Is it “Groundhog Day” for your weight?
I’m referring to the movie Groundhog Day, in which no matter what Bill Murray’s character did, every day was like the day before.
So many people – especially women but also men – tell me in their 40’s and 50’s that they are doing everything the same but are now gaining weight. They are eating the same foods they have always eaten and doing the same types and amounts of exercise that for years kept them at a stable weight that felt good to them.
Why does this happen?
1. Does metabolism slow down as we get older?
The medical literature debates this, but I think the answer is YES.
When I was in high school, I felt my jeans were a little tight, so here is what I did: I stopped eating those little six-packs of mini-donuts every day (yes, six little donuts every day at school!). That is all it took for about 5 pounds to melt away over the next couple of weeks.
Now, as the very funny Rita Rudner says, “How come when I eat a 1 pound box of chocolates I gain 5 pounds?” I now have to stay very far away from donuts and be much more mindful of what I eat just to maintain my weight. When I or my patients need to lose weight, it’s more of a challenge than it used to be.
2. Are hormones part of the reason for slower metabolism?
Again, I think the answer is YES.
In mid-life, we have a “less vigorous” hormonal environment – much lower hormone levels – than as a teenager or younger adult. This causes our cell metabolism to not work as efficiently.
There are so many hormones that impact metabolism, including cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, DHEA and testosterone. Quick shout out especially to testosterone, a hormone that declines as both men and women get older. It is the main hormone that in general helps men do better than women regarding metabolism and weight. Even for men, however, who run much higher levels of testosterone than women, as their levels decline, they report the same exercise activities with fewer results (see below).
3. Do food sensitivities develop as we get older?
For many people, including myself, this is another YES.
Even with my Ashkenazi Jewish background (among whom many have lactose intolerance), I was able to enjoy frequent ice cream when I was younger (even into my 20’s). Now I have to be extremely selective of when I have any dairy, and I can only have very small amounts.
Food sensitivities can develop as we get older because our immune systems change, partly in response to lower hormone levels. Also, over time our gut lining can get hurt by food toxins and stress. When these factors (and others) cause the gut lining cells to have bigger gaps between them, food particles can cross that barrier and evoke an immune response.
4. What about exercise?
If you are doing the same exercise you have done for many years and are not getting the same results regarding muscle building and weight management, again, you are going to hear me talk about hormones. The high-impact aerobics I loved to do in my 20’s and 30’s can be hormonally disruptive for many people in their 40’s, 50’s and later.
Related Post – Dr. Liz’s Exercise Guidelines
In midlife and beyond, you might do better with a shorter workout with more variable intensity. You also need to have rest days for your body to recover. I recommend shorter Tabata or HIIT types of workouts on an every-other-day basis for best results. Your body makes growth hormone (GH) the day AFTER one of these types of workouts, as long as you let your body rest and recover. GH helps kids grow, and then becomes a cell repair hormone for adults, so we still need it long after we are done growing. (Also, we make GH while we sleep, so protect your sleep!)
Are you in the majority of Americans who set a weight loss goal for 2022 and have already given up? I hope not, but I also want to give you some hope.
If you are in midlife and it seems like Groundhog Day for you regarding your weight, you’re not dreaming! It’s time to look beyond the “calories in, calories out” model at factors that do change as time goes by.