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How to Reverse Middle-Age Weight Gain

By Amy Paturel
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD

Your jeans feel tighter, but you're eating and exercising about as much as you have for years. What's up with that?

You have a couple of things working against you. You're probably not burning calories as efficiently as you did when you were younger. That's because your metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn in a day) dips about 1% per year beginning around age 30, says Carolyn Brown, RD, nutritionist at Foodtrainers in New York.

You can outsmart that. Shift a few habits so you can rev your body back up.

Start with these five strategies.

1. Amp Up Protein

Protein is the building block of muscle, and since muscle mass diminishes as you age, you need even more protein.

“Starting at middle age, you need 10% more protein than you did during your younger years,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, author of Doctor’s Detox Diet: The Ultimate Weight Loss Prescription.

A bonus: Foods that are high in protein pack a greater metabolic boost than fat or carbohydrates. Biting, chewing, swallowing, and digesting protein-rich foods can burn up to 30% of the calories on your plate, compared to 5% for fat and carbs.

Do this: Nosh on Greek yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, or lox within 2 hours of waking up.

2. Tame Your Stress

The stress hormone cortisol is tied to an accumulation of fat around your midriff. And midlife can be a stressful time, says Florence Comite, MD, an endocrinologist in New York.

Chronic stress can also affect how well your body responds to insulin, which controls your blood sugar, Comite says.

Eliminating as much stress as possible from your daily routine will help cut the amount of cortisol your body makes.  

Do this: Meditate. Just 10 minutes of mindful meditation can make a difference, Comite says.

3. Don’t Skimp on Sleep

When you're short on sleep, your appetite kicks into higher gear. In one study of some 68,000 women, those who slept for 5 or fewer hours each night gained 2.5 pounds more than those sleeping 7 hours a night.

Do this: Set a soothing bedtime routine that includes turning off all screens at least one hour before bed.

4. Get Stronger

The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even when you’re at rest. But you start losing muscle mass around age 40, Gerbstadt says.

Resistance training helps. Keeping your muscles strong makes it easier to maintain your weight.

Do this: Use weights that are heavy enough to exhaust your muscles with 12 repetitions, yet light enough to complete at least eight repetitions. Do lunges, squats, dead lifts, and pushups (12-15 repetitions per set). Or, if you're not into weightlifting, do yoga or other exercises that use your own body weight for resistance.

5. Clean Up Your Diet

It's true: You can't eat the way you used to, without some consequences.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate the most refined foods (like sugar, white bread, cookies, and cakes) developed significantly more belly fat than those who consumed the same number of calories from less processed foods.

Do this: Always have healthy snacks on hand. Keep almonds in your pocketbook, trail mix in your desk drawer, and hard-boiled eggs in the fridge.

Reviewed on June 21, 2014

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