Food & Fitness After 50: Strategies for Losing Weight and Maintaining Weight

Strategies for losing weight and maintaining weight are not the same!

dietWeight loss is a national obsession and even older women are seeking the perfect weight loss plan (one that usually promises quick weight loss without cutting calories or being active!) We are bombarded with social media images (thanks, Instagram) of flawless women of all ages and magazine covers of swimsuit clad celebrities who never age (thanks, Botox, professional make up artists, and Photoshop). So, it is no surprise that the number one question I’m asked is about weight loss.

As women age, biology works against us to lose or even maintain our weight. As estrogen levels decline body fat stores increase and more fat is stored in the abdomen (the dreaded “belly fat”) and we have less fat in the periphery (arms and legs) as it migrates to the middle. And, if we do manage to lose weight, biology gives us another punch by slowing metabolism and ramping up hunger hormones (for a great overview of the biology of weight loss check out this link.)

So, what’s a woman to do? Let’s give three tips for losing weight and three more for keeping it off.

#1: Move the focus off weight and onto health. A quick weight loss plan might make a visible change on the number on the scale but could have lasting negative consequences for your muscle and bone. A focus on body composition management (as we talked about in this post ) instead of weight loss is the better goal. Make changes that you can live with for the rest of your life. You may think, “I can give up carbs forever,” but, trust me, you can’t, and you don’t have to.

#2: Stop thinking you can out exercise a poor diet. Exercise during a weight loss plan is important to preserve muscle mass and bone, but by itself it won’t do much for weight loss unless you are an ultra-marathoner. Every year, the Kiwanis Club in my town sponsors a 2-day bike ride, Challenge of the Centuries, comprised of rides of 30, 60, and 100 miles. Following the ride, most visit the street festival to celebrate. So, if a 170-pound man cycles 14-15 miles per hour for 2 hours (about a 30-mile bike ride) he will burn about 1500 calories; sounds great but if after the end of the ride he eats BBQ pork sandwich with a side of coleslaw, fries and sweet tea he has consumed about 1500 calories and I’ll bet it won’t him 2 hours to eat the meal.

diet1#3: If you need structure instead of a short-term fix, take the long view and consider a plan like The State of Slim. The program was developed by weight loss researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. It’s called State of Slim because Colorado has the fittest and leanest population in the U.S. This 16-week program can help you lose weight and provides the tools you need to keep the weight off. One of the program developers and currently Chairman of Nutrition Sciences and Director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama, Birmingham , Dr. James O. Hill, says that program provides what people are looking for in a program. “In the short term, it provides satiety to keep hunger down, in the long-term it provides not only satiety but weight maintenance, and the lasting legacy is that improves overall health, specifically cardiometabolic health.”

When it comes to weight maintenance, a new set of tactics are needed.

#1: “Diet drives the bus in weight loss, but in weight maintenance diet goes in the back seat and physical activity drives the bus,” is how Dr. Hill and his colleague, Dr. Holly Wyatt sum it up. A recent study published in the journal Obesity showed that high levels of physical activity are found in individuals who maintain their weight after a substantial weight loss. To avoid regaining weight, exercise is paramount.

#2: Eat high quality protein foods to help suppress hunger and preserve muscle mass. With higher levels of physical activity, protein can help repair muscle damage after exercise and provide the building blocks for muscle protein synthesis. High quality protein choices include lean beef or pork, poultry, fish and seafood, and for the vegetarians, soy protein.

#3: Take a page from those who have lost weight and maintained the weight loss. They self-monitor, practice dietary restraint, eat breakfast, and as stated in #1, have high levels of physical activity. Dietary restraint isn’t the same as dieting; but it helps to be mindful of your food choices and when you overindulge don’t wait until Monday or January 2 to start back on eating healthfully.

For more insights into weight loss for those over 50 years, see our chapter on weight maintenance in Food & Fitness After 50. And, if you want to take a quick assessment on learning more about your weight, click here.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Food & Fitness After 50: Don’t Let the Old Man In

In Food & Fitness After 50 we discuss food and fitness, of course! But, we also have a section on being well and the importance of managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, and enjoying social connections. Another aspect of being well is our attitude or mindset toward aging. As May is Older American’s Month it is a good time to consider an attitude adjustment. In this post, Dr. Bob Murray presents the case for “not letting the old man (or woman) in!”

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.

During a golf outing in 2018, when country singer Toby Keith asked film legend Clint Eastwood what keeps him going strong at age 88, Clint responded, “I get up every day and I don’t let the old man in.”  Toby soon turned that response into a song.

