In The Midlife Method, food and lifestyle writer Sam Rice explores why it is so much harder to lose weight as we get older, and what we can do about it. With her new book, learn how to exercise optimally, get a better night’s sleep, manage stress and enjoy alcohol as part of a healthier lifestyle.
Here she answers a few more questions about her new book The Midlife Method: How to lose weight and look great after 40.
What happens to our bodies in our 40s and 50s to make weight gain an issue?
Understanding the physiological changes our bodies go through is really important when talking about weight management in midlife. I spent a long time looking at studies and research in this area and ‘the big three’ that kept coming up time and again were hormones, metabolism and gut health. In midlife our hormone production (namely progesterone and oestrogen in women and testosterone in men) declines, our basal metabolic rate slows and our gut health can deteriorate. All three can lead to weight gain.
You’re a food, drink and health writer, can you tell us about your journey in developing The Midlife Method? How did it start?
It actually started way back in 2012. My youngest brother Ben died aged just 27 from complications arising from type 1 diabetes. At that time, I was 42 with two young children and my own health was not exactly a priority. He had been robbed at such a young age of his healthy body and I felt I owed it to him to take better care of mine. I started looking at every aspect of the way I lived and realised there was a lot that needed to change. It was a journey that would culminate in a whole new career as a food, drink and health writer and everything I’ve learnt is in The Midlife Method.
Was there a lightbulb moment in that journey? And when did you decide to share your knowledge with a book?
In 2013, I was laid up after a minor operation. I had lost over 10 kilos in that first year after Ben died and people kept asking me how I had done it. So, being stuck in bed recovering, I just started writing it down. That was the first draft of the book (back then it was called The Happy Eater!) but it has taken another six years and lots of time spent in the kitchen and researching midlife health and nutrition to get it to where it is today. I’m so excited to share The Midlife Method with all the many midlifers out there who struggle with their weight or who just want to improve their health and feel fit and energised.
What was the first lifestyle change you made?
I started at the beginning, looking at what I was eating for breakfast. I wasn’t really paying it much attention and it was erratic – sometimes I’d just have coffee, or if I did eat I was just grabbing a slice of toast or reaching for the cereal packet. I found very quickly that if I ate porridge, overnight oats, eggs or avocado – basically whole foods with a good balance of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats – I made much better food choices throughout the day and my appetite was much steadier. Having said that, I know many people find it hard to eat first thing and that’s fine. Just making sure that your first meal of the day, whenever that is, is a nutritious one is the first step to better health and weight management.
Are there food groups we should avoid or are you a believer in everything in moderation? And which should we be focusing on?
I’m absolutely a believer in everything in moderation. That’s why my book is called The Midlife Method and not The Midlife Diet. Diets tend to put unsustainable restrictions around what you eat which ultimately mean you cannot stick with it. What I am trying to do in the book is provide long-term strategies for weight management – if you love wine and cheese, or the odd slice of cake, then there has to be space for those things in the context of diet that is healthy overall. There are no foods that are cut out completely; of course, foods that are lacking nutritionally or very calorific should be minimised but that’s just common sense! What I advise is a focus on what I call ‘nutrifoods’, foods which are high in nutritional value (for example, brightly coloured fruit and veg, nuts, seeds, eggs, whole grains, lean protein such as fish, chicken, etc) and minimally processed with no artificial colours, flavours, preservatives or unrecognisable ingredients. As long as the mainstay of your diet is nutritious, there is room for you to enjoy some things that aren’t so good for you.
Where does exercise fit in?
In terms of weight loss, exercise will, of course, burn some calories and, since weight loss is largely down to creating a calorie deficit (a fancy way of saying fewer calories in than out), then exercise is clearly part of that equation. However, what we eat is a far easier way to create a calorie deficit than through exercise – you’d have to do 272 burpees to burn off one slice of pepperoni pizza! However, exercise is more than just about burning calories. Exercise helps maintain muscle mass, which declines as we age, and the less muscle mass we have the fewer calories we burn at rest. So, it’s crucial to keep exercising not just from a weight perspective but also for our general health. Regular physical activity can improve health markers such as insulin sensitivity, cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which lowers the risk of developing chronic illnesses later in life.
It can be hard in times of celebration to not overindulge. Do you have any tips on how to not wreck the diet? Or is it okay to take a ‘sabbatical’?
This idea of being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in terms of what you eat is at the root of most people’s poor relationship with food. It sabotages our efforts to lose weight because you can only sustain ‘being good’ for so long. I am often asked if I eat things like cake or cheese or if I drink alcohol because I’m a ‘healthy person’, and my response is always, of course! Being ‘healthy’ is not about sticking to a strict and saintly set of ‘superfoods’. It’s about understanding what your body needs to function well, finding healthy foods you love to eat but also having the space to enjoys some foods which are not necessarily top of the league nutritionally. The Midlife Method works by having some days where you calorie restrict – I call them Light Days – and on the other days – called Regular Days – there is enough wiggle room to have a glass of wine or a dessert. Going back to my earlier point, nothing is off limits.
What do you believe are the long-term benefits of The Midlife Method?
The main aim of The Midlife Method is to help people develop a better relationship with food, one which is guilt-free and which fits with our busy lives. It’s all very well following a diet that cuts out food groups or restricts when you eat or is limiting in some other way, but ultimately is that how you see living your life in the future? The Midlife Method is about making long-term, sustainable changes so you can lose weight, keep it off and feel great.
What is the one thing you would like people to take away from The Midlife Method?
Because of the physiological changes in our bodies in midlife, the key to losing weight is to take the long view and approach it holistically. This can mean unlearning some ingrained habits. The Midlife Method is a program for change, not a diet that will begin and end. The key to success is consistency over the long term.
Is there anything else we haven’t asked you that we should have?
Where you can buy the book! It’s available from all good bookshops and online retailers and is the best $30.00 you’ll spend this year, I promise.
The Midlife Method by Sam Rice, Hachette Australia, RRP $32.99, available now.
Did you find it harder to lose weight after you turned 40? Did you notice any other changes? Do you follow a certain diet?