Turning 40 is an empowering experience that comes with a whole lot of hard-earned wisdom and life lessons. And there are plenty of examples of women in their 40s who got stronger and healthier than ever. That said, it *can* be tougher to move the needle during this phase of your life.
Why? In your 40s, you start to lose muscle mass, which changes the composition of your body, says Keri Peterson, MD, an internal medicine physician. 'Having higher muscle mass raises your metabolism, so your body burns more calories,' she adds. If you're losing muscle mass, your metabolism will start to slow down and you expend fewer calories.
Menopause can also slow your metabolism, Dr. Peterson notes. While it might not take full effect for some women until their 50s, perimenopause—a.k.a., the transitional period right before—typically starts in your 40s. As a result, the hormonal changes that come with it can affect your ability to lose weight.
So, yes, it is easier to gain weight once you turn 40, explains Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, the author of The Superfood Swap. The good news is you can still achieve your weight loss goals with some manageable techniques.
Meet the experts: Laura Purdy, MD, is a family medicine physician in Nashville, Tennessee. Keri Peterson, MD, is an internal medicine physician based in New York City. Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, is a Chicago-based nutritionist and the author of The Superfood Swap. Ellen Regenbogen of Ellen Bari Fitness is a certified master trainer based in the Blue Bell area of Pennsylvania. De Bolton, CPT, is an NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and weight-loss specialist of FaithFueled Mom. Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, is a Sparta, New Jersey-based nutrition and diabetes expert. Sarah Mirkin, RDN, is the author of Fill Your Plate Lose the Weight and is based in Beverly Hills, California.
That said, the main focus should be on developing habits that will help you build or maintain your muscle mass. 'The most effective way that women over 40 can boost their metabolism is by building muscle through weight lifting and resistance training,' says Dr. Peterson (more on that in a sec!). But nutrition, hydration, sleep habits, and stress reduction also play a major role here, adds Laura Purdy, MD, a family medicine physician in Nashville, Tennessee. 'Start with small steps, listen to your body, and meet your body where it is. Then make goals from there.'
These 10 expert-backed tips for losing weight in your 40s can nudge your body in the right direction again. (TBH, they're wise for anyone looking to move the needle to keep in mind—not just those over 40.)
1. If you’re new to fitness, start slowly and don’t overdo it
Ready to build a new fitness routine, but not sure where to start? There are plenty of ways to get moving at home, says Ellen Regenbogen, of Ellen Bari Fitness.
'You can actually do some cardio in place,' she says, like high-knees, sidestepping, or jumping jacks. And, don't worry about trying to do everything at once: 'It's just making that first step,' Regenbogen says.
Walking and daily stretching is also highly recommended, says Dr. Purdy. Do your best to move your body (in any form you enjoy!) for 30 minutes five times a week, she adds.
Just be careful not to overexercise. You may be super committed to your goal of dropping a few pounds, but remember rest days are important too. 'I see this mistake so often, and it backfires every time,' says Mirkin. 'Your body perceives this as a major stressor and your metabolism slows down to preserve body fat.' Craving a break? Take it—your bod will thank you.
2. Be sure to incorporate strength training
Remember: Strength training is key here! Again, if you’re new to all this, adding some strength training to your routine could be as simple as grabbing some water bottles and trying a few biceps curls, arm circles, or lateral extensions, Bolton says.
Or, try incorporating a total body strength routine to your existing workout around one to two days a week, suggests De Bolton, a NASM-certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and weight loss specialist, of FaithFueled Mom.
You could also focus on individual muscle groups, within a workout split, per Bolton: 'Break it up—leg day; back and biceps; chest, shoulder, triceps; and then on the other two days add cardio and core.' This routine checks every box: It has strength training to build muscle, cardio to maintain your cardiovascular health, and core exercises to help with balance and mobility, she says.
