Why You Gain Weight In Your 20s, 30s and 40s

A man stretching before exercising.

Late-night eats, pregnancy weight that won't budge, and a declining metabolism: No matter how old you are, there's always something that can keep you from your goal weight.

But with the right strategy, you can handle any situation life throws at you. To find out how you can tackle each decade's biggest weight-loss traps, we tapped nutrition expert Karen Ansel, R.D., co-author of The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life, to develop a goof-proof navigation plan.

In Your 20s

There's Always a Group Dinner

Without kids or a spouse, a lot of women in their twenties have the freedom to eat out with friends whenever the hell they want. That means you eat way more calories from that yummy Thai restaurant than you would if you actually used your stove, says Ansel.

But you can still stay on track without sitting at home. Since most restaurants have at least one healthy option, make it your goal to order first, she says.

"Research shows people follow the lead of the first person to order in a group," says Ansel. And instead of revisiting the same old high-cal spots, do your homework and suggest new (healthier) joints that your friends will like, too. Another option: Eat half of your meal, and box the rest for leftovers tomorrow night.

You Eat with Your Screens

Scarfing breakfast while checking email, working through lunch, and scrolling through your phone during dinner: Sound familiar?

"When we eat in front of a computer or any screen, we eat more and feel less satisfied than when we eat in a tech-free zone," says Ansel.

Breaking the habit isn't easy (we get it, a girl's got to multitask), but consuming fewer mindless calories is worth the struggle. If you can't get out to eat lunch during the workday, visit the office break room for a few minutes to chow down. Then, attempt to eat dinner without the TV on or your phone in front of you. You might find that you actually like focusing on your food.

You're Late Night Snacking

Meals can feel fluid in your twenties. For example, maybe you had a few bites at happy hour, so you're not starving for dinner. Or maybe breakfast was an office cupcake, so you put off lunch.

But those habits can lead to serious late-night munchies. Here's why: Your body is smart, says Ansel. When you don't give it enough food during the day, it will demand it late at night, she says. Break the cycle by keeping a journal to see when you're eating.

"If you're perpetually skipping certain meals, set an alarm on your cellphone to eat something healthy and satisfying, even if it's just a Greek yogurt."

More From Women's Health: 5 Mindful-Eating Tips for Weight Loss

In Your 30s

You Have No Time to Work Out

For new moms, it's a win just to slip in a shower and brush your teeth. And though it seems impossible, you can make working out work.

Ansels says that finding a gym with child care or subscribing to online workouts that you can do during naps can be a big help. For an active recovery, take long walks with your baby in his or her stroller—and you might be surprised how quickly you can bounce back into shape, says Ansel.

Your Fridge is Empty

Grocery trips become a lot harder (and infrequent) with a kid in tow. So it's important to pack your pantry with healthy packaged foods that make quick meals.

A bowl of oatmeal with fruit, nuts or chia seeds, and low-fat milk takes two minutes to make and can keep you full for hours. Same goes for scrambled eggs or whole-wheat French toast, says Ansel.

Another idea: Stock up on low-sugar tomato sauce, whole-wheat pasta, and canned white beans, and toss them together for a 15-minute meal. You can also take two minutes to combine canned tuna or salmon with salad greens and some grape tomatoes, she says.

More From Women's Health: 7 Packaged Foods That Might Help You Lose Weight

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About the Author

Women's Health

Lively, fun and provocative, the Women's Health brand addresses 360 degrees of life for the new generation of contemporary, confident, ambitious women. By connecting with our readers in the frank, irreverent voice of a trusted girlfriend, the clever, service-driven content transcends the title, making the brand a true one-stop lifestyle resource for millions of women who are making their mark.

Lively, fun and provocative, the Women's Health brand addresses 360 degrees of life for the new generation of contemporary, confident, ambitious women. By connecting with our readers in the frank, irreverent voice of a trusted girlfriend, the clever, service-driven content transcends the title, making the brand a true one-stop lifestyle resource for millions of women who are making their mark.

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