In your 20s:
YOUR LIFESTYLE It’s a decade of discovery: moving out of home, climbing the career ladder, perfecting your tolerance for margheritas... but you might also discover some extra jiggle. According to a 15-year-long study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women gain an average of 0.9kg a year in their 20s. That’s an extra 9kg – or two dress sizes – by the time you hit 30.
“Your 20s are full of life transitions,” says Caroline George, dietitian for weight-loss company EatFitFood.
“Moving out of home, sitting at a desk and having a hectic social life all contribute to weight gain.”
That hectic social life also means plenty of booze. “Even if you’re choosing mixers like soda water with your vodka, it’s still a high-kJ beverage,” says weight-loss expert and dietitian Angela Buntic. “Reduce your alco-kilojoules by adding lots of ice to your drink. It melts and makes the drink last longer. Stop ordering doubles too!”
Sleep might be snatched between social events and work, but a lack of shut-eye could be causing you to overeat, according to European Centre for Taste Sciences research.
“Skipping sleep increases the hunger- promoting hormone ghrelin,” explains study author Dr Laurent Brondel. “People who have four instead of eight hours sleep increase their kJ consumption by 22 per cent.” Even an extra hour in bed helps; women who sleep six hours a night are 23 per cent more likely to be obese than those who get seven to nine hours. “Turn your phone off for uninterrupted kip,” says Dr Brondel.
YOUR HORMONES Move over Arnie – women in their 20s have twice as much testosterone as women in their 40s. While this means your sex-drive is raging, gaining lots of weight can make you prone to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) . “Fat is hormonally reactive,” explains Dr John Eden, Associate Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology at the University of NSW. “The more fat you store, the more insulin your body produces.
This throws your hormones out of whack, so you produce more testosterone, which can result in PCOS.”
PCOS is most commonly diagnosed in 20-somethings. “It’s a vicious cycle,” says Dr Eden. “The more weight you gain, the higher your testosterone surges. The higher it surges, the more weight you gain.”
For PCOS sufferers, the best way to lose weight is by combining a low-GI diet with plenty of exercise. “Change your lifestyle and you can dramatically reduce symptoms within a month,” confirms Dr Eden.
Liquorice supplements can help “regulate hormones and reduce testosterone levels,” says Susan Smith Jones, author of The Healing Power of Nature Foods. No, allsorts don’t count.
Before: 94KG After: 59KG
This English teacher from Petersham, NSW, overcame a fast-food habit. In her second year of uni, McKay went on student exchange to the fast food nation. She came back from the US with 15kg of excess baggage, then started work at a paparazzi agency. “I had to go through pictures of celebrities to decide who looked fat. I’d think, ‘If they’re meant to be fat, what do I look like?’”
That’s when 168cm McKay started thinking about what she was putting in her mouth. “I’d plan meals instead of buying takeaway and I learnt to make food not dripping in oil.” And she joined a gym to walk on the treadmill. “I’d go for at least half an hour, five days a week, working up to running.”
In her first month as a gym member, McKay lost 2kg. “I was so excited, I went harder and lost 5kg the next month, then another 5, and it kept dropping. I hit a plateau at 70kg, which drove me nuts because I was working hard. So I spoke to a personal trainer, and he got me doing boxing and spin classes.”
After seven months, she reached her goal, and she’s unrecognisable – in looks and personality. “I’m so much more confident now. I feel like a person, not a clothes size.”
YOUR NUTRITION Know the Macca’s menu by heart? You’re not alone. Twentysomethings eat 25 per cent more fast-food than those in their teens, according to Brown University Medical School in the US. If you’re on the run and need a quick food fix, steer clear of anything fried, says Buntic. “Avoid hot chips, nuggets and hash browns. They’re packed with saturated fat, loaded with salt and will make you bloated.” The best fast-food choice is a Subway Six Inch, says Buntic. “Lean meat and heaps of salad on multigrain bread adds up to 6g fat – half the fat content of a cheeseburger.”
If there’s no other option, choose a plain burger packed with salad. Reduce kJs further by leaving the top half of the bun. “Don’t be tempted by meal-deal soft drinks either. “Go for water instead and you’ll save yourself almost 40g of sugar,” Buntic advises.
YOUR FITNESS Seventy per cent of young women don’t exercise regularly after leaving school, shows a UK study. Get motivated by joining forces with friends or colleagues. Women who train with friends lose five per cent more weight than those exercising alone, according to University of Pennsylvania, US, research. “Group training provides accountability,” explains James Brabon, founder and trainer for Original Bootcamp.
“Plus it’s a great way to network, which could positively affect your career.” Resistance training is essential for women in their 20s. “You’ll boost your metabolism, burn fat and increase bone density,” says Brabon. “Metabolic conditioning uses lots of muscles and gives a kick-ass cardio hit. You’ll be burning kJs for hours.”
