Do people just lose weight or have their metabolism change as they age?
December 3, 2010 2:15 PM   Subscribe

After struggling with weight my whole life, I suddenly lost 15 pounds out of nowhere, and, even post-Thanksgiving (and post doctor-visit), I don't seem to be gaining any back. Do people ever just lose weight/have their metabolism change as they age?

Female, 29, 5'4". I've always fought to keep extra weight off, and have always had a higher BMI and weight for my height. When I'm exercising regularly (weights mostly, and minimal cardio), I weigh about 150-160 with the extra muscle. Before I exercised, seems like I was about at 140-145, and I've weighed as little as 135 when dieting hard (cutting out carbs completely). Generally that kind of weight loss was hard for me to sustain, so I would gain that extra five back once I started back with carbs even occasionally.

I stopped exercising entirely in August (weighed about 155 then), and went to Europe in September for 10 days. Because I knew I'd be drinking and eating rich foods, I cut out the carbs and got down to about 150 prior to my trip. When I came back I noticed that I weighed 145, which was odd because I expected to have gained a bit, and this was when I started incorporating carbs back into my diet more and stopped actively trying to lose weight.

A couple weeks later at 140 I made an appointment to see my doc, who checked my thyroid and gave me a complete blood workup. I don't know exactly what she tested, but I do remember her saying my blood counts were fine, and my tests all came back fine. I had no symptoms of anything, and if anything was feeling less stressed and more energized than I was used to. We would follow up in a month if I continued to lose. Also noteworthy is that I just recently had an HIV test as I was donating plasma, and that was negative.

So here I am, post-Thanksgiving. I made truffles and pies, and indulged like normally while abstaining in the days afterward. I am still at 140, whereas I would have expected to gain a bit, and I'm eating carbs more than I ever did. Granted, this is still not a lot of carbs compared to others who never struggled with their weight. I will maybe have a piece of bread at lunch, and will have dessert and a glass of wine at night.

So of course if I lose more I will head back to the doctor, but is is possible that my body is just changing as I age? I've started to notice little things as I age, like my feet getting smaller, and my hair changing texture, so could this also be part of that? Total we're talking about 15 pounds over a four month period but most of that was in the first two months, and although my body is not responding the way it used to to food, my weight has stabilized in the last month.
posted by stranger danger to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Unexplained Weight Loss (Mayo Clinic)

Possible causes of unexplained weight loss include:

* Changes in diet or activity level. Skipping meals, a mild illness, eating on the run, a hectic schedule or eating less fat may contribute to unexpected weight loss. Intense exercise or training, if it's not balanced by an increase in appetite and calorie intake, also can cause weight loss.
* Cancer. Many types of cancer cause unintentional weight loss, and cancer treatment may have the same effect.
* Gastrointestinal diseases. Several conditions affecting your digestive system can cause weight loss due to loss of appetite and malabsorption, when your body doesn't break down and absorb the nutrients it needs for energy. These conditions can include inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease), peptic ulcer disease, celiac disease and others. Some of these conditions cause weight loss even when you're eating as much as, or more than, you usually do.
* Endocrine disorders. Abnormalities of your body's endocrine system, which regulates hormones and affects several body functions, can cause weight loss. These can include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency and hypercalcemia.
* Infection. Several infections can cause unexpected weight loss, including tuberculosis, fungal diseases, parasites and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
* Aging-related appetite changes. Unexpected weight loss is more common in older adults, when altered smell or taste, nausea, depression and medications are more likely to decrease appetite.
* Medications. Some over-the-counter and prescription drugs may cause weight loss.
* Cardiovascular and lung disease. Weight loss is a complication of advanced cardiovascular or lung diseases, such as congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
* Neurological illness. Weight loss can be a secondary symptom of neurological system diseases such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, dementia and Parkinson disease.
* Kidney disease. If you have kidney disease, you may lose weight due to nausea, vomiting, and losing protein through your urine.
* Mood or mental health changes. Anxiety, stress and depression can affect your weight.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:17 PM on December 3, 2010

So of course if I lose more I will head back to the doctor, but is is possible that my body is just changing as I age?

