Factors like stress, overtraining, and diet may be to blame.
Q: I’m a 40-year-old, healthy, sporty female. As a triathlete, I get 60 minutes or more of exercise 6 or 7 days a week, but I find I’m gaining weight anyway. Can hormonal changes influence my food cravings and, if so, how can I manage them? How do I reset my metabolism to lose weight?
Many things can affect your ability to lose weight, such as:
- food choices
- activity level
Stress can also affect your weight loss, and over-exercising can lead to stress-related hormonal fluctuations that may make weight loss harder.
Although getting the right amount of physical activity is important for your overall health, overtraining and not getting adequate rest between your workouts can keep you from losing weight. This is why balancing exercise with recovery periods is critical.
Overtraining — especially physically demanding cardiovascular activity, such as marathon or triathlon training — may increase levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress ().
Although this hormone plays an important role in health, chronically elevated cortisol levels have been associated with (, ):
- weight gain
- sleep disturbances
- increased inflammation
- excess belly fat (even in lean people)
Elevated cortisol levels drive hunger and cravings for tasty junk foods, which is why chronically elevated levels can lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss.
Smart ways to prevent stress-related weight gain include:
- cutting down on training sessions
- giving your body time to recuperate between workouts
- adding cortisol-reducing activities to your routine, such as yoga or meditation
Although stress and high cortisol levels may be slowing your weight loss, there are several other factors to consider.
Diet is one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy weight. Making small adjustments to your diet is one of the best ways to improve health and promote weight loss.
Eating more protein-rich foods, filling up on fibrous vegetables, and incorporating healthy fats into meals are some evidence-based, sustainable ways to encourage weight loss (, ).
If you find that most of your training sessions involve cardiovascular activity and little resistance training, try replacing some of your cardio workouts with muscle-building activities, such as bodyweight exercises — think push-ups or crunches — or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Strength training helps build muscle and can boost the number of calories you burn while at rest ().
Menopause transition (perimenopause) typically begins in your mid-40s. However, it can occur earlier in some women. Studies show that hormonal fluctuations during this time may lead to weight gain, especially in your abdominal area.
Speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing perimenopause symptoms, such as hot flashes, irregular periods, weight gain, or fatigue ().
Tips for Cravings
If food cravings are keeping you from maintaining healthy body weight, here are several simple, effective ways to tame them:
- Make sure you’re eating enough calories. Undereating during the day can lead to cravings for foods like candy and cookies at night.
- Stay hydrated. This is especially important for active individuals like triathletes. Drinking enough water throughout the day may help reduce food cravings.
- Fill up on protein. Add a source of high-quality protein — such as eggs, natural peanut butter, chicken, or tofu — to meals and snacks to keep cravings at bay.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can raise cortisol levels and has been associated with increased food cravings and weight gain in studies ().
To prevent weight gain and maintain a healthy body weight, try implementing a few of the suggestions listed above. If you’re still having trouble after trying out these tips, consult your doctor for advice.
Jillian Kubala is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. Jillian holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. Aside from writing for Healthline Nutrition, she runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutritional and lifestyle changes. Jillian practices what she preaches, spending her free time tending to her small farm that includes vegetable and flower gardens and a flock of chickens. Reach out to her through her website or on Instagram.