Losing weight can be a challenge at any age, but for some women over the age of 50, it can become even more difficult. Many middle-aged women can find themselves facing a variety of changes, both hormonal and lifestyle-related, that can make shedding pounds effectively a daunting task. That said, it’s important to remember that weight loss is possible and achievable, no matter your age. With the right strategies and a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, you can reach your weight loss goals and improve your overall well-being.
In this article, we’ll walk you through why losing weight in your 50s is different than doing it in earlier stages of life, nutrition and exercise tips for safe and effective weight loss, why you shouldn’t skimp on sleep, and more.
How is Losing Weight in Your 50s Different?
“I like to remind my clients that losing weight after 50 is really different from losing weight when you’re in, say, your 20’s,” says Sarah A.O. Isenberg, Nationally Board-Certified Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer. “Many of the “old rules” don’t apply anymore. Women in midlife have a lot more mileage on their bodies, there are a lot more factors to consider.”
Is gaining weight once you reach a certain age inevitable? Not necessarily, Isenberg says.
“Inevitable weight gain in midlife has been debunked, but many women find themselves with extra weight because their lives are so darn busy, they have demanding jobs, and their bodies don’t work like they used to,” says Isenberg. “In addition, hormonal shifts will often cause weight distribution to, say, the midsection, which is cause for distress for many women!”
One literature review investigating menopause’s impact on weight gain and body composition found that menopause specifically contributes to abdominal obesity or the aforementioned “midsection”. Menopause is marked by decreased estrogen levels which can affect fat distribution and weight gain.
In addition to hormonal shifts, lifestyle changes leading to a more sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain, especially when paired with a poor diet. A sedentary lifestyle is more common in older adults, and has been linked to increased risk of obesity. It may be more difficult to keep up an active lifestyle as you age due to other household responsibilities, a smaller social circle, or feeling embarrassed to go to the gym.
Finally, we lose muscle mass as we age, which could play a role in gaining weight in your 50s and beyond. Starting at age 50, you lose about 1-2% of your muscle mass each year. This loss of muscle mass can make your metabolism slower, consequently making weight gain easier.
While there are certain challenges associated with trying to lose weight in midlife, remember that working towards a weight loss goal at any age should be done in a way that is thoughtful and safe. According to Isenberg, “A woman should get the OK from her doctor before embarking on any new movement or dietary plan.”
Nutrition Tips to Lose Weight
Changing your diet is one of the most effective weight loss strategies you’ll likely want to try. But what should those changes entail? How intense do they need to be?
“You DO NOT have to go to extremes. This is probably my #1 piece of advice. You don’t need to “go Keto”, or eliminate carbs, or white foods, or go vegan or Paleo,” says Isenberg. “There are 1,000 ways to lose weight, and at the base of each one is a calorie deficit. You must consume fewer calories than you’re expending.”
On the path to aiming for a healthy calorie deficit that still leaves you feeling nourished and satiated, you’ll likely want to explore eliminating some processed foods. Processed foods are those with ingredients like hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, and flavoring agents. These are usually found in things like candy, fast food, and sugary drinks. They’re sometimes referred to as “empty calories” because they’re often low in important nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
“But you can consume some “fun food”, too, like alcohol. The most important thing is that whatever you choose to do is sustainable over the long-term. And, spoiler alert: Going to extremes is never sustainable,” says Isenberg.
That said, Isenberg says learning to “eat strategically” will naturally help you weed out some of the more processed food from your diet. “Emphasizing foods that are full of protein and fiber will help “crowd out” a lot of the less nutritious foods that are super high-cal but don’t fill you up,” she says.
Increasing your protein intake is an important aspect of weight loss. It can also help you stop or reverse age-related muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia. Try to eat a protein-rich diet by incorporating more fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes into your meals. The current recommended dietary allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day. Or about 2.3 ounces of protein per day for a 180-pound adult. But it’s a good idea to try to eat even more than that as you get older, as it can help address sarcopenia. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with sarcopenia may need 1 to 1.2 g/kg of protein a day.
And in addition to more protein, get some of the other nutrients your body needs by introducing more whole foods into your diet. Whole foods generally refer to less processed foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
While making changes to your diet, consider consulting with a registered dietitian or nutritionist. These professionals are trained to provide personalized guidance and support based on your specific needs and goals. A dietitian can help you create a well-rounded meal plan that includes a variety of foods you enjoy while ensuring you’re meeting your nutritional requirements. They can also offer practical tips, accountability, and ongoing support throughout your weight loss journey.
Let’s review. In general, when making changes to your diet you’ll want to pay particular attention to:
- Increasing your protein intake
- Eliminating processed foods
- Eating more whole foods
Exercise Tips to Lose Weight
One of the best ways to lose weight is to thoughtfully up your activity levels. As for an exercise routine designed to help you lose weight, Isenberg again emphasizes the importance of avoiding extremes.
“Because of hormonal changes, over-exercising is often a huge issue with midlife women. We were grown up in the world of “eat less,” exercise more—and many women are frantically doing cardio in an attempt to control their weight…only to exhaust themselves and raise their overall stress level,” says Isenberg.
