Fighting the good fight
6 ways to combat dreadful age-related weight gain
Sure, there are benefits to aging (retirement!), but for the most part discourse on the topic is well, rather grim. Everything begins to hurt, you’re starting to look more and more like a Shar Pei, and once a tech-savvy individual, you suddenly have little-to-no knowledge on how to use the latest gadgets, or what they’re even called. Sure, that may be a tad hyperbolic, but there’s also the middle-age spread, and that’s something that affects us LONG before social security kicks in. Whether you’re 18, 28, or 80, listen up.
By definition, the middle age spread refers to the fat that accumulates around the abdomen and buttocks during one’s middle age. It’s a problem generally associated with women and tied to the effects of menopause, but it plagues men too. The cause of this fat accumulation is due to hormone changes that occur as we age, but it doesn’t help that we lose muscle mass in the aging process either. It’s unique to the individual, but starting around age 30 we lose about ½ – 1% of lean muscle each year—and this impacts our weight management by slowing metabolism and encouraging our bodies to store more fat.
A change in the amount of muscle mass one has impacts metabolism because lean body mass is active, meaning it burns calories at rest. The less lean muscle we have, the less calories we’re burning each day. In other words this progressive decrease in lean muscle mass leads to a more sluggish metabolism over time. To make matters worse, this decrease in lean muscle also impacts the amount of carbohydrates we can eat day-to-day without gaining weight. You see, carbs are our bodies’ primary fuel source. When we eat them, our bodies break them down, store them temporarily in our muscles and our liver and use them to fuel our voluntary and involuntary activities. When we eat more than our bodies can store in the fixed amount of space that is our muscles and liver (more formally referred to as our glycogen stores), our bodies convert it to fat. Essentially a decrease in lean muscle means less space you have for short-term fuel storage, so even if you ate the exact amount of carbs you ate 5-10-20 years prior (when you naturally had more lean muscle), you will gain weight because your body will store more of what you eat as fat than it used to. Ultimately, the loss of lean muscle mass with age is why people who maintain the same eating habits from when they were younger tend to gain weight with age.
While there’s no magic pill or procedure to completely reverse the effects of aging (just yet!), there are some things you can do to help keep the seemingly-unavoidable weight off with age.
1) PICK UP THE WEIGHTS.
One of the effects of aging is a more sluggish metabolism, because we naturally lose muscle mass as we age. As noted above, the less lean muscle we have, the less calories we’re burning each day. But this works the opposite way to: the more lean muscle we have, the more we are burning (remember, lean muscle mass is active, fat is not).
So, to keep metabolism going strong, you gotta get strong AKA hit the gym for strength training activities. While cardio (like spinning or running) burns calories during the activity, they don’t necessarily build muscle. Strength training, on the other hand, helps to build and maintain lean muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest which can help offset weight gain with age. And, if you increase your metabolism enough, you can still eat as much as you always did, without gaining weight.
2) EAT MORE FIBER.
You may have expected to find this one in the list, but it’s because fiber really is just that good for weight management… at any age! Fiber-rich foods are nutrient dense and typically are low in calories, so they help to fill you up without filling you out. Specific to combating the middle age spread (but also helpful at any age), fiber boosts metabolism; your body burn more calories digesting fiber-rich foods than it does with foods that don’t contain fiber.
In addition to boosting metabolism, fiber helps fight age-related weight gain because it helps us maximize the amount carbs we can eat before gaining weight. As noted above, carbs eaten in excess of what our bodies can “fit” in our glycogen stores leads to weight gain because the body coverts it to fat. This proves to be problematic as we age because naturally losing lean muscle mass means there is less space in our glycogen stores than we used to have. At face value, this means you have to eat less to maintain your weight, but fiber helps us cheat the system. Fiber is the zero-calorie, non-digestible part of the carbohydrate. Because the body can’t digest fiber, it isn’t stored in our glycogen stores like digestible carbs are. Therefore, the more fiber that a carb has, the less space it takes up in your glycogen stores and the more you can eat (fit in your now-smaller-muscles and liver) before those stores are at capacity and the body turns them into fat.
3) SLEEP 8 HOURS.
So you’re more tired than you used to be, and it sucks. Well, now is the time to own it and get more sleep—the full recommended 8 hours of it! Simply put, the amount and quality of your sleep affects the hormones (leptin and ghrelin) that control feelings of hunger and fullness. Get the proper 8 hours of quality sleep per night and these hormones work in sync, doing what they normally do. Skimp out on sleep and these hormones get thrown out of whack: leptin levels plummet, and ghrelin levels sore. This is problematic because leptin is what signals to the brain that you’re full, and ghrelin is what stimulates appetites. For weight management low leptin and elevated ghrelin is a recipe for disaster. We’re hungrier than we should be, and don’t get satiated like we normally would – two things that make any weight loss efforts just that much more difficult.
4) REDUCE STRESS.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is linked to the accumulation of fat around the midsection. Of course it’s easier said than done but reducing stress can help minimize cortisol and thus its resultant effects. Stress can also affect your sleep. This alters your hunger and satiety hormones in a way that sets you up for eating more, which leads to stalled weight loss efforts if not full on weight gain.
Of course, the thought of inevitable weight gain or the task of slimming down can be stressful enough. Keep in mind, if you stress too much about your goals, you could be hindering your progress toward reaching them. Allow yourself the time and effort required for improvement, and make use of relaxation activities, such as yoga (which can also build lean muscle!) and meditation, along the way.
5) STAY HYDRATED.
The symptoms of dehydration often mimic those of hunger—weak, tired, shaky and cranky—feelings that are inconsistent with sustained weight Often these feelings can lead us to
Water plays a key role in nearly every bodily function and fills you up so you tend to eat less. If you’re eating a high-fiber diet, getting adequate water is especially important. When fiber combines with water, it forms a soft gel, which leads to firm stools and allows for easy defecation. On the other hand, if you eat a lot of fiber and don’t compensate by drinking more water, it can lead to the opposite effect—constipation. In an effort to not be too graphic here just know: water + fiber = weight loss and inadequate water + fiber = not a great feeling….
Need motivation to hit the 3 liter/day goal? Picture a grape and picture a raisin. A grape is plump, its full of moisture. A raisin is dry, it’s all shriveled up. Well, a raisin is just dried up old grape. Would you rather look like a shriveled up wrinkly raisin or a plump, juicy grape? Proper hydration effects everything, do your body good and drink up.
6) EAT! – TO KEEP METABOLISM RUNNING.
What you do NOT want to do is starve yourself. Instead, eat every few hours to keep metabolism running. When your body is deprived of food for many hours between meals, it goes into “starvation mode”. The body’s metabolism effectively slows in order to conserve energy, which was an adaptive mechanism for our ancestors when food was scarce. Despite the reduced caloric intake, a slowed metabolism inhibits weight loss efforts. Also, blood sugar levels begin to drop within two hours of eating. Low blood sugar can produce sudden hunger pangs, which can trigger bingeing and food cravings–two things that make weight loss just that much harder. By eating every few hours, any weight loss efforts can more effective because it helps minimize obstacles along the way.