Weight concerns in midlife: 8 key areas that impacts your body weight

The exhausting cycle that makes you overeat and keeps you away from energizing and sustainable eating
April 7, 2022

Let’s me start by saying that I care far less about your body weight than you do. What I want to focus on with my clients is helping them discover healthy, sustainable strategies to help them feel better and reclaim their best health, so they can age well and live a vibrant life. This outcome can be achieved independent of body weight change.

 

As a dietitian and nutritionist with a background in psychology, coaching, culinary arts and mindfulness, I see endless opportunity for helping people to renovate their midlife kitchen, refine their diets, revamp their meal planning, and reduce cravings. How we eat does (and should) change as we go through life. But where clients routinely get stuck is inevitably the number on the scale.

 

Trigger warning – the following post has blatant talk about body weight as it explores the various factors that impact body weight. Discussions of body weight can be triggering. If you or someone you know if struggling with their feelings about their weight or relationship with food, or has a suspected eating disorder, please contact a regulated health professional or visit http://nedic.ca/

 

I get it. I live in the same body weight obsessed culture that you do. I see the way our world is set up to favour people living in smaller bodies and I acknowledge the privileges I experience as a result of walking on this earth in a smaller body. I am familiar with the lack of scientific information around body weight. I have written about several aspects of midlife body weight (available here). But my voice and the voice of several other health professionals is weak compared to the socio-, political- and economic systems that stand to profit from the narrow narrative of what all influences our body weight (the proverbial “eat less, move more”). So, in this post, I outline a broader framework of the many factors that impact body weight. It is my hope that you will have a wider lens of appreciation with which to see your body and body weight.

8 factors that influence your body weight in midlife

Weight concerns in midlife: What all impacts your body weight?

What is your understanding of all the factors that impact your body weight? If you said diet and exercise, you are missing several other factors that can impact body weight. When these factors are not adequately identified, addressed, or supported, we tend to focus “harder” on our diet and exercise, because that is all of what we know to do. This (typically restrictive) approach serves to further disconnect us from our bodies, and makes our worlds smaller. We often become frustrated because we think our bodies should be different than what they are, leading to further disconnection from our bodies. This results in us missing the myriad of ways that can improve our health, independent of body weight.

 

Yes, what we eat (our diet) and how much we move (exercise and physical activity) does have some influence our body weight. Diet culture has shoved those messages down our throats for years. And by the time we have hit midlife, we know a lot about diets! We have likely tried several approaches – keto, low-carb, paleo, intermittent fasting, macronutrient-based approaches, calorie counting, point-based systems, done-for-you meals, meal replacements, etc. We know the different tips, tricks, and “rules” about how we can manipulate our diet and exercise so that we can manipulate our body weight. The problem is, unless you are eating in a way that supports the body you have, and that you can enjoy and sustain for the longer term, you will remain in a never-ending cycle of weight loss, followed by weight gain, and then some (called weight cycling).

 

We have been conditioned to believe that it is part of our life’s work to “control” our body weight. We are taught that the tools with which we control our bodies include our diet (what and how much we eat) and exercise (how much we move). Over time, this soul-sucking work gets harder and harder because what used to “work” to change our body weight no longer “works”. Our diets get smaller as our body weight climbs, slowly but surely. We develop a joyless relationship with food. We no longer know how to eat. We feel further disconnected from our bodies because we think that our bodies don’t work properly. We might even think that we have broken or ruined our metabolism and other aspects of our bodies from our previous approaches.

 

It is time to learn about the science of what all impacts our bodies and our body weight.

 

8 major factors that can have a big impact on weight

How many of them apply to you?

8 factors that influence your body weight in midlife

1) What all impacts our body weight: Genetics

The “map that is used to build your body” or your genetics accounts for up to 75-80% of your body weight. Some people walk on the earth in bigger bodies and that is perfectly normal. There is natural diversity in our bodies. Just like eye and hair color, shoe size, hair type, there is a range of body sizes and shapes. It is the result of a weight-biased society that deems one size more desirable than the other. This is related to a social and political forces, and economic systems that serves to make lots of money off people’s fear of weight gain.

The bottom line is that we must respect the genetics that we are born with. If you are born with a body like a Hummer vehicle, no amount of dieting and working out is ever going to change you into a Mazda 3. We need to work WITH our bodies, not against them.

 

2) What all impacts our body weight: Mental health

When your mental health is not adequately identified, addressed, or supported, either through medications, therapy, and/or skills, we can expect to see that our body weights will climb higher. Our mental health is further damaged with on-going weight cycling. The following is a list of aspects of our mental health that can impact our body weight.

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attention, ADHD, ADD
  • Disordered eating
  • Binge eating
  • Binge-purge
  • Restrictive eating
  • Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) including abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, and other forms of adversity
  • Trauma, PTSD
  • Personality – traits, disorders
  • Poor body image
  • Experiences of unsolicited comments about your body from family, friends, health care providers and other people in your life.
  • Experiences of weight bias and internalized weight bias
  • Unsupportive self-talk
  • Medications that support your mental health and that cause weight gain.
  • Poor sleep
  • Stress
  • Loneliness
  • Addiction – felt sense of sugar addiction.

 

3) What all impacts our body weight: Metabolic & Hormonal health

Hormones are powerful chemical messengers in our bodies that can out-muscle any amount of so-called will-power. If you have any of the conditions below, you will have more trouble managing your weight.

  • Blood sugars, pre-diabetes, diabetes
  • Fatty liver (NAFLD)
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperlipidemia (total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL-C)
  • High levels of stress
  • Thyroid health
  • PCOS
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA).
  • Peri-menopause
  • Menopausal transition
  • Andropause
  • Hormonal changes
  • Medications
  • Heart disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Medications that improve blood sugar or impact other aspects of metabolic health and that contribute to weight gain
  • Weight cycling.

