Have you ever gazed at a child with admiration while they run around completely comfortable in their own skin? They never stop to question if they should hold their tummy in, or hide their body, they simply feel free with how and who they are. Oh the innocence of prepubescent youth!
As girls begin to develop, we begin the life long struggle of self-image and body-image. While we are all born loving our body unconditionally, as time goes on we begin to develop our human ego and with it arises the perils of ‘the body beautiful’.
According to Erik Erikson, our ‘ego identity is developed by human interaction and how an individual becomes more conscious of themselves and their surroundings.’ It is at this stage we begin to compare ourselves to others.
By the time we reach our teens our body is no longer something we love unconditionally, is can become the subject of harsh criticism and an object we judge rather than love.
Have you ever looked back at an old photo of yourself from 10, 20, 30 or more years ago to find the younger you looking healthy, youthful and slim yet at the time you felt overweight, fat or even ugly? Basking in the wisdom of later years you can think to yourself ‘I looked great what WAS I thinking?’
What would you tell your younger self now? As an experienced weight loss coach I know we would all love to tell ourselves to stop worrying about what we look like and to love our body with far more compassion, and we’d tell our younger selves to take bloody great care of our body, she needs to stay healthy so we look good now – so stop putting that rubbish into her!
So what happens to our body and our self-image as we age?
Our teens and 20’s tend to be years where we are more self-conscious of our body than any other time in life. As we develop sexually and begin seeking a partner, we tend to take conscious care of ourselves. 70% of gym goers fall into the age group of 18-34 years, it is at the age we are mindful of our weight and figure.
During our 20’s we tend to compare ourselves to others and care more about fashion trends and what other people think of us.
However, for most women, our 30’s are spent running around after children. These are the years we have the least time for ourselves, have the least sex, experience the most stress and our weight battle truly begins!
No longer do we have the time to attend to the gym, we are tired and worn out from running after our precious little people, and we simply fall to the bottom of the list.
Our pre baby body that responded so well to weight loss efforts, begins to slow down, and the energy we used to have fades. During these years a number of hormonal shifts occur and our body composition (fat/muscle ratio) begins to snowball into oblivion so that as we reach our 40’s, our life and lifestyle catches up on us.
Our 40’s are the years we seek to reclaim our body! It’s at this time health becomes a major motivator, and we become less concerned about being seen naked when we change into our bathing costume. We begin to reflect on the kind of relationship we’ve had with our body, and begin reframing our self-image and body-image. But for most women it’s a struggle.
Reclaiming our body requires more than a simple diet or balancing of hormones; it requires a shift back toward self-love. Not to throw words around lightly, this is a challenging feat, and it begins with our reflection.
As age hits us and our beauty begins to fade we begin a life review, and this forces us to reassess both what we think and feel when we look into the eyes of the person we see in the mirror – we now know it’s time to heal and make peace with ourselves so we begin to rebuild our relationship with our body.
I believe that when we truly love ourselves and want to live our best life possible, we will take great care of the skin we are in. We will want to be the healthiest version of ourselves and to do this we must approach weight loss holistically. We cannot separate the physical body from our mental, emotional or spiritual selves. While we may seek answers in the physical world, it is our emotional and spiritual world that will determine the long term outcome of any diet.
So let’s unlock the mythical weight loss maze and uncover the truth behind ageing, weight battles and what we need to do to never have to worry about dieting or negative body-image again now that we have 40 plus years of wisdom to guide us.
As a weight loss coach of over two decades there is nothing I haven’t heard. Most of my clients are in their 40’s and 50’s and I know exactly what the motivating reasons for losing weight are, and what beliefs people have as to why they can’t lose weight and keep it off.
Myth #1: I’ve got a thyroid problem
According to researchers, 15% of Americans – that’s 42 million people – have mild symptoms of a thyroid disorder, and as we associate thyroid with weight, you might be right in thinking your thyroid could mean you have an inability to lose or keep weight off.
As a rule of thumb, an underactive thyroid may result in a sluggish metabolism and lead to weight gain and or an inability to lose weight, while an overactive thyroid can result in sudden weight loss and an inability to gain weight.
But is it that cut and dry? Does an underactive thyroid truly result in an inability to lose weight? Over the years I have had hundreds of women claim that no diet works for them and it’s because their thyroid is underactive, and my reply is always the same: I have never come across a woman who can’t lose weight on my program. The way it works seems to ‘reset’ the thyroid and I’ve seen weight loss with clients who have a clinically diagnosed underactive thyroid, match that of those who don’t.
In case you didn’t know, the thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in the neck that controls our growth and development via our metabolism. Around 80% of our overall weight management is controlled by your metabolism so that’s why if your thyroid plays up, you can end up with a weight problem.
An underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism is one of the most common thyroid disorders and the risks increase with age, especially in women over 40. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, the most common cause of the disorder is when our immune system attacks the thyroid, also known as Hashimoto’s disease.
