As we age, our bodies go through a series of changes that can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Experienced functional medicine doctors explain that weight gain is not merely caused by overeating or inactivity. In the following blog, we’ll explore nine science-based reasons why weight gain happens as we age and what we can do about it.
Can you avoid gaining weight as you age?
During our “age of responsibility”, which runs from our mid-20s to middle-50s, we find ourselves juggling multiple priorities, from building our careers to raising children and maintaining relationships. These three decades of our lives are packed with goals and responsibilities, leaving us with little time or energy to focus on our health and well-being. As a result, we often opt for comforting foods and skip workouts. It’s no wonder that most people gain weight as they age, particularly fat weight.
That’s why we’ll break down a few of the contributing factors to age-related weight gain and what we can do to prevent it.
1. Loss of muscle mass
After the age of 30, we start to lose muscle mass at a rate of 3% to upwards of 8% per decade. This loss of muscle mass means a slower basal metabolic rate, which makes it difficult to convert the foods we eat into energy.
That loss of muscle mass has many negative consequences. We become weaker, less mobile, less able to keep our balance, more susceptible to injury, we lose physical autonomy. As a result, we store what we eat as body fat, leading to weight gain.
Regular resistance exercises with heavier weights or resistance bands are crucial to counter the loss of muscle mass as we age. Sufficient protein intake and amino acid supplementation can also help preserve muscle mass. Branched-chain amino acids are particularly beneficial for muscle building and preservation
2. Low thyroid function
Our thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone, which affects every cell in our bodies, and plays a critical role in every body function. Hypothyroidism, which is under-functioning of the thyroid gland, can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, chronic stress, inflammation, hidden gut infections, toxins, sleep deprivation, or an autoimmune process in which your immune system attacks your thyroid tissues. It’s important to get accurately tested for your thyroid hormones as well as thyroid antibodies if you have weight gain that does not respond well to dietary changes and exercise, and other symptoms like fatigue, dry skin, and constipation.
3. Poor quality sleep
Ghrelin and leptin, two hormones that govern satiety and hunger, are controlled by adequate sleep. When we don’t sleep well, these hormones become dysregulated, leading to increased appetite, cravings for high-calorie foods, and metabolic dysregulation, which are associated with weight gain and various stages of diabetes.
Poor sleep also leads to metabolic dysregulation and is associated with blood sugar intolerance, insulin resistance, and increased oxidative stress (this is when you have an excess of free radicals damaging your cells and not enough antioxidants to protect against this damage). All of these are associated with poor metabolism, weight gain, and various stages of diabetes in which blood sugar and insulin repeatedly spike.
4. Estrogen dominance
Estrogen dominance is a common cause of weight gain as we age, particularly for women. It promotes the storage of fat, and the more fat you have, the more aromatase activity you have. (Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.)
The more estrogen you have, the more fat you will store, creating a vicious cycle. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to normalize your estrogen levels. Exercise is the most effective way to detoxify estrogens. You can also increase your consumption of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale. Managing your stress is also necessary; stress increases cortisol production, which depletes your progesterone, an essential hormone for balancing estrogen.
5. Still eating those darned sugars and carbs
Processed, refined carbs like cereals, sandwich bread, plates of pasta, noodles, bagels, pizza crusts, crackers, burger buns, pastries, etc. have little to no nutrients or fiber, rank high on the glycemic index, and quickly break down into sugars, leading to a rapid glucose spike and insulin spike. Insulin tells your body to switch from fat burning to fat storage, leading to weight gain. Sugars and processed carbs also dysregulate leptin, the hormone that tells your brain that you’re full, leading to overeating.
6. Always working but not working out
Excessive sitting coupled with stress leads to inflammation and stunted metabolism, leading to weight gain. Regular exercise, especially muscle-building exercise, can help to burn fat and regulate hormones that influence our weight.
Here are a few realistic suggestions:
- Turn your desk into a standing desk, or use a yoga ball for your chair, especially if you have a home office.
- Take regular breaks from your static computer position so you can get up, mobilize all your joints from head to toe, and take deep breaths. You’d be surprised how much you can do in 2 minutes – from your neck to your shoulders, arms, and fingers, through your spine, hips, legs, ankles, and feet.
- Plan your workouts throughout the week and then commit to those times the way you commit to your work schedule, doctor’s appointments, and your children’s parent-teacher meetings. Your workout time is a high-priority appointment with yourself. Don’t flake on yourself.
- Can’t get to the gym? Work out at home! Do weights, resistance bands, yoga, HIIT workouts, TABATA workouts, and mobility exercises all in the space of one or two yoga mats. There are many YouTube channels and instructors, such as Juice and Toya, MadFit, Pamela Reif, Taras Body, and BodyWeight Warrior with Tom Merrick you might find helpful.
7. Nutrient deficiencies
A deficiency in iodine, selenium, or zinc can impair thyroid function, resulting in a more sluggish metabolism and consequent weight gain. A deficiency in B vitamins, specifically B12, can lead to low energy and reduced metabolic activity. Our mitochondria need lots of nutrients to function well, such as l-carnitine, CoQ10, magnesium, alpha lipoic acid, and n-acetyl-cysteine, which are found in high-quality animal meats and plant foods.
8. Inflammation & gut health
Inflammation is a buzzword we often hear, but not everyone understands how it’s related to gut health and weight gain. The truth is, inflammation and fat have a two-way relationship, with each fueling the other. When fat increases, inflammatory chemicals are produced, and chronic inflammation in the gut leads to insulin resistance and poor blood sugar control, which causes increased fat storage. Additionally, the trillions of bacteria in our gut play a critical role in controlling fat storage and activating genes involved in absorbing nutrients. Furthermore, inflammation disrupts blood sugar and insulin, causing cortisol to spike and leading to altered thyroid function, slowing down metabolism. Bottom line – if you want to avoid gaining weight as you age, control your inflammation.
9. Eating too often
Eating too often can contribute to weight gain as we age. We live in a culture where snacking is normalized and we’re told to eat small frequent meals. But our bodies aren’t designed for that. Our digestive systems need rest, and when we eat, our body produces insulin to store the energy from the food we consume. When we’re constantly eating, insulin is constantly being produced and our body is in a constant state of fat storage. This can lead to insulin resistance, poor blood sugar control, and weight gain. By giving our bodies a break from constant digestion and insulin production, we can tap into our fat stores and improve our metabolic health. Intermittent fasting is one way to achieve this. By compressing our eating window and extending our fasting period, we can improve insulin sensitivity, increase fat burning, and promote weight loss.
Where can I find the best functional medicine doctors near me?
There are many reasons why we gain weight as we age. However, by addressing them through diet, lifestyle, and supplementation, we can improve our metabolic health and maintain a healthy weight as we age.
As functional medicine doctors, it’s our goal to uncover the underlying causes of health problems and tailor our treatments accordingly for optimal health and wellness. Don’t hesitate to book a Functional Medicine consultation with Dr. Jamie to discuss your health concerns in detail. Book online or call us at 562-789-1588!