“I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and never gain an ounce. Now, the pounds keep piling on — and in all the wrong places,” said the 60-something patient sitting in front of me.
As a registered dietitian and Baby Boomer, I had heard it before — many times. People who are middle-aged or older tend to have a tough time keeping their weight in line and, even if they’re not overweight, they may have a belly bulge.
There are good reasons for weight problems in older age groups. Those reasons include limited mobility, boredom, decline in hormones, prescribed medications, less incentive to look good, poor sleep quality, and loss of muscle mass.
Even though it can be very challenging to slim down in later years and stay that way, there are some things you can do.
Exercise Every day for at least 30 Minutes
Muscles are your body’s main metabolizer. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass. This is one of the reasons why our metabolism slows down and we gain weight. Exercising will help maintain and even build muscle mass, particularly if you include some weight training in your routine. Regular repetitive activity like walking, dancing, swimming, or tennis is also good for your heart and lungs and will help you sleep better. Note: eating extra protein will not help you build more muscles, but too much protein in your diet could easily be stored as fat.
Address Your Sleep Issues
Many seniors have a tough time getting a good night’s sleep. Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can have a direct — and adverse — effect on your weight and your health. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, especially at night. Also, go light on dinner and eat early in the evening. If you think you may have sleep apnea, get yourself checked out and find a treatment plan that works for you. You’ll find when you’re rested, you’ll have better coping skills and more energy to move around and burn more calories.
Portion Size Matters
Starving yourself isn’t a good game plan, but neither is eating as much as you did when you were 35. Older adults simply don’t need much nutrient-dense food to survive and thrive. Calories do count even if they come from whole grains, fresh fruits, and fatty fish like salmon, so don’t overindulge just because a food is good for you. You also need to pay special attention to your carbohydrate intake because as we age, our carb metabolism may become impaired. Cut back on the juices, wine, bread, rice, and pasta. Instead of ice cream, choose a small serving of fresh fruit to appease your sweet tooth. Or, if it’s cookies and cakes that you crave, enjoy very small portions only occasionally.
Boredom Leads to Overeating
Don’t let your next meal become the focus of your life. If you’re no longer working full-time, stay active with hobbies, sports, volunteer work, travel, family and friends, or part-time work. Otherwise, you could find that you’re parked in front of the TV all day with frequent trips to the kitchen to load up on food.
Ellen Stokes, MS, RD, LD is an award-winning video producer, director, and writer in addition to being a registered dietitian. Ellen writes and creates videos about nutrition education, food safety, menu planning, grocery shopping, and healthful cooking on a budget. Ellen has worked with organizations and companies including WebMD, the Partnership for Food Safety Education, and the University of Georgia Food Science Department. Ellen formerly worked for CNN as a writer and producer and teaches food safety and nutrition for Georgia State University. Check her out on Twitter @EllenS_RD.