Middle-age weight gain is common, but getting older doesn't mean you can't get lean. Women pack on more fat during menopause because of hormonal changes, and muscle tissue reduces with age to exacerbate the issue. Many women fail to exercise, further contributing to weight gain. Based on your genetics, much of the added fat may build up around your abdomen. A large waist circumference -- 35 inches or more for women -- indicates high levels of visceral fat, which is linked to deadly diseases like diabetes and heart attack. Losing that 20 pounds may be one of the best health decisions you'll ever make.
In your 50s, you need about 200 fewer calories per day than you did in the previous two decades. That's why your old weight-loss plans may not work anymore. If you're a women over 50, weight maintenance requires about 1,600 calories if you're sedentary, 1,800 if you're moderately active and 2,000 to 2,200 calories if you're highly active. These numbers can vary with weight and age. To shed pounds, eat 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than you need for weight maintenance, but don't eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day. This will help you lose 20 pounds safely in 10 to 20 weeks. Ensure proper nutrition by eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains like bran cereal and whole-wheat pasta and lean proteins like tuna and cottage cheese.
Getting plenty of protein in your diet may help stave off muscle loss that comes with age and dieting, according to a 2011 study published in "Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences." Researchers followed 31 postmenopausal women who restricted calories to 1,400 a day. One group received a whey protein supplement, while the other group received a placebo. The protein group lost 3.9 percent more weight and gained 5.8 percent more muscle tissue in their thighs. Although researchers recommended that participants walk, stretch and perform other light exercises, strength training was not part of the study. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 46 grams of protein a day for adult women, including those past menopause. Good sources are whey protein shakes, cottage cheese and fish.
Other Nutritional Needs
Postmenopausal women have different nutritional needs than younger women. To reduce your risk of osteoporosis, get plenty of calcium in your diet. It's also important to get vitamin D and magnesium, both of which promote calcium absorption. To elevate hormone production, consume omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. You also may benefit by eating soy products. Soy contains phytoestrogens, plant substances similar to the estrogen women produce, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, soy supplements may not be safe if you're at risk of hormone-related conditions like uterine fibroids and breast cancer, or are taking hormone therapy.
Physical activity is important for weight loss and maintenance at any age, and it also helps prevent chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease. Do cardio activities at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Also do strength-training exercises like weightlifting, step-ups and assisted pushups twice a week. Building new muscle tissue will help you burn more fat all day long because your body expends more energy sustaining muscle than fat.