3. Eat more protein—and veggies
Your body has to work harder (meaning it burns more calories) digesting protein than it does fat or carbs, so Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, a nutrition and diabetes expert, recommends upping your protein intake. 'Although I don’t promote very high-protein diets, increasing your protein intake from 15 percent of your total calories to 30 percent can help you boost the calories your body burns during digestion,' she says.
Clinical trials have also found that a high-protein diet can not only help with weight loss, but it can also help you keep it off, according to a 2020 review published in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome. That's because it increases your satiety and energy expenditure.
Aim to incorporate 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal, suggests Sarah Mirkin, RDN, the author of Fill Your Plate Lose the Weight. 'It’s important to take in that amount of protein at all your meals, and ideally include high-protein snacks as well,' Mirkin says. 'This helps prevent lean muscle protein breakdown that decreases muscle mass percentage, increases fat percentage, and slows the metabolic rate.'
Another pro tip? Load up on the fruit and veggies. Vegetables in particular are generally low in cals, yet still packed with vitamins and minerals, and you can really go to town on them. 'These are rich in fibre, which makes you feel full, and they're nutrient-dense,' says Dr. Peterson. In fact, increased consumption of fruits and veggies is consistently linked to weight loss in women, per a 2020 study in Nutrients.
Making produce the star of your meals can help with portion control too, notes Palinski-Wade. 'If you aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, it can help you reduce the amount of other foods you eat while feeling just as satisfied,' she explains. 'And since vegetables provide few calories, this strategy can reduce your overall calorie intake at each meal, helping to promote weight loss.'
While a calorie deficit can aid in weight loss, always speak to a GP or a health professional before considering one, to affirm exactly what an ideal calorie deficit for you is, and whether implementing one is safe.
4. Consider meal timing
What you eat in the a.m. can set the tone for the rest of your day as far as weight loss goes. 'A breakfast rich in lean protein, fibre, and plant-based fats is the best option for curbing hunger and cravings later in the day,' notes Palinski-Wade. In other words, start off with a breakfast that fits this bill, and you may end up consuming fewer calories throughout the rest of the day.
On the flip side, watch what you eat at night. It's a myth that eating at night leads to weight gain, Palinski-Wade says; it's more about what you're eating at night that can be an issue when it comes to weight management. 'Since most of us don’t have a salad for a midnight snack, if you find you tend to eat calorie-dense, high-sugar foods in the evening (like a bowl of ice cream), setting guidelines as to when to stop eating may help you to lose weight faster,' Palinski-Wade suggests.
5. Eat slowly and mindfully
That delicious plate of food you just ordered or cooked up might tempt you to eat it in just a few bites, but that's not the best idea, says Palinski-Wade. 'Eating slowly, eliminating distractions at meals, and even putting your fork down in between bites all allow you to get in touch with your body’s satiety signals and to stop eating when satisfied,' she says.
There's science to support this. Some researchers think that having food in your mouth longer may promote the release of gut hormones that reduce appetite, according to a 2022 Nutrition Bulletin meta-analysis.
The key is listening to your body. 'Eat when you’re hungry, not starved,' Mirkin says—and stop when you are satisfied, not stuffed. 'Try to include small, frequent meals that are high in protein and vegetables with a small amount of healthy fat to fuel your body evenly throughout the day,' she says.
6. Try to reduce stress and prioritise sleep
Stress, which plenty of women experience more of as they age and work and family responsibilities pile up, can lead to an increase in hormones like cortisol, which cause your body to store fat rather than burning it.
To minimise your stress, Palinski-Wade suggests practicing breathing exercises every day, especially before bed. Another option? Eat foods rich in vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids, which Palinski-Wade says have been found to reduce the levels of stress hormones circulating in the body.
Prioritising sleep is also a must when it comes to stress reduction, but difficulty sleeping can be a symptom of menopause, so it's not uncommon for women in their 40s to struggle with getting enough shut-eye. Unfortunately, this can also cause weight gain. 'When you get less than seven hours of restful sleep, metabolic changes occur that can make it significantly harder to lose weight,' says Palinski-Wade. 'The appetite hormone ghrelin is increased while leptin (which controls hunger cues) is reduced, triggering an increased desire to eat, especially foods rich in fat and sugar. Insulin resistance increases, which can trigger the body to store fat,' she explains.
