It’s All About the…Basal Metabolism

Losing weight post-menopause is really tricky business. I’m ten years into this phase and I’ve tried numerous solutions. These could also be called stages of denial or even grief over the girlish waistline I once had. This has been my path: a) do nothing, b) cut calories and/or go walking, c) do the ketogenic diet, and then, d) intermittent fasting/ walking/strength-training.

I’ve had the greatest success with intermittent fasting this year, in 2021, so I wrote about it. As part of a Facebook accountability group for the past few months, we’ve cut sugar, done intermittent fasting, walked, planked, performed cardio, and more. It’s really helped me stay focused.

Since February when I made a serious commitment to getting to my best weight and increasing my general body fitness and core strength, I’ve lost twelve pounds. I also hit two weight-loss plateaus. One happened in month three after losing six pounds. And I’m on a plateau now.

I hate being stuck. Especially when I’m working it!

During my first plateau, I had a conversation about my weight loss challenges with Kian Ameli, a professional trainer who works with a lot of women my age. We talked about the calories-in+calories-out “law.” When frustrated and stymied in your health goals, it’s hard to believe that this simple requirement is true. There just has to be more to it than that.

Well, yes and no, as I’ve learned of late. Back to that getting older problem. Well, aging isn’t exactly a problem per se, given the alternative.

The truth is that as we age our metabolism slows down. Kinda like everything else about our aging existence. This isn’t a “Eureka!” moment for you, I know. But if you’re post-menopausal and staring sadly at the muffin top blooming around your once-narrow waist, what have you done about it? (Refer back to paragraph one for the ten-year progress to my final “acceptance” of an issue that is not going to fix itself.)

Doing nothing is not an option.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

As a naturally curious woman who loves to research and read, I got to work on the resources Kian referred me to. And, of course, I had more questions of my own to answer.

It’s important to note that while we have the same Creator, our human bodies are crafted with unique DNA. We have food sensitivities and preferences, cultural influences, and genetic dispositions that influence so many of our health metrics. Factor in the changes that age brings and it’s a messy stew of data. (And a good space for excuses to clamor in.)

So, let’s talk about metabolism.

One of the first things, Kian and I discussed was my fear that my slowing metabolism and any calorie deficit would put me into “starvation mode.” According to Healthline, starvation mode is real but not as much an interrupter as some believe. It is also best called “metabolic adaptation.”

Our basal metabolic rate is the total number of calories burned when our body is at rest. Just doing the breathing, digesting, and basic movements of life. How does one know how many calories to eat to maintain basic body function? Use a calculator, of course!

I tried out four online BMR calculators. Only one of them asked for an activity level. All calculators required my age, gender, weight, and height. Here’s what they told me.

I burn 1373 calories during the day.
Two sites declared my daily Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is 1,260.
A fourth estimated my BMR at 1,144.

To sum up this confusing data: I burn between 1,144 and 1,373 calories to maintain basic body functions. That’s more than a 200 calorie difference. Basically, two cookies or five mini Reese’s cups.

Still, it’s something to work with.

I’ve been using a food logging app this year which I’ve also written about. While others malign the grueling crunch of logging daily meals, I enjoy it. My app gives me 1,200 daily calories based on my weight loss goals and personal data.

Again, the BMR data rears its confusing head. If I use only the food app as a guide, I would eat at a maintenance level every day and that’s too much for weight loss. My daily caloric burn through exercise is insufficient for meaningful downward movement on the scale. Using my food logging practice and daily calorie deficit experiments, I have to learn what my actual BMR is, and I’m still working on that.

Key Learning

Based on my research and my own weight loss journey, here are some key things I have been inspired to work on in my fitness life:

  1. Increase protein. I’m currently eating half my weight in protein grams, but it’s advised to strive for 75%. (Example: If I weigh 100 lbs, I must eat 50 grams of protein.)
  2. Reduce carbohydrate intake to under 100 grams. Upping protein while controlling for calorie count makes this a total breeze. Easy-peasy.
  3. Increase resistance and core training. I’m using dumbbells, a kettlebell, resistance bands, and bodyweight exercises. These types of motion are essential to the maintenance of good balance, core strength, and great living for anyone over 50 years old.
  4. Remain in intermittent fasting mode. I’ve already written about how well this works for me. It has its naysayers, but it also has a lot of medical and nutrition proponents. A few key concepts that I’ve implemented:
    a) eat more calories early;
    b) eat lower carbohydrate percentage at last meal;
    c) don’t eat close to bedtime; and
    d) maintain an eating window of less than 12 hours. (Mine is eight hours.)
  5. Take a break. Sometimes the body responds well to the old switcheroo. Eat at maintenance or slightly higher for a few days/weeks.
  6. Reduce intake to 900 calories for a week to create a quick, deep deficit. A different kind of switcheroo.
  7. Reduce stress. Not only does stress make us eat poorly (emotionally), it also contributes to hormonal fluctuations that can inhibit weight loss regardless of our caloric intake.
  8. Keep using the food logging app. I try to overestimate my food intake and do not log my workouts. The aim is to document as much calorie deficit as is realistic. I want the app’s data to tell me the truth.
  9. Take body measurements (or closely watch the fit of your clothes). As Kian told me, solid results can be found in inches rather than pounds lost. Muscle gained replaces fat lost, so slow weight loss could be misleading. I’ve lost 3.5 inches since I started recording measurements in late May.

“As we age, our bodies become less efficient at transforming the protein we eat into new muscle. The result is gradual muscle loss that can lead to decreased strength, frailty and loss of mobility.” Young, How Much Protein…

Plateau Breakers (for me)

I broke my first plateau by upping the protein and, by default, reducing carbs in my daily diet. Three pounds slid off in less than a week.

The last three pounds came off when I increased my resistance training and added a few HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) routines per week.

Here I am stuck again. What to do? I’m not taking a break! I have a beach trip in four weeks.

I suppose it’s time to experiment with a much-reduced caloric intake temporarily (#6 above).

Bottom Line

Excess calories are not going to burn up on their own — including that occasional cupcake or chocolate bar, no matter how special or well-deserved it was. Most post-menopausal woman must, at least temporarily, increase their activity levels in order to enjoy such indulgences. I have a friend who walks six miles a day so she can keep drinking wine! She looks fabulous.

Post-menopausal bodies require less food, period. This requires rethinking of long-held believes about food and changes in daily eating habits. This is why I love the reduced eating window of intermittent fasting.

I’d love to hear about your journey! We’re all unique but we can support each other along the way.

While I did not specifically cite it, the Sigma Nutrition website was helpful in synthesizing my understanding of calories, metabolism, fasting, and more. I have no personal or financial connection to this company.

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