In her book; ‘Why do I still have thyroid symptoms; when my lab tests are normal’, Dr Kharrazian states that up to 90% of hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto’s.
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid are not pleasant: weight gain, tiredness, sensitivity to cold, constipation, depression, slow movements and thoughts, muscle aches and weakness, muscle cramps, dry and scaly skin, brittle hair and nails, loss of sex drive, pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in the hand and fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome) and irregular or heavy periods.
Most, if not all of these symptoms could easily be written off to being really stressed at work, a lack of sleep or exercise, or because you generally haven’t been taking care of yourself.
Mild hypothyroidism can be really hard to clinically diagnose because hormone levels fluctuate throughout the day. While testing bloods is still the preferred method of many GPs, it has been proven to be an inaccurate test for this condition.
That means if your weight gain is down to mild hypothyroidism, you’re in a sub-clinical grey area where you might live with these symptoms for years and blame middle age spread, aging, or life in general because your blood tests were clear.
The good news is there is a home based method of testing that is far more accurate than bloods and I’ve included this test for you in my free download the Quick Start Guide to Managing Weight Over 40.
If Dr Kharrazian is right, then most thyroid issues are actually caused by our immune system, so to minimise the risk we must look first at our diet, because 80% of our immune system is controlled via the gut.
As we age, our gut health declines and this creates inflammation which leads to myriad of medical problems. The gut truly is the foundation of health and where the fountain of youth resides! And the great news is, it’s easy to fix!
Reducing grain intake and removing processed sugars along with refined ultra-processed foods from our diet, increasing our healthy fat intake and increasing our probiotic intake can lower this risk.
The secret for managing weight loss over 40 is to look at the root cause of the problem, not at the problem itself. We are often blinded by our symptoms and fail to look any further. When we are curious enough to ask ‘why’ and continue to ask ‘why’ to every new answer, we eventually discover the root cause.
Weight gain is not caused by an underactive thyroid, it is caused by a combination of environmental and mental stressors that trigger an imbalance of the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroidal-axis (HPTA) via an unhealthy upregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis (HPAA). While this might sound like mumbo jumbo it essentially means stress, gut health and other lifestyle factors may well be the root cause of your weight gain, NOT your thyroid.
When something in our body isn’t functioning the way it should, it’s because our entire being is out of sync, not just the one moving part. All parts are effected and this is why it takes a holistic approach to bring the body back into balance and wellness. Wellness cannot occur in one part of our body and not another, when wellness occurs our entire organism will heal. This is what total wellness means.
Myth #2: Low Carb Diets and Hypothyroidism Myth
One of the most frustrating myths I see in the weight loss world is that ‘low carb diets CAUSE an underactive thyroid, and people with thyroid issues should avoid low carb diets.’
Now while this myth continually swarms the internet, there is no clinical data to back it up!!! It stems from the fact that people on low carb diets generally have a lower level of the thyroid hormone T3. But there is a VERY good reason for this and in fact it could mean an increase in expected longevity and better body composition as we age. Let’s examine this further.
Low T3 is frequently misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism however it’s proven that low T3 on its own is not unhealthy, or causes health problems. Low T3 has been found in people who live longer and is often associated with longevity. The only time low T3 is a problem is when it’s combined with high thyroid-stimulating-hormone (TSH) AND low T4. If these two hormones are in a balanced range though, low T3 may not only help extend life-span, it also actively helps protect our body from muscle loss during weight loss.
If low T3 is misdiagnosed and medications are introduced, it can lead to a LOSS of lean muscle mass. In other words, the low carb diet may assists in the adjustment of certain hormones to preserve muscle during weight loss.
The diet I follow and prescribe to my clients – the ketogenic diet – is considered radical by some because it goes against the modern supermarket diet.
It follows seasonal variations in fruit and vegetables, adequate protein and fats, but eliminates refined sugars and ultra-processed carbohydrates, so we return to eating a diet similar to our ancestors. If science suggests that healthy eating can be the cause of diseases like hypothyrodism, we need to question the science and the conclusions. In my 20 years clinical experience working with low carb ketogenic diets I have not seen ONE case of any detrimental effects to the thyroid, my clients just finally lose weight and feel healthier!
Myth #3: The menacing menopause myth!
Not many women talk openly about the ‘M” word. It still has a social taboo and an air of mystery about it although it is a natural part of aging that occurs in most woman in their late 40’s, early 50’s. While physically it signifies the end of our reproductive period when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month so menstruation stops, emotionally, physically and mentally we go through a raft of shifts and changes.
The hormonal changes of menopause might make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen, but hormonal changes alone don’t necessarily cause menopausal weight gain. ‘’Menopausal weight gain’ is usually related to lifestyle factors that don’t accommodate for natural changes in our bodies as we age.
