Excess calories take their toll
There are five steps you can take to cut calories for healthy aging. Here we explain what they are and why this is so important.
We used to eat to survive; not anymore. Most modern diets contain more macronutrients than required for our metabolism and daily energy expenditure, often at the expense of important micronutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. And these excess calories take their toll.
The biggest health challenge we face as we get older is the accumulation of fat in our tissues.
Obesity is responsible for up to 70% of chronic disease and is a major contributor to age-related decline. However, our fat deposits are not the only consequence of overeating. Since age is measured at the cellular level by the number of times a cell has divided, aging is faster when energy is in excess.
In the end, we have two basic options: get fat and die (sooner) or increase our physical activity and cut calories for healthy aging.
This is not an impossible task. There are many things we can do today to keep our weight under control as we get older. It doesn’t need a drastic change or a new fad.
The average annual weight gain for most adults is equivalent to two bites of food every day or walking an extra 500 meters every day. Taking slow, regular steps and incorporating these into our daily activity can make real and quantifiable differences to our heath prospects in our old age.
How can I cut calories for healthy aging?
- Pay attention to your eating choices (when, where, what and why). One of the easiest ways to tip the scales is passive over-consumption. You have a choice! There are many opportunities to exercise it. Instead of passively filling your plate, the trick is to pay attention, engaging with your dietary choices. Reduce your calorie intake by substituting foods that are:
- less energy dense (measured as kJ/g)
- low in processed fat (but not high in carbs)
- low glycaemic index (low GI)
- served in smaller portions on smaller plates
- Pay attention to how often you eat. For most of us, every calorie outside of meal times is probably unnecessary, so find and fight the cues to snack. However, skipping meals such as breakfast is not a practical solution for weight control. Eating a breakfast regularly helps weight control, especially when it includes a balance of protein-rich and low-processed carbohydrate food options. Put simply, breakfast gets you going and makes you feel nourished and satisfied, and less likely to overeat the rest of the day. Missing breakfast means you’ll have less energy and will more likely crave snacks or larger portions at other meals.
- Pay attention to the cues that make you eat. It is possible to change your environment to support weight management, just as it is possible to make things more difficult by leaving that packet of biscuits within arm’s reach. Pay attention to what makes you eat and keep eating, and modify your environment before the advertising modifies you!
- Adopt a diet. Embracing any dietary restrictions, and thinking about and coordinating the foods you eat means you’ll usually eat less (calories), and eat better food. If adopting a diet means you pay attention to what you eat and cut calories, it will be successful. How the composition of a diet affects weight control is controversial, and not as important as simply adopting it. Reducing or increasing your intake of fat, protein or carbohydrates will not lead to weight loss unless you reduce your total calories and expend more energy.
- Make dietary change a positive experience. Dieting is not a punishment for the nutritionally wicked! If you take this view then you are doomed to fail. Success comes from the desire and momentum to keep new habits in place for a lifetime. Weight management can become a fun and conscious part of your lifestyle choices, because you are in control. It is still possible to be satisfied by eating less. One simple way is by substituting foods that have a high water or insoluble fiber content and avoiding those that are calorie dense and nutrient poor..