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Why it's hard to lose weight after 40 and ways to overcome it

Changes to our body composition and hormones make losing weight hard, but not impossible.

Written by
Lucinda Starr
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
January 16, 2024
min read
Why it's hard to lose weight after 40 and ways to overcome it
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When you're young, it feels like you can eat whatever you want, drink as much as you like and rarely exercise without seeing the number on the scale change. But, as we get older, changes to our body composition and hormones make weight gain more common and losing weight after 40 can become harder, too.

But, that doesn't mean losing weight at 40 is impossible. There are plenty of options out there to get you to your ideal healthy weight including eating a balanced diet, strength training, portion control and even reaching out to a healthcare professional for help.

If you're struggling to lose weight after 40 and need help, we've got you covered. We're breaking down why weight gain is common with age and why losing weight after 40 becomes increasingly difficult. Plus, we've got some tips and tricks to help you kickstart your weight loss journey.

Why is it common to gain weight after 40?

Many people notice they gain weight around their 40s or struggle to maintain their weight. This is generally because of changes to your metabolism, where your metabolism slows down as you get older. This means you're burning fewer calories and also breaking down food differently [1].

As you hit middle age, weight management and the ability to shed excess kilos become harder and harder. Why? Because around the 40-year mark, you start to lose muscle mass which continues as you get older.

Plus, hormonal changes — like producing less testosterone — mean you tend to experience more fat accumulation, particularly around the midsection a.k.a you might notice more belly fat.

Aside from hormonal changes and slowing metabolism, it's common to gain weight after 40 because your physical activity is generally decreased. You're likely working more, consuming more calories, and possibly not moving around enough which can all contribute to weight gain.

Why can it be hard for people over 40 to lose weight?

On top of weight gain being common after 40, losing weight after 40 can become harder. The eating habits you once had in your 20s and 30s like eating whatever you like and not gaining much weight often go away as you get older.

Testosterone is one of the hormones responsible for fat distribution, muscle mass, and muscle strength. As you age, you experience a pretty significant drop in testosterone which begins to decline around 40 at a rate of roughly 1-2% each year [2].

As men enter their 50s, low testosterone levels can contribute to lower muscle mass, less energy, and weight gain. Essentially, this means it's harder to burn calories.

Another hormonal change that makes it harder to lose weight after 40 is leptin — the hunger hormone. Leptin helps inhibit hunger and regulate energy balance so your body doesn't trigger its hunger responses when it doesn't need energy [3].

Leptin is also directly related to body fat and obesity and helps the body maintain weight. Leptin production also decreases with age and if the body doesn't have enough leptin, it can trigger increases in appetite and food cravings [4].

5 things that can help you lose weight after 40

Losing weight after 40 can be difficult, particularly when so many changes are happening in your body. But, try not to get discouraged because there are plenty of options out there that can help you on your weight loss journey at any age.

1. Set SMART goals

One of the best ways to achieve any goal is to follow the SMART framework. Let's run you through what the SMART framework is and how these steps can help you hit your weight loss goals.

  • Specific: You want to make sure your weight loss goals aren't too generic or broad. Rather they should be specific and tailored to you, like setting your ideal healthy weight number.
  • Measurable: To track the progress of your weight loss you need to define how you're going to measure your achievements. You could look at the number on the scale, measure your body mass index (BMI) or you can keep a food diary to measure your calorie intake and workout regimen.
  • Achievable: If you want to accomplish your weight loss goals, you need to set realistic weight loss targets. Your goals should be challenging but they shouldn't be so difficult that you give up after a couple of weeks.
  • Relevant: Your goals should also matter to you so you stay motivated. Think about why you want to lose weight. Maybe you need to get rid of excess weight because of a health condition like heart disease or high blood pressure or you want to feel more confident by losing belly fat. Get clear on the 'why' behind your weight loss goals.
  • Time-bound: Your goals should also have a time frame that is fair and reasonable to keep you consistent, and motivated and help you actually achieve them. Keep in mind that on average people tend to lose about 0.5-1kg per week, so that can be a good place to start.

