You hear the stories from Aunts or friends who are older about how the weight creeps on in your 40's. They tell you can't lose the weight when you're older and if you pay attention you can just SEE it's true. As a 20-something I remember sympathizing, but it was also something that I couldn't identify with. I hoped it wouldn't happen to me. Until it did right at my mid-40's. Looking back, I now see that was the best thing to happen to me because it lit a fire in me to find out why it's so hard to lose weight in your 40's. The answers I found from that quest for information have completely changed how I eat and have revolutionized my health.
If the tricks you've used before to control your weight just aren't working so well anymore, read on. This can be especially alarming when you workout like crazy, you're strong, and you eat well. I want you to know that for a large percentage of midlifers, the way you eat can start to work against you in midlife, even if you think it's ‘healthy.' There is a reason for that, and there is also a solution. It requires you to educate yourself and learn what is happening. Maybe you recognize your struggle in my story.
In 2014, at age 44, I found myself overweight. I applied the eat less, move more criteria and was able to lose 17 pounds over the course of 8 months. I ate less. I worked out like an animal. I detailed my journey in a series I wrote on the blog called Younger This Year. But then, all of those things stopped working.
Shortly after I lost that 17th pound, my weight plateaued. Because the eat less, move more theory never works long term – it will always slow your metabolism.
I worked out harder. Ate even less. Despite that, I watched helplessly as I gained every pound back in a frighteningly short amount of time – just 8 weeks.
I stayed in this terrible place of not understanding what was happening, not trusting my body, and blaming myself for over two years before I finally found the answer to unexplained weight gain in midlife. I want to share with you what I learned about how the way you eat can start to work against you in midlife, even if you think it's ‘healthy.'
the signs of insulin resistance
While researching my symptoms, I identified insulin resistance as an explanation for my inability to lose weight based on these symptoms:
- Feeling hungry all the time. If I wait longer than four hours to eat the hunger feels shaky and urgent.
- Good energy in the morning but by the afternoon I feel lethargic. After an intense workout, I feel drained.
- Periodic fuzzy and scattered thinking. Recall problems. Stumbling over my words at times.
- Craving sweets after a healthy meal.
- Several nights a week of poor sleep. Difficulty falling asleep.
- Weight gain mostly in my midsection.
what is insulin resistance?
Here's a simplified explanation of this complex system:
- The food you eat is broken down into a simple blood sugar (glucose) that the body uses for its energy needs.
- Glucose needs the hormone insulin. Insulin's job is to deliver glucose's energy to your cells.
- If you're overeating or eating foods that produce more blood sugar than your cells need, you’re going to wind up with a blood chemistry high in both glucose (blood sugar) AND insulin.
- When you have excess glucose/insulin it triggers insulin to convert that excess glucose into fat to store the excess energy for later.
This is why high blood sugar causes insulin to store fat.
But that's not all.
- Excess insulin also signals your existing fat to resist being used as fuel.
This makes sense because if your body has determined that it already has an excess of readily available blood sugar in the bloodstream to be used for fuel then there is no need to dip into fat reserves.
the primal body
It’s helpful to remember that our bodies have survived over millions of years because of its ability to save excess fuel as fat and then lock it away to be utilized as fuel during times of famine.
So when you eat in a way that causes excess blood sugar/insulin you are signaling your body to not only get fatter but to also lock your fat reserves against being used as fuel.
“About twenty five percent of the population appears to be genetically resistant to the adverse effect of overproduction of insulin and insulin resistance. These individuals usually manage to stay very slim, no matter what they eat. But 75% of the population is not so lucky, especially during perimenopause.”
— The Wisdom of Menopause p. 230
I guess when you think about it that way, those skinny people's ancestors are really lucky to have survived famine with little fat on their bodies. That's probably why there's so few of them in the world. They are an evolutionary anomaly.
Clearly, I'm not one of the lucky ones as far as that goes. I inherited genetic coding from ancestors who were genetically proficient at converting excess blood sugar to fat and then locking it away for future survival needs.
Right now, I'd survive a nice long time on my fat reserves, which would be great if we happened to be hit with a zombie apocalypse because I'd outlive those naturally skinny people for sure. But, fortunately(?), it's not the zombie apocalypse, so I've got to figure this out.
When you have excess insulin in your blood it blocks the hormone leptin from working properly.
This is a big problem because leptin is the hormone that tells your brain that you are full.
Leptin is released from fat cells. It makes sense right? If you have plenty of fat reserves on your body you shouldn't be overly hungry because your body knows there is plenty of fuel on board.
The problem is that excess insulin blocks the brain from receiving the signal from leptin. The brain never gets the message that you are full.
If you feel like you're hungry all the time it's a good signal that you are dealing with chronically elevated insulin levels that are blocking leptin's ‘I'm full' message. Elevated insulin will sabotage your efforts to eat less and lose weight because you will be hungry all the time.
this type of weight gain is primarily a HORMONE problem and less of a calorie problem
If you want to lose weight you MUST eat to minimize insulin response.You want to lower insulin in order to allow leptin to deliver its signal to the brain that you are full. When this happens you will genuinely not feel hungry.
You want to lower insulin in order to allow leptin to deliver its signal to the brain that you are full. When this happens you will genuinely not feel hungry.
That is a beautiful thing.
