Middle-Age Bulge – Why Does it Happen and What Can We do to Prevent it

Let’s face it, as much as we’d like to believe that we are as energetic, athletic, flexible, and lean as we were in our 20’s and 30’s, the truth is that we are not. We look in the mirror and wonder why the jeans that fit us perfectly a year ago are now a little snug.  We watch what we eat, we exercise at least 4 times a week but we can’t seem to keep the middle-age bulge from creeping up!  Before you give up and throw in the towel, let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why our weight is going up despite our efforts to keep it down and what we can do to counteract this dreaded gain.

Below are five common mistakes that most of us make. The more informed and aware we are of our detrimental behavior, the better our chances are at overcoming them before they overcome us.

Mistake #1: Crash Dieting

We live in a fast-paced world. Our desire for instant-gratification can easily take over our lives especially when it comes to weight loss.  We want to lose weight and we want it now!  However, when we slash too many calories, we send our bodies into starvation mode.  This causes our metabolic rate to drop (as much as 25%) and that means we are not burning calories effectively.  Eating fewer than 900 calories a day also causes our bodies to burn through desirable muscle mass – we never want that!  Maintaining muscle mass is crucial to keeping our bodies functioning as a fat burning machine.  In order to lose weight and keep it off successfully, focus on shedding pounds slowly.  Two (2) pounds a week is a good goal to aim for.  Staying within 1,200 and 1,500 calories will allow you to slim down; you will be losing body fat versus muscle mass.

Mistake #2: Cardio only workouts

It is a known fact that as we age, we lose muscle mass. If we do not challenge your muscles with weight training we can lose as much as 5 pounds of muscle per decade!  While cardiovascular exercise is great for our health it is NOT enough to keep our muscles challenged.  Without being challenged on a regular basis, we cannot build, strengthen, or preserve muscle.  We will also miss out on the calorie burning benefit of weight training.  That being said, I would suggest at least two (2) strength training sessions a week.

Mistake #3: Sticking to the same routine:

Our bodies are incredible – they are smarter than we give them credit for being. If we do the same exercises every single time we work out, our muscles will adapt and in time burn fewer calories.  What does that mean?  Essentially, we are wasting our time!  We want to change things up every 2 months or so to keep our bodies “guessing”.  Whether it is in your cardio or weight training routine – mix things up! Use a different route when walking, jogging or biking outdoors, a different incline and/or speed on the treadmill, lighter weights and more reps or heavier weights and lower reps.  Not only will you challenge your body but you will lower the risk of boredom setting in.  From my experience, boredom leads to non-existent workouts and non-existent workouts lead to weight gain.  It is a pretty simple and straight-forward equation.

Mistake #4: High Stress and Low Sleep:

According to the University of California, San Francisco, researchers, cortisol is a hormone responsible for cravings for high-fat and high-carb food. The worse part about giving in to these cravings is that the weight usually goes to our waistline (i.e. middle-age bulge).  You may be wondering what causes increases in cortisol, right?  Well, stress and sleep deprivation are two main culprits that cause cortisol levels to shoot up.  According to the researchers at the University of Chicago, sleep deprivation increases an appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, and decreases the satisfaction hormone, leptin.  That means you will crave more sugar, pasta, cookies, chips, etc.  Again, giving into these cravings will only lead to weight gain.

What you want to do is focus on getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night. I know that might be hard with the hectic schedules we all face, but give it a shot.  Exercise (both cardiovascular and strength training) is the best way to combat stress.  If you incorporate more activity and more sleep into your schedule on most days, you will see and a feel a difference!

Mistake #5: Mindless Eating:

You walk by a candy dish and take “just a few pieces”.  You go out to eat with friends and eat the full entrée even though you are satisfied after eating half.  You stay in for a night of television viewing and end up eating an entire pack of cookies without realizing it.  You think to yourself that it is not a big deal.  After all, you got your weekly workouts in.  You may have even added an extra session and are feeling pretty darn proud.  Why then, would you sabotage your efforts in the gym by giving in to mindless eating?  Here are a few tips to follow to avoid falling into the trap of mindless eating:

  • When dining out divide your meal in half. Immediately ask your server to pack it up for you. Chances are that eating just half of your entree will do the trick.
  • Sit at a table to eat all meals. Avoid eating while watching television or sitting in front of your computer. Distractions while eating contribute to over-indulging most of the time.
  • Make snacking inconvenient by placing a small serving on a plate. After eating your snack, having to go back for more may not be worth it.

Bonus Tip:   According to Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, author of Doctor’s Detox Diet: The Ultimate Weight Loss Prescription, “Starting at middle age, you need 10% more protein than you did during your younger years”.  Foods that are high in protein require your body to work harder to process them creating a higher calorie burn.  Try to always include a lean protein source with every meal.