can cause just as many, if not more, injuries as weak bones.

Now, you might be asking, “But, what about the whole muscle weighs more than fat thing?  If I am losing muscle, then shouldn’t I be LOSING weight, not gaining it?”  The problem is that even though these changes are occurring to our muscles, we are not making changes in our diet.  Even though our body is changing, we aren’t changing the way we are feeding it.

Did you know that muscle is significantly more metabolically active than fat?  That means that it burns more calories at a resting state than fat does.  So, if you are still eating the same way that you were when you were in your thirties and wondering why you are gaining weight in your forties or fifties, this is why.  You aren’t burning as many calories on a regular basis as you were prior to the loss of muscle.  So, those excess calories that are not used, get stored as fat.

The fat distribution after menopause is often around the abdominal region.  This is what is sometimes referred to as an “apple” shape.  This distribution of fat is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

So, now what?

Well, if muscle is being lost, then we must work harder to replace and maintain it, right?  This is why it is so important to incorporate resistance or weight-bearing activities throughout your life.  Lifting weights or using resistance aids in maintaining and/or increasing your muscle mass.  This muscle mass is what is going to help keep your metabolism fired up as well as help you to burn more calories and keep your weight under control.

Here are a few tips to get you through this change…

1)   Eat balanced meals and snacks every 2-3 hours.  When you eat 3 meals a day and 2-3 snacks, your appetite will be more controlled.  Have you ever gone all day without eating?  What happens when you actually sit down for the next meal?  It is a recipe for disaster.  In short, we make poorer food choices the hungrier we are.

2)   Make physical activity part of your daily life.  You wouldn’t wake up in the morning and view brushing your teeth as “optional”, would you?  Of course not!  Don’t let physical activity be optional either.  It is simply THAT important.  And don’t forget to add in that resistance training.  Incorporating weights/bands into your fitness regimen will work wonders!

3)   Keep track of your food intake.  There are so many wonderful apps out there now for your smart phone that this should really be easy for you to do.  If you aren’t tracking what you are eating, then you have no idea what areas need improvement.  It can be awfully surprising when you look at your intake at the end of the day.

4)   Surround yourself with support.  It is often difficult to go through change alone.  It is always easier to navigate a new course when you have the support of others.

5)   Don’t give up!  Obstacles will present themselves, but don’t let them get you down.  Stay the course and you will see results!

To your health!

Comments

  1. Becky wood on April 1, 2014 at 7:16 pm said:

    I work with Leigh klatt and we were having conversation about working out and dieting and she introduced me to your website. This particular article caught my attention as it describes my situation perfectly. Really am enjoying reading the site. Thanks!!!

    • heather on April 24, 2014 at 7:44 pm said:

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Becky! I love Leigh and she is totally rocking Les Mills Pump right now! Are you looking into doing a program that incorporates some resistance training?

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