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As women you are all unique and individual and the rate at which you acheive weight loss in midlife when eating low carb will be different from the woman next to you who perhaps eats the exact same food.. If your in midlife and you’ve been cutting carbs for a while and have struggled to lose weight or you’ve plateaued, there could be one or a whole number of reasons why this is.
One of my first recommendations to find problems is to track what you eat. By recording everything for a few weeks you can begin to see patterns or days when your diet is not as healthy as it could be. Foods you thought were okay may not be serving you well.
Record What You Eat
Try a tracking app like My Fitness Pal and record what you eat for a few weeks. Sticking to a similar pattern of eating will make this easier as you can enter the same foods and recipes each day. This is a little tedious but is an important step in understanding how different foods affect you and where unhealthy or high energy foods might be sneaking into your day
My second recommendation is to, watch those little cheats that you think are nothing. Every little morsel counts. Do you remember that saying “a moment on the lips a lifetime on the hips?”
One last thing before we dive into important things to remember.
If you’ve been, like me, a compulsive dieter, cutting out whole food groups for a big chunk of your life you may have done some damage to your metabolism. This means that you burn fewer calories at rest and when you exercise.
All of the tips I give below are ways to improve your metabolism. But if you have always struggled with losing weight it may just be that you are destined to keep your slow metabolism and in that case, you need to be mindful of what you eat and how much physical activity you do if you don’t want to put on weight.
For more about metabolism and if it matters in when you want to lose weight check out this post –
from Harvard Medical school and my own post,
What are the benefits of a low carb diet?
The benefits are many and have been well documented. Most low carb diets in midlife are helpful for weight loss, reversing diabetes, reducing heart disease risk factors, and improving cognitive function.
There are many of these types of diet but the most important thing is to find one that fits your own individual needs and lifestyle. The Atkins diet, ketogenic diet, carnivore diet, and autoimmune protocol are a few examples of low carb diets.
Some of these such as Keto are a very low carb diet in order for them to work. Keto works by restricting carbs and loading up on healthy fats to allow the body to become “fat adapted” which means it predominently burns fat for energy instead of glucose. It is extremely effective, but can be difficult to achieve and has its drawbacks.
If you follow a ketogenic or an Atkins diet you will need to measure your blood glucose to make sure that it is in range
This article focuses more on eating a range of healthy foods that are low GI and choosing healthy lifestyle choices that don’t necessarily fit within one of the specialist diets mentioned above.
What is a low carb diet?
This sort of diet is typically defined as anything under 100g of carbs per day. There are no set rules for what these diets entail and most people eat between 20-150g of carbs each day for weight loss.
Is low carb good for belly fat?
Yes, if the diet is full of healthy vegetables, proteins and also omega 3 fats. I see too many low carb diets that contain a large amount of cheese, processed meats and cream. If these are eaten in excess they can add up quickly to too much saturated fat on your body.
Studys show that compared to low fat diets, low carb diets specifically reduce fat around the abdomen. In midlife this is typically the fat that settles in and around the organs and is linked to healthy issues such diabetes and heart disease.
It makes a lot of sense in midlife to choose a way of eating that targets fat that could be dangerous as you age.
What do I need to know first?
If you have diabetes, any pre-existing medical conditions, or currently take medication, it is advisable to consult with your doctor before starting a weight loss diet.
It’s important that you understand your own body and ask yourself if you are willing to commit to eating this way for the long term, not just until you reach your goal weight. It’s also important not to get stressed about small fluctuations in weight or measurements. Enjoying your weight loss journey is key!
For some great tips on how to stick to a low carb diet read this post How To Stick To A Low-Calorie Diet (Advice from 26 Health and Fitness Experts)
Tips for success on a low carb diet
Keep stress down
Chronic stress elevates stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol is probably the single most difficult hormone when trying to lose weight on a this type of diet.
Having consistently high levels of cortisol is like holding your finger on the button that releases your hunger hormone, you always seem to feel hungry and have carb cravings for high carb foods such as junk food that definitely has no place in any diet let alon a low carb one. Hello, hot chips, Halo Top ice cream and freshly baked Portuguese tarts.
Umm, well that’s letting the secret out!
Mindful activities like meditation and deep breathing really do make an impact on your stress levels and they’re an easy and cheap way to de-stress.
Get your carb intake from nutrient rich foods
This does not mean you stock up on those low carb snack bars that are in the health aisle of your supermarket but are lucky to contain one healthy or wholesome ingredient.
If you’re serious about losing weight on a low carb diet it is important that you get your nutrition from healthy foods. Choose from meats, fish, eggs, healthy fats and lots of vegetables and a few fruits. These foods that have had little to no processing.
And as a tip, you generally find these foods you find around the outside of your supermarket.
Don’t be afraid of fat
If you don’t eat enough fat you could be more hungry than you need to be.
By adding plenty of healthy fats into your diet you will find you have to eat less of everything else.
Make sure to stick to the good fats and not saturated fat. If your body is not ‘fat adapted’(your body burns fat for energy) you may find that you actually put on weight or raise your bad cholesterol to unacceptably high levels.
