As we age, our bodies change in all sorts of ways, making it harder to keep those extra pounds at bay. But fear not, my friend! With a few lifestyle tweaks and a sprinkle of determination, you can still achieve your weight loss goals and feel amazing.
Let’s ditch the fad diets and quick fixes and focus on simple and sustainable changes that can make a big difference. And don’t forget, you can still indulge in some delicious dark chocolate while on your weight loss journey. Here are seven tips to help you get started!
1. Cut Back, but Don’t Cut Out Carbs
Carbs are fuel, and whole food sources, like fresh fruit, whole grains, and potatoes, are bundled with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Cutting out carbs completely deprives your body of important nutrients. This can lead to unwanted side effects like constipation, fatigue, and irritability.
But after age 40, your daily carb requirement may decline. Many women find that they can’t eat large carb portions without either gaining weight or struggling to lose weight. The best resolution is to optimize the quality of the carbs you eat (like choosing butternut squash over processed bread), and think of carbs as a smaller add-on to a meal rather than the main attraction.
2. Find Ways To Relax
Stress, good or bad, is something that can affect anyone and everyone. If you have to endure a lot of stress for a long time, this can expose you to cortisol along with other stress hormones, per the American Heart Association (AHA).
One of the effects of that exposure is weight gain, which can arise due to stress eating. A Physiology & Behavior study published in October 2021 noted that individuals who experienced negative affect due to perceived life stress engaged in stress-eating what they considered to be comfort foods.
Stress eating could reduce stress in the short term, but you’ll want to find long-term stress-relieving methods to achieve the same effects that won’t result in weight gain. The AHA suggests techniques such as engaging in positive self-talk, spending some time with your pets, or going for a walk. (Additionally, if you choose regular exercise as one of your stress relievers, you’ll have even more weight loss benefits.)
3. Eat a Lot More Veggies
Start with veggies first, then build your meals around them. I often recommend including one full cup of non-starchy veggies at breakfast and at least two cups in each lunch and dinner. A minimum of five cups a day (think five tennis ball–size portions) will provide valuable nutrients and offer disease protection. But these veggies are also going to increase fullness, add volume to meals, help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, and support healthy digestion, all of which add up to sustainable weight management. Most of the 40+ women overestimate their veggie intakes, and according to the CDC, only 9% of adults eat the minimum recommended intake of two to three cups of veggies per day. (Note: that’s less than I recommend.)
At breakfast, whip a generous handful of greens into a smoothie, fold shredded zucchini into oats, add veggies to an egg or chickpea scramble, or simply eat veggies on the side, like sliced cucumber or red bell pepper. Rather than sandwiches or wraps at lunch, go for salads or bowls, with a large base of greens and veggies. At dinner, sauté, oven-roast, grill, or stir-fry veggies, and make them the largest component of the meal.
Again, pair your veggies with a source of lean protein, good fat, and a smaller portion of healthy carbs, and you’ve created an ideal balance for both weight management and good nutrition.
4. Cut Down On Alcohol
Alcohol is tricky, because in moderation it may actually support weight management, research suggests. But women who drink heavily or binge drink have an increased obesity risk.
Moderate alcohol consumption means one drink a day (and no, they don’t carry over), which equals five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or a 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits.
If you’re downing half a bottle of vino most nights, there could be several issues at play. First, alcohol tends to lower inhibitions and stimulate appetite, so you may wind up eating more, often mindlessly. Also, when alcohol is consumed, breaking it down becomes the body’s top priority. That means foods consumed with alcohol are less likely to be burned. Finally, too much alcohol can disrupt sleep—and a healthy sleep cycle is directly tied to metabolism, weight management, and belly fat accumulation.
If cutting out alcohol altogether isn’t realistic, consider committing to a specific drinking strategy. Cut back gradually, limit alcohol to weekends only, or curb your consumption to a max of one drink per day.
5. Work on Your Sleep Routine
Sleep is an important component of weight management. In fact, getting better sleep is associated with more weight and fat loss. Researchers of an International Journal of Obesity study published in March 2021 investigated the relationship between sleep health and weight change. They found that over the course of 12 months, participants with irregular sleep, worse sleep satisfaction, and later sleep timing lost fewer pounds than those who experienced the opposite.
The main way to manage sleep issues to foster weight loss concerns having good sleep hygiene. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ways to engage in sleep hygiene include:
- Having a consistent bedtime
- Ensuring your bedroom is comfortable and relaxing
- Removing electronics from your bedroom
- Not consuming large meals, caffeine, or alcohol close to bedtime
- Exercising earlier in the day (i.e., not too close to bedtime)
6. Don’t Eat Diet Food (or Go on a Diet)
Many women are stuck in outdated weight loss mindsets. One involves eating diet foods, those highly processed products made with artificial chemicals engineered to be lower in calories, carbs, sugar, or fat. I recommend nixing this entire lot for good! In addition to being completely unsatisfying, diet foods can wreak havoc with your appetite, trigger inflammation, alter the healthy bacteria in your gut tied to weight management, and overtax your immune system.
Research also shows that switching from processed foods to whole foods increases calorie burning, meaning that eating real food may help you lose weight even without cutting your calorie intake (an outcome I have seen many times). Instead of a low-calorie frozen meal, opt for hearty lentil soup and an avocado-topped salad. In place of a few reduced-fat cookies, reach for a sliced apple dipped in almond butter or a few squares of high-quality dark chocolate (more on this below).
Healthy, sustainable weight loss isn’t about dieting. Deprivation and go-on/go-off approaches ultimately backfire. Instead, adopt a mentality of balance, meaning not undereating or overeating, with a focus on nutrition, not restriction. It may seem boring, and it’s not a quick fix. But it feels best both physically and emotionally, and this approach is maintainable.
7. Treat Yourself to Dark Chocolate Daily
Research backs something I can attest to myself: building in dark chocolate as a daily treat helps curb cravings for both sweet and salty foods. Dark chocolate can also help reduce stress, a major emotional eating trigger. One study found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in volunteers who rated themselves as highly stressed.
Five squares of 70% dark chocolate contain under 250 calories, yet provide antioxidants, fiber, and magnesium, a mineral tied to relaxation, improved sleep, and enhanced mood.
Knowing that they have a chocolatey treat to look forward to has helped many women pass on other less satisfying and higher-calorie and carb-laden goodies. Spread it out throughout the day, or enjoy an ounce or so of dark chocolate as part of a daily “you time” ritual.