What do you want the answer to this question to be?
I think a good place to start is by asking ourselves if we are looking for
- answers so that we can make a plan or
- excuses so that we won’t feel pressure.
It really helps to be honest with ourselves.
If you are really trying to problem solve, you will be open to discussing the variables that will influence the answer for you. And, yes, I mean, for you, personally. There are many factors that might make trying to obtain a certain weight harder or easier.
It starts with basic biology
You are probably aware that on average, men tend to have a higher percentage of muscle in their bodies. The hormones in mens’ bodies are designed to facilitate this.
Having those muscles makes men burn more calories for general maintenance and makes it easier for them to burn more calories as they use those muscles.
It is true that some women can work their way to a higher percentage of muscle in their bodies than some men have. However, women simply don’t bulk up the way men do unless hormones are messed with.
Asking the right questions
Aging is correlated with lose of muscle mass, but we must ask a very important question: How much of this is due to the aging process and how much is due to lifestyle?
Lifestyle may be legitimately affected by things like responsibilities, injuries, or climate. It is easier to find time to go out and play if you don’t have a 9-5 desk job or if it is a safe temperature outside.
Mental stress can also result in a feeling of physical inertia sometimes. Sickness or injuries necessitate more rest to heal, while chronic physical issues require special adaptations.
Still, it is true that changes in hormones due to aging can make our bodies less inclined to nurture muscle development. But what does this mean in our present reality? All it really means is that we probably don’t have the same peak potential that we did when we were younger.
Considering most people don’t even reach their peak muscle potential when they are young, this should not be a major issue. It is quite possible that you could reach a peak at an older age that you never did at a younger age, if even it is not “the best” you could have been at a younger age. Besides that, no one stays at peaks all the time anyway.
If you can pin point the particular things that are impacting how much you move, you will be better prepared to figure out how to adjust what you can. Some of those factors, such as rest and diet, will be part of the rest of the discussion.
Always keep in mind that extra weight (this idea will be refined later) can also make it feel harder to move, both in terms of effort and grace.
How much should you move
You have probably gathered by now that I am convinced that regular activity is very helpful for weight management. There are a few reasons for this:
- food is fuel and if it is not used/burned it will be stored in the body
- a certain level of activity enables us to eat enough so that we can do a better job of taking in all the nutrients we need
- activity stimulates muscle development
So the next question is 2 part: how much and how should you be active?
First and foremost, do not sabotage your efforts by injuring yourself! Even if you are regularly active, increasing your efforts by a lot or getting heavily involved in new activities puts stress on your body that is likely to be counterproductive.
You may just exhaust yourself so much that you don’t follow through with your plans. Or you may hurt something that will mean you have to decrease activity for a prolonged time.
There is reason to believe that the older a body is, the longer it takes to heal and the less perfectly it heals. In this way, an injury can make losing weight harder as we age. With every injury we are at risk for being less mobile and maybe even more prone to the same injury again.
That doesn’t mean I go around always afraid I’m going to hurt myself. You should have seen me flying down the hills while running out in the high desert of Idaho today! But I had gradually worked up to feeling I was ready for it and I was still keeping an eye on how my legs and balance were responding.
I have recuperated from an odd assortment of surgeries and 7 pregnancies, as well as the normal illnesses that tend to go around. I know the benefits of regaining my strength after set-backs. I know it is partly in how I frame the goal.
The magic of framing the goal
You need to frame the goal in positive terms. It should not be about depriving yourself or how fat you are or how hard it is going to be. These things may be somewhat true in the process, but they don’t need to dominate your thinking or choices.
Along those lines, if you spend a lot of time telling yourself that this will be harder because you are older, then it probably will be harder. Try to think instead of the advantages you have. Do you have
- more flexibility in your schedule than when children were at home?
- more experience with what you like?
- more knowledge of the options for activities?
- better ability to evaluate your own needs?
- more money for equipment than when you were in high school?
- more wisdom about and practice forming good habits?
- the perspective of the long haul?
When it comes to thinking about losing weight, think of things like
- what you accomplished, instead of what you were deprived of
- progress made, instead of how far you have to go
- how you are feeling stronger and lighter, instead of how hungry you feel
Much of losing and maintaining a weight you are happy with is about developing habits in a positive way. To review simple strategies for positive habit building, check out my post Habit Makers and Breakers.
Deciding how much weight should you lose
There are very few people who care how much you weigh. You care, probably because of how it makes you feel and/or how you think it makes you look. Significant people in your life probably mostly care because they care about you. Other onlookers rarely care at all or pretend to care so they can gossip about things. Such people should be disregarded.
So, how much weight do you think you should lose? Really? Do you base this on
- a made up number?
- what you weighed in high school?
- what your friends say they weigh?
- on the latest height-weight chart at the doctor’s office?