Good fats are either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated and include olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and natural coconut products including coconut oil. They definitely, absolutely and for good measure unequivocally do not include trans fat.
A small warning here. Nuts are very calorie dense so don’t go crazy. As a rule of thumb enough nuts to fit into the palm of your hand would be plenty in a day.
Protein is good but not too much
A good low carbohydrate diet is high in fat, low in carbs and moderate in protein. If initially you struggle with cravings and hunger try a higher protein intake, especially for breakfast. This will get your metabolism kick started for the day and make you feel fuller for longer.
Protein is important but it is easy to have too much.
When you have too much protein the body will turn its amino acids into glucose which can be used as energy immediately or stored as fat and in midlife that goes on around your middle and makes weight loss difficult.
Sources of protein are not just the usual suspects such as meat and fish as some may think. There are also dairy and plant-based sources such as whole grains, beans, vegetables and nuts.
Get plenty of sleep
As with stress, lack of sleep will mess with your hormones.
Leptin curbs your appetite and encourages the body to burn energy. Sleep deprivation reduces leptin.
Ghrelin, on the other hand, triggers hunger and cravings for fatty or salty refined carbs and guess what when you’re tired you’re more likely to give in to those cravings. Ghrelin increases when you don’t have enough sleep.
Exercise is no longer about pounding the pavements every day on your 10km run or thrashing about in the gym until you’re red-faced and dripping sweat. Those sort of workouts can be stressful and actually raise your cortisol levels
Think in terms of increasing your muscle mass, improving your cardiovascular health and boosting your metabolic health.
is my number one exercise for women who are moving into their midlife years. It is great for correcting hormonal imbalance, increasing muscle mass, boosting your metabolism, strengthening bones. All of these things are helpful in a weight loss diet.
If you do your reps at a slightly faster rate (without sacrificing form) you can count is as cardio too. I call that a win-win.
Rather than spending an hour sweating it out, do short sharp bursts of high-intensity exercise that will boost your metabolism.
Just move. This could be walking, biking, dancing anything that gets you moving and your heart rate up slightly.
For more on exercise see The Most Important Exercise For Women Over 50
Be aware of medical conditions and medications that make weight loss difficult
Some medical conditions can cause weight problems.
Examples of these could be:
An underactive thyroid or Hyperthyroidism which most commonly occurs in older women.
Insulin treatment for diabetes. A common side effect of this treatment is gaining weight around your middle.
Steroids that may be taken for conditions such as asthma or arthritis have been known to increase appetite.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – one of the symptoms of this condition is weight gain.
Keep starchy foods to a minimum
In general, vegetables are high in fibre and nutrients. Starchy vegetables, however, are lower in fibre and are often made up of high GI carbs which could derail any low carb or maintenance diet. Try to only include non starchy vegetables.
Starchy vegetables include potato, sweet potato, beetroot and corn.
The list for vegetables that can easily be included as healthy and low in carbs is long but amongst them are leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, and radishes.
Watch your fruit intake
The fructose in fruit is sugar, pure and simple. If you weight loss is your goal stick to a few berries and perhaps the occasional bit of fruit for a treat.
If you are not too concerned about your carb intake, eat the whole fruit with skin on as the fibre will help carry everything through. Avoid dried fruit which is very high in sugar.
Fresh fruits high in sugar are
Mango 28 gm carbs per cup
Passionfruit 26 gm carbs per cup
Cherries 20 gm carbs per cup
Bananas 18 gm carbs per cup
Berries are your best low carb fruit and are higher in fibre so fit well into this type of eating.
It is important to not that although low carbohydrate diets will help you lose weight you still need to be aware of you calorie intake.
For more on sugar when you are trying to lose weight read
Artificial sugar, good or bad on a low carb diet?
While low-calorie sugars have their place especially while you transition to low carb they can play tricks on your mind. Sweet treats are not generally a regular part of a diet that’s low in carbs but can be there to allow us to have a treat from time to time or on special occasions.
Eat for nutrition not because you ‘fancy’ something sweet. Needing sweets could be a craving. Learn to recognise them and not give into them. If you are filling your body with nutrition eventually the cravings will ease.
Be careful of caffeine?
Caffeine gives you a nice adrenalin hit. This then signals the liver to release glucose to feed the muscles. With that energy swirling around insulin spikes and fat is stored instead of being burned off. I love my coffee but limit it to 2 per day. If you are not losing weight though try giving up even for a little while and wait to see if it makes a difference.
Too much dairy can stall weight loss
Some dairy is fairly high in carbs, 5% in the case of milk. So a glass of milk, a large latte or a pottle of yoghurt can contain a hefty amount of carbs.
Dairy can also contain a lot of protein. Protein in high amounts can behave like carbs in the body raising your insulin levels and causing your body to store fat.
The makeup of dairy makes it particularly effective at spiking an insulin response even as much as a slice of white bread.
Include minimal dairy in your diet and if you do have a little try to contain it to a spoon of full-fat greek yogurt or double cream on that special treat.
When you cut carbs from your diet you need to replace them with something else so you don’t feel hungry. That something should be one of the healthy fats that I mentioned earlier.