Weight loss is a popular topic for senior citizens. Many doctors recommend weight loss to treat and prevent illnesses that are common among retirees, including heart disease and diabetes. But weight loss is more difficult than the “calories in, calories out” theory (1) that you may have heard about. Check out these weight loss tips especially for seniors.
The Role of Weight in Senior Health
Truthfully, while less well-researched articles may advertise otherwise, the role size and weight play in human health is not well understood. According to the American Diabetes Association, “Being overweight raises your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. It can also increase the risk of high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, and high blood glucose (sugar). If you are overweight, losing weight may help you prevent and manage these conditions.” (2).
This research, however, comes with an important caveat. While it is true that higher weight people more often have these conditions, it is still unclear if weight is the cause of these conditions. In weight loss research, cause and effect relationships are nearly impossible to determine. The only thing that can really be studied is the correlation between weight or weight loss and various outcomes. However, correlation is not causation. This means that simply being overweight does not mean you will get diabetes or heart disease. Many overweight people are perfectly healthy. On the flip side, people of low weights also get diabetes and heart disease.
When Is Weight Loss Advice Appropriate?
Despite the muddy waters of weight and food science, doctors often recommend weight loss to seniors dealing with various health conditions. Other seniors simply want to lose weight for their own personal reasons. So when is it appropriate for seniors to consider losing weight?
You might consider trying to lose weight if:
- You have recently gained a large amount of weight due to lifestyle changes
- You aren’t able to be active or do things you enjoy due to your weight
- You have type 2 diabetes or coronary heart disease
- Your doctor has recommended you lose weight to prevent or treat a health condition
- Your weight is causing you pain or discomfort
The reason weight loss is recommended for people with heart disease is simple. The larger your body is, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood throughout it. So, it appears that losing weight could help with coronary heart disease. (3).
Losing weight also often lowers blood glucose levels, which can be helpful with diabetes. However, making sudden or dramatic dietary changes can be problematic and even dangerous for people with diabetes. (4)
Generally, seniors should not attempt to lose weight without the advice and guidance of a doctor. Some conditions, like heart failure, can actually be made worse by losing weight, especially losing large amounts of weight quickly.
Regardless of your current health, age, or conditions, always talk to your doctor before you begin any weight loss program.
Weight Loss Tips
If you and your doctor have determined that losing weight would be helpful for you, here are a few weight loss tips for seniors.
- Start small with your diet. Don’t make enormous dietary changes and eliminate whole food groups all at once. Elimination diets are only recommended for people with severe IBS symptoms or other serious allergies or digestive conditions, and should only be done with the guidance of a licensed dietitian. Most people will be much more successful making small, incremental changes that are sustainable in their current lifestyle.
- Start small with exercise. Don’t get up tomorrow and run 10 miles. Doing too much too fast can lead to injuries and severe discomfort. You won’t want to exercise if it hurts! Start with a tiny increase to your current physical activity, even as little as 10-15 minutes, and gradually increase the intensity and duration.
- Add foods instead of eliminating them. Rather than focusing on removing things from your diet, focus on adding them. Your brain will be a lot happier and you will have a much healthier focus if you think about what you can add instead of what you aren’t “allowed” to eat. Add superfoods and nutrient-dense foods to your diet, and you will naturally consume less unhealthy foods.
- Prioritize protein and fiber. Adding foods that are high in these nutrients is likely to improve your weight.
- Get support. Involve friends, family, and medical professionals into your lifestyle changes. Their help and support can make all the difference.
- Don’t get discouraged. The changes you make to lead a healthier lifestyle matter, no matter what the number on the scale says. Even if you don’t lose weight, adding physical activity and nutrient-dense foods to your day will improve your health and quality of life.
Health at Every Size
All people are deserving of love and respect, regardless of their size or weight. Size and weight do not determine your worth as a person. Genetics play a large role in your size and weight, and for some people weight loss may be almost impossible.
Weight and size are also not determinants of health. The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement has sought to understand how dieting affects health. In 2006, the USDA conducted a study that analyzed obese women on a traditional weight-loss diet, and women who followed a HAES program that focused on intuitive eating. A National Geographic article reported these results:
“After two years, both groups weighed approximately the same. The women in the weight-loss group lost some weight after six months, but regained it after two years. The women in the Health at Every Size group had healthier blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and were more physically active than the dieting group.” (5)
Weight fluctuations also have negative implications for your health. It is far better to maintain your weight and make healthier changes to your life, than to lose and regain weight over and over again with unsustainable diets. Being “overweight” does not mean you are unhealthy, and losing weight does not guarantee you’ll be healthier.
If you’ve spoken to your medical team and losing weight is a healthy goal for your body, we hope these tips will help! Regardless of weight, prioritizing your health, nutrient intake, and physical activity will improve your quality of life throughout your retirement years.