Even if you’ve considered yourself an active person all your life, losing weight after 40 can feel like an uphill battle. That’s because your body composition, metabolism, and hormones all change as you age, so the weight-loss methods you’ve used in the past may not be as effective or quick when you’re a little bit older.
“One of the reasons that it’s difficult to lose weight in your 40s is that you are beginning to lose muscle mass, so the composition of your body tissue changes,” explains Keri Peterson, MD, Women’s Health advisor. “Having higher muscle mass raises your metabolism, so your body burns more calories.” So when you’re dealing with the opposite—less muscle mass—that means a slower metabolism. Argh.
Another thing that can slow metabolism is menopause, notes Dr. Peterson. Although, for some women, the process doesn’t happen until their 50s, the transitional period into menopause can start in your 40s. And the hormonal changes associated with menopause can also make it harder to lose weight.
Despite those changes, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to weight loss in your 40s. Losing weight may just require some new techniques you haven’t had to use before, or slight tweaks to power up your old ones.
To jumpstart your weight loss, the biggest focus should be to develop habits that will help you build or maintain your muscle mass. “The most effective way that women over 40 can boost their metabolism is by building muscle through weight-lifting and resistance training,” says Dr. Peterson (more on that to come). But nutrition and sleep habits also play a role here.
Let’s get down to business: If you’re having a hard time achieving your weight-loss goals after 40, these 16 expert-backed tips for losing weight in your 40s are totally doable and can nudge your body in the right direction again. (And, tbh, they’re wise for anyone looking to move the needle to keep in mind—not just those over 40.) You’ll be on your way to a stronger, healthier you in no time.
How to tweak your eating habits over 40 for weight loss
When your metabolism is naturally a bit slower in your 40s and older, you generally have to consume fewer calories—and be strategic in how you divvy up your calories and macros—in order to maintain or lose weight. These general guidelines can help you gauge whether you need to make additional dietary changes to jumpstart your weight loss again.
1. Load up on your fruits and veggies.
Vegetables in particular are generally low in calories, yet still packed with vitamins and minerals, and you can eat them in large amounts. “These are rich in fiber which makes you feel full and they’re nutrient-dense,” says Dr. Peterson.
Erin Palinski-Wade, RD and nutrition and diabetes expert, adds that you can use fruits and veggies to help exercise portion control, too. “If you aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, it can help you to reduce the portion size of the other foods while feeling just as satisfied,” she explains. “And since vegetables provide few calories, this strategy can reduce your overall calorie intake at each meal, helping to promote weight loss.
2. Eat *more* protein.
Your body has to work harder (meaning it burns more calories) digesting protein than it does fat or carbs, so Palinski-Wade recommends the strategy of upping protein intake to many of her clients, including women who are 40 and over. “Although I don’t promote very high-protein diets, increasing your protein intake from 15 percent of your total calories to 30 percent can help you boost the calories your body burns during digestion, which may just help speed weight loss.”
Sarah Mirkin, RDN, author of Fill Your Plate Lose the Weight, recommends 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal. “It’s important to take in that amount of protein at all your meals, and ideally include high protein snacks as well,” Mirkin says. “This helps to prevent lean muscle protein breakdown that decreases muscle mass percentage, increases fat percentage, and slows the metabolic rate. Muscle burns calories. Fat doesn’t.”
Not totally sure how to calculate your macros on your own? Consider working with a nutritionist to figure out your numbers—then you can use a macro calculator to track your food intake and make sure you’re hitting those numbers. There are lots of free calculators online, and you can also ask your RD to point you in the right direction.
3. Avoid fried foods.
Yeah, you’ve probs heard that diet tip before—as it’s wise for anyone trying to lose weight. Fried foods contain a whole lot of fat and contribute to weight gain—simple as that. But again, in your 40s, you deal with natural physiological changes that make it *even* tougher to shed excess weight, so overdoing it on fried foods has larger consequences. “A 20 year old can get away with eating empty calorie meals. A 40 year old usually cannot on a semi regular basis,” Mirkin points out. “Until we are age 20, [our] bodies are building muscle. After age 20, it stops.”
Instead, swap your fried foods for oven-baked options (think: homemade baked sweet potato fries instead of the fried deal), suggests Palinski-Wade. “You still enjoy the same great-tasting foods but can save around 100 calories or more per meal.” Score.
4. Make your breakfast nice and hearty.
If you’re a breakfast person, what you eat in the a.m. can set the tone for the rest of your day as far as weight loss goes (whether you’re 40 or not!). “A breakfast rich in lean protein, fiber, and plant-based fats is the best option for curbing hunger and cravings later in the day,” notes Palinski-Wade. In other words, start off with a breakfast that fits this bill, and you may end up slashing calories throughout the rest of the day.
5. Watch what you eat at night.
It’s a myth that eating at night leads to weight gain, Palinksi-Wade points out; it’s more about what you’re eating at night that can be an issue when it comes to weight management. “Since most of us don’t have a salad for a midnight snack, if you find you tend to eat calorie-dense, high-sugar foods in the evening (like a bowl of ice cream) setting guidelines as to when to stop eating may help you to lose weight faster.”
