Weight loss during menopause can be a woman’s biggest personal struggle, so we turned to Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson for her advice. She’s a self-proclaimed recovering food addict who has dedicated her life to sharing weight loss strategies that work for long-term results. Sometimes, the answers are what you least expect.
What are three “unexpected” weight loss strategies for midlife women?
SPT: We live in a society that has so ingrained eating sugar and flour into our lives that the answer is right in our faces, yet, due to the addictive nature of sugar and flour, people will frequently due anything to avoid giving them up. I cannot tell you how many countless women have come to me, who have gone vegan, yet are still eating too much flour and sugar, even if that sugar is taking the form of rice syrup or date extract. Once they give up sugar and flour, in an environment of strong support, all their excess weight comes off. At least half of our Bright Lifers are post-menopausal, a traditionally intractable group when it comes to weight loss, and now they are slender, healthier than they’ve ever been, and looking forward to very active retirements. So…
- Draw a “Bright Line” in front of sugar and flour and don’t cross it.
- Only eat during meal times, never in between. It makes eating the right things easier and passing up the wrong things in between automatic.
- Get enough sleep. As we age our sleep gets more erratic, which is why it’s so important to have good sleep hygiene. No TV in the bedroom, limit screen time before bed, and stop caffeine after noon. Sleep replenishes willpower, which makes it a powerful tool as you change your eating habits.
Why does weight loss require so much willpower?
SPT: Weight loss shouldn’t require willpower. Because willpower isn’t a dimension of character, it’s a biological function in the brain, and we all have about the same amount to draw down from—15 minutes at a stretch. It’s the same mechanism that governs keeping our patience with our kids or boss, staying off facebook at work, and sticking with a task, like licking envelopes for the PTA, that we’d rather put down. So for a diet to get and keep you thin long-term, it has to assume that your willpower will fail at least once a day—and work anyway. It can do that by making sure you never make food decisions on the fly, when you might fall into what I call the Willpower Gap.
What advice would you give to a woman who has tried every diet and exercise strategy and has given up hope?
SPT: It’s not you! There is not a single peer-reviewed scientific study that has ever been published that proves that any of the top diets on the market keep people thin long-term. The average American starts three to four new diets a year! You are not alone. The problem is that none of these diets take into account that the brain, our master control center, blocks weight loss. Or offers a way to reverse it. If you are working against your brain, you will lose. It’s like trying to sit still and command your heart to stop beating. You are not in charge. As a brain and cognitive scientist, and recovering food addict, I needed to offer people an alternative that actually heals our brains to produce lasting results. That is the key.