Remember the golden rules of weight loss.
Sure, some things change after 40. But the basic tenets of successful weight loss stay the same, no matter how old you are. Before you take steps to age-proof your diet plan, it's a good idea to brush up on the basics:
- You need to eat less. It doesn't matter if all you eat is grilled chicken, brown rice and broccoli. If you don't cut back on your portions, you won't lose weight. Everyone's kilojoule needs are different, but in general, a woman eating 8,370kJ (2,000cal) per day should aim to cut back by 1,670 to 2,090 kJs (400-500cal), recommends dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth.
- You should aim to lose 0.5-1 kilo per week. Those drop-a-dress-size-in-a-week plans are tempting. But the slow and steady approach is more sustainable since you're more likely to build healthy habits (like exercising more and eating more veggies) that will help you stay leaner in the long term.
- Skipping meals will mess with your metabolism. When you skip breakfast or dinner, it tells your body to squirrel away kilojoules instead of burning them. Skipping meals also increases the chances that your blood sugar will crash, leaving you ravenous for a quick energy hit in the form of sugary carbs, Cederquist says.
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Rethink your nutrients.
Keeping your carbs in check—especially the refined kind—can help combat age-related insulin resistance and promote steady blood sugar levels, Cederquist says. Adding more protein to your diet can also help. Not only does the nutrient help stave off age-related muscle loss, but it also helps keep your metabolism revved, because the body has to work harder to digest it than, say, a bagel, Cederquist says. How much of each nutrient you consume each time you eat matters, too. In a perfect world each meal and snack should have:
- Vegetables or fruit: Fill half of your plate with these. They’re high in fibre and water, so they'll take up lots of space in your stomach without contributing too many kilojoules to your diet.
- Lean protein: Your plate should have a serving that’s about the size of your palm. Good sources include Greek yoghurt, eggs, chicken and fish.
- Complex carbohydrates: Your plate should have a serving that’s the size of your closed fist. Whole grains, beans, fresh fruit and starchy veggies (like sweet potatoes) are all good choices.
- Healthy fats: These can add up quickly when you're trying to lose weight, so it's worth measuring your fats. Aim for 7 to 10 grams every time you eat. That’s 1½ tsp of olive oil, a quarter of an avocado, or two tablespoons of nuts or seeds.
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Eat fewer kilojoules, more frequently.
Increased insulin resistance might leave you feeling hungrier. Dividing up your food into three moderately sized meals and one to two small snacks will keep your blood sugar levels steady while combatting the urge to nibble on junk, Largeman-Roth says. Piling your plate with more low-kJ, high-volume foods—like fruits and vegetables—can help fill you up, too.
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Be choosy with your treats.
Sadly, you can't scarf down burgers and chocolate shakes like you did in your 20s and expect to lose weight. But you can still enjoy your favorite foods. You just might need to save them for when you really have a hankering—and say goodbye to the treats that fall lower on your list of craveables. Instead of mindlessly dipping into that bag of chips just because it's there, think about what would truly satisfy you. Is it chips or are you actually craving something else? If you decide the chips are worth the kilojoules, then help yourself to a small serving, and savour every bite.
As for how often you should indulge? Everyone is different, and it really depends on your weight loss goals. So figure out what works for you. "Some women do great with a 420 to 620kJ (100-150cal) treat every day, but others find that they need to keep it to two to three times per week," says Cederquist.
One thing to keep in mind? Alcohol counts as a treat, so don't let yourself go overboard. "You could fit two to four glasses of wine per week into a weight loss program," Largeman-Roth says. Just make a point to stick to the 150mL recommended serving size, since it can be easy to over-pour when you don't pay attention. And yes, if you enjoy a glass with dinner, it means you should skip out on that piece of chocolate for dessert.
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It's hard to lose weight through diet alone, especially after 40, when hormones like testosterone tend to dip. As a result, kJ-torching muscle mass, along with the numbers of kilojoules your body burns during exercise, starts to take a nosedive, says Cederquist.
Getting the recommended 30 minutes of daily activity is a good start, but now's the time to ramp things up even more by also working in at least 10,000 daily steps. Adding in four to five weekly resistance training sessions can help you maintain your muscle mass and burn even more kilojoules, Largeman-Roth says.
Know yourself, and be honest.
Being over 40 doesn't automatically mean that you now have to cut out certain foods to get (or stay) slim—unless you know deep down that a food is truly getting in the way of your goals. "If having a square of chocolate leads to eating an entire bag of chocolate, having a square of chocolate does not work for you," Cederquist says.
In other words? If certain foods seem to open the floodgates for you without fail, it might be better to steer clear altogether and stick with treats that don't trigger a binge. It might feel tough at first. But instead of seeing it as deprivation, reframe your decision as a choice—and a positive one at that. "Acknowledge that these foods don't work for you and the health goals that are important to you," Cederquist says.
Lastly, keep in mind that the weight loss strategies that work best for you could change down the road. "I find that for women over 40, myself included, it's vital to assess what you're doing each year," Largeman-Roth says. If your progress starts to stall, consider switching up parts of your diet or fitness plan. "Our bodies like a challenge," Largeman-Roth says.