Excess calories equals accelerated aging

The more often we eat, the greater the chance we will take in calories in excess of our requirements. It is possible to change our environment to support healthy weight while aging, just as it is possible to make things more difficult by leaving that packet of biscuits within arm’s reach.Weight aging in combination poses challenges to aging well.

There are many ways to slow aging.  If we could reduce our exposure to only one thing, that element would be calories. If there was no obesity our average life expectancy would probably increase by 10-20 years across the board, and quality of life also improve substantially. We have are two basic options: reduce the number of calories we take and increase our physical activity, or get fat and die. To be successful, slow steps, taken repeatedly and incorporated into daily activity can make real and quantifiable differences to our heath and prospects in our old age. It doesn’t mean changing who we are. We can exert control over our diets and stop being a passenger in our own environment.

Planning and targeting clear and realistic goals

There is no achieving the waifish standards of supermodels. Who would want to? They are no happier than the rest of us, nor healthier by all accounts.  Successful weight control often comes when our expectations align with our goals. With weight, aging and planning, there is no value in a quick fix. It is best to initially aim for small, achievable targets. For those who are overweight, this might be 5% to10% of their current weight. But don’t stop there, set a new target and begin again.  Having a relevant target hardens our resolve and focuses our attention. It is more effective than just wanting to be thinner.

Dieting is a positive experience

Weight, aging and diet changes go hand in hand. Dieting should not be a punitive exercise, a punishment for the nutritionally wicked. If we take this view, we are doomed to failure. 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 our lifestyle choices, because we are in control. When we shop, when we cook, when we consume, it is possible to have fun without excess calories. Finding these new experiences can be equally stimulating. Small changes on a daily basis can bring big results. The solutions that work should be incorporated into our life, not partitioned like a criminal record.

It is still possible to be satisfied by eating less. Our body tells us when we have had enough for one meal. When the intestines are distended, they send a message back to the brain indicating satiety. So eating foods that are high in volume, but low in calories, is a simple way to have satisfying meals and also reduce overeating. This can be readily achieved by substituting foods that have a high content of water or insoluble fiber, and avoiding those that are calorie-dense.

Slow solutions are for the long-term

Without noticing, excess can become a way of life. Weight, aging combined often means we have developed some old and not so good habits. Old habits are hard to break once established, especially when they taste so good! Only later, when behaviors have become entrenched and their consequences are apparent, do we recognize the problem. But in the same way, good habits accumulate significant benefits in the long-term. All fads should be rejected, because our weight will return as soon as the enthusiasm fades. Find an approach that is sustainable and can be made a part of the person we already are. We don’t need to become someone else to control our weight. The sooner and longer we keep our fat stores under control, the longer our survival. Waiting until we get fat before doing anything about our diets is not a smart option.  Once we gain weight, the body resets its systems, so our attempts to reduce food intake by dieting are usually met by symptoms of hunger, even though there may be a billion calories still stored away in our fat.

This is because the large body thinks it needs a large amount of food, in the same way that big bears should appropriately have big bowls. As overweight adults, even if we can temporarily achieve weight loss, our brain and fat continue to signal their desire to get fat again. And so the vicious cycle of overeating continues. This is why the best way to deal with weight gain is to start before we get fat.

Exclusiveness should be avoided

One diet or one practice may have temporary benefits, but for weight control to be sustained, we need to combine diet with other interventions. Anyone who loses weight knows that without engaging in exercise, for example, any loss is quickly regained.

Don’t go it alone

Weight control is not easy at the best of times. Weight, aging in combination makes it even harder. There are many providers out there who offer advice and support.  The most successful weight care programs involve a strong relationship and long-term interaction between provider and consumer, whether they are a dietician, trainer, motivator or simply our friends and family.

The Goldilocks principle of individual needs

One of the keys to successful weight control is finding a plan that we like, and can adhere to, in the long-term. Many will not work, while others seem too costly or difficult. Like Goldilocks, it is important to try a number of different bowls and to find the one that best suits our individual needs. The correct bowl size for papa bear, mama bear and baby bear are different, reflecting their different body composition, daily energy expenditure and other metabolic needs. Our energy demands also depend on our genes, ethnic background and age.

Last Reviewed 02/Mar/2014

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Dr Merlin Thomas

Professor Merlin Thomas is Professor of Medicine at Melbourne’s Monash University, based in the Department of Diabetes. He is both a physician and a scientist. Merlin has a broader interest in all aspects of preventive medicine and ageing. He has published over 270 articles in many of the worlds’ leading medical journals