You haven’t been eating a lot and your activity level has pretty much remained the same, but you still find yourself gaining weight ever since you hit your 40s.
Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Beginning in their 40s, most men and women find themselves gaining extra pounds and finding it even harder to shed them off.
After the age of 40, it was once thought that our genes are activated in such a way that they kill us off. These were called, rightfully, killer genes. While this theory among longevity research is no longer thought to be an accurate description of these genes, it is clear that we are more prone to activate certain genes that can affect our bodies in negative ways later in life.
A recent study by NIH scientist Dr. Jay H. Chung reveals that there is a certain enzyme called DNA-PK or DNA-dependent protein kinase that slows down your metabolism. What’s interesting is they didn’t find this DNA-PK in mice and monkeys before middle age, but there was an increase in DNA-PK’s activity after this period.
Slower metabolism means fewer calories burned. And because this has a lot to do with the natural cycle of life, we need to focus on the genetics aspect of weight loss when we talk about losing weight in your 40s.
What we need to do is convince our body that we are viable and active. We need to prep our body composition in such a way that those negative genes don't get activated, so we can stay around for a long period of time.
If you get this genetics aspect right, your body is going to activate those genes that delay aging and increase longevity. You’re going to be lean and fit. You’re going to feel better. What we’re doing is conditioning our bodies to believe that we are capable of sticking around longer so beneficial youth-generating genes are expressed.
Aging and Metabolic Rate
When it comes to weight gain in your 40s, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) or the amount of energy your body burns while at rest plays a big role. BMR decreases linearly with aging.
As you get older, you get a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in fat. This can actually occur right in the muscle. In fact, if you look at a cross-section of muscle, you’re going to see muscles being replaced by fat in older people if they're not actively using their muscles. Muscle burns calories; fat doesn’t, so what’s happening here is your body would no longer need as much energy as before.
Fat increases and muscle decreases along with energy consumption. Can’t picture it? Think of a fireplace with a big fire versus a small fire. Of course, you would need different amounts of energy, or wood, or fuel, to stoke that fire.
To make matters worse, if you just eat based on hunger while your energy consumption continues to go down, there would also be a decrease in vital nutrients. This can leave you susceptible to infections and make you weaker. Another thing that happens here is inflammation increases as abdominal fat accumulates.
Because abdominal fat increase is linked to the liver, which controls a lot of metabolism, you're also going to get increases in glucose intolerance and lipid abnormalities.
Remember, all of these are happening without you changing anything in your diet or lifestyle, except for the fact that you are aging and entering middle age.
Metabolic Rate Paradox
In popular culture, there's always this notion that we need to increase the metabolic rate of our bodies to burn more energy and fat.
But a study published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology Metabolism suggests that those with higher metabolic rates live shorter lives as “higher energy turnover may accelerate aging in humans.” Slower metabolic rate is associated with longer life, and that's not just in animals, but also in humans.
Now that we’re talking about how fast metabolic rate can make your life shorter, you may get this idea that exercise may be a bad idea after all. Rest assured, that’s not the case with exercise.
Exercise, which does increase metabolic rate, is not associated with its negative effects. Exercise works for you because it signals your genes that you're worth sticking around, you're worth being here, you're worth being alive. There are a whole host of changes like blood sugar control, inflammation, or efficiency or burning fuel that occur in your body, not just related to metabolic rate, that are related to exercise. So the notion that exercise is somehow doing its effect because of an increase in metabolic rate is probably only a small part of the equation.
Hacking Your Metabolism is a Bad Idea
You may have received weight loss tips that involved manipulating meal times, protein levels, and adding medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil to your food to increase your metabolic rate.
In my opinion, this very short-sighted body-hacking can potentially be dangerous. It is increasing metabolic rate for a very specific goal, which is losing weight, instead of thinking about both losing weight and extending your lifespan.
Now it's true that increasing animal protein consumption, adding MCT to your food, and continually eating frequently can increase your metabolic rate, but are these favoring your genes? Are these tactics favoring the genes that are going to maximize longevity? (MCT can be helpful in certain situations not related to metabolic rate).
The bottomline here is increasing your metabolic rate is not the way to go if you want to maintain a healthy weight and increase your lifespan at the same time.
How to Activate Healthy Genes
The solution really is to not make it complicated. Stick to high-nutrient foods. These micronutrients in the food will lower your desire for calories and will load your body with phytonutrients. This actually lowers your metabolic rate and puts your body in a favorable position to activate those genes that extend your life.
This is what your genes want and this is partially based on an excellent summary in Dr. Gundry's previous book, called, The Diet Evolution, Turning off the Genes That Are Killing You and your Waistline.
Your genes want you to get high-calorie foods to survive and get to a point where you are able to reproduce to ensure survival of your genetic copies and not much more than that. You’re wired to find high-calorie foods and enjoy sugar, fat, and salt because they also create pleasure in the body. Food companies activate these desires that you have that are related to the genes in your body.
We need to convince our genes to stick around by making them believe that we are healthy. We don’t want to signal our genes that we are weak and are not going to stick around that long.
Don’t feed your genes what they want; feed them high-nutrient foods that activate genes that increase your chances of living longer while maintaining a healthy weight. In 6 Rules to Prevent Middle Age Weight Gain, we will discuss practical steps to take to make this a reality.