The thing I hate the most about getting older is that it takes me 10 times more strategic effort to lose fat when I fancy “wearing” the sculpted look than it did less than 10 years ago. Sometimes I even want to believe that it’s because calories double in value when ingested in your forties.
It’s no news that as we get older we start to lose muscle at a rate of 2 to 5% over each decade and with it part of our ability to burn fat for energy all day long. It’s also no news that as our estrogen and progesterone levels drop with the onset of menopause we become more susceptible to stress in all its varieties (physical, mental, emotional) which leads us to accumulate extra fat, especially around the waist.
Suddenly the mainstream way of managing our weight of “eat less, exercise more” doesn’t work anymore and despite all our efforts nothing changes or, worse, we get flabbier. And perhaps our lack of success makes us think that we might as well give up and resign ourselves to becoming fatter and weaker as time goes on.
Well, that’s not the case and it’s relatively easy to turn this around. The best way to reduce weight when nothing else seems to work anymore involves tweaking some of our habits and creating a different lifestyle that will keep us healthy and fit well beyond our golden years.
Stress impacts our health and our ability to stay lean by disrupting the lines of communication between our brain (Hypothalamus and Pituitary gland to be exact) and our endocrine system. This turbulence affects the normal behaviour of hormones which can no longer be effective in carrying out their respective tasks as messengers thus creating the scenario for fat loss plateaus and even weight gain.
What are the main causes of stress?
Stress can come from many sources: eating too much, not eating enough (dieting), illness, injury, bereavements, negative emotions, not enough sleep, too much exercise, not exercising enough, environmental toxins, extreme temperatures, personal losses, fear, worrying about the future, and so on. Because of the multifaceted nature of what we define as “stress” on the body, we need to deal with its causes on a multitude of levels if we want to restore balance.
Over the years I have met a large number of clients who found themselves in this situation: all the things that used to work before their 40s to keep them in tip top shape slowly stopped working. No amount of eating very little and exercising very hard yielded the results they were after and that’s when they sought out my help to reverse this trend.
I think with all of them I could have cut their apprehension with a knife during our first consultation as they were concerned I would tell them to go to even greater lengths to achieve their goals. Instead they almost cried with joy when I told them the reverse: if doing crossfit + running + weight lifting and eating 3 bread crumbs a day didn’t work, perhaps the key to success lied in the opposite approach.
How to be healthy and lose weight in your 40’s
Whenever I deal with middle aged to older clients I get the best results when I switch their exercise regime to includes lots of relaxing activities and remove some of the more exciting ones. This includes lots of walking, meditation, restorative yoga, aromatherapy, massages, chilling with friends, etc.
This may seem counter-intuitive at first but never fails to deliver results. It’s so easy to take on extra tasks to be dealt with on a daily basis that we often forget the importance of relaxation for both our physical and emotional health and we never make time for it.
My favourite piece of advice is to try and do some leisurely walking every day. If you think about it that’s how mammals keep themselves fit: they walk most of the time that they are active and only run like the clappers either when they are hunting or when they are being hunted. They rest the rest of the time. The only times when you see overweight animals is when they are fed unnatural diets or they don’t have enough space to move around. The same is true for us.
My elderly parents are a living example of how successful this approach is: in their late 70’s they make a point of walking for a couple of hours every day at their own leisurely pace. They are lucky because they have access to parks and wild countryside so they can chill away from the hustle and bustle of a busy city. Although they don’t do any structured exercise to retain their muscle mass they are still lean, fit and healthy. They can carry themselves tall and can run up and down the stairs all day long without any issues whatsoever. They also eat regularly and have naps throughout the day.
The power of leisurely walking
Walking at a nice and comfortable pace in natural surroundings is very powerful when it comes to fat loss (at any age): in addition to strengthening the heart and reducing the risk of developing a variety of diseases, it helps to lower cortisol levels through relaxation. Cortisol is released by the body in response to stress of any kind (including exercise) and it’s the main culprit for the suppression of the immune system as well as the accumulation of fat around the belly area.
