General,  Health & Menopause

Coping with Weight Gain Over 40

While people around me were obsessed with diets over the years, I was fortunate to keep a steady weight. I tended to be a workaholic, eating lunch on the go or sometimes not at all. If I was upset or stressed, I would get a knot in my stomach and couldn’t eat. I wish that was the case now!

I had my children in my early 30s and started to gain about a stone in weight and settled there for some time. I was okay with that and if I went over, I just cut down for a bit, no big deal. Between the ages of 40 and 50, the weight started to creep up by another stone. Far too much now, my clothes were uncomfortably tight, but the next size was too baggy, so I found myself in the predicament of being between sizes. I had to decide whether I was going to start dieting and drop back down to my normal size or carry on eating until I fitted into the next one.

Belly FatAlthough I didn’t care much for diets, I decided that getting bigger was not an option and started the Weightwatcher’s Points Diet. This worked really well for me and I lost most of that stone and maintained that for about a year. But as I reached around 48 the weight crept back on and nothing would shift it. Most of us know that diets don’t really work, and as my husband plainly says, if you put in more energy than you take out, you are going to gain weight and it doesn’t matter what fancy diet you do, you need to expel that energy somehow. So I tried everything – I ate healthily, I exercised, I counted points, I counted calories, I climbed mountains, I stopped drinking alcohol, I even lived off salad leaves, but nothing worked at all.

I started to get frustrated and fed up. It was bad enough the wrinkles were beginning to show and I felt tired and lethargic all the time and my life became just a focus on diets and feeling hungry and fat and ugly. Then I came across an interesting article and things changed, but not in the way you may think and don’t get giddy, it wasn’t a super-duper diet that worked either – for me it was about mindset.

Not withstanding any underlying illness you may have or bad eating habits – the article explained that between the ages of 45 and 55, most women gain about a stone in weight and usually around the tummy area. No amount of dieting was going to help, as this was due to moving into the perimenopause phase of your life and hormonal changes, which caused weight gain. In addition to that, as you age, you lose your muscle mass and this decreases the rate at which your body uses calories, making it a double whammy when it comes to losing weight. I have listed a good article at the end of this post, that explains the science in more detail.

Once I’d read this, my first reaction was to curl up in a corner and die. Was there any point in going on? When I read all the symptoms of menopause I felt someone should just put me down, spare me the misery. Then I got real. I decided that I needed to find some middle ground on the weight gain and re-assess my eating habits.

Firstly I did an experiment and found out what calorie level was best for me – it was 1200 calories – everyone is different. I discovered that alcohol was the big killer for me, more so than chocolate, so I cut it out, not completely, but whenever I reached for a glass of wine, I asked myself, ‘do I really need this?’ and the answer was ‘no’ and so I got to drinking water with a slice of lemon instead. So much of what we eat and drink is down to habit and boredom and not a necessity.

I also discovered that eating too little was bad for me and caused weight gain rather than loss, so I adjusted a few things. Some low-fat foods were also better than non-fat, as apparently you need the fat for your cells, so I made small changes such as low-fat yogurt instead of fat-free and so on. Nothing major, just small changes that I could live with long term. I started making veggie soups – they are so quick and easy to make and few calories, but filling. Another example is my craving for chocolate at certain times. I swapped bars of chocolate for a family bag of Minstrels or similar and would just eat 5 or 6 and that was enough of a fix. TIP: Never take the bag to the sofa with you. Take your ration and leave the bag in the fridge or cupboard. Laziness helps!

Then I decided I could live with being half a stone over my preferred weight and I found this manageable. I stopped stressing about dieting and made a few changes to keep around that level. If I had a special occasion or a holiday I ate within reason, knowing that when I got back I could do a 3 day soup and healthy eating diet and would be back down to my target weight. Of course I always hope to lose that other half a stone, but instead of fretting over it, I am just pleased when I manage to get a couple of pounds under the target weight.

I managed to achieve this without regular exercise. I am not a fan, as I have neck and bone issues and do my own little routine of exercises that are right for me, but I do them haphazardly. However, I do walk my dogs daily and go on walking holidays and the occasional mountain trek. I tried the gym, with a personal trainer, but after months of training, I had to run to my car in the rain and was totally out of breath, so decided the gym wasn’t doing me any favours, nor my purse. Everyone is different and you can’t ignore exercise, especially as you get older, you need to stretch and keep everything going, but like dieting, you don’t need to be fanatical about it, you must find what is right for you.

Now I have changed my mindset and made the necessary compromises, I am all the more happier for it.

More info on hormonal changes and weight gain.

I use this handy app on my phone for keeping a check of what I eat – My Fitness Pal.  It also tells you how much sugar, fat, vitamins etc you’ve had. As a result, I discovered I wasn’t getting enough calcium in my diet, which is important for bones as you get older.

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Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/

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