Losing weight is tough, but achieving a healthy weight is a worthwhile goal for everyone. The problem is, as you get older, losing weight can be more difficult. That’s because seniors don’t typically burn as many calories as younger people, and burning more calories than you consume is the primary driver for weight loss. Here we’ll examine the unique challenges facing seniors when it comes to weight loss, and point out several tips to help achieve a healthy weight after 70.
Why Being At A Healthy Weight Is Important
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health and prevention of various “lifestyle” diseases. Excess weight and obesity are associated with an exponentially higher risk for developing the following health conditions:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Certain cancers
- Heart disease
Unfortunately, obesity is a huge problem for the senior population. According to the America’s Health Rankings’ database, ~27% of seniors in the US are considered obese which represents ~12 million people as of 2016.
Weight Loss Challenges For Seniors
Anyone who’s tried can tell you losing weight isn’t easy, and it’s not just as simple as expending more calories than you consume. The following can make weight loss tricky for seniors:
Slower metabolism: the word metabolism encompasses all the complex physiological handling of nutrients, hormones, and enzymes in the body. Most people’s metabolism becomes at least somewhat impaired with age, due to a variety of factors including hormonal shifts which leads to loss of muscle mass. Loss of muscle and an increase in fat slows our body’s metabolic rate because muscle burns more calories than fat. In addition to the natural changes that occur within our bodies as we age, seniors’ metabolisms can be slowed by other factors such as medication side effects, sleep disorders, skipping meals, and depression.
Reversing bad eating habits: many seniors are very routine-oriented when it comes to their diet, resorting to what’s familiar. The problem is, what’s familiar for seniors isn’t always healthy. Of course everyone has a different palette, but many seniors prefer traditional American comfort foods that are typically high in calories and saturated fats. Seniors also tend to consume more soft drinks and desserts than younger generations.
Lack of motivation: revamping your diet is hard and for people over 70 asking, “what’s the point of losing weight?” is a common question. When your doctor or dietitian hands you brochures and papers outlining a recommended diet, many seniors lack the necessary motivation to follow through.
Difficult time exercising: oftentimes due to a variety of medical conditions, many seniors find it difficult to do weight loss exercises. In fact, only 25% of people age 65+ exercises regularly. Many seniors assume they are too tired, sick, or out-of-shape to exercise. As you’ll see later in this article, that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you have trouble exercising, you’ll just need to adjust your expectations for what constitutes working out.
Tired of cooking: if you want to lose weight and implement a weight loss meal plan, you’ll probably need to cut back on eating out at restaurants, which typically serve meals loaded with salt, sugar, and fat – that’s why they taste so good! Instead, you’ll need to prepare more homemade meals so you can control the ingredients you’re using and ensure proper portion sizes. That’s easier said than done for seniors who are tired of cooking, are unable to cook, or struggle to grocery shop for healthy ingredients. In the next section we’ll discuss options available in your community that can assist with weight loss meals.
Weight Loss Tips After 70
Despite the challenges seniors face when trying to lose weight, here are some practical things you can do.
You naturally lose muscle mass as you age, and you can offset that by doing strength training. There are a variety of options for weight loss exercises, including light free weights, machines at the gym, yoga, or Pilates. Remember, muscle burns more calories than fat, and strength training is the best way to build muscle.
Control Portion Sizes
Eating smaller portions means you’re consuming fewer calories, and if you’re consuming fewer calories and expending more you’ll lose weight. One trick seniors can try is using smaller plates or bowls and filling up a larger portion (~1/2) of the plate with lower calorie vegetables instead of carbs and meat.
Eat Small Meals Throughout The Day
Instead of skipping meals and eating one or two large meals, it’s better to eat 4-6 small meals throughout the day. Aim to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in smaller portions with at least 2 light snacks between meals. Eating throughout the day will boost your metabolism, which in turn will allow your body to burn calories more efficiently.
Sometimes hunger can disguise itself as thirst. Try to drink at least 64oz of water a day, even more if you’re doing a lot of cardio exercises.
Think Moderation, Not Elimination
One mistake that seniors, and everyone for that matter, make when starting a new diet is they try to eliminate everything that’s unhealthy immediately. Instead, try eating less of the unhealthy foods before possibly eliminating them from your diet. For example, if you normally eat dessert every night try cutting back to 4x per week to start. If you develop new eating habits slowly and don’t make drastic changes, you’re more likely to stick with it.
Don’t Obsess Over The Scale
Your weight naturally fluctuates throughout the day, so don’t focus too much on minor changes in your weight. Instead, focus on how you feel. If you have more energy, feel stronger, and your clothes seem a little looser you’re probably on the right track. Weigh yourself once a week at most.
Use A Healthy Meal Service
If you’re tired of cooking or find it stressful shopping for a weight loss meal plan, utilizing a healthy meal service for seniors can be a big help. There are lots of weight loss meal options to consider for seniors, including meal delivery and personal chef services that can actually prepare customized meals in your home.
For more info on meal service options for seniors, check out our article “How To Find The Best Senior Meal Delivery Service.”