Mid-life is one of the busiest and most-demanding times of our lives. We are growing our career, raising our families, caring for our aging parents, trying to nurture relationships (or making a gut-wrenching decision of ending a relationship), managing our finances and spending, while trying to take care of ourselves and our own health.
Because we are educated, we have a pretty good sense of the vast areas of self-care we need to pay attention to so that we can keep our bodies healthy – our food and nutrition practices, our hydration, alcohol intake and drug use, exercise, stress management, sleep, medications, dental health, and spirituality. The challenge for us is to figure out how to juggle all the above when our energy and capacity isn’t what it used to be.
One of the main reasons people reach out to me is because they have experienced unwanted weight gain and feel frustrated with their middle-life body. Because you are educated, you know that health is so much more than the number on a scale and that weight is only one health parameter we can measure (there are others). But because you grew up in and live in a culture that places so much attention on how we look, you may still have the desire to lose weight.
Rather than berating yourself for all the reasons you cannot seem to make this happen, I wanted to offer a compassionate reminder of why it is so hard to lose weight when you are over 40 and 50 years of age.
We have more stress. We may be sandwiched between caring for our children, young or grown up, and our aging parents. We have job stress. Financial stress. Relationship stress. Our personal demons may be rearing their ugly heads, demanding our attention. We have huge time constraints, with pressure to do more in 24 hours a day. What do we do? How do we bring ourselves “down”? Escapism. Escapism through a box of cookies, crackers, a tub of ice cream. Wine. Alcohol. Pot. Gambling. Shopping. We all have our vices.
2. We have more money.
We have more money to enjoy the finer things in life – good wine perfectly paired with fancy cheese and meat; port or dessert wine; scotch. We have money to enjoy a greater variety of foods. We have more money to enjoy trendy dinners or to outsource meal prep and getting our family fed…pizza, sushi. We have money to indulge on vacation (and who doesn’t put on some weight while on vacation?!).
3. We finish of our kid’s uneaten food.
Whether it is breakfast, lunch, supper or snack, it is hard to walk by and not have a taste of that left-over waffle, beautifully smothered in butter and maple syrup. Or the last bite of their half-eaten cookie (how do they just eat half? Many of us grew up in the generation where we did not leave food uneaten on the plate. After all, there are starving kids in Africa). Finishing off other people’s uneaten food does not help our weight.
4. Our habits, rituals and social activities are built around food
Friday night is pizza night…Saturday is dinner with friends…Sunday morning may be brunch. We build adventure around food. We try new restaurants (and there are lots of amazing places to eat!), new bakeries, new cafes, new foods. We may have more hobbies built around food. We have tried our hand at making our own wine, our own beer. We may be famous in our own networks for our pie crust or killer chocolate brownies. Our social activities are built around food with dinners out, drinks with friends. And who can blame us? Food and drink is a beautiful way to connect with people.
5. Our bodies hurt more
We know we should exercise and so we fit in some kind of exercise to our overly-busy life. If we are not currently active, we hurt from unfamiliar exercises. If we are already active, we may suffer injuries from chronic overuse, or muscle strength imbalances (weak hamstring anyone? Weak glute med?). Either way, we hurt and need a standing appointment for our chiropractor, massage therapist and physiotherapist. It is difficult to maintain a regular exercise routine when you feel like a human pretzel.
6. Peer pressure to detox and jump on the latest diet bandwagon.
We may be surrounded by friends who are doing the latest detox and cleanse. Or maybe our relationship just ended and we aren’t feeling great about our lives. And, while you know these diets don’t work long term, the social pressure and the false-promise of weight loss can be very alluring when we do not feel good about our body. This can result in an unhealthy cycle of diet and restriction early in the week, followed by over-doing it on the weekend. We may be more susceptible to dietary approaches that are less sustainable.
7. Poor sleep hygiene
Sleep is the most “elastic” part of our day – the part of our day where we can tap in if we need to finish off a project, send off that last email, respond to a message, get this food prepared, get ready for the next day. As part of our unrelenting to-do list, we may spend more time on our computer or tablet right up until bed time, a behaviour that is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep is associated with poor food choices, eating more foods and weight gain.
8. We travel more
Whether we travel for business or for vacation, anytime we spend time away from home, it becomes extremely difficult to lose weight and keep it off. Business travel usually means 16-hour sedentary days of work and food.
Personal travel may mean all-inclusive resorts and eating out more. And while I would love to say that I eat the same on vacation versus while I am at home, I don’t. I eat and drink more. This makes losing weight tough.
9. Career pressures and long work days
We may be hyper-focused on climbing the corporate ladder. Or, we may be miserable in our current job and want to figure out what we want to be “when we grow up”. If we chose to stay at home to raise our family, we may be lacking confidence in our abilities and skills. Either way, career pressures occupy more of our time and focus.
10. Work and home environments that are incongruent with our health goals.
We each have our own eating needs that are not compatible with where we work or live. Many people I work with lament about how they are trying to eat better, but get caught up by the donuts or treats available at work. Or by the chips their teenager or spouse eats. Frequent visual cues from these foods and the almost-automatic response of eating them make it very difficult to lose weight. Your home and work environments aren’t set up for dietary change.
11. Your physical body has changed
As we age, our body changes physically. Our hormones change and may become out of balance. We may now have impaired glucose tolerance, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypothyroidism. We may struggle with anxiety or depression. We may need to take medication that results in weight gain. We may be peri-menopausal, or have reached menopause or andropause. Our forty-and-fabulous bodies aren’t as efficient as they used to be.
When you are in your 40s and 50s, your body has changed. Your life has changed. And while you are successful in other areas of your life, you may be having trouble losing weight. Have compassion for yourself. Learn how you can manage your weight and what you can do to keep yourself healthy, well and energized. Here are 7 tips to get you started.
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