The opening lyrics are these: old man

I want to live me some more

Can’t leave it up to him

He’s knocking on my door

 And I knew all of my life

That someday it would end

Get up and go outside

Don’t let the old man in

 Many moons I have lived

My body’s weathered and worn

Ask yourself how old you would be

If you didn’t know the day you were born

(Toby Keith, ShowDog-Universal Music, 2018)

Is slowing down the aging process simply a matter of keeping a young mind-set, not letting the old person in?  Happily, there is evidence that this might just be the case.

In a 2014 article in the New York Times, writer Bruce Grierson addressed the question, What if aging is nothing but a mindset?  Grierson highlighted the work of Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer who devoted much of her career to studying how our minds affect our bodies.  In one unique study, eight men in their 70s spent five days living in an environment that evoked 1959, a year when the men were in their 40s and 50s.  Their housing had no mirrors and the furnishings, television shows, movies, magazines, and clothing were all vintage 1959.  Measures taken before and after the men’s five-day stay showed improved flexibility, manual dexterity, and better eyesight compared to a control group of men in their 70s who led their normal lives.  Dr. Langer observed that the men had “put their mind in an earlier time and their bodies went along for the ride.”

It turns out that our mind-sets about aging develop far before we become older adults.  When we are young, we all develop perceptions of aging that we carry with us throughout life, refining those perceptions as time goes by.  Once we reach whatever we consider “old age”, we accept those stereotypical mind-sets without ever questioning their accuracy.  To make matters worse, we and others can be guilty of reinforcing and perpetuating those long-held perceptions through seemingly innocent comments such as:

  • “Oh, I must be having a senior moment,”
  • “You look much younger than that,”
  • “Hey, I’m still sharp.”

old womanA 2002 study on 660 people ages 50 to 94 reported how negative perceptions of aging affect longevity.  The researchers reported that older people who had positive mind-sets about aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those who harbored negative perceptions of aging. If positive mind-sets about aging can truly prolong life expectancy by over 7 years, that is an incredible incentive for all of us to reevaluate how we have allowed ourselves to think about our own aging.

Dr. Manfred Diehl from Colorado State University is an expert on how perceptions of aging affect the aging process and his notion of successful aging is one that combines a low risk of illness and disability with high mental and physical functions and an active, positive social life. (For a PDF of Dr. Diehl’s slide presentation on Optimimizing Successful Aging, click here.)

Dr. Diehl also notes that successful aging involves not only maintaining a positive mind-set but also being physically active every day, learning new things, eating healthfully, avoiding or at least minimizing bad health habits (e.g., smoking, inadequate sleep, over-eating, etc.), and staying connected with friends and family.

A positive mind-set might not mean everything when it comes to successful aging, but it surely means a lot.  And successful aging is not simply a matter of feeling invincible because that mind-set can lead some—young and old—to avoid a visit to the doctor when one is absolutely necessary.

Perhaps the best news in all of this is that a positive mind-set about aging costs us nothing more than changing whatever negative perceptions we might have been harboring.  When scientists, a movie star, and a country music singer all agree that it helps not to let the old man in, that advice seems good enough for all of us.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Food & Fitness After 50: Diet and Cancer Connection

Vancouver grandson Michael (1)
Alice with her grandson

Alice, in her early 60s, talks the talk and walks the walk when it comes to understanding the connection between diet and cancer. I interviewed her about her personal journey to optimal aging and what we should all know about diet and cancer. She is the Senior Director for Nutrition Programs for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and for the past 10 years, she has developed and coordinated nutrition programming and communicators for the Institute.

Tell me about your path to your current work with AICR.

For many years I worked in college health, first at Stanford and then for 16 years at the University of Georgia. In my role as the Health Center nutrition provider, I was a staff of one, so I learned to do everything, from student counseling to communications to working with a team of health professionals to keep the students as healthy possible. When my husband took a job in the Washington DC area I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go. I knew about AICR and when a position came available for nutrition communications, it turned out to be the right job at the right time for me. An important part of my job is keeping health professionals up to date on the evidence surrounding diet and cancer and that really appealed to me. Doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and other health professionals spend a lot of time with patients, but they don’t have adequate nutrition training. By helping them understand evidenced-based information we hope they pass along sound nutrition information when they talk to people.

Has working with AICR changed the eating habits of your family?

