It’s not your imagination. After women turn 50, it becomes harder to lose weight because of rising levels of the hormone cortisol, which tries to store fat for emergencies and puts it on the thighs and stomach.
"As women age, lean muscle mass will start to decline and the reason that’s important is that muscle is then replaced by fat," said Dr. Adrienne Youdim, medical director of the Cedar Sinai Weight Loss Center.
Julie Landholt, 52, experienced this firsthand. She watched helplessly as her weight crept up over the years.
"Hitting 40 made a difference … and almost to the day I hit 50, it’s made a very big difference in my energy level and my ability to keep my weight down," she said. "I honestly thought it was impossible for me to lose weight again."
After trying different diets on her own, she finally joined the weight-loss program at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.
There, she gets all her vital signs examined and gets a personalized calorie plan based on her body mass index (BMI) to make sure she is not losing muscle mass while on her diet.
She takes group classes with a nutritionist and learns recipes for shakes and meal plans. Her fellow participants trying to lose weight in the program keep her motivated and accountable.
"You learn how many calories you need to have, how much protein you should have, what does a normal portion look like," Landholt said.
Dr. Youdim offered these tips for losing weight after age 50:
Keep track of your weight and write down what you eat.
Watch caloric intake through beverages (alcohol is big culprit)
Use meal replacements strategically to restrict calories
Join a group to get support and accountability
Do strength training, because weight-bearing exercises also ward off Osteoporosis.
"What I would recommend to people is that they make modest goals, and take little steps to approach this change in activity that really should occur," Youdim said.
"For the health benefits of exercise, not a lot is necessary. Studies that show 30 minutes of walking a day, five days a week is enough to prevent certain disease states."
Landholt has been in the program for 13 weeks, and has lost 27 pounds so far. She plans to keep going.
"I started losing week one. By week two and three, you start to feel different," she said.
"My energy level is higher and it’s a success. It’s something that you’re doing that you’re successful at and that just feeds on itself.
"You can absolutely do it, and it does feel better."