Mainstream diets not working for you? Here’s why low calorie diets don’t work for women over forty.
Low-calorie diets are one of the most common dieting approaches among women.
We’ve coached thousands of women over the past seven years, and low calorie diets are something the majority of our clients have tried. Whether it’s a 1,200 calorie meal plan, skipping meals or simply excessively cutting out high-calorie foods, this approach is common.
Although this is not ideal for your long-term health and results, some women ARE able to make some decent progress in terms of fat loss… However, in most cases, this for women in their 20s and 30s.
For women over 40, it tends to be a different story.
In our experience, our clients have struggled with these diets in the past. Perhaps they’ve seen good results for a couple of weeks, however this often comes to a screeching halt. They hit a plateau that feels impossible to break, leaving them stuck choosing clothes to cover up ‘problem areas’ instead of wearing what they like.
In most cases, they’ll loose up to a stone on the scales, then see all the weight (and more) pile back on faster than they lost it! This makes it harder and harder to get the scales moving with every new ‘diet’.
And this can be incredibly frustrating; especially if you’re starving yourself on 1,200 calories or less… and not getting the results you want!
In reality, there is a good reason low calorie diets don’t work for women in their 40s and 50s. In our most recent podcast episode, we break down exactly why low calorie dieting doesn’t work for women over 40. Plus, we give you a step-by-step guide to drop two dress sizes over the next 12 weeks… without starving yourself or banning any of your favourite foods!
The stress response
In theory, eating less will lead to more weight loss. And, this can be the case up to a certain point… especially for younger women in their 20s and 30s. However, this isn’t true for many reasons among women over forty.
This is because it triggers a large stress response which makes losing weight harder.
Your body responds to all different types of stress the same way; by increasing cortisol levels. In the short term (acute stress), this is a positive response… and it can actually help to lose weight. For example, after a workout. However, in the long term (chronic stress) this is a huge negative and leads to:
- Leptin resistance (increased cravings)
- Insulin resistance (more likely to store fat, especially around the middle)
- Thyroid deregulation (slows down metabolism)
In reality, starving your body causes increased stress, it raises cortisol levels significantly, and it triggers that stress response. Plus, as you get older, this stress response becomes bigger and lasts for longer. And this increases 3 times more in women than men!
This means it’s much harder to stick to as you’re constantly hungry. Additionally, you’re likely to see worse results due to a slower metabolism and poor consistency.
Disrupted hunger hormones
Your key hunger hormones are leptin and ghrelin, which control your feelings of fullness and cravings. Research has found these are disrupted for over a year after doing a very low calorie diet… even if it only lasted for a couple of months.
This means it’s very likely you’ll regain all the weight lost, and often more, in the next 12 months or less.
Think of it like a payday loan; you get a quick result initially… but you’ll pay for it many times over in the long run.
It leads to muscle loss
A lot of very low calorie diets don’t include any exercise. This is because it’s hard to have the energy to sustain exercise when eating so little.
In turn, you’re also likely to lose muscle if you don’t exercise. This will look like more progress on the scales, but it’s actually not a good thing at all. Less muscle means you:
- Feel more flabby
- Feel weaker
- Have less energy
- Have a slower metabolism…
It slows down your metabolism
Low calorie diets are likely to hinder your metabolism. This can happen for two reasons.
Firstly, due to muscle loss. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be. Additionally the less you have, the slower it will be. This can greatly affect your weight loss in the long-term.
Secondly, your maintenance calories are variable. They adapt to how much you’re eating, so the less you eat… the less your body needs to gain weight. If you only eat a little bit less than your body needs each day, your body doesn’t really notice. However, if you eat a drastic amount less, then your body is smart and quickly changes your metabolism to stop you starving.
Our bodies haven’t evolved much in the 10,000 years – since we were living in caves when starvation was a real risk! So, if your body senses there’s not much food coming in… it slows your metabolism down to keep you safe. This is not necessary nowadays, but we still need to take it into account.
It can lead to nutrient deficiencies
Essentially, less food means less vitamins and minerals. This can lead to:
- Poor energy
- Poor recovery
- Weakened immune system
You are able to take supplements to avoid this, however this needs to be very thorough and things can often go unnoticed. This is just another reason why low-calorie diets aren’t effective.
It’s hard to stick to
When eating 1200 calories or less, you are constantly battling hunger and cravings. This means you’re more likely to give in and go off track. This can lead to weekend blowouts, late night snacking and excess takeaways…
Additionally, you’re more likely to overeat on the weekends. And these extra calories are more likely to up your weekly caloric intake… leading to less progress!
The key for weight loss is your average calories. This means your weekly intake is much more important than your daily intake. Essentially, this is why most low calorie diets don’t work!
Low calorie diets don’t teach you how to stay lean in the long run
At the end of the day, low calorie diets don’t work as they are not very sustainable. If you do happen to see good results… you won’t be able to keep them – unless you stick to your diet forever!
Most people go back to how they ate before, however they now have:
- Less muscle
- A slower metabolism
- No knowledge of how to eat a balanced diet that fits into daily life
This means they regain all the weight! They end up back at square one, or often larger. This is why it’s so important to stick to a diet designed for your body in the long run.
What’s the solution?
In our experience, the solution to this is to eat the right amount for you. You need to take into account your age, height, weight, body fat percentage, hormones, any other health conditions. You need to find your sweet spot!
This will be unique to you. For example, it will be very different for someone who’s 4’10” compared to someone who’s 5’10”! Combine this with the right type of exercise, you can still lose 1-2 stone every 12 weeks… even as a women over 40!
If you’re interested in finding a long-term, sustainable diet designed for women over 40, you can find out more about working with us here!