 

4) What all impacts our body weight: Mechanical health

Any condition that impacts your ability to move freely, or any injury that impacts your ability to live pain-free is going to have an impact on your body weight.

  • Arthritis
  • Osteo-arthritis
  • Chronic lung disease. COPD. Smoking
  • Skin disorders
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • History of a motor vehicle collision
  • Living with chronic pain
  • Osteoporosis, osteopenia
  • Obstructive Sleep apnea

 

5) What all impacts our body weight: Stage of life

Your stage of life can impact a change in your body weight. It is not so much your age, but what all comes with that stage of life, that can impact your body weight.

  • Transition to adulthood – moving out of your family of origin’s home to living on your own is a massive change in your life. Suddenly you are responsible for all aspects of your life – work, school, paying bills, feeding yourself, managing food and groceries and your social life.
  • Pregnancy and becoming a parent
  • Separation and divorce
  • Career advancement
  • Grief, loss, death of a loved one.

 

6) What all impacts our body weight: Poverty, environment, finances, and safety

If you grew up in poverty, lived in an unsafe neighbourhood, lived with financial stress, are a part of a marginalized community or identity. These aspects of our health are called “social determinants of health” and are related to our health status. However, you typically have less or no control over these factors.

  • Financial stress
  • Where you live
  • Access to safe, nutritionally adequate, and personally acceptable food (Food security).
  • How close you live to a grocery store
  • How close you live to a fast-food restaurant
  • Having a marginalized identity (for example, race, being able-bodied, neurodiversity, sexual orientation, gender identity) can  have an impact on your weight, due to the chronic stress that results from micro-aggressions toward marginalized identities.
  • Access to pharmacotherapy.

 

7) What all impacts our body weight: Diet

There are several aspects of our diet that can impact our body weight.

  • A history of chronic dieting, fad diets, dietary restriction (associated with the gradual increase in body weight over time).
  • Frequent eating out or ordering in
  • Alcohol use
  • “Munchies” as a result of cannabis use
  • Eating that is tied to emotional regulation, including boredom, sadness, grief, stress, and more
  • Distracted eating
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Sugar sweetened beverages –pop, specialty coffee drinks, slurpees, slushies, fruit drinks
  • Frequent intake of ultra-processed foods; highly palatable foods
  • Weak meal structure, skipping meals
  • Night-time eating
  • Under-fueling, under-eating
  • Neuro-biological adaptations to dieting
  • Difficulty with managing appetite (there is more to it than your willpower).

 

8) What all impacts our body weight: Lifestyle

How you live and how you cope with your life will also impact your body weight.

  • Chronic stress and how we manage stress
  • Substance use, drug use
  • Sleep, poor sleep quantity, poor sleep quality
  • Relationships, social support, insufficient support
  • Poor cardiovascular fitness, poor exercise tolerance
  • Strength and muscularity
  • Excessive sitting, sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor self-care
  • Being lowest of the priority list.

8 factors that influence your body weight in midlife

8 factors that impact body weight

How many affect you?

The above list is not exhaustive. But I hope it helps expand your perspective on the various factors that may impact your body weight. As you think about you and your life, how many of the above impact your life history and your health profile?  This reflection is about identifying the root causes of the many factors that impact your body weight, and then finding a realistic plan that supports your health and the body you have, which deserves and needs your care to thrive.

 

I am not saying that you shouldn’t care about your health. I am a dietitian working in health care and am passionate about helping you to improve your health through diet and lifestyle. But what I am saying is that we need to separate weight from health. Weight, by itself, is not a great indicator of your true, holistic health. There are many ways to improve your physical, emotional and spiritual health, independent of focusing on body weight. Here (and here) are some ideas to get you started.

 

The exhausting cycle that makes you overeat and keeps you away from energizing and sustainable eating

Body image in midlife: How to improve yours

Having trouble with your portion sizes? There is more to your appetite than your will power

 

References consulted for the writing of this blog:

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Flegal KM, Kit BK, Orpana H, Graubard B. Association of al-cause mortality with overweight and obesity using standard body mass index categories. A systematic review and Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2013 Jan 2; 309(1): 71–82.  doi: 10.1001/jama.2012.113905. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4855514/

Rueda-Clausen CF, Poddar M, Lear SA, Poirier P, Sharma AM. Canadian Adult Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines: Assessment of People Living with Obesity. Available from: https://obesitycanada.ca/guidelines/assessment. Accessed [June 20, 2022].

Obesity Canada. Clinical assessment of obesity related risk and patient readiness. Available from; http://obesitycanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/5AsT-Learning-Module-Clinical-Assessment.pdf

O’Hara L, Taylor J. What’s Wrong With the ‘War on Obesity?’ A Narrative Review of the Weight-Centered Health Paradigm and Development of the 3C Framework to Build Critical Competency for a Paradigm Shift. SAGE Open. April 2018. doi:10.1177/2158244018772888 Available from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2158244018772888

Rothblum, E. D. (2018). Slim chance for permanent weight loss.Archives of Scientific Psychology, 6(1), 63–69. https://doi.org/10.1037/arc0000043. Available from: https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2018-40989-001.html

Sharma A. The M & M’s of Obesity Assessment. Nov 18, 2009. [Accessed June 20, 2022]. Available from: https://www.drsharma.ca/sharma-mnemonic-the-m-ms-of-obesity-assessment

Tomiyama, A., Carr, D., Granberg, E. et al. How and why weight stigma drives the obesity ‘epidemic’ and harms health. BMC Med 16, 123 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1116-5. Available from: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-018-1116-5#citeas

Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall MSc, RD Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian Calgary, AB.

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