Now that you know what SMART goals are, let's put them together. Instead of setting a broad goal like "I want to lose weight" your new and improved goal could be:

"I am going to lose 10 kilos by July 2023. To achieve this goal I am going to cut out processed foods, and fried foods and focus on a healthy diet such as lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. I'm also going to exercise 3 times a week with resistance training exercises. To measure my weight loss journey, I will measure my food intake with a food diary and weigh myself once a week to see if I've lost weight."

2. Follow a balanced diet

The best way to lose weight after 40 and prevent weight gain at any age is to eat a balanced, healthy diet. That means, changing your eating habits to eat a variety of foods from each of the 5 food groups including:

  • Vegetables and legumes
  • Fruit
  • Whole grains
  • Lean proteins including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • Dairy including milk, cheese and yogurt [5].

Portion control is also important when losing weight, so make sure vegetables are taking up half your plate, and whole grains and lean proteins are taking up a quarter of your plate.

Some more weight loss tips to get you to reduce the number of processed foods include swapping high-calorie coffee drinks with a standard coffee like espresso or cappuccino. And, be sure to engage in mindful eating when consuming your meals each day.

Since weight gain is common in middle age and losing weight after 40 can be a major challenge for people, there are also weight loss shakes designed for long-term weight loss.

Pilot's Weight Reset Shakes are meal replacement shakes that are formulated to support your health and are jam-packed with 20 vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein and pre and pro-biotics to make sure you're getting all the vitamins and minerals from a balanced meal. The shakes are also packed with fibre to keep you fuller for longer which helps you lose weight and boost your metabolism.

Each shake contains 20 vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein, and pre and probiotics and comes loaded with fibre to keep you feeling fuller for longer which can help you lose weight and boost your metabolism. Plus, you can add a few other ingredients to your shake to make it even tastier.

3. Get enough sleep and manage stress

Not getting enough sleep and navigating chronic stress can cause weight gain and make it harder to lose weight. Research suggests that sleep deprivation can lead to metabolic dysregulation and not getting enough sleep is also associated with blood sugar intolerance and insulin resistance [6].

Plus, sleep deprivation can disrupt your circadian rhythm which can lead to weight gain [7].

Stress hormones like cortisol also play a role in weight gain because when you're stressed your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol which then releases glucose into your bloodstream [8].

So, if you've got chronic stress and you're trying to lose weight, triggering the body's relaxation response through breathing exercises is one way you can reduce stress levels.

4. Exercise consistently

Consistent exercise is one of the best things you can do to lose weight and for your overall health. Alongside a healthy diet, exercise is great for calorie burning, and muscle growth and it can reduce stress levels and promote better sleep too.

If you've got a busy schedule or you're just getting started, try to implement 30 minutes of exercise per day, whether that's walking, swimming, body weight exercises, strength training, weight lifting or weight training [9].

The best way to stay consistent with your exercise routine is to find something you actually enjoy doing. Try to incorporate more incidental exercise into your day as a way to keep moving.

5. Consult a healthcare professional

Sometimes losing weight after 40 can be a real challenge and sometimes it feels like the cards are stacked against you. If you've tried mindful eating, followed diet tips and reduced your calorie intake and nothing seems to be working, think about consulting a healthcare professional for help.

Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program combines breakthrough modern medicine — which works to decrease your appetite and keep you feeling fuller for longer — with community support from our medical team and health coaches, while also connecting you with a supportive community of like-minded men to help keep you motivated and accountable to your weight loss goals.

Losing weight can be a challenge, but losing weight after 40 can be even harder because of changes happening to your body with age. But, no matter your age, you should always strive for a healthy metabolic rate by following a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly and managing your stress levels.

If you need a helping hand, programs such as Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program are here to give you the support and guidance you need to build habits that last for life.

Image credit: Getty Images

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