Is weight gain inevitable as we head into our forties and beyond?
I would argue no, that weight gain is certainly not inevitable, and that a few dietary tweaks can help us to keep a healthy silhouette and a spring in our steps! It’s also worth underlining that aging is quite honestly both a privilege and an honor. Is the premenopausal “fuzz” and an accordion-style stomach really the end of the world in the overall scheme of things?
It’s possibly time to insist that the glass is more than half full as opposed to being barren, empty and wrinkly. It’s also worth pointing out that for graceful aging, the emphasis needs to be much more about staying healthy than rigid weight control. I’d like to be able to run up a hill chasing my grandchildren and finish triumphantly the weekly crossword, but I don’t necessarily want to remain a perfect size 36 (who I am kidding?!) while my bones crumble and my brain turns to soup….
So yes, getting older is definitely about maintaining a healthy weight to allow you to enjoy as full and active a life as possible as opposed to a “text book perfect” weight.
- ALSO READ our profile on Charlotte Debeugny, a no-nonsense nutritionist in Paris and author of this article.
Why do we get fatter as we grow older?
So why do so many people gain weight pre- and post-menopause? Our metabolisms do slow down, but this starts in our late 20s, and at a rate of about 2% per decade, because of loss of bone and muscle mass. For example, a 30 year-old woman who needs 2000 calories a day to maintain a weight will find in her 50s that this falls to about 1850 calories, a difference of only 150 calories.
There’s definitely a hormone-related impact as well. Our hormones are both clever and complex, and changes in our hormone levels can contribute to weight gain. For example, oestrogen is known to be a ‘fat burning’ hormone, and as oestrogen levels fall as we approach menopause, some studies argue that this makes women more prone to fat storage.
There are also more androgens, male hormones, in proportion to oestrogen, which shifts female fat storage from the legs and hips to the stomach, hence the famous “menopausal barrel” shape. And let’s not forgot progesterone — a drop in our progesterone levels contributes to fluid retention and general grumpiness!
Adjust your priorities, cravings and needs
The other factor which can also be thrown in the mix is that just possibly with age, squeezing our dainty behinds into a size 36/38/40 is quite simply no longer the priority when juggling a professional life, stroppy adolescents and aging parents. Rather than strutting our sexy stuff on a dance floor late at night, we prefer to be curled up on a sofa in our comfortable PJs watching the latest Netflix series.
So, what to do? Here are 5 golden rules which I like to think will help give you an edge. They are not extreme battle cries — we can’t after all wage a “war” on aging. These are practical tips, which are actually relevant to any life stage, to gently keep you on track in terms of health, fitness and vitality.
1. Think of your calories like a bank account – spend wisely
We need slightly less calories, but if anything we need more nutrients. It’s a little like being pregnant and having to focus on maximizing your nutrient intake because of the incredible little being growing inside you. Now you need to eat to nourish you. Reduce the high energy, low nutrient food such as alcohol, fizzy drinks, sweets and desserts and replace them with lower energy nutrient dense foods in line with a Mediterranean-style diet such as fish, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Limit the desserts and alcohol to the weekend.
2. Don’t snack – you are not a rabbit!
Unless you have digestive issues or are aged over 70, you truly do not need to snack every few hours. From a weight control perspective, constantly snacking means that you never “run on empty” which forces your body to release stored energy to maintain your blood sugar levels.
Aim to have 4-5 hours between meals and if you do get hungry towards the end of the afternoon, have a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts, not a couple of biscuits.
3. Sitting is the new smoking, so get moving!
Move as much as possible in your day-to-day life – it helps to maintain muscle mass and keep burning energy, albeit small amounts, but every bit helps! While I dream of being able to afford “an active desk”, what I do at home is spend one hour sitting followed by one hour standing upright and working on my ironing board, which is the perfect height to qualify as a standing desk. Aim to achieve the 10,000 steps a day in addition to any exercise sessions you do. Twist, jump, skip, hop – whatever! Just try to ensure that your derriere is not spending 10 hours a day sitting down.
4. Love your vegetables
A study found that eating 7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (vegetables had the slight edge) reduced mortality rates. We consume on average three servings of fruits and vegetables a day in Europe, which is simply not good enough! Additionally, from a weight control perspective, vegetables add bulk without too many calories, helping us to better control portion sizes and satiety.
You simply have no excuse! Add handfuls of spinach to smoothies, serve salads or crudités with every meal, start your meal with a bowl of soup. Try different cooking methods: roast, stir fry, blend, steam – there are so many varieties to choose from and so many different ways to eat them.
Just learn to love them!
5. Watch the alcohol like a hawk
What I have noticed is the rise of the “steady drinker” as opposed to the weekend binge drinking which can happen in our youth (cough!). It’s that steady bottle shared with a partner or friends every night with a little extra at the weekends, holidays, after a bad day, if we are stressed and tired, to celebrate, to commiserate …
People drink for many reasons, but excessive alcohol is not healthy for us. Even that steady “I never get drunk but just enjoy a daily tipple” attitude can disguise a high level of alcohol dependency. There’s an undeniable link with alcohol and certain cancers, even at moderate quantities and the maximum weekly limit set in the UK is 14 units for both men and women — that’s 1½ bottles a week, not 1½ bottles a day.
As for calories, one bottle roughly equals 750 calories. Yup – that’s a lot. And while alcohol may well provide a lot of pleasure, it does not contain any nutrients.
Save the alcohol for the weekends and aim to respect the limits most of the time!
You can do it and stay fabulous for a long time to come!