If 29-year old women have any age-related change in weight, it's a gain not a loss. See a doctor.
posted by amro at 2:22 PM on December 3, 2010

Losing a couple or three pounds a month for a few months after changing one's habits isn't something to be concerned about, but keep an eye on it. If you keep losing without any more changes to your eating and exercise habits, see a doctor.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:30 PM on December 3, 2010

Get a second medical opinion.
posted by fire&wings at 2:31 PM on December 3, 2010

I find it effortless to lose weight when I am eating rich foods paired with vegetables. It could just be your body's reaction to eating these often surprisingly healthy foods. Go butter!
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 2:37 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

A second doctor's opinion might be just what you need. But here's my experience, FWIW.

This same thing happened to me at about the same age as you in about the same amount of time, but I eventually lost even more. I had tons of tests. Tons. They found nothing!

Of course, I had just gotten divorced as well, and a lot of folks seem to shed a few pounds once they decide to get out of stuff like marriages or jobs that aren't working for them...Hmmm...

In other words, you're probably fine. Maybe you are just very happy lately? Perhaps you are less stressed, too??

10 or 15 lbs doesn't seem that much to gain or lose due to stress, or lack of it. 10 or 15 lbs in 4 months doesn't sound particularly quick or unhealthy, either. Start worrying if your weight rapidly goes much below 135, I reckon.

And you can always get more tests:)
posted by jbenben at 2:40 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

This just doesn't seem that "sudden" or "unexplained". I generally lose at least 10 pounds every time I travel, because I am walking for hours every day and my ordinary food routines get disrupted so I never exactly eat enough.

I am just not seeing second-opinion territory in the loss of 15-ish pounds over several months during which you're actively trying to lose weight?

Are you logging your food and exercise? Maybe doing that will help you collect more data for your doctor and for yourself.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:43 PM on December 3, 2010

I know you mentioned that your doctor did a thyroid test, but perhaps you should get a second opinion. The hair texture change in addition to the weight loss sounds like it could point to a thyroid problem. Strictly anecdotal, but years ago Mr. Adams got a second, part-time job during the holiday season at a big box retailer. We both started noticing that his slacks seemed to get looser and looser, and he even had to buy a smaller belt. This without any conscious attempt to lose weight. We both charged it off to the "exercise" he got by being on his feet all the time at the part-time job. Mr. Adams just happened to accompany me to one of my routine rheumatologist appointments, and my doctor interrupted my appointment and called on the intercom for certain blood tests for Mr. Adams. He then stated that Mr. Adams' protruding eyes (neither of us ever thought of them as "protruding") and the slight tremor in his hands (another thing we hadn't noticed) pointed to a thyroid problem. The blood test came back borderline and he ordered a scan which revealed Mr. Adams to be hyperthyroid. If your initial thyroid blood test came back negative you might want to press the issue and get a more thorough look-see.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:49 PM on December 3, 2010

Basically, I weighed 320 from the time I was 18 until 38. When I was 38, I started losing weight. Over the next 3 years, I lost 80 pounds. And, then my weight leveled out at 240, where it has been for the past 5 years. I was not trying to lose weight. I had not consciously changed any major aspect of my life - amount of exercise, food intake, etc. My primary care physcian was thrilled, but also tested for all of the items listed by Comrade_robot above. And, I saw a number of specialists. No medical cause for the weight loss was identified. Sometimes, people just lose weight.
posted by hworth at 2:50 PM on December 3, 2010

you probably walked a lot more than you realized when you were in europe. a similar thing happened to me when i went to spain at age 31--i ate everything in sight, and still lost about 5 lbs in 2 weeks.

carbs are not the only thing that make you gain weight--eating a lot can make you feel hungrier later, leading to eating more, but a calorie's a calorie. if you're eating a lot of fat, you just might be feeling more satisfied and actually consuming less.

track your calories and exercise for a while, and check back with your doctor if you continue to lose the weight.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:51 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should get yourself checked out again. However, somewhat contrary to amro, my metabolism did change post age 26 or 27, with a shift towards being slimmer, and I was still eating whatever and whenever I wanted (though I tend to eat fairly healthily, having been raised by hippies). Good luck!
posted by sumiami at 2:52 PM on December 3, 2010

A college friend lost weight and concluded that his body was finally listening to his desire to lose weight, so he didn't see a doctor for it. Turned out he had Hodgkin's lymphoma, and he did not get diagnosed early enough.
posted by Ery at 2:53 PM on December 3, 2010

Muscle loss from stopping exercising?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:01 PM on December 3, 2010

Another possibility is that all the walking, no overly intense exercise, and eating whatever you wanted in Europe sped up your metabolism. If you keep eating whatever you want, your metabolism may stay fast. Totally counterintuitive, but not totally crazy. This guy spells it all out, including your observation that it's difficult to keep weight off when you start eating more again (and why that's happening): [warning, sound]

He may be crazy, but so far what he says seems to be true for me.
posted by zeek321 at 3:31 PM on December 3, 2010

I am much heavier than you started out. At the beginning of the year, before I got pregnant, I dropped 15 pounds in about three months. Why/how? Because I stopped caring about my weight. I stopped fixating on food, stopped worrying about what's "good" and what's "bad". I ate what I was hungry for, when I was hungry for it, until I was no longer hungry. I moved my body when I felt like it, how I felt like it. That's all. I decided that my body is my body, I have to accept it because I live in it every day, and I could take care of it just fine by not obsessing.

It almost sounds like that's what's going on with you. You've loosened up on your carb restrictions, you seem to be moving for pleasure (walking around on vacation, etc) - your body could just be reacting to those changes. You might want to think about that.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 3:40 PM on December 3, 2010

The weight training gave you more muscle mass, and muscle burns calories just sitting there. That's part of it. A lot of people do what you did and complain that the weight isn't coming off- but if they stick to it, it WILL come off like you describe. Combined with eating richer foods, which fill you up quicker and you end up eating fewer calories.

(Or, the muscle you built up went away. Kinda doubt that though.)

I would say that's the explanation, but the hair texture changes are weird. Might be coincidental, might not. Since you went to the doctor and nothing is wildly out of whack, I would rest assured that you are not in any kind of danger. Some of the standard tests measure for symptoms of hidden illness, like white blood cell count and inflammation. For the most part, a disease capable of causing that kind of weight loss should show up.

Also possible that you are in the beginning stages of over active thyroid, and that the changes in diet are stabilizing your weight. I would get back to exercising, and see if anything changes. Especially if you didn't have any recent tests to compare these new ones to, a thyroid starting to go overactive would still sit inside the "normal" scale but compared to old tests would be more active.

What is your body "shape" like? What I mean is, can you tell if the weight came off of the fat storage areas (butt and gut, basically), while your legs and arms, etc., maintain good tone? Do your clothes fit better and look better? Counter example: I am not in good shape, but I am maintaining my weight. (Male) Unfortunately, my gut is expanding and everything else is shrinking. My clothes fit worse.
posted by gjc at 4:57 PM on December 3, 2010

Your numbers seem all over the place to begin with. You have a 10lb weight swing with some "extra" muscle? 10lbs of muscle is a lot.
If your numbers are on point it's pretty easy to explain and here's my theory:

If you were 145 lbs before you started lifting and you then put on 15lbs to 160lbs I'll say that maybe 7lbs of that was muscle and the rest was extra water retention and fat.

So you go super low carb which drops a ton of water weight, as well as fat, bringing you down to 150lbs.

Your metabolism is repaired compared to times before lifting and your insulin response has changed making you more carb tolerant. You are now at an entirely different bf% then you used to be at.
On your trip, and after, you were eating under your caloric maintenance level. That happens to me sometimes because I'm so consumed with having to eat cheat foods.

You are now eating around your current maintenance level, your body has adjusted, and it likes whatever weight is at.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:08 AM on December 4, 2010

You don't mention much about your mental health, but a couple of years ago, I had a big improvement in my overall mental health and dropped about 20 lbs without trying. To be honest, I think I eat more now than I used to but my weight is less.
posted by heatherly at 1:47 PM on December 6, 2010


if you have went to check with the doctor and they think is fine, it should be that.

other wise, i suspect it is the walking and running around when you were in europe, i bet it involve a lot of walking?? it might have slim you down a bit :D
posted by janet bin at 7:50 PM on December 17, 2010

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