Nutrition: Losing Weight at Midlife

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Diet & Detox

I always say that eating high quality food is one of the easiest ways to create health on a daily basis. Yet, in many ways nutrition has become synonymous with diet and weight loss in this country. Many women find themselves gaining weight at midlife, even if they have not changed their eating or exercise habits — or because they have not! Other women find that their body shape changes, with fat accumulating around the waistline, hips and shoulders. While this is a natural process, I know firsthand that it can be frustrating, and I’ve seen many women compromise good nutrition in an effort to be thin.

In fact, poor nutrition is a major reason why many women find it so difficult to lose weight. We have become accustomed to eating low-fat diets that include high-stress, low quality foods, such as the refined flours and sugars found in processed foods (think pasta and low-fat cookies). It’s important to remember that the human body has evolved over millennia to assimilate foods that are found in the natural world. Therefore, we function best when we eat these natural foods, not imitations.

But, there are also other factors at work at midlife: First, women experience a metabolic slowdown of about 10–15 percent at midlife compared to earlier in life, making our bodies more efficient at taking in and storing fat. Nature designed us this way in order to help us survive on less food as we get older and potentially less able to fend for ourselves. Body fat also helps us produce estrogen and androgens when our ovaries no longer produce them at the same rate. That’s all well and good for a hunter–gatherer lifestyle, but today, our culture is constantly telling us we can never be too thin.

The good news is that there are ways to negotiate this midlife metabolic shift and rebalance your hormones without any significant weight or fat gain — and you can do it without compromising good nutrition. The key to this lies in understanding all of the elements of total nutrition, which include emotional nutrients, energetic nutrients and physical nutrients, and not just the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Understanding these will help you change your attitude about self-nourishment. When you do this, your body composition and your self-esteem will be transformed as well. This is the only way I’ve found I can be both well nourished and successful in managing my weight.

Learn More — Additional Resources

It has been my experience that countless women are drawn to food approaches such as macrobiotics or The Zone out of concern for their weight as much as their health. Many of the newer diet books address both simultaneously. I agree with this approach, but like to take it one step further. Whether you are looking to improve your nutrition because of health concerns or to lose weight, it helps to get clear about your dietary truths. Once you are able to do this, reaching your body’s optimal composition and creating health through food come simultaneously.

That being said, what I have found works best for me and for many women is a hormone-balancing food plan. At midlife our bodies begin storing fat in order to retain estrogen. That’s why I have written an in-depth menopause food plan in my book, The Wisdom of Menopause, but there are many books out there that can help you learn which plan works best for you. Some of the following contain meal plans and recipes that have helped thousands of women lose weight and balance their hormones, as well as insulin and eicosaniod levels.

Last Updated: October 13, 2006

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


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    8 years ago

    Perhaps you would appreciate reading the summary of Dr. Sharon Alger-Mayer s lecture that does an excellent job of explaining all the difficulties of losing weight mid-life.

  2. Chris
    8 years ago

    I’m 53 and I am bigger than I’ve ever been in my life or ever thought I could be. I used to feel desperAte to learn how to lose this weight. Now I just feel determined. Determined to figure out how at this stage in my life. I want to feel better and look better. My knees scream without much coaxing. I’m too young to be sidelined and still feel very excited about life. I spent my adult life in highly stressful careers, emotionally destructive marriage,single mom, stress, stress, stress! Like many of us, right? However I used food as a way to cope and feel better when life was crazed. I’ve done it since I s a kid. I realiZe it now and now to use other means (most of the time) when I’m stressed, bored happy, etc. in my 50’s I battled serious Illness, mine and my husbands. Now I’m 80 lbs overweight and want more than ever, to get it off, to feel better and be healthier. I also have hypothyroidism . Anyway, I’m going to find some of these books and review yours, Dr. Northrop, and hope I can find a way back to where I should be, what is normal for me. Thank you for everything that you do. You truly inspire me,

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