Like most of us, you’ve probably noticed that it gets more and more difficult to avoid belly bulge as the years go by. Foods you’ve always eaten without a problem suddenly make the numbers on your bathroom scale move in the wrong direction.
Extra pounds seem to creep on out of nowhere, expanding your stomach, hips, and thighs and refusing to go away no matter how hard you try. While men of the same age can simply cut back on calories to quickly drop weight, for women, slimming just isn’t that simple.
Researchers have pinpointed a key reason we have it tougher when it comes to losing weight after age 50: female hormones. When scientists from the Mayo Clinic and Canada’s Concordia University studied fat cells in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women, they discovered that the estrogen drop women experience at this age activates proteins that trigger cells to store more fat. The result, according to a new study from the UCLA: During the menopause transition, the aver- age woman’s body packs on up to 300 percent more fat.
But that’s not the only way plunging hormones impact weight. “The drop in estrogen, along with natural aging, slows your basal metabolic rate — how many calories your body burns while at rest,” explains cardiologist and lipidologist Bret Scher, MD, medical director of Diet Doctor.
After 50, you’re also losing lean muscle mass, which is essential for efficient fat burning, notes Mark Hyman, MD, medical director at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine and founder of The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. “That’s one of the reasons women might say they’re eating the same as they always have and seem to be gaining weight.” So frustrating!
If you’ve tried diet after diet to reverse midlife weight gain but nothing has worked, the keto diet is for you. It’s the number one most-Googled weight-loss plan, so chances are you know something about it. But what you may not know is that it’s especially beneficial for women in their 50s, 60s, and beyond, who are dropping as much as 18 pounds in just seven days on the plan.
Studies show that keto kicks metabolism into high gear, counteracting the metabolic slowdown caused by plummeting estrogen levels. The result, says Dr. Scher: “You’re burning between 100 to over 300 calories more per day while doing normal activities.”
Keto also helps preserve lean muscle. “When you have more muscle, you burn more calories while at rest,” he adds. What’s more, keto stops your body from piling on fat thanks to its impact on insulin. “The keto diet lowers insulin levels, which can become elevated as we age,” says Dr Scher. “And when insulin is high, it encourages the body to store fat rather than burn it.”
What makes keto so much more effective than other diets? Its unique composition of very low carbohydrates, moderate protein and high fat. “At the heart of the keto diet, you limit your intake of carbohydrates to the point where you trigger ketosis, a state where your body burns fat instead of glucose for fuel,” explains Dr. Scher.
When you enter this state, your body turns fat (from the foods you eat and what’s stored in your body’s cells) into an energy source called ketones — and running on ketones instead of sugar increases fat burn by up to 900 percent, according to research published in the journal Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome.
Plus, ketones suppress appetite, so hunger decreases dramatically even as fat cells rapidly empty. “To get into ketosis, you aim for up to 20 grams daily of net carbohydrates, which are total carbs minus fiber,” advises Dr. Scher. This will make up 5 percent of your daily calorie intake. You’ll also include a moderate amount of satiating protein, equaling 25 percent of overall calories. The rest comes from fat, totaling a whopping 70 percent of the calories you consume each day. And fat is filling!
The research is clear: Keto spurs impressive weight-loss results faster than other plans. In one study published in the journal Endocrine, folks on a keto diet shed 30 pounds within eight weeks, while those following a standard low-calorie diet lost just 10.5 pounds. “Though everyone responds differently, you’ll usually see an initial quick loss, then a steady continual loss,” assures Dr. Scher. “Some may not notice a change in the scale, but your clothes will start fitting differently. That’s because you’re burning fat around your waist, hips, and thighs, but you’re also building more muscles.”
And you can expect the weight to keep on dropping: Researchers from Brazil found that after 12 months, keto dieters not only lost more weight than those sticking to a low-calorie diet, they also maintained nearly three times more weight loss.
This originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.