For example, muscle mass typically diminishes with age, while fat increases, and this tends to snowball and almost reach a tipping point during our 40’s and 50’s unless we actively exercise. Loss of muscle mass decreases the rate at which your body uses calories, which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. If you continue to eat as you always have and don’t increase your physical activity, you’re likely to gain weight. So while more women may have gym memberships between the ages of 18 to 34, it’s our 40’s and 50’s when we really need it the most!
Sleep can also be effected during this time as we age and that will also affect our weight due to a number of factors, but primarily because of the effect it has on our nervous system. (read below)
To offset the changes in our body composition we may need to eat less and increase the nutrient density of what we eat. Ultra-processed foods and sugars will become fat magnets for your waist so we have to address the accumulative effect that type of food has over 40 plus years. The only answer to longevity and health is a return to natural whole foods.
Myth #4: Weight gain is determined by genes
Another myth I hear as a coach is that body shapes, weight and ageing comes down to genetics. This is one of the easiest myths to disprove. The human genome project promised to cure the world of all disease. If we could identity all genetic defects and correct them, we could eradicate disease and strengthen family lines. However, the human genome project failed to account for more than 8,000 missing genes, so the hypothesis that genes determine life was disproven.
At the same time a new science emerged called epi-genetics. Epi-genetics demonstrates that we are each born with more than 30,000 genetic potentials. So rather than being born with a set of rules our body will follow, we are in fact only born with a blue print. What determines whether we switch on or off genes is our environment.
Environment means our diet, lifestyle, stress levels, emotional patterns, spiritual influences and ultimately our beliefs that dictate what genes we turn on, and which ones we turn off.
Epi-genetics might be seen as an inconvenient truth in that now instead of blaming genetics for our health outcomes, the responsibility is in our own laps! WE control genetic expression and health, not our genes! This is why two identical twins can have very different health and weight outcomes. Nature/nurture; we can’t ignore the environmental conditions in determining outcomes.
Myth #5: My Life is too Stressful, that’s why I can’t lose weight myth!
Okay girls, here’s my final and favourite myth! Continuing the theme I began earlier around the thyroid myth, I’d like to elaborate a bit more.
Stress triggers the upregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis (HPAA) which, stimulates the “fight-or-flight” response increasing stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones cause the body to send energy out toward the extremities, and causes the mind to become hyper alert so we are ready to fight or run!
In a calm life this stress response is triggered regularly, however after an hour or so it usually returns to normal.
During prolonged periods of excessive stress or trauma however, the body’s HPAA is constantly activated which can lead to the hypothalamus, your master gland that regulates and controls hormones, to reset your body’s cortisol base line to a new elevated level.
This is when the sympathetic nervous system is over stimulated and can lead to a myriad of conditions. Primarily the gut is effected which leads to an altered immune system which leads to disease (remember the thyroid). When we are in a constant state of stress epinephrine will relax the muscles in your digestive system and decrease blood flow to these organs.
This impacts digestion and the absorption of nutrients, and this can lead to a number of factors resulting in weight gain and especially unhealthy belly and stomach fat, which then leads to an increased risk of heart attack, diabetes and cancer.
The real cause of stress
So what is stress? We know it’s a biochemical reaction that leads to hormone havoc, but what actually causes stress? Again, the more we ask why, the more we get closer to uncovering the root causes.
Simply put, it is our view of stress, or our emotional, mental or spiritual view of stressful events that trigger the mind to view a situation as threatening or not. This is why some personalities are known as ‘stress cadets’ while others are known as ‘cruisers’. It’s true that some of us have excessively stressful lifestyles, pressures or major life events which lead to prolonged stress, so while these things maybe outside of our control we do control how we respond to them. Emotional resilience and the way we look at the world spiritually can make all the difference to the health outcomes and our weight.
I have had what I would call an excessively stressful life, I’ve had almost every major life stressor occur within the past decade, so I do not say this without intimate knowledge and understanding. But my favourite quote from the late Dr Wayne Dyer is this:
“When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.”
Sometimes we just need a bit of extra help to get through.
Emotional eating & women who ‘feel too much’.
So to all the wonderful women in the world who ‘feel too much’, its’ up to you to heal your life in order to change your life. Focusing on a diet without addressing how you respond to stress will never result in the long-term outcomes you want.
I’ve spent my entire 20-year career coaching women through the journey of weight loss and the return to self-love, and I can tell you this with my hand on my heart: Weight loss is first a spiritual, emotional, mental and THEN physical journey, and that is why I have created online programs to support women like you. The weight loss industry is more invested in selling food products or supplements to match the latest fad, when the truth is, it’s our life we need to put on a diet!
I can’t think of a better quote than that of Albert Einstein’s who said
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Please make sure you download my free Quickstart Guide to Managing Weight Over 40 so you can avoid falling into the traps and myths around weight gain later in life.
Whatever journey you are on and wherever you are on that journey I know this guide can help you.
Love Deborah XXX