As people age, their metabolism slows down with resulting weight gain if energy intake and expenditure are not adjusted. Depending on your activity level, your calorie needs may be reduced by up to 20% from when you were in your twenties (Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020). For people who were thin when they were young, they may be facing the challenge of curbing their eating for the first time in their lives. This can be especially difficult, as they are tasked with breaking a lifetime habit of unconstrained eating. Similarly, for individuals who have struggled with weight gain since childhood, the trial is even more daunting. It is like running a marathon and having to strap on ankle weights for the last 5 miles!
Fortunately, there are many weight loss strategies that work. The trick is finding the ones that work for you and that you can adhere to long term. My coverage of the topic is divided into two postings, so please check back in early January, 2020 for Part 2!
Tips for Losing Weight
Do not fear the scale. Excessive focus on weight and body mass index (BMI) as indicators of attractiveness and acceptability can be problematic. At the same time, avoiding the scale, may enable the concurrent avoidance of an accumulating weight problem. Weighing regularly using a digital scale is crucial to continued weight loss. Studies have shown that regular weighings are an important part of both weight loss and weight maintenance plans (Madigan et al., 2014). Scales provide feedback about the number of pounds above or below goal weight that one is. Consequently, having this information can provide initial motivation to embark on a weight loss program as well as feedback regarding how successful it is. Indeed, observing weight loss through successive weighings can be highly reinforcing and provide the necessary encouragement to stick with a slimming program. At the same time, you need to allow for minor weight fluctuations that occur due to variations in water retention, clothing weight, etc.
Set a reasonable goal weight. When setting a goal weight, ideally your target should be within the range for normal BMI for your frame size. BMI is computed by dividing weight (in pounds) by height (in inches) squared and multiplying by 703. However, rather than do the math, it’s easier to find tables on line that will let you look up your BMI based on your weight and height. You should ascertain the range of weights for your height and frame size that are “normal” and set a goal weight within that range. Your goal weight should not be in the underweight range. Furthermore, aspiring to a goal weight that is too low (e.g. in the lowest part of the normal range) can lead to frustration as those last pounds are often the most difficult to shed. So, aspire to a goal weight that will allow you to reach your health, fitness, and size goals without it being unduly difficult to attain.
Hot water with lemon juice. Strong hunger pangs can lead to binge eating and can sabotage dieting. In the short term, try drinking boiled water with a half lemon squeezed into it to reduce hunger pangs. Although it is often recommended as a morning drink, it can also help prevent binge-eating at night.
Create an environment that fosters success. The food and exercise landscape that you establish in your home can make a substantial difference in what you eat and how/when you exercise. Stocking your pantry and refrigerator with lots of foods that are high calorie and easily accessible will sabotage your weight loss plans. There should be very few of high calorie options, and plenty of low calorie, nutrient dense foods available. Moreover, these low calorie options should be easily accessible and require little preparation, which can act as a barrier. For exercise, once you have selected a plan, make sure you have everything you need readily available to stick to that plan, including clothing, shoes, equipment, and even space.
Change how you think about eating. Ultimately, all our food choices come down to decision-making. Consequently many forms of thinking (e.g thinking patterns, beliefs, attitudes, rules) impact what we choose to eat, how much we choose to eat, and how fast we choose to eat our food. Most importantly, as we age, we need to adjust our expectations for what is a normal amount of eating in order to maintain an optimal weight. For many of us, when we were younger, we could eat whatever we wanted without worrying about weight gain. Learning to adjust this expectation is probably the most important change in thinking you can make.
Hunger pangs equal weight loss. Cutting your food intake will undoubtedly mean that you will feel hungry more often than you did previously. If you formerly were accustomed to eating when you felt hunger, you may need to learn to forego doing so in order to lose weight. It can be helpful to equate feeling hungry with weight loss, as a form of motivation to avoid giving in to hunger pangs.
Foregoing high calorie foods is not deprivation. Many diet plans have been torpedoed by thoughts equating them with deprivation. Although it is true that most diets involve restriction, you do not have to equate restriction with deprivation. Instead, reframe your diet as choosing to eat different foods that are lower calorie (but still delicious) and eating higher calorie foods in smaller portions.
Initiate an exercise program. For many of us, initiating and maintaining an exercise program is a challenge. Some people have trouble even starting to exercise, while for others, they may start exercising only to stop after a week or even a day. If you fall in either of these categories, your challenge is adherence. So, when choosing the type of exercise to do, ask yourself, “what am I most likely to stick with?”Then, give thought to what you like to do, when you can fit it into your schedule, and how you can gain access to this form of exercise. How long do you plan to exercise? How often? And, to what intensity? Cost, space and weather considerations should also play into this decision. In the end, you should choose one or more options that form the basis of an exercise plan that you can adhere to over the long term.
Notice the benefits! As you are likely foregoing some reinforcement from consuming tasty and caloric foods, you can substitute the good feelings you accrue from becoming slimmer. Take note of how much better you look in the mirror, how much better some of your clothes fit, and how good it feels to try on clothing in smaller sizes than you were wearing before you lost weight! Really enjoy the fact that you feel better, are fitter and stronger, with more energy and endurance! And, if there were medical complications from your weight gain, have you seen improvements in those? Lower LDL cholesterol counts? Lower blood pressure? If so, really notice the progress you have made in optimizing your health!
If you want to pamper yourself, don’t do it with food. Research has shown that using food as a reward is associated with overeating and obesity (Ziaudden, Alonson-Alonso, Hill, Kelley & Khan, 2015). As the ability to self-reward is important to self-care, consider developing a menu of rewards or rewarding activities that you can substitute for favored foods. Some examples include getting a manicure, playing an enjoyable game, looking at family photos, or walking the dog! There are several activity menus on line including this one from the Aims Center of the University of Washington: http://uwaims.org/files/behavioral-activation/pleasantactivitieslist.pdf. Once you have identified which activities are rewarding for you, formulate a plan to regularly include these activities in your daily activities, in lieu of food.
Dietary Guidelines (2015-2020). Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-2/. Accessed October 31, 2019.
Madigan, C.D., Aveyard, P., Jolly, K., Denley, J., Lewis, A. & Daley, A.J. (2014). Regular self-weighing to promote weight maintenance after intentional weight loss: a quasi-randomized controlled trial. Journal of Public Health, 36(2):259-67. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdt061.
Ziauddeen, H., Alonso-Alonso, M., Hill, J. O., Kelley, M. & Khan, N.A. (2015). Obesity and the Neurocognitive Basis of Food Reward and the Control of Intake, Advances in Nutrition, 6(4), 474–486. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.008268.