7. Stay hydrated
You've probably heard this one before, but try your best to drink more water to aid weight loss. Increased water intake can suppress your appetite and ramp up fat breakdown, research shows.
At a minimum, you should drink 2L or eight cups of water a day. And if you’re exercising, you’ll likely need even more. But, there are lots of other factors that could affect how much H2O you really need, so it's a good idea to set personal #hydrationgoals.
Looking for some fun sips that aren’t plain H20? Naturally flavoured water with as little added sugar as possible is expert-approved, as are these weight loss drinks. Regenbogen also suggests sipping on some hot water with lemon.
8. But cut down on fizzy drinks and alcohol
'Fizzy drinks are just empty calories from sugar and provides no nutritional benefit,' says Palinski-Wade. In fact, drinking these bubbly beverages was directly linked to weight gain, even for people who exercise on the reg, in a 2020 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Weight loss aside, drinking simple sugars is bad for your health too because it can spike blood sugar and insulin levels, causing your body to store more fat, Palinski-Wade says—and that fat is tougher to shed over 40.
You should also scale back your alcohol consumption. It's an easy way to cut calories and you'll be doing it for your long-term health, too. Even moderate alcohol consumption may cancel out the beneficial effects of weight loss in premenopausal women with obesity, evidence has shown. 'Plus, drinking often leads to making poor food choices,' notes Dr. Peterson.
The emphasis is on reducing, not necessarily eliminating, intake. Palinski-Wade recommends reserving alcohol to one day a week, since it can stimulate appetite and make it easier to overindulge.
9. Consider tracking what you eat using a food diary app
Food tracking apps can be triggering for those with a history of eating disorders. They may also not be the right choice if you're someone with a highly stressful life, since tracking your food only adds another stress/task to daily life. Read on if these don't speak to you.
People who track what they eat tend to lose more weight than those who don't, Palinski-Wade says. 'That’s most likely because these individuals are more aware of what they are putting into their body, which can help them to make better choices and better moderate [their] portion size,' she explains.
If you're unsure of how many calories you need to consume to maintain your weight, there are calorie calculators you can use, says Dr. Peterson. 'They tell you the amount of calories you need to consume to maintain your weight based on your gender, age, height and activity level,' she says.
10. Get support from your friends and family
A support system can keep you accountable at any age, Dr. Peterson and Palinski-Wade agree. Having both accountability and support from family members can affect one's long-term commitment to a weight loss program, a 2022 study found. It’s much easier to eat nutritious meals when your family and friends aren’t pressuring you to have another cookie, says Palinski-Wade.
If you can recruit a friend to become your workout buddy, even better. 'It’s much easier to motivate yourself to go to the gym when a friend is there waiting for you,' Palinski-Wade notes.
Even if you don’t go to the gym together and do the same workout, an accountability buddy can be someone you text (and receive texts from) when you don’t feel like sticking to your planned routine and need a reminder of your ‘why,’ for example.
When should you see a doctor about weight loss?
If you’ve tried all the above measures for at least three months without success, talk to your doctor. 'Start with the basics, go to your annual checkups, and explain your concerns and goals,' says Dr. Purdy. 'Your doctor can help you come up with a plan that is tailored to you and your changing body.'
That said, if you notice dramatic weight gain or you have a sudden lack of energy, Dr. Purdy says it’s best to schedule a visit with a healthcare provider because it may be your thyroid. 'Feeling worn out with a loss of energy is an immediate sign of hypothyroidism (a condition where the body doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone, and can sometimes lead to weight gain), and you may feel exhausted, mentally tired, and have a lack of motivation,' she explains.
Additionally, if you’re constipated, have dry hair and nails, and/or trouble staying awake, it’s worth considering getting your thyroid levels checked, adds Dr. Peterson, which you can talk to your general practitioner about.
You Might Also Like