6. Eat slowly and mindfully.
That delicious plate you just bought or cooked up might temp you to gobble it up in just a few bites, but that’s probably not a good idea, says Palinski-Wade. “Eating slowly, eliminating distractions at meals, and even putting your fork down in between bites all allow you to get in touch with your body’s satiety signals and to stop eating when satisfied.”
Mirkin adds that they key is listening to your body. “Eat when you’re hungry, not starved,” she says—and stop when you are satisfied, not stuffed. “Try to include small, frequent meals that are high in protein and vegetables with a small amount of healthy fat to fuel your body evenly throughout the day.”
7. Drink less soda.
“Soda is just empty calories from sugar and provides no nutritional benefit,” says Palinski-Wade. In addition, drinking simple sugars can spike blood sugar and insulin levels, causing your body to store more fat, she adds—fat that will be tougher to shed over 40. Instead, swap the soda for naturally flavored seltzer, she suggests.
8. Drink less alcohol, too.
It’s an easy way to cut calories, notes Dr. Peterson. “Plus, drinking often leads to making poor food choices.” Palinki-Wade recommends reserving your night-cap for one day a week, since alcohol can stimulate appetite and make it easier to overindulge.
9. Add hormone-balancing foods to your diet.
It’s no secret that your hormone levels change as you enter menopause. “During menopause, the hormone estradiol decreases. Since this hormone helps to regulate metabolism, a decrease may lead to weight gain,” says Palinski-Wade.
But paying attention to your diet can help with these hormonal changes. “Eating foods that are rich in phytoestrogen (dietary estrogen), such as flax seed, sesame seeds, dried fruits, and soybeans, may help to offset this hormonal change,” she explains.
How to change your workout routine after 40
Again, the big thing to think about when it comes to your workouts at this age is building and maintaining muscle mass. Dr. Peterson suggests getting in 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. The more you move, the more of a calorie deficit you’ll have, meaning increased weight loss.
10. Do a total-body strength routine.
Julie Diamond, a NASM-certified personal trainer who’s worked with older clients, recommends women over 40 strength train three to five times a week.
Unfortunately, you can’t just focus on one area of your body. “Women should focus on all muscle groups in order to lose weight and build muscle because there’s no such thing as spot training,” Diamond reminds. “With that said, women have a tendency to gain weight in the midsection as we age and focusing on the core and a well-balanced workout will help to reshape body composition.”
11. Be careful not to overexercise.
You may be super committed to your goal of dropping a few pounds, but remember rest days are important. “I see this mistake so often and it backfires every time,” says Mirkin. “Your body perceives this as [a] major stressor on the body and your metabolism slows down to preserve body fat.” Craving a break? Take it—your bod will thank you.
Don’t forget about these healthy lifestyle tips over 40
Sometimes the needle won’t budge because of behaviors that have become second nature over 40. Consider adapting these lifestyle changes, and you may start to see real weight-loss progress.
12. Track what you eat using a food diary app.
Palinski-Wade says that people who track what they eat tend to lose more weight than those who don’t. “That’s most likely because these individuals are more aware of what they are putting into their body, which can help them to make better choices and better moderate [their] portion size.”
If you’re unsure of how many calories you need to consume to maintain your weight, there are calories calculators you can use, adds Dr. Peterson. “[They] tell you the amount of calories you need to consume to maintain your weight based on your gender, age, height and activity level.”
13. Try to reduce stress.
Stress, which plenty of women experience more of as they age and work and family responsibilities pile up, can lead to an increase in hormones like cortisol, which cause your body to store fat rather than burning it. To minimize your stress, Palinski-Wade suggests practicing breathing exercises every day, especially before bed.
Another option? Eat foods rich in vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids, which Palinski-Wade says have been found to reduce the levels of circulating stress hormones in the body.
14. Get your thyroid checked.
Hypthyroidism, a condition where the body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, can sometimes lead to weight gain, but weight gain alone isn’t a sign of hypothyroidism. This condition tends to affect women more in middle age, so it’s important to rule it out if you’re struggling with weight loss and get the treatment you need.
If you are taking the appropriate measures (e.g., eating enough of a calorie deficit for your age and body composition, stressing less, and working on strength training) and still not losing weight, and you also have other symptoms of hypothyroidism (such as constipation, fatigue, dry hair and nails), then it may be worth considering getting your thyroid levels checked,” advises Dr. Peterson.
15. Get a good night’s rest…regularly.
Difficulty sleeping can be a symptom of menopause, so it’s not uncommon for women in their 40s to struggle with getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, this can also cause weight gain. “When you get less than seven hours of restful sleep, metabolic changes occur that can make it significantly harder to lose weight,” says Palinksi-Wade. “The appetite hormone ghrelin is increased while leptin (which controls hunger cues) is reduced, triggering an increased desire to eat, especially for foods rich in fat and sugar. Insulin resistance increases, which can trigger the body to store fat.”
If you’re struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep, try these tips for making your bedroom the optimal sleep environment.
16. Get support from your friends and family.
Dr. Peterson and Palinski-Wade both agree that a support system can keep you accountable at any age. “It’s much easier to motivate yourself to go to the gym when a friend is there waiting for you. And it’s much easier to eat nutritious meals when your family and friends aren’t pressuring you to have another cookie,” says Palinski-Wade.