Having said that we shouldn’t concern ourselves too much over cortisol taken in isolation. This hormone is only one small part of a much bigger and complicated equation. Yes, this hormone is responsible for increasing belly fat, however when released in conjunction with other hormones that are also secreted during exercise it contributes to fat loss.
So provided that we are eating a clean and sensible diet rich in protein, fibre and non-starchy carbohydrates (with just enough starches) AND provided we are in good general health, by substituting some high energy exercise sessions with slow walking or other relaxing activities we will be able to overcome a fat loss plateau and reduce belly fat fast. This has the additional benefit of allowing us the opportunity to practice mindfulness, get out of our thoughts and live in the moment for a little while. I bet that if you looked around on your daily walk to work you would notice things that perhaps you had previously overlooked because you were too busy planning your day in your head.
Testing the theory
I tested this theory during a recent trip to my hometown in Italy: Milan. My partner and I flew there and didn’t hire a car this time so we went everywhere around town either on foot or using public transport. Because we were on holiday we couldn’t care less how long it took us to get around and so we strolled for miles, slowly, every day enjoying the sights.
We were so relaxed that we hardly ever got hungry and when we did we were lucky to have access to lots of fresh fruit and vegetables from the local market that my mum had prepared for us. Because the fresh produce was so tasty we never had any room for bread or pasta.
We ended up being well nourished without effort and never suffered from cravings for starchy foods or sweets.
On the Saturday I decided to take my other half for a romantic walk along the Naviglio Grande, a historical canal that was once used to transport goods from the surrounding rural areas into the centre of Milan.
The largest remaining canal from the original network happens to run a mile or two from my parents’ flat and so we decided that, because it was such a nice sunny day, it would be lovely to follow it towards town until we could hop on a tram and complete the journey that way.
Much to our disappointment the canal was being dredged in view of the forthcoming Expo event (eat your way around the world under one roof). The lack of water didn’t dampen our spirits too much and we carried on walking.
This was fat loss heaven for both of us. Although we were gently strolling we did so for a good 5 miles, occasionally stopping to have a look at the charming shops and market stalls we encountered along the way.
Despite being really easy exercise we still managed to burn a fair amount of calories, certainly way more than we had consumed earlier in the day therefore bringing us into a small deficit.
Of course when exercising it’s important to replenish the glycogen stores within the muscles to ensure growth and prevent loss. And so, even if gentle walking isn’t really to be compared with structured metabolic workouts, when you do that over a long distance it’s still good practice to think about nutrients and “eat accordingly in a timely manner”. That’s my excuse for having ice cream whenever I am back in Italy. 😉
You can’t visit a major Italian city without paying a visit to the Holy Grail of ice cream parlors. For us it provided a focal point as we were starting to get tired from visiting ancient monuments on our way to the Duomo. It was our reward for all the walking we had just done and a pick-me-up for all the walking left to do.
Why a GROM? Because they make ice creams like they should be: with eggs, cream, sugar and organically grown fruit, nuts and chocolate and no chemical crap. From a nutritional point of view these ice creams aren’t too bad at all. The “nutritional facts” for their products show that they pack a decent amount of proteins and fats in relation to carbohydrates which fulfill the purpose of restoring glycogen reserves (carbs) as well as making us feel full afterwards. Oh and the giant cup (according to their website) packs ONLY 290 KCal of delicious goodness which was less than half the amount of calories burned being tourists for the day.
By the end of the long weekend all the walking and ice cream eating had resulted in a metabolic reset and clothes that were fitting more loosely around the waist. My six pack even came out hiding!
The takeaway from this story is that if your weight loss efforts are giving you less than stellar results, maybe you are doing too much. Stop doing what you are doing, slow everything down, check in with yourself, relax a bit more and go for a stroll somewhere nice. Repeat for a few days and see what difference it makes.
If you need help re-establishing balance in your life and overcome a weight loss plateaus book a complimentary call right now and let’s come up with a plan!