6 Surefire Ways to Stay Slim After 35
Why We're Different
Time was when I never worried about my weight. If I ate too much Key lime pie for dessert, or scarfed down way too many slices of buttered bread, I didn't sweat it -- I simply added a mile on to my daily walk and steered clear of potato chips until the scale reverted to life as I knew it. Even after I gave birth, dropping a few extra calories a day over the course of several weeks was all it took to get back into my prepregnancy jeans. No more: The surefire weight-loss strategies of my 20s have become the not-very-effective weight-maintenance strategies of my 40s. And it's starting to dawn on me that if something doesn't change, I'll hit 50 weighing a good 10 pounds more than I weighed at 40.
I make this confession without shame because I know I'm not some middle-aged sloth who has "let herself go," to borrow a term from our mothers' begirdled generation. Sure, some of those extra pounds can be attributed to lifestyle changes in midlife, when most of us become more sedentary.
"At this age, it's a lot easier to pop into Starbucks for a scone than to pop out of bed in the morning and exercise," observes Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Fight Fat After Forty. And these are certainly the years when a career in full swing can mean a lot of calorie-rich restaurant meals, and the stresses of dealing simultaneously with jobs, kids, and older parents can bring on binge eating or carb loading to soothe one's nerves. But these are secondary causes: The truth about midlife weight gain is that the main culprit is hormones.
Beginning typically at around age 40 -- though sometimes as early as 35 -- age-related hormonal changes predispose women to put on pounds even when they aren't increasing calories or decreasing physical activity, says Susan Lark, MD, author of 6 Secrets to Peak Health at 40+. In younger women, menstrual-cycle hormones balance one another out: Estrogen facilitates the storage of body fat -- particularly in "female" areas such as breasts, thighs, and buttocks -- while progesterone helps maintain lean muscle, which promotes the burning of that extra fat once it's not needed to prepare for gestation.