Are you a middle-aged woman struggling to lose weight and stubborn belly fat? You’re not alone. Millions of women struggle with the middle-age weight spread. A recent study found that more than half of women aged 40-59 are overweight or obese.
It doesn’t matter if you have been fit and healthy most of your life. Once the 40s and 50s come around, you don’t know how hard it gets! You used to be able just to cut down on calories and sweets, and the weight would drop off… now it feels like you work so hard for no real results.
If you’re looking to lose weight, firm up, feel better, and have more energy, you’ll find the answers here. The truth is what worked before isn’t going to work anymore now that you’re in your middle-age years.
So keep reading to discover why you’re having so much trouble losing weight and the best plan for weight loss for a middle-aged woman.
Can a Middle-Aged Woman Lose Weight?
Many women feel a metabolic shift that happens around the time they turn 30, and it only worsens when you get into your 40s and 50s. Women’s bodies go through many metabolic and hormonal changes that shift their weight and how much they’re able to lose.
It’s easy for the middle-aged weight to sneak up on you over these years. It’s easy to say that you’ll start tomorrow, then tomorrow, and then tomorrow. But then a couple of years of tomorrow’s results with you feeling like you almost gained 50 pounds overnight.
And just cutting back on calories and exercising some more isn’t producing the results it once did in your younger years. So the reality is you’re going to approach your weight loss plan with a more sophisticated and well-rounded strategy other than just reducing calories and exercising more.
The reasons for middle-aged women gaining weight:
Women in middle age experience significant hormonal changes that make it more likely for them to promote the storage of fat rather than burning it off (1). With middle age comes perimenopause and menopause, which can result in a decline in sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone (2).
These three hormones play a vital role and how much weight you’re able to lose and your metabolic fitness. And as these hormones shift with middle age, you’re more likely to gain weight and stubborn fat in places such as your belly and hips.
You’re also more likely to lose muscle, increasing your overall body fat and making it harder to firm and tone up. For example, many women who lose weight become skinny fat with a flabby body and a lot of loose skin.
Poor Food Choices
Eating too many sugars, starches, refined grains, and carbohydrates over the years builds up causing insulin resistance (3). High insulin levels promote fat storage in certain places, such as your belly, hips, and thighs. Lowering your insulin levels is vital to forcing your body to burn your fat stores for fuel (4).
Think of your metabolism as your fat-burning engine. The higher it is, the more weight and fat you’ll effortlessly burn off your body, but you’re more likely to hold onto that weight and fat when it slows down.
Hormonal changes cause this metabolic slow down with age and having less muscle on your body. Muscle is naturally thermogenic and helps you burn calories on its own (5). But with muscle loss, you can expect a sore metabolism in addition to the hormonal changes.
Eating habits over the years can build up and slowly cost you to pack on the pounds easier and faster than before. Most people underestimate just how much they’re eating per day (6). This is why it’s a good idea to measure and record what you’re eating in a food journal, at least for a little while until you can grasp just how much you’re consuming per day. Snacking during the day also builds up and makes it easy to overconsume calories (7).
Stress, Sleep & Sedentary
Stress over the years can also build up from work, family, and every other crazy thing going on in the world today. Stress can release chronic cortisol into your body, which can cause you to store more fat (8).
If you’re stressed out, it could also affect your sleep quality. For example, sleep deprivation can slow your metabolism, throw off your insulin, cause you to crave junk foods, and lower your self-control (9,10).
Living a sedentary lifestyle can also make it harder to de-stress without an outlet for physical activity. Exercise has been found to help improve sleep quality (11).
How a Middle-Aged Woman Can Lose Belly Fat
Just because you may face an uphill battle with hormonal changes doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight. You’ll just need a weight loss plan that covers all the angles other than reducing calories and walking more.
The trick for women to lose middle-aged weight is to make the changes that will force your body to burn fat for fuel. Right now, your body wants to store fat instead of burning it off. So it’s your mission to switch that around.
So how do you optimize your metabolic health?
You already know to cut back on calories to a healthy amount, but you also need to cut back on the bad foods. Losing weight and burning off stubborn fat is more than just the calories when you’re in your middle-age years.
Lower Insulin Levels
Elevated insulin levels promote the storage of fat and excess weight, so you will have to lower this. Stop eating foods that spike your blood sugar and cause an insulin release. These foods include sugar, starches, refined grains, fruit juice, high-sugar fruits, low-fat milk, beer, etc.
