The New “Freshman 15”: 5 Keys to Weight Loss After 40

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My clients coined a new term a few weeks ago that I LOVE. One of them referred to the common tendency toward weight gain at midlife as the “Forties 15” -a throwback to the classic dreaded “Freshman 15” many of us experienced or were warned against in college.  You remember it right? The late night food runs, the unlimited desserts in the cafeteria, the fact that overalls could hide all that? Right? (Oh wait….that last part is probably just me).

weight loss after 40
College: When XXL sweatshirts worked.


While the Freshman 15 were begotten on fun and freedom, the Forties 15 just SUCKS. If I had a magic wand to make it disappear, I would. (Which would make me very popular, I imagine). Some women resign themselves to thinking that there’s nothing that can be done about it, and while I don’t have a magic wand to make it disappear, you can do something about it.

For many women, the Forties 15 is a tricky intersection of hormonal and lifestyle changes that can add up on the scale. Fortunately, there’s 5 things you can do about it to stop or reverse that number on the scale.


It’s the hormones, isn’t it?

It would be great to answer this question with a simple “YES!” The truth is that perimenopause and menopause cannot be counted on for significant scale weight gain. Research shows that a decrease in estrogen associated with menopausal onset, along with natural aging, can contribute to gains in fat mass, most noticeably around the abdominal area. However, this fat gain is not necessarily associated with scale weight gain. Best estimates show that hormones and natural aging can only account for some weight gain-research estimates average 2-5 pounds.

Most women that I speak with point to their middle section and ask me how to get rid of “it”. Oh.. that? The jiggly feeling in the belly, arms, and thighs? That comes from a combination of two things- an increase in belly fat at perimenopause and a loss of lean muscle tissue, which begins as early as 30 and generally becomes noticeable to many women in their early to mid 40s. In our pre-menopausal years, any fat gain was usually a gain of subcutaneous fat (think “all-over” fat). Subcutaneous fat does not contribute much to disease risk. However, the flabby stomach feeling? That’s primarily an accumulation of visceral fat, and that fat is the part that contributes to increased risk of heart and other diseases.


Lifestyle Changes

The transition to midlife is accompanied by subtle lifestyle changes that can add up to the weight gain. For those who are mothers, as we move into our mid- and late-forties, our older children are no longer as dependent on us as they once were. Additionally, many children today have a myriad of activities after school that require our presence. The simplicity of family dinners, time at home, and the focus on preparing healthy meals for young children is not as consistent anymore. There may be multiple meal times in one evening, and often everyone is left to their own devices for dinner, making it a nutritional crapshoot for those who are trying to stay healthy and lose weight.   

Older children require less interaction in the form of play and activity and more demands to be driven to practices, activities, and social events. This adds up to more time sitting in the car and less time playing in the backyard. When it comes to movement and exercise, quantity matters, and the fact that we are spending more time sitting and less time moving can make a big difference.

Working women sometimes experience changes in their work life in their 40s and 50s as well that add up to longer hours at work and less activity in the form of exercise and movement. By midlife, many women are in the prime of their career, and with lessened commitments in the home, the time spent on work -sitting at a desk, on a plane, or in the car- can increase dramatically. Some of my executive clients in their 50s struggle to get 4,000 steps a day- less than half the recommended daily amount.

weight loss after 40
Flickr/rochelle hartman

One of the most significant changes that women report during the onset of menopause is sleep disruption. While it’s not quite as high on the list of priorities for weight loss as diet and exercise, reduced sleep quality can wreak havoc on your system and your general level of motivation. It’s much easier to say “what the hell” and reach for pizza when you’re feeling exhausted at the end of the day because you didn’t sleep well.

With a more haphazard diet, less movement, and reduced sleep quality, it is fairly easy to have the pounds creep on to your frame at any age. For women in their 40s and 50s, it is nearly universal.

5 Keys to Weight Loss After 40

    1. Increase all kinds of activity. Use a step counter, a calendar reminder or a timer to make sure that you take as many movement breaks as you can during the day. Walk up and down the stairs in your office building, get outside for a quick lunch walk, or just do some sit-to-stand squats at your desk.
    2. Do the right kinds of movement. The single best way to maintain and increase your lean muscle mass is to do resistance training. In order to stay strong well into our 80s and feel confident about our bodies, resistance training is where it’s at. It’s also a good fit for those who are in the prime of their careers or busy with older children’s activities because it’s not a very time consuming process. 3 times a week of quality resistance training workouts will yield an improvement in lean muscle tissue. In addition, the decreased waist circumference resistance training will yield has positive implications for improving your heart health- perhaps even more so than a vigorous cardio regimen would. Begin or improve your resistance training routine. 3-4 times a week for 30-60 minutes will make a significant difference in how your body feels and also it looks.
    3. Commit to a sleep routine. You can’t control how much you sleep, but you can control your preparation for a restful night. Individuals vary, but this routine may include shutting down electronics, reading fiction, or drinking a cup of tea before you head to bed. Being consistent in your pre-sleep ritual will guarantee you the best chances of a restful night.
    4. Increase protein in your diet. Monitoring your protein intake will achieve a two fold benefit: increased satisfaction from eating and increased lean mass production. Protein increases satiety in our stomachs, and while some studies show that hormone fluctuations increase our appetite during menopause, protein will help combat that feeling in ways other nutrients won’t. Additionally, your protein intake will assist your resistance training routine in creating lean body mass.
    5. Figure out what is the appropriate amount of calories that you burn daily and create a moderate caloric deficit. I encourage my clients to find out what their basal metabolic rate is, as well as their total energy expenditure by using the calculators found here. Using a low arbitrary calorie goal every day can wreak havoc on your metabolic system. It’s best to arm yourself with the correct information and create change from an appropriate starting point.

Weight loss and maintenance is possible in your 40s, 50s and beyond. I’ve helped women in my training and coaching groups with a manageable, sustainable approach. The key is the difference between knowing and doing. If you need help, support, and accountablity with moving toward your health or fitness destination, get in touch with me by filling out the contact form below!


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