Weight gain. We’ve all been there. Yes, you might not have realized it yourself until you noticed all of your peers looking noticeably plump at the high school reunion, or when you were cleaning out the attic and decided to try on your old sports uniform.
It’s no secret that as we age, whether it’s 35 or 55, maintaining a healthy weight can sometimes be an uphill battle for many of us. It might have started in your college days, when you realized all the free pizza and cheap beer was doing a number on you. Or in your 30s when taking care of your body was no longer a priority amid the stress of juggling a career and family.
Here’s why the pounds really are 10 times easier to put on than they are to take off:
1. You’re not sleeping enough.
Before you had the demanding job, the boss who wants you in at 7 a.m., kids to drive to school and meals to cook, sleep might have been your favorite hobby. But now with added stress, the medications that can sometimes keep you up and, yes, even having to run to the bathroom more often at night — getting eight hours of sleep seems like a fantasy.
What do you do when you’re running on empty? Fill up your tank with sugary, whipped-cream topped lattes, or grab a donut or some cookies for a little comfort and a pick-me-up, of course. Then you might be working late or through lunch, grab some fast food and have little energy at the end of the day to hit the gym. The fatigue caused by lack of sleep also zaps your decision-making, so you’re less likely to reach for a salad and more likely to reach for a quick hit of energy instead.
While sleep won’t help you lose weight, not getting enough of it will probably make you gain weight, experts say. Much research has been done on the link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. In fact, one study even found that not getting adequate sleep actually makes your brain crave fattening, high-calorie foods. Scary stuff.
2. Your metabolism just isn’t what it used to be.
When you were younger, you could easily down a few jelly donuts without any consequences. Fast forward to your older self and you swear you could gain a pound just looking at a donut hole. According to Dr. Oz, your metabolism slows down 5 percent, every decade after you turn 40. Your metabolism is your body converting food into energy. When this slows down, you can’t burn calories like you used to. Many experts say that to counter this, you just need to trim off about 100 calories a day from your diet. It may not seem like a lot, but the calories can quickly add up. At 100 extra calories a day, 365 days a year, you’re looking at up to 10 pounds of weight you can possibly gain.
But don’t admit defeat to age and give in just yet. There are many simple ways to cut out 100 calories, with simple changes that won’t make you feel starved or completely change your diet. Try skipping the heavy, creamy salad dressings for some balsamic vinegar. Switch to fat-free creamer in your coffee or tea. Watch what condiments you’re putting on your sandwich, especially with things like cheese and mayo.
3. You’re not imagining things. You are actually hungrier.
Blame your hormones. After we hit 40, our estrogen levels fall, which causes changes in the blood sugar and thyroid, increasing your appetite. Combine this with a natural loss in overall muscle mass (meaning less calorie-burning power), often thanks to lower testosterone, and you’ve got a recipe for weight gain.
While you may not necessarily be able to change your hormone levels, you can combat the effects. Swap out junk food with empty calories for foods rich in fiber. Fiber not only keeps you regular, it helps you feel fuller, quicker, for longer. Fruits and veggies are great natural sources of fiber, as well as whole grains, and beans.
4. You’re losing muscle mass.
You’ve probably heard that “muscle weighs more than fat.” Well, the truth is, muscle burns more calories than fat. About three times more.
As mentioned earlier, this is due to drops in testosterone with age, along with loss from being underused. As the saying goes, “use it or lose it.”
Fight back with strength training. Each pound of muscle you gain (or swap out for a pound of fat) will increase your metabolism and help you burn more calories throughout the day. And besides keeping trim, some studies also show that strength training can also help protect your bones and prevent osteoporosis.