Losing weight is tough. Add a slowing metabolism, lean muscle loss, and a changing hormonal landscape to the equation and it gets even tougher. Last week, in Part 1 of this series, we went into why weight loss gets more difficult with age.
This week in Part 2, we’re going to discuss how the obstacles associated with age can be overcome with simple changes to your diet.
1) Become a weight loss marathoner
When you’re young, you approach weight loss as a series of sprints. Summer is coming, you lose ten pounds. Your best friend is getting married, you lose ten pounds. But winter rolls around and the shoes come off after the final dance and the weight goes right back on.
Your young body – being the well-oiled, high performance machine that is – responds to this kind of treatment because it can. So, you go through your twenties and most of your thirties learning the bad habits of yoyo dieting.
When you reach the tail end of your thirties, you begin to notice your tried and true diet strategies aren’t working as well as they used to. When you hit 40, they stop working all together.
You can’t be a diet sprinter anymore. After 40, your mindset has to change to that of a marathoner. When you’re older, it’s about doing the little things right day after day. It’s about baby steps. It’s about lifestyle change for the long haul.
2) No more late meals
People used to think that a calorie was a calorie no matter when you consumed it. And that the only thing that mattered for weight loss was calories in versus calories out. Research is changing people’s minds.
In 2013, researchers tested the effect of meal timing on weight loss. 420 people all at the same amount, they slept the same amount, and they exercised the same. The only thing that was different between the two groups in the study was the timing of their major meal of the day. One group ate it before 3 p.m. and the other ate it after 3 p.m. The group eating their major meal before 3 p.m. lost more weight than the group that ate their major meal after 3 p.m.
Another study looked at the effects of meal timing in healthy women. The participants in the study who ate lunch after 4:30 p.m. had a lower basal metabolic rate and glucose tolerance compared to the women in the study who ate their lunch at 1 p.m.
When you eat late – anywhere between dinner and bedtime – food consumed is more likely to be stored as fat.
Why this happens could have something to do with evolution. For our primal ancestors, food was scarce. Those who were able to store energy more efficiently would better be able to survive when food wasn’t available. Storing energy as fat is the most efficient way to store energy. One gram of fat holds 9 kcal of energy. Comparatively, one gram of protein or carbohydrates only holds 4 kcal of energy. These ancestors likely also ate in the evening under the cover and safety of darkness.
Those among our ancestors that ate in the evening and stored most of the food they consumed as fat had an evolutionary advantage, which means they survived to have offspring. We are descended from those offspring and have acquired the traits that made it possible for them to survive.
Another reason why eating late meals is associated with weight gain and difficulty losing weight has to do with the types of food eaten. People tend to crave sweet and salty in the evening, which tend to be higher in calories.
3) Meal quantities should change with age
With increasing age, eat less more frequently.
Large meals overwhelm the digestive system. You feel bloated as your body struggles to process what you just crammed into your stomach and blood sugar goes up and down like a roller coaster, dragging your energy levels and your mood along behind it. The bigger the meal, the bigger the crash afterwards. The bigger the crash, the more you’re going to crave sugary snacks to get you through the day.
As your body ages, the effects of large meals on the body is compounded.
Small meals less often stabilizes your blood sugar – indirectly your mood and energy as well – and maintains fatty acids in the blood at a constant level.
It also makes it easier to get all the nutrients you need in a day. One study conducted at the Queen Margaret’s University College of Edinbugh showed people who ate small meals more frequently on a regular basis ate healthier. The people in the study ate more fruits and vegetables and had higher levels of vitamin C and other nutrients than the participants who stuck to eating the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
4) What you eat matters
As you age, focus on consuming more protein and plants and less saturated fats.
Losing lean muscle is a problem with age, which makes adequate protein consumption to facilitate protein synthesis incredibly important.
Most animal fats are saturated and are solid at room temperature because they have a higher melting point than unsaturated fats. Foods high in saturated fats that should be avoided are products such as cream, cheese, butter, whole milk dairy products, and fatty meats. Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are two plant products that are high in saturated fats.
Fats from plants and fish tend to be unsaturated and better for you. These are the ones you want in your diet as you age.
Sources and further reading