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: Should you Fast to Lose Weight?

Picture1When I was helping my mother-in-law move from her apartment I came across this 1963 booklet, “Calorie Counter for 6 Quick Weight Loss Diets.” (My mother-in-law tends to hang on to things for a long time!) The 6 weight loss diets featured were the:

  • Three-Day Jet Diet
  • Seven-Day Hurry Up Diet
  • Get Slim Diet
  • Stay Young Diet
  • Slow-and-Easy Diet (editorial note, seems odd that this one is a “quick weight loss” scheme)
  • For Men Only Diet (second editorial note, this diet plan implies that the other five plans are for women).

Diets come and go, but overweight and obesity continue. Today’s popular diet plans are packaged not as diets, but as “lifestyles.” Keto, Paleo, Gluten-free, and Whole 30 are 2018’s versions of “Get Slim” and “Stay Young” diets of the 1960s.

But, the plan I am asked about most often is Intermittent Fasting (IF). There are several versions, but the original plan was popularized by British journalist and physician, Michael Mosley in 2013 (revised and updated in 2015). The book suggests intermittent fasting for 2 days each week (500 calories for women and 600 calories for men) as a weight loss strategy and as a path to improved health. Many of my 50+ friends express interest in this approach because it appears to be an easy way to lose weight.

The premise of the book is that “fasting” on a “5:2” plan (5 days of normal eating and 2 days of fasting) can help achieve a weight loss of 1 or more pounds per week and reduces the risk of chronic disease. The fasting days do not have to be consecutive to follow the diet.

It promises weight loss and protection against cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Since the book’s publication, researchers have been interested to learn if the promises hold up. Many of the studies are done on rodents and the human studies are mostly short-term. But, there are some pros:

  • Reducing calories for 2 days each week could result in weight loss if calories are held constant on non-fasting days. This could be an easy diet for those who have trouble with portion control and it could help individuals jump start a weight loss plan.
  • It can help educate dieters on how many calories are in their favorite foods, as they learn how little food it takes to achieve 500 and 600 calories on the fasting days. A man could blow his entire 600 calorie allotment on a Smoothie King Peanut Power Plus Chocolate drink and a woman would have a mere 100 calories left for the day if she drank a Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks.
  • There may be some mood enhancement with intermittent fasting. Many cultural and religious practices encourage intermittent fasting (although intermittent fasting is defined as 200-500 calories for a period of 7 to 21 days in one comprehensive review). Mood enhancement is reported when individuals fast intermittently and some chronic inflammatory degenerative disease symptoms, such as rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, appear to be reduced with fasting.

The cons of the diet:

  • While the authors claim the diet results in weight loss and reduces disease, there is no evidence to support those claims for this type of intermittent fasting. Some studies show reduced blood sugar and insulin levels, but we don’t know if that translates into eliminating diabetes or heart disease or cancer.
  • There is no guarantee that dieters will hold food intake constant and not eat more calories on non-fasting days.
  • This plan is also not recommended for pregnant or lactating women. For those with diabetes taking medication, medical supervision is advised.
  • For athletes and really active people, the biggest challenge is having sufficient energy to support hard training. Intermittent fasting could impair the ability to train at high intensities unless athletes fasted on non-exercise days. In addition, ingestion of protein and carbohydrate consumed shortly after a weight training session enhances muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. Resistance exercise coupled with food intake results in elevated insulin levels which in turn promotes protein synthesis. Fasting could impair the ability to repair and build muscle.
  • The U.S. News and World Report for the Best Diets in 2018 rank The Fast Diet as #35 out of 40 plans evaluated. Not a very high score.

    A study of longer duration (1 year) comparing IF to conventional calorie reduction found both achieved similar beneficial results. This infographic summarizes the study and the results.

ISSJN study

The bottom line: If intermittent fasting helps you learn portion control and you don’t overcompensate on non-fasting days, and you don’t mind feeling hungry, give it a try. Be sure to spend your 500 or 600 calories wisely (no pumpkin spice lattes) by choosing lean protein (eggs, seafood, chicken, turkey, pork, or beef), plenty of low-calories vegetables, and drink lots of water.

Food & Fitness After 50 devotes a chapter to weight loss and maintenance with tips to help you achieve good health.