Why Is it Hard to Lose Weight As I Age?
Learn how to manage a healthy weight and avoid weight gain during aging with these top tips from nutrition expert Sharon Palmer.
As time slowly passes, do you notice that it’s just a tad more difficult to keep your healthy weight goals in check? Your clothes just don’t fit the way they used to? There’s an extra love handle along the waist or thighs? Don’t worry, you are not alone, since the majority of people who age notice this unwanted side effect. Weight gain typically occurs as the result of your metabolism slowing down during aging, along with other factors, such as lifestyle, gender, activity, and medical conditions. Although your metabolism is bound to slow its pace as you age—part of our evolutionary track—read on to learn how to appreciate this process, as well as what you can do to support your body through this chapter of your life. I’m answering your top questions on how you can age well without sacrificing your healthy weight goals.
Why is it Hard to Lose Weight as I Age?
Sharon’s Answer: This is a great question, and one that most people face as they age, including myself. It’s a cruel trick of nature, which we, as humans, have evolved over the millennia as a way for our species to survive. The fact is that as you age, your metabolism winds down and you require less energy or fuel to survive. Food is our fuel; calories are our units of energy—just like your car needs gallons of gasoline to run. Scientists believe that humans evolved this mechanism of metabolism to help ensure the survival of our species.
Imagine your ancient ancestor’s family group, as they struggled for survival by hunting and gathering enough food to last through the cold, hard winter. In order to make it through until spring, when plants would burst forth and produce berries, nuts, seeds, and fruits, they needed to ration out their food stores. The priority when doling out these limited, precious food supplies was first for the children and young adults (who could still reproduce), then last in line were the elders (if they even survived long enough to become elders). By ensuring the young and those with reproductive capabilities got adequate food, the family survived until the next generation. But if the food had been doled out equally, the family would have run short, and the child, mother, or father might have starved to death; thus, effectively killing off the whole family line. In fact, this human behavior still exists, as surveys find that in families with limited food supplies (called “food insecure” by the USDA), often parents will go hungry and prioritize limited food stores for their children first.
Our bodies are miraculous, with a complicated network of systems and functions, which have helped us survive throughout our long human history during the darkest of times. It was a good thing for humans to have a lower metabolic rate—meaning a lower amount of energy needed to make the body tick; just as it’s a good thing if your car has a smart “metabolic rate”—the amount of fuel it needs to run. If your body required less fuel or food for survival, then you didn’t need to hunt and gather as much food, and you had a higher chance of surviving through the long, lean winter. We have a complicated metabolic system that has helped us survive throughout periods of starvation, famine, cold, and blight. The humans who didn’t possess this thrifty metabolic rate often died out during the lean times, thus they were unable to pass on their genetic profile for this characteristic to the next generation.
While you might not have personally suffered from hunger, chances are your mother or grandmother surely did. Fast forward to today, and we have an over abundance of food and calories, throwing our time-honed, thrifty metabolism out of sync. That is why Americans have suffered a rise in obesity in the past few decades.
So, now that you recognize the beauty of your aging metabolism, what can you do to work with it in order to maintain a healthy weight? First of all, it’s important to realize that you don’t need as many calories as you once did, so that means you have to cut back on the amount of foods you eat. Your portions should get smaller as you age. It also means that you should make every bite of food in your diet count. Don’t waste your limited number of calories on junk foods—make sure you choose foods that are nutrient-rich. Next, it becomes more essential for you to increase your exercise as you age, to help not only maintain healthy bones and muscle mass, but to increase the amount of energy your body burns up for fuel. And finally, eat a diet based on whole plant foods, as studies show that this diet pattern is linked with maintaining a healthy weight. One more final tip: Go easy on your body—love it, appreciate all it has done for you, and don’t strive for perfection.
For more information on plant-based weight loss tips, check out this blog.
Check out other nutrition questions I’m answering at The Plant-Powered Dietitian:
About Ask Sharon:
As part of my program “Ask Sharon”, I am answering the top questions of the month submitted through my blog, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to answer here. You can even win a prize! Don’t forget to submit your burning nutrition questions this month via my blog, or other social media.
Image: Iced Green Tea with Lemon and Cucumbers, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN