Over the past few years I have put on a lot of weight and according to my BMI I am now classed as obese. I am in my forties and have always struggled with weight issues. Even if I do go on a diet, I don’t seem to lose much. That word – obese – really made me worry, because it came with a warning from the doctor that I could be putting my health at risk. Help!

This is an issue that will resonate with many people in their forties. When we reach what is considered to be middle age, our bodies have changed considerably from the ones we had in our twenties. At around this age, our metabolic rate (the rate at which we burn calories) tends to fall. Many of us often maintain the portion sizes we ate in our teens and twenties, but the reality is, in middle age, we just don’t need to eat as much. This coupled with eating refined carbohydrates and food high in fat, sugar and salt can cause us to put on weight, which we then find difficult to shift.

Our lifestyles tend to have changed in our forties, too. It might be that you are shouldering a lot more responsibility for the family and at work, and this can lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. This is known to be involved in the fat storage process and can impede your attempts at weight loss, as can poor-quality sleep. A woman in 
her forties is also coming to an age when the hormonal changes of menopause are likely to have an effect too.

It sounds like it’s all bad news, but I can reassure you it’s not. In fact, I think it’s important to see it as an opportunity to scrutinise and assess where you are. One thing I would say is that I believe fad diets don’t work. What you should be aiming for is a sense of balance.

Have a good look at the type of food you’re eating, the amount you’re consuming on a daily basis and how often you are exercising. Then, instead of focusing on the weight-loss element, pick a target that involves improving your overall health. Get a full health check from your doctor. That way you’ll know what you’re working with.

Make small adjustments across your lifestyle. Cut down on portion sizes, cut out refined and processed foods and exercise at least three times a week.

Anything extreme is really hard to keep up long term and when you give up the fad diet or the punishing exercise regime a couple of weeks in, not only do you feel like a failure, you’re also likely to over compensate and return to old habits.

And remember, these things take time – quick fixes are easily broken. Once you’ve created ‘do able change’ in your life and set reasonable targets to be achieved over a reasonable time, you’ll find yourself reaching a healthy weight for you.