- fitting into clothes you have been saving?
- comparison with an actor or actress you admire?
Too many times our proclaimed ideal weight has little to do with what weight would actually be good for us and look good on us.
For example, based on health charts, I am nearly obese, yet I am constantly told I am skinny. (I would prefer they said slender, but whatever). On top of that, I know that what people are interpreting as skinny is actually my less curvy hips (see Skinny Girl Weight Loss Confessions).
Through it all, I have varied in weight from a very non-skinny 9 months pregnant (I did not curtail my eating while pregnant, for various reasons) to marathon trim a couple of years ago, which happened to be the same as my high school weight at age 18. I am currently 59 years old and about 5 pounds over marathon trim.
What I have discovered is that I actually feel physically better at some weights than others. Some of this has to do with being able to move more easily. Some of it has to do with not feeling like I don’t bend in the middle.
If you don’t have a reasonable idea of what your best weight range would be (no one is a static weight), then just pick one that sounds healthy. See what it feels like when you get there, plus get some input from a couple of trusted people. A good friend will answer some direct questions, as long as you can ask them in a humble, honest, but not self-deprecating, way.
That’s another advantage of being older. Your friends are older and probably not afraid of having honest, down-to-earth conversations about personal matters. Just don’t put them in the awkward position of being responsible for how you feel about yourself or constantly telling them all the things you don’t like about yourself.
What should you eat
I don’t think eating is rocket science. I think it is easy to get the food we need by eating a variety of foods. I also don’t think there is (finally!) that special diet that will make it easy for everyone to lose weight.
Your diet could be defined as two things:
- what you eat regularly
- a program to alter your eating habits
One common piece of dieting wisdom I agree with is:
while losing weight, overall you need to eat the way you will eat while not losing weight.
This way of looking at things brings the two meanings of the word diet closer together. Eat what makes you feel good, what tastes good, and what makes you happy. While losing weight, take in less food that you need to burn.
Again, taking in less food than you need for energy does not need to be more difficult as we age. We can adjust our activity levels and we can make sure that what we do eat is very satisfying.
Why do special diets work for some people
These days, even many health conscious people have utterly opposite ideas of what is the best diet. I have observed that any success of these special diets for weight loss really comes down to one thing: people are closely watching what they eat.
People tend toward the diets that
- help them deal with their excesses (too many donuts all the time? go low-carb)
- are kind of like their favorite foods anyway
- was in a story of healing
Exactly how people implement these diets varies considerably. How long they stick to them is left to the imagination in most cases, because we usually only hear the beginning of the story. Unless they are selling something.
Beyond that, everyone’s body is different. Digestive and nutritional needs vary. Tolerance to foods is personal and often inconsistent. As we age, we become more aware of how food affects us. We often discover certain things that help us. This may or may not be related to age. It doesn’t really matter if it is. What matters is that we can find things to eat.
I suggest that you don’t look to a special diet that someone else has come up with as the key to you losing weight. If you do, you may be tempted to look at that as what failed and not problem solve in helpful ways.
Getting enough rest
Have you noticed that when you are tired you resolve wears thin? It does for me.
Another important thing about getting enough rest is that it is important for your activity level. It is much harder to be active when you are sleepy or tired.
Do you need more sleep as you age? It is conceivable that since it takes older people longer to heal, they may need more sleep to rejuvenate in general. But, again, how does that matter for you, individually?
Isn’t it better to just evaluate if you are getting enough sleep? And if you are sleeping well? I sleep about the same amount that has been optimum for me since I was a young parent and started noticing such things. The twist is that now I can actually get that sleep!
I can definitely say that being more active and eating an overall healthy diet (I do like my ice cream and cookies), results in a more sound sleep. Having good communication with family and friends also helps me sleep better.
Skin turgor and other realities
There are some things that can be demotivating when losing weight as we age. For one, there is declining skin turgor. The skin isn’t as tight and it seems like what is under it is more visible, be it fat or veins. This means there isn’t the same visual reward for weight loss as when we were younger.
For women who have had babies, there is usually some baggy skin. If a person has ever lost a large amount of weight quickly, there might also be baggy skin.
Older people also tend to complain about the cold more. Activity can help with this, since it generates heat. Again, it is hard to say whether old age or lack of activity is more the issue here, partly because we feel most what we feel at the moment. What is uncomfortable now is often “the worst we remember.” And if something is happening when someone is old, they tend to say it is because they are old.
Embracing your age to help you lose weight
Stigma or frustration you have with aging begins in your own mind. People of every age have problems and wish they could lose weight. Many have their own excuses, but can’t play the old card yet.
If you embrace your age as something you have achieved, you will have a good foundation for problem solving weight loss. Everyone is older every day. Anyone who lives long enough will get old.
Is it harder to lose weight when you are older? That is really up to you.