If you’ve gained more pounds than you’ve lost over your lifetime, and now you can’t seem to find a strategy that works for your peri- or post-menopausal body, you might be feeling desperate to lose weight, like nothing works.
“Nothing works!” Why women over 45 feel like they can’t lose weight
There are several factors that are unique to women as they approach midlife and beyond, that weren’t as prevalent in earlier years.
Impact of Chronic Dieting
An often overlooked cause of difficulty losing weight is the cumulative effect of decades of dieting.
I work with women who have spent the last 40+ years trying every diet available. They were often put on diets before they were 10 years old and true wounds from diet culture. Maybe you can relate?
Perhaps you’ve tried diets, surgery, prescriptions, supplements, cleanses, detoxes, spending hours at the gym, investing in personal trainers, you’ve seen doctors, dietitians and therapists… But you’re still stuck.
Your history of yo yo dieting may be to blame for your current weight loss struggle:
Dieting can slow your metabolism down
While studies are conflicting, it appears that for some people, weight cycling (where you gain and lose weight over and over) can result in more weight gain, especially in the belly.
In my practice, I often see women whose metabolisms are so sluggish they can’t get the scale to move unless they eat 1000 calories or less. This is a huge problem as you can’t meet your nutritional needs with such low caloric intake.
I have had success in the Courage to Trust Method helping women boost their metabolism so they are able to lose weight without severe restriction or eat significantly more without fear of gaining weight.
Dieting makes you feel restricted
Food restriction has long been associated with binge eating behavior. Dieting is, at its core, restrictive.
There are many biological processes that make you more likely to indulge after a period of restriction (whether it be one double cheeseburger or five):
- The neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for motivation, pleasure and reward, is more likely to rise in response to eating a “forbidden food”.
- The stress hormone cortisol increases when you feel restricted, such as when fasting. Stress has long been associated with overeating.
Dieting leads to “All or Nothing” thinking
Have you ever noticed any of the following thoughts?
- “I haven’t made any progress. I’ve even gained weight. I should give up.”
- “I already blew it by eating one oreo. Might as well eat the rest.”
- “I’ve already eaten all my calories for the day and it’s not even noon. I guess I’ll just eat whatever I want today and restart on Monday.”
These are symptoms of All or Nothing thinking. You believe you have to follow a diet perfectly or what’s the point of trying?
This thought pattern (which comes as a result of dieting because you find your metabolism slows and you do have to follow the diet to the letter in order to be successful), stops you from making progress by causing you to constantly restart.
All or Nothing thinking also justifies overeating, and causes you to finish the bag of chips instead of having few.
One of the biggest reasons women can’t lose weight and feel like nothing works is due to hormonal changes that happen at midlife:
1. Estrogen – With menopause come changes in the amount of estrogen women have in their bodies, and therefore greater accumulation of fat.
Visceral adipose tissue, which is metabolically active belly fat around your organs, is one source of estrogen in the body.
A current theory to connect estrogen and weight gain is that when the body notices estrogen is low, it creates more fat tissue in an effort to increase estrogen production.
2.Cortisol – The stress hormone cortisol is linked to weight gain, more belly fat, and strong food cravings.
Understanding the role of cortisol is especially important for women in midlife and beyond because research suggests that not only can menopause itself raise cortisol in the body, but the menopausal years maybe some of the most stressful in a woman’s life.
Using food to help cope with stress and feelings is called emotional eating.
In my experience working with peri- and post-menopausal women, emotional eating is often the source of weight regain. Something stressful or difficult happens, and women turn to food for comfort.
This is played out in the research, where emotional eating is more common in depressed women than depressed men (who tend to not eat), and at certain times of the female cycle.
Research also suggests that stress can trigger binge eating in susceptible women.
Why do you feel desperate to lose weight?
A common myth in today’s culture is that you either have to accept and love your body and give up your desire to lose weight, or hate your body and continue on your quest to get smaller.
While the two ideas may seem paradoxical, it’s important to both examine your desire for weight loss and work towards self-acceptance while losing weight.
In my experience, wanting to lose weight primarily to be more acceptable to other people (a result of weight stigma, which I discuss in this blog post here) is fraught with self-hatred, low self-esteem, and pain.
This is especially important for women to deal with as they age, and their bodies continue to change in ways outside of their control.
That’s why in the Courage to Trust Method we focus on developing self-acceptance while meeting weight goals in a sustainable way. That’s what allowed Annette to say this:
I am actually doing quite well emotionally. Now I can look at myself in the mirror, with or without clothes, and not feel any self hatred, shame, or disgust. I can accept me for who I am in the moment. I am beautiful and I matter. I smile more and cry less.
It’s important to note that Annette lost 7 lbs over 14 weeks in the Courage to Trust Method, but it wasn’t the moderate weight loss that made her accept herself…
It was the work she did around accepting her own body and putting up boundaries around what other people were allowed (and not allowed) to say to her about it.
How you can learn to love yourself and pursue weight loss when nothing works
Once you’ve identified what is making you feel desperate to lose weight when nothing is working for you, you can take action to change.
How self-care helps you lose weight
The most important practice you can integrate into your life to help lose weight is dedicated self-care. Time where you can:
Decompress from stress to balance hormones
- Process your emotions
- Review your thought patterns and determine if they are helpful or not
- Prioritizing your own care so you aren’t at the bottom of your to-do list is imperative to reaching and maintaining any goal.
Philosopher Kate Manne calls this ‘Human Giver Syndrome’ where women are expected to give of their time, energy, body, and money to everyone else and it’s frowned upon (either by the woman herself or people in her life) if she uses any of her resources for herself.
I shared my experience connecting my beliefs about my worthiness while I care for others, self-care, and weight in this blog post.
4 key areas of self-care to help you lose weight
In the Courage to Trust Method, you can follow a 12-week plan with evidence-based self-care strategies to heal overeating, boost your metabolism, and help you love what you see in the mirror.
These self-care strategies are prioritized around 4 key areas:
1. Hormone Balance: Abolish food cravings and shift into fat-burning mode without willpower or restriction by balancing your stress hormone cortisol.
2. Self-Compassion: Care for your emotions and learn to safely feel them so you don’t have to eat them. Reframe unhelpful All or Nothing thinking which sabotages progress by convincing you to finish the bag and restart later.
3. Weight Mastery: Boost your metabolism so you don’t have to deprive yourself, accept your body no matter your size, develop realistic goals that allow you to feel like you are doing everything for your health without killing yourself over it.
4. Community Support: Secretive eating is full of shame, there is healing in non-judgemental support from me and peers.
If you’d like to learn more about the Courage to Trust Method and whether it’s a good fit for you, book a free 45-minute Compassionate Clarity Call and I can assess if I can help you (investment options start at $299/mo).