Do the following; 10 dirty dog push-ups (as you lower, lift your right foot and touch your knee to your elbow. On the next rep do the same with your left leg); 20 stutter squats (small pulses in the squat position); 20 switch lunges (lunge down, jump up, switch legs, lunge on the other leg); 10 supine jackknives (lie on your back with your legs straight in the air and your fingers touching your ankles. Lower your arms behind your head and legs straight down at the same speed. Before they touch the ground, raise them back to the top); and 10 monk crunches (put feet together, let your knees fall outwards, put your hands above your head and crunch). Repeat as many times as possible in 16 minutes. Do this routine five times a week.
In your 30s
YOUR LIFESTYLE Career: tick. Baby: tick. Partner, friends, ageing parents; tick, tick tick. Your 30s can mean juggling more balls than a Cirque de Soleil troupe – which isn’t good for your waistline. Stresses such as relationships, jobs and family can cause over-eating and weight gain, according to University of Washington, US, research. Further studies from the University of Rochester, US, also show chronic stress in the work place – including lack of control over your job and worrying about being retrenched – are significantly linked to weight gain.
“The stress hormone cortisol promotes the accumulation of adipose tissue, or fat,” explains study author Susan Melhorn. “Cortisol also overrides your food-intake control, causing you to eat more.” But it’s not over when the fat lady de-stresses. “These effects are still apparent after the stressful period is resolved,” says Melhorn. Keep your weight in control even when your to-do list isn’t by eating small, frequent meals. “This reduces the accumulation of adipose tissue even if you’re stressed,” says Melhorn.
Constant pressure can also cause psychological food cravings. “Stressed women crave more sweet treats because we believe indulging will alleviate our emotional state,” says Dr Eva Kemps, associate professor of psychology at Flinders University, SA. Rid cravings by finding your inner hippie: “Studies show visualising a positive image, like a rainbow, makes cravings less intense,” Dr Kemps says.
YOUR HORMONES You’re more likely to see Mel Gibson awarded Dad of the Year than meet a new mum who isn’t exhausted and struggling to lose her baby weight. But around 10 per cent of new mums are unknowingly battling an underactive thyroid – making it even harder to shed kilos.
“During pregnancy your body makes auto-immune hormones so you don’t reject the baby,” explains Dr Eden. “After the baby’s born your body has withdrawal symptoms from these hormones. Sometimes this can result in an underactive thyroid.” If you have fluid retention and can’t lose weight even though you’re breastfeeding, see your GP. Don’t panic though. “Most women grow out of this condition a few months after giving birth,” Dr Eden says.
Before: 76KG After: 63KG
Moving to remote WA saw this mum pack on the kilos. Lothian, mum of two, had shed her pregnancy weight in her late 20s. But in her early 30s, weight became more of an issue. When the family moved to a remote WA mining town she stacked on even more. “I couldn’t go to the gym because they didn’t have a crèche, and getting healthy food was hard as our supermarket was 200km away,” she says. Lothian’s wake-up call came in the form of a uniform: “I was working in mining admin, and when I got my uniform to wear onsite, it was a 14 and tight. I was like, ‘I’m usually an 8 to 10, this is wrong!’”
One step to getting her body back: a Wii Fit. “I used that five or six nights a week. When the kids went to bed and my husband was on night shift, I did lunges, squats and yoga.”The other step: joining Weight Watchers. “I love the Points system.” By the time the family left the mining town, Lothian was in a size-10 uniform. Then, early this year, she started running. “I used the Women’s Health Walk Run Off the Kilos plan. I ran the 12km City2Surf in August this year.”
Newsflash: being too busy to eat breakfast plus drinking coffee all day and finishing off the kids’ dinner equals weight gain.
Step one to getting back on track: porridge. “It takes two minutes in the microwave,” says dietitian Alison Miles from nutritionlab.com.au. “Not only will it stop you eating Tim Tams at 11am, it shows your kids how important it is to eat well.”
Step two: lay off the lattes. “Too much caffeine may inhibit insulin production, increasing weight gain,” says Miles. “Stick to two cups a day.”
Step three: get organised. “Always have a Plan B so takeaway isn’t the default option when you’re exhausted. Baked beans in the cupboard and grainy bread in the freezer does the trick.” Eat balanced meals to keep energy up and weight loss down. “You need protein, carbs and vegies,” says Miles. “Spag bol with salad, or vegie soup with wholegrain bread is ideal.”
YOUR FITNESS “Women lose around one per cent of muscle mass every year after turning 30,” says WH fitness adviser and personal trainer Ray Klerk. “Less muscle mass means fewer kJs burned, making it harder to achieve high fitness levels.” Add that to the fact 40 per cent of thirtysomethings say they don’t have time to exercise and it’s a recipe for serious weight gain. “Interval training is the best tool for keeping the weight off in this decade,” says Klerk.
