Why Do We Gain Weight As We Age?

Risa Groux, CN
 | Published: 
January 25, 2021

As many of you know, losing weight is easier said than done. While some people seem to easily maintain a healthy weight throughout their life, it’s a lifelong struggle for others that begins in childhood and only gets more difficult as they age. Middle age and older weight gain is so common that books have been written specifically to help people get rid of their “middle-aged middle.” The CDC estimated that the prevalence of obesity is staggering: close to 40%, affecting over 93 million Americans (using data from 2016). Research from Sweden explains why getting rid of those extra pounds doesn’t only seem to get harder as we get older—it actually is harder.


The study, “Adipose lipid turnover and long-term changes in body weight,” determined that it is indeed more difficult to liberate stored body fat and burn it. The study authors wrote, “Lipid removal rate decreases during aging, with a failure to reciprocally adjust the rate of lipid uptake resulting in weight gain.” Therefore, the release of stored fat from adipocytes is decreased as we age, but most of us don’t compensate by eating less or by exercising, which could at the very least slow the decline.  


There is more to this than simply eating less and exercising more, though. According to one of the study authors, “…processes in our fat tissue regulate changes in body weight during ageing in a way that is independent of other factors.” It appears that this decline in release of stored body fat is inevitable, but perhaps healthy habits can make this unfortunate slowdown slightly more graceful.


One way to potentially decrease these effects is to prioritize foods that are filling, yet low in overall energy density—things like lean proteins and low-starch vegetables. Filling up on lean beef, seafood, and chicken plus unlimited lettuce, broccoli, cucumber, cauliflower, zucchini, and other vegetables high in water and fiber but low in carbohydrates is one way to eat more in volume while consuming less in energy density.  


Minimizing or eliminating refined carbohydrates may be particularly beneficial as we age. Not everyone needs a strict keto diet in order to ward off excess weight, but chronically elevated insulin is a major factor in obesity and difficulty losing body fat. Insulin is far more than a “blood sugar hormone.” A primary job for this hormone is inhibiting lipolysis. In individuals with chronic hyperinsulinemia—a massive epidemic that goes far beyond type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome—it can be nearly impossible to have a steady flow of fat coming out of fat cells. Insulin essentially keeps it locked in. Perhaps this is why one researcher said that with regard to weight loss, “the lowering insulin levels is the sleeping giant in patient care.”


The old “calories in, calories out” mantra might work for some temporarily, but as a long-term strategy, it’s been known to backfire big time. Dieting for fat loss—particularly if it’s approached through drastic caloric restriction combined with overexercising—is known to induce a decline in metabolic rate. This may be a kind of protective mode the body engages in order to prevent breakdown of critical muscle mass and other vital tissue. Researchers have called this “famine response hypothyroidism,” and it may be why a demanding and disciplined approach to fat loss that worked at one time eventually stops working even when an individual continues to adhere to their previously successful regimen.


Even with a gentler approach to fat loss, it’s not uncommon for some degree of metabolic slowdown to occur. However, low carbohydrate diets may have a slight edge here, according to a  2018 study from Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital. Researchers found that compared to subjects on a diet high in carbohydrate, those on a low carb diet nearly equal in protein had a significantly greater increase in total energy expenditure.

Maintaining metabolic rate or even slightly increasing it might be the key to sustaining a weight loss over the long term. Anything that can help make this easier should be given serious consideration. As difficult as it is to lose body fat initially, maintaining that loss over the course of years and even decades is usually an even bigger challenge. Beyond the potential effects of a diet lower in carbohydrates, there may also be a role for other herbal compounds in facilitating fat loss and maintenance, such as garcinia cambogia, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and green tea extract, all of which are found in my RGN Weight Loss Support  packets. 

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