We’ve always eaten healthfully but we made some changes when I learned more about the diet-cancer connection. We were always a brown-bag lunch family, but I stopped making sandwiches with processed deli meats as our guidelines suggest eating less red and processed meat to reduce cancer risk. We adopted AICR’s simple rule: the 2/3 and 1/3 plate rule, that is to make 2/3 or more of your plate whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies and 1/3 or less animal protein. That is a simple rule that is easily followed. My daughters are now in the thirties with their own families and they are proud of their nutrition savvy as they plan meals for their families.

I hear many older adults say, “it’s too late for me to prevent cancer, the damage is done, so why bother?” What would you say to that idea?

It is simply not true….it is never too late, or too early, to lower your risk for cancer. It is our choices over time that matter most. When you start choosing healthier foods, like a black bean, tuna or salmon burger instead of a bacon cheeseburger, you will reap health benefits. Lowering blood pressure, reducing blood sugar and insulin levels, losing a few pounds, and decreasing inflammation changes your body’s environment and that can reduce cancer risk. You will put yourself in a better position to remain healthy through the foods you choose.

The AICR has so much helpful information on the website, but is there one site that you think everyone should know about?

I love our New American Plate Challenge. It’s a 12-week, free, interactive challenge that helps you:

  • Learn to eat a healthy, flexible plant-based diet
  • Become more physically active
  • Model a healthy lifestyle for your family
  • Complement your current healthy weight/ lifestyle program

When you sign up you’ll receive a weekly challenge for 12 weeks, with support emails for motivation, along with tips, tools, and recipes to help you meet the challenge. There is also support from a private Facebook community. We’ve reached thousands of people with the challenge. Instead of celebrity challenges to give up carbs for a month, why not challenge yourself with something that will benefit you for a lifetime?

We’ve been talking about cancer prevention, but there is also a wealth of information for cancer survivors on your website. As a 13-year breast cancer survivor, I appreciate the science-based information on your website as compared to the science fiction that is circulating on the Internet.

We are learning so much about nutrition for cancer survivors. We encourage survivors to follow the same cancer prevention guidelines for everyone. Emerging research shows that mortality rates are lower for cancer survivors when they follow our guidelines. We have a program, AICR iTHRIVE for cancer survivors that provides helpful information and specific, doable steps to take related to all dimensions of wellness.

What are your keys for wellness as you age?

parkrun with husband Michael (1)
Alice and her husband at Park Run event

Besides eating healthfully, I’m physically active and my activity has evolved over the years. When I was on a college campus it was easy to exercise by taking advantage of the student and staff fitness facilities and I played a lot of tennis on UGA’s courts. When I moved to DC a big part of my daily physical activity came from using public transportation on my commute. Walking to bus or train stations adds activity every day. And, DC is such a great walking city.

My husband is a bird watcher, so we love to hike. And, we discovered Park Run USA, free, weekly timed 5K (3.1 miles) walk/run events. We love spending Saturdays with this great community and I just completed by 50th park run. It is more than exercise…it is fun, and we’ve bonded with many others who show up each week to participate.

The community aspect of the weekly run is another important part of aging well. Finding your tribe, be it community, church, political, or otherwise, contributes to the social support that we all need as we age.

And, lastly, I maintain an intellectual curiosity to learn new things. In the field of nutrition there is always something new to learn and I’m also intrigued by technology and how to use the many tools to communicate health, nutrition, and fitness information in as many ways as I can.

What challenges have you faced as you’ve aged?

Probably the biggest personal challenge is time to do everything I want to do! I work full-time and have a 45 minute to an hour commute to and from work, am inclined to want to be involved in many things, but find I tire a bit more easily. That could be related to over-committing. I certainly don’t stay up as late as I used to!

A professional challenge is the amount of information, and much of it is misinformation, about nutrition. At AICR I hear so many myths that just won’t die! We have a section on our website Healthy or Harmful to help dispel the most common myths, such as soy is harmful for cancer survivors.

Any words of wisdom for others?

Granddaughter (1)
Alice with her granddaughter

I encourage people to get out of their echo chambers and spend time with people of all ages. I love seeing how my daughters navigate the world for their children; it is so different than when I was their age. Many of my co-workers are younger and I do enjoy both learning from them. I feel younger when I can work effectively with people of different generations.

I also think that although many people know what healthy food choices are, we, as dietitians, need to understand the behavioral issues at play that influence people to make the choices they make. I want to better understand how we can tap into behavioral strategies to keep us all healthy for as long as possible.

 

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.