The Fight Fat Over Forty Diet

In this book, Dr. Pamela Peeke, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and an adjunct senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health, details how chronic stress contributes to weight gain and threatens the length and quality of life after the age of forty.

Quick Take

  • Geared toward women over 40
  • Based on hormonal changes that occur during menopause
  • Provides a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Emphasizes physical activity

This Diet Is Best For

Women who want to improve their diet and their physical fitness

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Women who are not willing to give up after-dinner munching

The Premise

Peeke sets out to bring women harmony of mind and body by working with and around hormonal changes that cause what she calls "toxic stress."

Toxic stress triggers the release of stress hormones, which, she says, leads to toxic weight gain. In fact, the average weight gain during the years preceding menopause (lasting five to ten years) can be two to three pounds or more per year. Part of that is due to a gradual decline in energy requirements. (On average, women older than 40 require about 15 percent less energy than they did in their 20's.)

In addition, Peeke also points to the role daily hormonal fluctuations play in weight gain and identifies what she calls "The Cortizone," the period between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. when levels of the hormone cortisol are lowest and you're most at risk for overeating and storing fat. She offers a variety of tips for navigating The Cortizone, including not eating carbohydrate foods after 5 p.m. and not eating at all after 8 p.m.

The Rationale

By controlling your diet -- both what and when you eat -- and making exercise a regular part of your lifestyle, Peeke says you can minimize weight gain and stay fit at midlife and beyond. In her plan, stress management, regular exercise, and physical fitness are as critical to weight management and weight loss as diet.

Her fitness requirements for stress and weight management are not negotiable and include 45 minutes of exercise five or six days a week, whole body strength training at least twice a week, and daily stretching.

Eating on the Fight Fat Over Forty Diet

According to Peeke, women are either stress resilient, stress overeaters, or stress undereaters. The diet plan for stress overeaters is designed for weight loss. For the stress-resilient profile, she offers a basic healthy balanced diet. For the stress undereaters, she includes extras such as nutrition bars and shakes, granola, and nuts for extra calories.

A typical day consists of cereal, fresh fruit, and skim milk for breakfast; a sandwich, carrot and celery sticks, fresh fruit, and skim milk for lunch; poultry or fish, two vegetables, and fresh fruit for dinner; and a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Generally, each meal is made up of about 55 percent carbohydrates, 15 to 20 percent protein, and 25 to 30 percent fat.

No matter which stress profile fits you, Peeke says your daily diet should include at least six servings of whole grains; six to eight servings of vegetables; five to six servings of fruits; two to three servings of low fat dairy; two servings of meat, poultry, fish, or beans; and two tablespoons of vegetable oils.

All diets should include 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day and at least eight glasses of water. And everyone should minimize or avoid eating foods made from refined processed sugars.

What the Experts Say

The diet itself is a healthy one that follows all the accepted healthy eating guidelines. What hasn't been proved, however, are the reasons behind her admonition to avoid eating carbohydrates after 5 p.m. and not to eat at all after 8 p.m. If you have a problem with out-of-control munching in the evening, then perhaps you should heed her advice.

But there's no evidence to suggest that carbohydrates in particular or food in general is more likely to turn to fat if you eat it after a certain hour. Peeke's insistence on physical activity to maintain health and control weight, however, is to be applauded.

Following the balanced diet plan for 1,500 calories a day and including all the suggested servings of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy should result in weight loss and provide all the nutrients you need, with the possible exception of calcium. The two to three servings a day of dairy that Peeke recommends provide only about 600 to 900 milligrams of calcium, not sufficient for any adult, let alone post-menopausal women who need 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams a day.

And since fortified milk is the only realistic dietary source for vitamin D, two to three glasses a day would also fall short of current recommendations for the vitamin. If you try this diet, take a daily multivitamin that contains 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin D and 300 to 900 milligrams of supplemental calcium.

Calorie quota: Though calories are not the focus, Peeke says her diet plans provide about 1,500 calories a day. She does not recommend going below 1,200 calories a day.

Yes: Physical activity, stress reduction, a balanced diet including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nonfat dairy, lean meats, reduced-fat cheeses

No: High glycemic-index foods (foods that cause blood sugar levels to surge), fried foods, eating after 8 p.m., inactivity, stress

Other similar diets: SugarBusters!

On the next and final page of this article, read about the Low-Fat Lies, High-Fat Frauds Diet for Seniors.

To learn more about senior health, see: