Weight loss after 40 seems like a near impossible feat for some women. Many women that come to our clinic are eating well, exercise, and try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but they still can’t seem to lose weight. Or some women say that they are steadily losing a few pounds every so often and that it takes only one “cheat” meal and they are back to square one!
Changes in hormones can make losing weight for women in their 40s more difficult. During this time, the sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are fluctuating and are not balanced, leading to weight gain. Typically, between the ages of 40 to early 50s, progesterone, testosterone and other adrenal gland hormones are not being produced to the same degree as they are for a woman in her 20s. Estrogen may be disproportionately high relative to the other hormones, which leads to weight gain.
In addition, many women we see in our clinic have very busy, stressful, and challenging lives. They are commonly breadwinners for the family, work and care for their children, and maintain their household or have gone through various life challenges. Excess stress for prolonged periods of time puts extra burden on the adrenal glands. After the adrenal glands have been taxed for too long they start to deplete the thyroid glands, which leads to a slower metabolism. Furthermore, when the body perceives stress in the body, it allocates energy and metabolic pathways to produce the stress hormone, cortisol. As a survival mechanism during excessive stress, the body will divert from its reproductive function and limit the production of sex hormones. When cortisol is produced, it signals the body to release insulin and also for blood sugar to be released. Insulin is the “fat-storing” hormone. This means that if there is any excess sugar (from carbohydrates) in your system, they will be stored as fat instead of being used for fuel.
Lean Muscle Ratio
Another factor to consider in women 40 and over is the ratio of lean muscle to fat is low. Most women who exercise that come to our office are not incorporating strength training into their weekly workout routine. Building lean muscle increases the body’s basal metabolic rate. Basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body needs to produce in order to function at a steady state. Lean muscle requires more energy to be maintained, so the more lean muscle you have the more calories a person can “burn”. Strength training programs must be chosen carefully however, as it is possible to overdo it. And adding too much strength training too quickly or without guidance can deplete the adrenal glands further, creating the opposite effect.
Lastly, losing weight can be a significant challenge due to the inevitable exposure to environmental contaminants from our water, food, and air supply. When our body is exposed to an environmental toxin and is unable to process and metabolize it to excrete it from the body, it will store the pollutant in the body’s fat cells. The fat cells then become a reservoir for metabolites the body is unable to process without causing undue harm to the body as a whole. Stubborn weight loss may be due in part to an increased body burden of environmental toxicity.
Hormone balance, and addressing metabolism and environmental body burden is key for women that have difficulties with weight loss.