You want to lower insulin so that you stop storing excess blood sugar as fat.
You want to lower insulin so that your fat cells will open the door to be used as fuel.
You want your body to be able to dine on your own fat.
And not be hungry.
Doesn't that sound amazing?
how to lower insulin
The good news is that we can regulate insulin by controlling the types and quantity of food that we eat.
- Eat food that minimizes insulin response. Stay away from any kind of concentrated food. Concentrated food is any food that has been processed in its natural form and concentrated for flavor. This includes sugar, alcohol, processed food, and any kind of refined flour. Some people even find that they have to stay away from almond and coconut flour. You guys, don't skip that part about wine consumption. Regular drinking over time can put your system into metabolic chaos. I'll post more on this later.
- Eat less often. Since insulin levels go up every time you eat you want to eat less often. This will give your body a chance to experience lower insulin levels. If you are snacking all the time your insulin levels will always be slightly elevated no matter what you eat.
- Eat more fat. Consuming fat does not cause glucose or insulin to rise. So, getting most of your calories from fat will allow you feel full for much longer and allow leptin to work. Eating fat will signal your body to use your own fat for fuel.
- Eat more protein. Protein also helps you feel full for longer and it won't spike insulin as much as carbohydrates do.
- Strictly limit carbohydrates. Eat carbohydrates in the form of vegetables and fruits that don't spike insulin levels. Have a look at the glycemic index to determine which ones are best for minimizing insulin response. These are vegetables that tend not to be sweet like dark leafy greens and colorful vegetables. Of all fruits, berries have a minimal impact on blood sugar.
- Don't overeat. Overeating and managing desire are two really important and related topics. Let's talk about that in another post, though because I want to keep the focus here strictly on how to get fat-adapted and lower insulin. Stay tuned for more on this. I'll link here when it's posted.
does it make sense for you?
I had to really sit myself down and consider if I could actually be becoming insulin resistant.
- I have always had the feeling of being shaky and hangry when I let myself get too hungry.
- After my surgery to extract my wisdom teeth, I didn't eat for a few days and became clinically hypoglycemic – fainting in the shower, and visibly shaking if I went more than an hour without food. It seems I'm predisposed to swings in my blood sugar.
- I've always preferred bread and pasta because they make me feel better fast.
- My sudden weight gain that appeared in my mid-section is a definite and obvious sign of insulin resistance.
Now that I know much much certain foods can spike insulin blood sugar, I suspect my ‘healthy eating' was creating chronically high insulin levels, which has been locking down my ability to lose fat.
More signs – I'm tired, lethargic, and still craving something sweet even after a healthy meal. Also, there is that pesky reality that our body chemistry changes as we get older. What we could once tolerate eating 10 years ago and still maintain or even lose weight can cause different effects now. Yes, that totally sucks, and I have to accept that that is probably what is going on with me.
a new perspective
I knew I'd have to override my body's evolutionary impulses to dine on glucose instead of my own fat if I was insulin resistant. so, I did research and quickly found that a ketogenic diet would minimize blood sugar spikes and lower my insulin.
my plan to get fat adapted
In October of 2016, I began eating a ketogenic diet, which is the most effective eating style to heal insulin resistance and allow weight loss.
The goal of a ketogenic diet is to get your body to burn fat as fuel. This is a process that takes some time – between a couple of weeks to several months or more, depending on how insulin resistant your body has become.
When the body prefers to fuel itself on your own fat is what's known as a fat-adapted state. The longer you run in a fat-adapted state the more permanent this mode of operation becomes.
Fat-adaptation happens when your body has adapted its internal machinery to run on your own fat as fuel instead of blood glucose (sugar).
You get Fat Adapted by
- restricting total daily carbohydrates to less than 25 grams for most women.
- eating foods that do not spike insulin levels.
The nutrient intake on a ketogenic diet typically works out to about 70-75% of calories from fat, 20-25% from protein, and 5-10% from carbohydrate on a daily basis when calories are not restricted. however, if you want to lose weight, you must restrict your dietary fat in order to signal your body to make up for the difference by burning your body fat for fuel.
This makes sense, right? Eat all the fat your body needs to run and it doesn't have to burn it's stored fuel. The body will always prefer you to eat all of your fuel so that it can save your fat for a famine or a crisis situation. Remember that the body is a primal machine, whose job is to make sure you survive in all situations.
So, in order to be successful on a ketogenic diet, you'll need to know EXACTLY what macros to eat (grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates daily), eat whole organic and grass-fed food and meats, and live a lifestyle that optimizes your hormonal balance so that your body can work properly again. You'll also need to cultivate some awareness about how certain foods can negatively and positively affect your blood sugar. If you want to learn more about keto and how to get started, I have a whole library of free resources available.
If you'd like to follow along with my keto journey you should join the Thrive in Midlife community. You'll get periodic exclusive content reserved just for you, ALL of the FREE resources that I create for my community, plus the support you need to navigate this time in your life. As a bonus, you'll get a special free gift just for joining. It's packed with tips and tricks that give you the most effective results, reserved just for members. Also, as long as you're on the list, you'll continue to be the first to get all freebies and exclusive content and discounts reserved just for members.
p.s. You know I'm not a doctor, right? This is information that I'm sharing based on my own research and personal experience. Please do not take any information found here as a substitute for professional medical advice. See the disclosure.