With this, Isenberg recommends limiting your cardio. “Longer-duration, steady-state cardio tends to increase appetite and raise cortisol, your stress hormone. This leads to overeating and the cortisol contributes to that midlife belly I like to call the “menopot,” she says.
Instead, it’s often effective to focus more of your efforts on strength training.
“Strength training is imperative. As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass—and muscle is what keeps us independent and capable as we age, and it also helps us look more compact and fit. You can weigh more than ever, but if you have a higher percentage of muscle mass, you will appear more slim,” says Isenberg.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends strength training for most older adults. This helps lessen the symptoms of chronic conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, back pain, and depression. Luckily, you can easily do strength training at home as long you have some space and a couple of weights.
Isenberg recommends a routine that looks something like this:
- 2 times/week high-intensity interval training sessions, for about 20 minutes maximum
- 2-3 times/week strength training
- Daily leisure walking (walking around 3 mph, no “power walking”). As much as you can manage (ideally 30-60 minutes per day), and can be split up over multiple sessions per day if that suits you better
Isenberg highlights the importance of strength training and keeping physically fit in general as you age. “You’ll be able to do what you want when you want as you age,” she says. “Think: going for a bike ride, picking up a grandchild, getting up out of a chair, or off the floor.”
Don’t Forget About Sleep
Sleep is an often overlooked aspect of trying to lose weight. But it’s a crucial part of your wellness that deserves as much attention as diet and exercise.
“Don’t skimp on sleep! It’s foundational,” says Isenberg. “Sleep affects every behavior and process in your body. Your metabolism, your mood, your cognition.”
There are many ways sleep can impact your weight loss journey. To start, skimping on sleep affects your brain, dulling activity in its frontal lobe which is where decision-making and impulse control happen. Additionally, being overtired makes your brain’s reward centers more active. This makes it all the more difficult to say no to cravings for junk food.
In a study done at the University of Chicago, sleep-deprived participants reported higher scores for hunger and a stronger desire to eat. They also chose snacks with twice as much fat as they did when they had slept at least 8 hours. Another study showed that when people get too little sleep, late-night snacking increases and they’re more likely to choose high-carb snacks. And another showed that sleep-deprived people are more likely to eat bigger portions of all foods.
On top of making less healthy choices around food, being too tired could lead you to skip your workouts and be less physically active in general.
Plus, too little sleep triggers a cortisol spike in your body, a stress hormone that signals your body to conserve energy. This makes it hold on to more fat. One study found that when dieters cut back on sleep over a 14-day period, the amount of weight they lost from fat dropped by 55%, while their calories stayed equal. One reason this could happen is that without enough sleep, your body’s ability to process insulin decreases. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body convert food into energy. And as insulin sensitivity decreases, your body struggles to process fats in your bloodstream and stores more of them as fat. All of this contributes to a lower metabolism.
Isenberg says getting 7-9 hours of sleep is ideal. “It’s really hard for many women,” she says. “Hormonal shifts affect sleep, as does stress. There are lots of great interventions, medical and otherwise, that can help women sleep better.”
Here are some ways you can try to get more and higher quality sleep:
- Turn off all screens at least an hour before going to bed.
- Save your bedroom for sleep and relaxing activities, and opt to do work or watch TV in other rooms.
- Create a relaxing bedtime ritual that signals to your brain it’s time to start winding down. Read, take a warm bath, or meditate.
- Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Avoid eating heavy meals and alcohol close to bedtime, which can adversely impact your quality of sleep.
- Stop consuming caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime. This can delay the timing of your body clock and reduce the amount of deep sleep you get.
- Keep your bedroom dark when you’re trying to sleep, which will help you release melatonin and sleep more easily. Try blackout curtains if necessary.
Can Supplements Help You Lose Weight?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans released by The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults over 50 get each of the following vitamins and minerals daily:
- Vitamin B12: 2.4 mcg (micrograms) each day.
- Calcium: Women over age 50 need 1,200 mg (milligrams) each day. Men need 1,000 mg between age 51 and 70 and 1,200 mg after 70, but not more than 2,000 mg a day.
- Vitamin D: 600 IU (International Units) for people aged 51 to 70 and 800 IU for those over 70, but not more than 4,000 IU each day.
- Vitamin B6: 1.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women each day.
But do you need to take supplements to reach these recommended amounts? Not necessarily.
“Vitamins and minerals from diet are best,” says Isenberg. “Eating a wide variety of foods will help that happen.”
If you’re interested in taking supplements or think you might be deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral, it’s worth consulting your doctor and getting a blood test.
You can do it!
Although weight loss can become more challenging as you age, it’s still achievable with some strategy and persistence. Work to implement changes into your diet, exercise, and sleep routines in ways that are safe and sustainable. Talk to your doctor about your fitness goals, try some of our weight loss strategies for women over 50, and remember that the biggest reward to adopting a more healthy lifestyle is how great you will feel!
Disclaimer: All content within this site is not intended as medical diagnosis or treatment and should not be considered a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any health or nutritional information obtained is accurate.