Brabon advises “Base your interval training on a work:rest ratio of 20:10 – “20 seconds flat-out work, then 10 seconds rest,” he says. The following routine takes 24 minutes but will keep you burning serious kJs all day. Do as many reps as you can of each exercise in 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds, then start again. Do four sets of each exercise: deep squat-jumps, jumping-jacks, dirty dog push-ups, mountain climbers (in push-up position, jump alternate feet towards your hands), supine jack-knives, SEAL-jacks (put feet together, arms straight out to the side. Jump up, land with feet shoulder-width apart and swing arms across chest). Do this routine every second day.
In your 40s
YOUR LIFESTYLE This is often the decade where women get a little time back to themselves – and have learnt what makes them feel good about their bodies, says dietitian Dr Cate Lombard, from the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health. “At this age, lots of women know what they like eating, what’s good for them and have found a good balance between the two.”
But don’t get complacent. “If you gained weight the risk of type 2 diabetes increases dramatically in your 40s,” says Lombard. “High blood pressure, being overweight and not doing enough exercise all increase the likelihood. Get yearly check-ups with your GP to ensure your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are in check.”
YOUR HORMONES Before menopause, your hormones are fluctuating more wildly than a teenaged girl watching Twilight.
Which means you might put on a couple of kilos. “The majority of women experience some peri-menopausal symptoms, such as weight gain, during their 40s,” says Dr Lombard. “Your body produces less oestrogen which encourages more fat to be laid down around the abdomen.” Hormone replacement therapy can help, but try natural supplements first, suggests Dr Lombard. “Promensil contains the plant oestrogen red clover extract. It’s believed this can replace some of the oestrogen your body is no longer producing.”
Before: 93KG After: 69KG
This Kiwi fought her "going south" body. In her late 30s, Teichmann emigrated to NZ from South Africa. “I lost my support network. I wasn’t walking or playing tennis with friends anymore.”
Over the next few years weight slowly crept on “My body shape changed, and things started going south, but I hardly noticed.” It took a harsh comment from a friend to make her realise she was “massive”.
Teichmann started walking. “I did 3km walks three times a week and progressed until I was doing 15km.”
She also joined Jenny Craig, where her consultant kept her accountable. Within eight months she’d ditched 24kg, and sped up to a run. Now she’s competed in a half-marathon. “I haven’t quite got to a marathon yet; I’m working towards it,” she says. She’s also noticed an improvement in her health. “I don’t have back pain, knee aches or high blood pressure – no problems at all!”
In your 40s you burn 420 fewer kilojoules a day than in your 20s. The result? That extra bickie at morning tea starts to show. “You can’t eat and exercise like you did in your 20s and expect not to gain weight in your 40s,” says Buntic. Keep kJs down by packing your diet with high-water content foods like vegies, salads and non-creamy soups. Women on a low-fat diet containing water-rich foods lost 25 per cent more weight and felt less hungry than those following a traditional low-fat diet in a Pennsylvania State University, US, study. “Fruit and vegies are full of fibre so fill you up without fattening you up,” explains George. “Crunchy vegies are particularly good as you often feel more satisfied when you’ve eaten something with this texture.”
Fluctuating serotonin levels in your 40s can cause cravings for high-carb foods that can make your blood sugar yo-yo. “Take chromium and magnesium supplements,” says Jones. “Magnesium balances blood sugar, and chromium is believed to stave off food cravings by regulating the body’s response to blood sugar.”
YOUR FITNESS Sticking with the fitness routine you’ve always had won’t cut it. “Body composition changes in your 40s. You lose muscle due to hormonal changes and begin to gain fat more easily,” says Klerk. “But contrary to what your grandma might have told you, you shouldn’t stop lifting heavy things as you get older. Lifting weights will help maintain your muscle mass and reduce body fat.”
But now isn’t the time to focus on super-heavy weights, says Brabon. “Concentrate on your range of motion when you’re doing resistance work. This will give you increased mobility as well as keeping weight at bay.”
Try doing tantrums (lie on your stomach, stretch arms above your head. Lift arms, chest and legs off the ground, balancing on hips. Tap your opposite fingers and toes on the ground, then switch to the other arm and leg); and elbows to hands (start in the push-up position. Lift right hand and lower your right elbow and forearm on the ground. Do the same with your left side. Now lift right elbow and put your right hand there. Repeat with your left arm).
Don’t overdo it though. “It’s important to have recovery time in your 40s,” says Brabon. Train three times a week. Do two resistance training and one cardio session to allow your muscles to recover.