Health & Wellness

Why Losing Weight Is Harder When We Get Older (and what to do about it)

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Maybe you’ve been a lifelong dieter, constantly doing battle with an extra 5, 10, 20 or more pounds.

Or, perhaps you’ve maintained the same dress or pant size since your twenties while pretty much eating whatever you wanted.

In either case, by the time you hit your 40s and beyond you’re likely finding you’ve gained a few unwanted pounds that are proving stubbornly unwilling to budge.

There may be several reasons why shedding weight as we age becomes harder and lifestyle changes may compound these physiological changes, notes Angel Planells, MS, RDN, a dietitian with the Veterans Administration in Puget Sound, Washington, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. We may be less active than we once were. Plus, as children leave the house or people become widowed, they may be cooking less, says Adrienne Youdim, M.D., an associate clinical professor at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine who specializes in medical weight loss. Restaurant or fast-food meals typically contain more fat and salt than what you’d prepare yourself.

The good news: small tweaks to your diet and exercise regimen may help you maintain a weight that’s healthy for you. 

Eat protein with every meal. “Protein is the building block of muscles,” says Youdim. “What’s more it sends a satiety signal to your brain and that can keep you from overeating.” Aim for 20 grams of protein per meal, Youdim suggests. That’s about the amount of protein in a cup of Greek yogurt or a three-ounce serving of chicken or fish.

Add grains and legumes to your daily diet. These are great sources of fiber, which promotes fullness and slows down digestion. “Because fiber hangs around in your gut longer, you won’t experience those sudden spikes in blood sugar or hunger,” Youdim says. Experiment with grains that might be unfamiliar to you like farro, quinoa, barley and amaranth; different varieties of beans (garbanzo, black, kidney and white) and all the colors of lentils (green, brown, orange, yellow and red). Youdim recommends a half-cup of your favorite tossed into a salad, soup or chili, served as a side dish or added to sandwich wraps.

Show veggies some love. Youdim suggests that you fill half your plate with vegetables. If that sounds unappealing you may need to change your cooking technique. “If you boil or steam vegetables to death, they lose color, flavor and turn to mush,” she says. Try an easy method instead with summer zucchini: slice the zucchini thin, sprinkle with a low-salt seasoning and cook on a grill pan for just a couple of minutes. “You may be surprised at how flavorful it is,” Youdim says.

Be active—often and in different ways. Just as you want your meals to be well balanced, the same is true for fitness, Youdim says. Strength training, cardio-vascular activity, and balance training are all important components of a regimen that may torch calories, build or maintain muscles and help you avoid falls and other accidents. Hate the gym? Youdim’s not a fan either. “I think the whole idea of gyms are overrated,” she says. “There are so many things people can do on their own. Get a mini trampoline and jump inside your house and in your yard. Dance to a video or a favorite playlist until you break a sweat. Start a weight-training program with resistance bands. Walk 30 minutes every day.” If you’ve been inactive for a while, she adds, be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin your fitness plan.

What do you do to maintain a healthy weight?

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