For women of a certain age, middle-aged spread may seem impossible to prevent.
But actually women may find their diets are more successful after going through the menopause.
A study has found women over 45, cutting calories over a month, were able to lose around 10 per cent of their body fat.
That compared to only 8 per cent of body fat lost by women under 45 on the same diet.
Unfortunately for younger women trying to slim down as part of a couple, men under 45 were found to lose more fat than females when they cut calories.
A study finds that while men find get more success out of dieting than women before the age of 45, the difference in the sexes disappears after this age (stock image)
But the difference between the sexes disappeared past this age, when women were either approaching or had gone through the menopause.
The hopeful dieting results for older women are from a small study of 45 people, but researchers believe they have further evidence, from mouse experiments, that losing fat is easier for older females.
Younger female mice stored more fat, and burnt less of it than males when dieting – probably because fat is important for fertility and childbearing.
That suggests, for mice and women, that it is easier to get rid of fat past childbearing age, when it is no longer needed.
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Dr William Cawthorn, who led the study from the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘These results are good news for women who may have struggled with dieting at a younger age, as they suggest the results might get better with age.
‘It is a good incentive not to give up.
‘Reduced-calorie diets have many health benefits and may help [people] to age more healthily.
‘Some previous research suggested that the effectiveness of these diets may differ between males and females, but our study is the first to show that these sex differences largely disappear when dieting begins at older ages.‘
Researchers looked at 42 people, aged 21 to 61, who were overweight or obese and answered a newspaper advert for a weight loss study.
They ate three meals a day, but were told to cut their calories by around 30 per cent on average over four weeks.
Men consumed an average of 1,600 calories a day, while women had an average of 1,300 daily calories.
When researchers analysed the results of this previous study, they found men were able to lose more weight than women through dieting at all ages.
But, for the vital measure of burning fat, it was only younger men who did better than women.
Across the four weeks, men under 45 lost more than 16 per cent of their body fat, while women in the same age group lost half as much – only 8 per cent.
But when men and women aged over 45 were looked at separately, both lost 10 per cent of their body fat on average.
The researchers plan to do more work to understand why, but believe men may get worse at burning off belly fat with age, which may partially explain the predominance of ‘beer bellies’.
Meanwhile women, whose oestrogen levels typically decline from the age of 45, may lose more fat when it is not needed to support a possible pregnancy.
The study is published in the journal eLife.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide