Here are 3 mistakes every woman over 40 needs to avoid.
Technically, these are 3 mistakes everyone who wants to improve their body composition and get leaner needs to avoid.
But women are more sensitive to stress so they can't get away with as much.
It's not fair but it does make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Women are more important to the survival of our species than men. Ya know, the whole baby carrying thing.
Anyway, in no particular order...
Mistake #1. Fasting or "skipping breakfast" - let's first put to bed the myth that fasting is superior for fat loss. It's not. Fasting isn't even a nutrition protocol. You can fast and do keto, you can fast and track macros, you can fast and eat 10,000 calories per day.
The fasting cult followers say that if you condense the feeding window, you're more likely to eat less because there's less time to eat. Certain things sound good in theory but don't hold up to real life application.
Fasting is one of them. Studies show that people who fast tend to eat a lot more later in the day and it's easier for them to over indulge. They also report higher hunger and cravings. And there are certain metabolic disadvantages that can occur due to fasting.
This is especially true in women over 40 who are more sensitive to stress. Cortisol is highest in the morning and fasting is a stress on the body (lack of energy coming in). During the season of life when hormonal changes are happening, it's not the time to disrupt things even further.
My recommendation: wake up and eat within an hour of getting out of bed. Make it a high protein breakfast and a well balanced meal (with some carbs and fats) to reduce cortisol and keep blood sugar stable.
Mistake #2. HIIT / Group Classes / Cardio - this is a dose dependent thing but based on experience in working with hundreds of women over the past decade, a lot of individuals overdo it when it comes to this style of exercise.
I'm talking about OrangeTheory, F45, bootcamps, HIIT, cardio, etc. Anything where the main goal of the workout is basically a manual "calorie burn" and you often feel rewarded with a pool of sweat on the floor.
Now, before you stop doing all forms of cardio, there's absolutely a time and place. Improving your cardio capacity is great for overall health. Sweating is a wonderful thing.
However, it's easy to get hooked on the feeling. Or high on believing. Wait, where was I? Oh right.. too much cardio.
This style of exercise is not exactly great for your metabolism or hormone health. It's a stressor like any form of exercise (increases cortisol) but it doesn't come with a metabolic advantage like lifting weights does. Because you're getting more efficient with calories each time you do that same workout or form of cardio.
That means the calorie burn gets less and less. Not only that, but studies show that HIIT and cardio can drive hunger and cravings up and our bodies also subconsciously move less throughout the day to compensate for the calorie burn that occurred during the workout.
My recommendation: this style of training is not great for body composition improvements. If you want to get leaner, do some form of resistance training as the foundation of your workouts. Use cardio in smaller doses and be sure to pay attention to recovery, hunger, and cravings. Notice how you're impacted when you work out like that.
If you're training to get better at cardio (like running a marathon or ironman etc) then you'll obviously need a much higher level of frequency. In that case, you better be prepared to fuel appropriately to counter balance the amount of stress you're putting on your body.
Mistake #3. Dieting too frequently / too extremely / unsustainably - once again, this is a problem across the board but when you're more sensitive to stress, it becomes an even bigger issue.
Dieting is a major stressor on the body. Consider that your results, your metabolic health, and your hormone health are all dependent on having the appropriate resources to meet the demands you place on your body.
Food / energy is an important resource. Recovery is a resource. Sleep is a resource. Self-care is a resource.
Dieting impacts all of the above. You're removing energy, impairing recovery, making it more difficult to get adequate sleep, and potentially sacrificing self-care.
A lot of women get frustrated when they're told to basically starve themselves and then don't see progress. Why don't they see progress? Because the diet is too extreme and your body fights to preserve energy.
Think about it like this.. do you really want a fast and effective metabolism when very little energy is coming in? Of course you don't. You'd starve to death quicker.
So your body adapts by down regulating metabolic function, suppressing certain systems in the body like immune function, sexual function, etc.
The more frequently you diet, the more stress you place on your body. The more extreme your diet is, the more of a stressor it is. The more you try to be perfect, the more unsustainable the results are.
My recommendation: diet smarter, not harder. Have a dedicated fat loss phase that lasts about 12-16 weeks (the timeline will be highly dependent on the individual). Keep it very moderate and if you're going to be more aggressive, you better damn well have recovery and stress management on lock.
Eat mostly high quality foods and incorporate things you love in moderation each day (or at least each week). Avoid the half in, half out approach where you kinda sorta diet but then indulge and want to keep dieting forever.
Unfortunately, these 3 mistakes are insanely common.
In fact, they're often all done at once.
Almost daily I speak to women who are trying to fast, eat 1200 calories, and are doing a whole bunch of cardio or HIIT.
When you reach that season of life when hormones are changing and sensitivity to stress is higher, it's important to focus on some foundational habits that go a long way in your overall health and body composition.
Food quality should really be a primary focus. It's incredibly important for hormone health.
Walking is like the gift that keeps on giving. Do it frequently.
Protein is your best friend. Eat lots of it.
Muscle is your metabolic gold. Preserve it. Build it.
Sleep and stress management are non negotiables. If anyone gets in the way of your sleep and self-care, you have permission to Will Smith them (is that still a reference? Probably not. But I'm using it anyway).
Above all else, prioritize yourself. I just spoke to someone this morning who said that she's spent 45 years of her life putting everyone else first. She said that she's always made financial decisions based on everyone else. Rarely ever herself.
Finally, it clicked. She said, enough is enough. I'm worth it and I deserve to be happy and healthy. The most impactful thing she said in our conversation was...
"It doesn't do anyone much good if I lack confidence in myself and feel miserable in my own body. I deserve to feel good and look good."
Without a doubt. You don't have to put your own goals on hold for the sake of everyone else. Not only do you deserve to look and feel how you want but the people you care about the most deserve the best version of you.
And that requires prioritizing yourself. Investing in yourself. And spending your time accordingly.
If you don't know where to start, simply ask. I can always point you in the right direction.
Much love, Kayli
Kayli is a certified personal trainer and online coach that specializes in fitness, wellness, nutrition, mindset, mobility and everything in between.