Eat more real whole foods that are low on the Glycemic Index (GI). Low GI foods won’t spike your blood sugar or cause an insulin response. And keep your overall carbohydrate consumption on the lower end, somewhere between 50g-150g per day. So unless you’re a competitive athlete, your body doesn’t need a ton of carbs, and if you eat a lot, it’ll just dump them into your fat stores.
Eat More Protein
Consume a high protein diet. Most middle-aged women aren’t consuming enough protein in their diet. Protein is needed to build and maintain muscle otherwise, it’ll waste away in middle age. Muscle is required to firm and tone up your body as it improves body composition. Muscle also boosts your metabolism and causes you to burn more calories throughout the day.
Aim for 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Animal meats like beef, chicken, eggs, fish, and turkey are excellent protein sources. It can be hard to reach this daily protein goal if you eat a plant-based diet. If you’re struggling to meet your daily requirement, try adding a low-carb protein shake too.
Bad Fats Make You Fat
Stop eating bad fats that are not only ruining your metabolism but also your overall health. Seed oils are the worst and should be avoided at all costs. These seed oils are sky-high in omega-6 fatty acids, which cause your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio to become imbalanced, causing inflammation.
The manufacturing process of seed oils oxidizes them, causing more inflammation in your body. This can end up harming you on a cellular level and not only crushes your metabolism but also can cause heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Unfortunately, these seed oils are in almost every processed food today, from salad dressings to TV dinners. These are the worst seed oils:
- canola oil
- cottonseed oil
- corn oil
- sunflower oil
- safflower oil
- soybean oil
Switch out the above for healthy vegetable oils like avocado, macadamia nut, and extra virgin olive oil. Your body needs some healthy fats; what you were taught about all fats being bad wasn’t correct. There are good and bad fats… eat the good fats!
Intermittent fasting in middle-aged women can effectively burn fat, get rid of cellulite and lose weight. You can strategically schedule your eating window with intermittent fasting to encourage fat burning.
The problem with just cutting your calories is your body responds by slowing down your metabolism by increasing the leptin hormone even further because it thinks it’s in a famine. So just cutting your calories isn’t the answer, and you’ll need to focus on fasting intermittently instead of just starving yourself all the time.
During your fasting window, your body will be encouraged to burn more fat for fuel since it won’t have any calories or quick-burning carbohydrates. This is also the ideal time to exercise too since your body will be forced to use your fat stores for fuel.
Intermittent fasting can also improve your insulin levels by improving insulin sensitivity. Hormonal health in middle-aged years can be better optimized with intermittent fasting, resulting in more weight loss.
The 16/8 fasting schedule is a great place to start for women especially after 50. This means you fast for 16 hours and eat all your meals within an eight-hour window. So, if you stop eating at dinner, you wouldn’t eat again until lunch the next day.
Diet will make up the bulk of your results, but exercise will also play a role. Muscle loss can be devastating for middle-aged women, so rebuilding this lost muscle is crucial.
Strength training combined with eating more protein will be needed to rebuild muscle. Don’t worry, you’re not going to “bulk up” or look like Arnold Schwarzenegger any time soon. But you will firm up and have a tighter slender body once you start adding some muscle.
Basic strength training exercises can be done anywhere without any equipment. Squats, push-ups, body rows, lunges, planks, step-ups, etc., are all excellent beginner movements that don’t require much space. You can also use strength machines at the gym if you have injuries or restricted movement.
Make sure you’re also measuring your body fat percentage, how your clothes fit, and inches lost to accurately track your progress. Simply weighing yourself on the scale can be deceiving since you could build some muscle and burn lots of fat. Muscle weighs something too and can throw off the scale.
The Last Word
So, what’s the best weight loss plan for middle-aged women? A healthy diet without sugars, carbs, or seed oils, plenty of protein, good fats, intermittent fasting, and strength training. When it comes to middle-aged weight loss, it’s not just about calories; you really need to eat better quality foods.
What worked before by just eating 1200 calories a day and walking probably isn’t going to do the job in middle age. Instead, you will have a multi-faceted approach that covers all angles if you want to lose weight and tone up.
But the good news is your body will start burning fat for fuel, you’ll lose weight, firm up, feel better, and be more energetic. It’ll all come down to your macronutrient (carbs, protein, fat) ratios, quality of foods you’re eating, the times you’re eating, and rebuilding lost muscle.
Then the middle-aged weight creep doesn’t stand a chance!
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.