How to lose weight over 50: expert approved advice

Struggling to lose weight over 50 is a common problem - here's how to overcome it

Woman in her 50s running to lose weight
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re wondering how to lose weight over 50, you’ve come to the right place. Struggling to stay in control of your waistline is a common part of the ageing process - one that often seemed so much simpler in our thirties and forties.

There are several reasons why losing weight after 50 can prove challenging. As we age our muscle mass decreases, and our body doesn’t require as much energy as it once did. So, less food is needed - but our diets often continue as before.

Issues relating to hormones also occur in women as they age, which is often the reason why losing weight on your stomach after hitting the big 5-0 can be such a nightmare. The menopause causes an imbalance in the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which can result in a greater fat accumulation around the mid section, as well as more water retention and a sluggish metabolism. 

Joints can also start to ache more as we age, reducing our motivation to get moving and exercise. If that's an issue for you, consider trying the best supplements for joints.

Claire and James Davis are founders of the Midlife Method, an eight week plan to help you lose weight and boost confidence. Here they reveal their top tips for losing weight after 50...

1. Ditch the diet

That might sound surprising, but diets have 97% plus failure rate. They all work essentially the same way - namely restricting calories. However, many diets result in a loss of muscle mass, a lower metabolic rate and keep you locked in a long term, torturous cycle of feast or famine, which does the over-50 body and mind more harm than good.

2. Move more

It might sound obvious, but there are two sides to the energy equation: what we ingest and what we expend. The more calories you burn consistently, the better your chances of keeping weight off. Whilst high intensity sessions are generally the best exercise for weight loss, they’re not for everyone - so find what works for you. It could be something low-impact, such as cycling, swimming or walking to lose weight.

3. Eat more protein

Protein triggers the hormone leptin, which signals we’re full. However, there’s significant research revealing leptin levels decrease as women age, which is one of the reasons they feel more hungry during peri-menopause and menopause. Ensuring protein makes up about 40-45% of your daily diet will help keep hunger at bay. To help, we've picked the best protein powders for women and also the best protein powders for weight loss.

4. Take up resistance training

Resistance training (any type of exercise where you lift or pull against resistance - typically with weights) is great for burning calories, but it also has other welcome benefits relating to the ageing process. 

As we age, declining levels of testosterone (in both men and women women) and the human growth hormone mean that we naturally lose muscle mass (and therefore strength), our metabolism slows and bone density reduces.

Training with weights can help prolong this decline. One study found that even just short session of resistance training temporarily increased testosterone production in participants, even those in their sixties. This temporary boost had a positive effect on  bone density, heart health, muscle growth and even libido.

Happily, you don't have to head to the gym to do resistance training - invest in a set of the best resistance bands or adjustable dumbbells to get started at home.

5. Cut sugar

Sugar spikes your insulin, and regular spikes are linked to long term fat gain. As we age we become more insulin resistant, meaning that sugar is less likely to be utilised for energy and more likely to be stored as fat.

Sugar is hidden in so much of our day to day food - so knowing your food labelling is essential. Look for the 'sugars' figure listed under 'carbohydrates' on the packaging. In the UK, NHS guidelines state that anything above 22.5% is high sugar - and you’ll get a shock once you start realising how much is added to nearly all food. Try using sugar substitutes in your cooking, baking and hot drinks instead.

6. Eat the right carbs - and front-load them

Carbs get a bad name but most of us are simply eating too many of the wrong kind. Aim for around 40-45% of your overall daily intake to be carbs. These should be fresh vegetables, ideally filling up on leafy greens and minimising processed carbs like bread, cakes and pasta. 

Also try to front-load your carb intake in the first half of the day and go low carb in the evening. Eating them earlier means they’ll be used for energy and be less likely to be stored as fat. 

7. Moderate alcohol intake

Yes, drinking can be enjoyable - but alcohol is essentially empty calories, and also high in sugar (welcome to the insulin rollercoaster). 

Not only that, our body prioritises alcohol for metabolisation in order to flush it from the body, which means any food you’re eating is more likely to be stored as fat. Plus you're more likely to turn to starchy and sugary carbs the day after.

Limiting alcohol intake can help with weight loss after 50

(Image credit: Getty Images)

8. Minimise processed foods

Not all calories are created equal. Studies have shown that when we consume diets made up of ultra processed foods (think crisps in tubes) versus one made up of natural whole foods, we actually put on more body fat even when the calorie amounts are kept the same. 

Plus we tend to eat more of these types of food since they bypass our hormonal system with all their artificial ingredients, so we miss the “I’m full” kick of leptin.

9. Plan shorter workouts

Slogging out hours of cardio is simply not effective for fat loss in midlife - and can actually put the central nervous system under too much stress. When the stress hormone cortisol remains raised, our bodies are more likely to hold onto fat, particularly in the abdomen, hip and thigh areas. If that wasn’t bad enough, stress also makes you crave higher energy foods, meaning you’re also more likely to overeat.

In contrast, short intense bursts of exercise offer huge results, and are perfect for beginners and active people alike. Regular 20 minute sessions are not only easy to fit into your day at home, but also increase fat loss, fitness and cardiovascular health. What's more, shorter workouts allow more time for rest and recovery, which is also incredibly important as we age (investing in one of the best foam rollers can help on that front).

Try this 30-minute session from our Instagram TV channel, or else give our four-week HIIT workout challenge a go.

Lucy Gornall
Lucy Gornall

Lucy is Health and Fitness Editor at various women's magazines, and also Editor of Woman&Home Feel Good You. She has previously written for titles including Now, Look and Cosmopolitan. She lives and breathes all things fitness; she works out every morning, and mixes it up with runs, weights, boxing and endless box jumps. She is also a Level 3 personal trainer and teaches classes at various London studios, primarily Digme Fitness. Lucy is pre- and post-natal trained and helps new mums get back into fitness after the birth of their baby. Lucy claims that good sleep, plenty of food, and a healthy gut (seriously, it's an obsession) are the key to maintaining energy and exercising efficiently. Saying this, she's partial to the odd Negroni on the dance floor with her friends.