What’s with the Middle Aged Spread?

Why do People Get a Middle Aged Spread in Midlife?

What is Middle Aged Spread?

We’ve all heard about the middle aged spread. Many of us in our 40’s and 50’s start to put on weight which seems to cling to our abdomen, hips and thighs. But why is that, and what can we do about it?

I’ve always put weight straight on to my tummy. Looking at photos of my family, we all have a “pot gut” which we inherited from our father! Weight gain around our waistline is sometimes caused from hereditary factors, and sometimes from just learning about food from our families. We’re all foodies in my family – we love our food, we talk about food in detail, and love to experiment with cooking. Being good cooks means we enjoy it just a little too much at times and all our social occasions are based on lavish feasts. All well and good when you’re young and fit and can keep your weight down with exercise and eating well the rest of the week.

How Menopause Affects Weight Gain

But after the age of 40, the reduction in sex hormones in both men and women (yes there is a “manopause”!) can lead to excess body fat being stored around the abdomen for men and the buttocks and thighs of women. Women and men store fat differently and it can change due to aging.

I went into a sudden and severe menopause when I was about 46 where my ovaries switched off overnight. I suffered hot flushes every 5 to 10 minutes, severe anxiety and insomnia. For me, going on to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was vital for my health. I started to put on weight at the same age, but put it down to lifestyle factors. It wasn’t until this year, at the age of 53, that I managed to slowly wean myself off HRT over the course of about 6 months. It’s only been since then that I’ve been able to lose weight more easily than before. Scientific studies dispute the link between weight gain and HRT, but for me, I believe HRT made it harder for me to control my weight.

How to Control Middle Aged Spread

Because weight gain in middle age is so common, it is important to look at what we can control, especially our diet. I genuinely did not know that the recommended number of servings of protein and grains is lower after the age of 50. Here was I, eating the same amount of food as my sons who are in their 20’s, and wondering why I was putting on weight! It wasn’t until the dietician told me this that I had a light-bulb moment and realised that I needed to change not only how many servings I was eating, but the amount of food per serving as well.

Once I did this, the weight actually came off easily. I could no longer eat 3 stalks of broccoli and call it a serving, and 200g of red meat and think that that was a reasonable amount for dinner. An adjustment in both my number of servings of food, and the amount of food I ate made a huge difference to my waistline.

Recommended Number of Servings Per Day

Here are the recommended number of servings per age group:

Men

AgeVegetables and
Legumes/beans
FruitGrainsMilk, cheese and alternativesLean meat, poultry,
eggs, nuts, seeds
19-506262 1/23
51-705 1/2262 1/22 1/2
70+524 1/23 1/22 1/2
Recommended Number of Servings Per Day – Men

Women

AgeVegetables and
Legumes/beans
FruitGrainsMilk, cheese and alternativesLean meat, poultry,
eggs, nuts, seeds
19-505262 1/22 1/2
51-7052442
70+52342
Pregnant528 1/22 1/23 1/2
Lactating7 1/2292 1/22 1/2
Recommended Number of Servings Per Day – Women

Adjust Your Eating Habits as You Age

You can see from this table, the number of servings changes after the age of 50, so it’s important to adjust our eating habits accordingly. I had assumed that my diet was full of healthy fruit and vegetables, but when I looked more closely at it, I realised that I really wasn’t eating many vegetables at all. It was easy to fix – I just started eating a large salad or some homemade vegetable soup for lunch, and loaded extra vegetables into my night time meals. My serve of meat is now much smaller, and I’ve started incorporating legumes with my meals. My son went vegetarian at the beginning of this year and we’ve really enjoyed cooking sessions where we experiment with different recipes. He’s becoming a good cook as well. His meals look far nicer than our carnivorous ones!

A healthy diet should contain 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables per day
A healthy diet should contain 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables per day

There are some great resources on the internet about serving numbers and sizes. The one I use is an Australian Government website, Eat for Health. If you are struggling to increase your number of servings of vegetables per day, read 13+ Ways to Get More Colour in Your Diet.

It really is as simple as that: keep to the recommended guidelines for your age and sex, and you will begin to lose weight. Add in exercise, and you’ll not only lose weight, you’ll feel so much better too.

What's with the middle aged spread?  Why do we gain weight around our waist in our 40s and 50s and what can we do about it?
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