Can’t lose weight? Blame it on middle age and your hormones

A new book explains why the science behind why weight loss is so difficult.

Ariana Green was an ambitious forty-five-year-old realtor in San Francisco. She was new to the business, which meant working seven days a week to build her reputation and client list. She was up for the challenge, though, and over time, her business grew. Ariana was also a beautiful woman who stood five feet ten and had blond hair, blue eyes, and high cheekbones. Her mother was a fashion model and Ariana inherited her good looks, which certainly had its advantages.

As Ariana marched through her late forties, she started gaining weight. At first she attributed this to the stresses and erratic eating habits that came with the new career. Then came a knee injury that slowed her down for a while. In the past, she’d always been able to shed weight easily. However, this time was different. Now fat appeared out of nowhere and seemed determined to stay. Her clothes became snug so she would go to a bigger size, and then it would happen again six months later. She was putting on weight like never before, and feeling depressed and confused about it. Finally, at fifty, something happened that shocked her: Ariana saw a snapshot of herself standing in the water in Cancun.

“I was absolutely obese,” she says. “I hadn’t realized it had gotten this far.”

On a different continent but also in the same physical predicament was Mike Hanson, a forty-eight-year-old software engineer living in Sydney. His job was demanding and entailed traveling from Australia to northern California and China. Mike was no stranger to hard work. He had competed with Silicon Valley tech jocks for years and could hold his own. But now, in middle age, things seemed different. He was getting a spare tire around his waist and feeling sluggish. The punishingwork schedule was bad enough, but when Mike turned fifty, his wife left him. His stress level shot through the roof. Suddenly, he was in a depression, and the spare tire was joined by fat elsewhere on his body.

What were Mike and Ariana doing wrong? They made the mistake of aging.

With age comes hormone decline and stress, and our bodies change in many ways. Among the most frustrating is that we accumulate fat more easily, and lose it only with difficulty. Worst of all, fat begins to appear in new and strange locations that we never had to worry about before.

Fat takes on different responsibilities at different ages. The younger we are, the better our fat behaves. When we are infants, a good proportion of our fat is the brown type, which burns calories and produces heat. At this stage, fat’s primary functions are to keep us warm and safe as we leave the womb and enter an uncertain world. Babies have more brown fat, percentage-wise, than any other age group. Baby fat also serves to cushion us from falls and injuries. As we grow out of infancy, the proportion of brown fat decreases and white fat increases.

In our teenage years, fat changes function again and plays a key role in sexual maturation. It helps trigger puberty by telling the brain that we are sufficiently well fed to bring offspring into the world. Without the proper level of body fat, sexual development is delayed. One way fat controls maturity is by secreting leptin, which aids in producing menstruation in girls. Another way fat regulates puberty is by producing estrogen, also critical for development. As their bodies get ready to bear children, girls will start to pack on more fat compared to boys.

Once the childbearing years arrive, it is baby fat, part two. Fat and the estrogen it produces are needed for women to get pregnant. Females must have the right amount of fat—not too much or too little. They will continue to gain fat in pregnancy, some of which will be used to produce milk for lactation. For nursing mothers, fat is used to foster the next generation.

Fat-wise, at this stage all seems right in the world. Then we hit middle age. And everything changes. As we approach our forties, production of the three sex hormones—estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone—which have heretofore been plentiful in our bodies, begins to wane. And, not coincidentally, our body fat suddenly becomes troublesome.

It begins to shift from places where it once seemed so appealing to locations where it is anything but.

In men, it now accumulates in the belly, the lower back, the nape of the neck. Women’s fat settles in the belly, too, and on the thighs, buttocks, and breasts.

As we age, our fat mass peaks. Between fifty and sixty, we are typically at our heaviest and have the most difficult time keeping fat in check. Many people who were thin since childhood suddenly struggle with weight. “What is going on?” they ask.

We know that fat can talk. It sends out messengers in the form of chemical signals like leptin to our brains, bones, and reproductive system.

But just as fat can talk, it can also listen. This extraordinary property of fat was actually noticed decades before researchers knew it could talk.

In 1969, Dr. Pedro Cuatrecasas at the National Institutes of Health ran experiments in which he combined fat cells and insulin and noticed that the insulin made fat cells act differently. When insulin was present, fat cells would increase their conversion of glucose to fat.

Cuatrecasas refined his experiments to understand how insulin was having such an effect. After some searching, he determined that fat cells had receptors on their surface that were uniquely designed to bind to insulin. And once insulin was bound to a receptor, the behavior of fat cells would change to produce more fat. Receptors are like “ears” on the cell’s surface that pick up incoming messages from the body. They are part of a two-way communication path whereby fat talks to the body (by emitting hormones such as leptin and adiponectin), and the body talks back to fat (by sending hormones to fat). In the case of the insulin receptors on fat cells, these “ears” would “hear” insulin (coming from the pancreas) on the cell’s surface and signal to fat cells to absorb more glucose and produce more fat.

Soon, other receptors were located as well. Dr Thomas Burns at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and his team found that fat cells also had receptors that could bind adrenaline, which communicates to adipocytes to release fat into the system for energy. If you see a bear, adrenaline tells your fat: “Don’t hoard energy for later. Use it now! Run!” Fat hears that signal and starts to release free fatty acids into the system for energy.

In the decades to come, it was discovered that fat has receptors for our most potent hormones – thyroid hormone, growth hormone, estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. All these hormones tell fat when it is time to liquidate and release energy into the system.

When we are young, we have an abundance of these hormones. They work to grow our tissues, activate our reproductive systems, and keep our energy and metabolism high, which helps young people lose weight faster and keep it off more easily. But when we approach middle age we no longer need to activate our reproductive systems. Biologically speaking, we’ve outlived our usefulness. At this point, the production of most of those hormones decreases, which means the messages to our fat to dissolve itself are less powerful. With our bodies burning less adipose tissue through hormonal messaging, we inevitably get fatter.

At the same time, another hormone, cortisol, increases with stress and age. Cortisol is released from the adrenal glands in response to ongoing stress and is correlated with higher abdominal fat. All these hormonal changes together make it easier for fat to grow. We see it happen before our eyes; even though we may not be eating more than when we were young, fat now sticks to us more easily.

Women especially experience this weight gain as they approach menopause. During this period their hormone levels plunge as their ovaries head for retirement and produce less estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Lower estrogen levels cause increased appetite, reduced fat burning, and a redistribution of fat to the belly area, not to mention hot flashes and decreased energy. Furthermore, as the ovaries produce less estrogen, the body begins to rely more on fat’s ability to manufacture the hormone. Fat becomes a dominant source of estrogen in postmenopausal women.

It is hypothesized that this dependence is one reason women have a more challenging time reducing their fat compared to men.

Progesterone also declines significantly, altering the progesterone-to-estrogen ratio and causing a condition known as “estrogen dominance.” This can lead to irritability, depression, sleep problems, water retention, a bigger appetite, and sugar cravings. It’s like premenstrual syndrome, except that it lasts for years.

Testosterone, which is critical for both sexes, also decreases, causing a reduction in lean body mass and energy, ultimately leading to slower metabolism. Though we tend to think of testosterone as the male hormone, there is more of it in a woman’s body than estrogen at most times of the month, and certainly during the perimenopausal or postmenopausal years.

Excerpted with permission from The Secret Life of Fat: The Groundbreaking Science On Why Weight Loss is So Difficult, Sylvia Tara, Aleph Book Company.

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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of and not by the Scroll editorial team.