Is weight loss possible after 50? Do you wonder that? If you’re just trying to lose those last few pounds that came on during stress or hormone change, what does that take? How is it different than if you have 50, 100, or even 20 pounds to lose?
Or rather, how should it be different? “It” being the process that you go through.
An Example of Failed Weight Loss After 50
On this post I look at parts of the process that deserve attention. If you’re reading this you know very well by now what permanent weight removal is not. Take Carla*, one of my clients. When we met she was walking two to four hours a day, and eating as little as 800 calories per day. Her weight at the time was well over 200 pounds. If weight loss were a math equation, Carla, should be skinny. Here’s why.
Her estimated calculate Basal Metabolic Rate was a little more than 1700 kcals.
[By the way when I searched Google for the phrase “how many calories to lose a pound” it’s clear we still think weight loss is math and someone is still writing this B.S.: 17 million pieces of content were found. Confused? No wonder.]
Even walking slowly, at her start weight Carla would burn over 300 kcals per hour. She was burning 600-1200 daily.
Exercise calories are added to your resting (basal) metabolism for total energy daily expenditure. The total kcals to maintain her current weight were, depending on her activity that day, were 2300 – 2900.
Consuming 800 kcals per day she would easily be at a deficit. Repeating that day after day using an average exercise of 3 hours walking, she needed of 2600 to maintain her weight and taking in 800.
If this pure math solution was right, she was creating an average deficit of 1800 kcals a day. If it takes 3500 kcals to lose or gain a pound it should have been easy for her to lose a little more than 3lbs a week.
Yet, that’s not what happened. She didn’t lose. She reached a plateau pretty quickly. She got injured. She had insomnia. She gained. She got nervous when injured and unable to exercise. She feared eating more food or even the amount she was eating when she was exercising.
In spite of evidence (weight loss plateau, frequency of injury, even weight gain) suggesting that so much exercise and so few calories were actually slowing her metabolism, she held on to old emotional ties to the theory that exercising more and eating less will achieve weight loss.
After 50 Weight Loss Success
I won’t leave you hanging! Carla did eventually lose. A sluggish metabolism from years of slow down and unintentional sabotage takes time to bounce back. But she did. She’s lost close to 75 pounds at this point and she’s well past 50.
It’s hard to let go.
Some of us are emotional eaters. Some of us are emotional food avoiders. Both emotional eaters and avoiders have a dysfunctional relationship with food. Many of us have an addiction to struggle. Hard work, discipline, and control feel better than relaxation, acceptance, and trusting your body’s signals. That kind of dysfunction extends to exercise, too. It’s easy to get into a cycle of taking out big loans, payback, and withdrawal. This is more noticeable in women who seek weight loss after 50. In that bank analogy sequence two out of three actions are taking away energy and only one is paying back. That’s where we get it wrong with exercise and nutrition. We’re never filling our cup. Our tendency is to mentally believe we’re being “good,” we “have” to suffer through some form of exercise and deprivation, in other words: mindset matters.
If you think you’re being good… you probably think you get rewarded for that behavior at some point instead of believing the behavior itself IS the reward (e.g. enjoying good-for-you food because it’s delicious, and liking the way you feel when you’re doing exercise that’s right for you).
If doing things you love brings a second set of rewards, even better. In regards to eating good food and exercise you can expect rewards like better sleep, less fatigue, more energy, optimal weight, and body confidence. Not so different than people who are able to take a passion and make it a profession. The successful ones are not without a hard work ethic, but they love waking up every morning to work and even the tasks they don’t love they can tie to the passion for the outcome.
#joyinmotion is non-existent in the majority of diet & exercise to weight loss plans out there
(Have you noticed? Torch calories! Burn fat! Even free consults promise to tell you “how many calories you need to eat and burn to lose weight” lead you to a dead end: this is not your health GPS.) This is true whether you have 5 or 50 pounds to lose, but the longer you’ve carried additional weight and the more you’ve limited calories the more TLC your metabolism-controlling hormones need in order to reboot.
Eating, avoiding eating, and exercise are too often punishment. While it might seem compulsive eating is a reward, if you’ve been down this road before, it’s more like punishment because you know what’s coming next in the cycle. You’ll feel bad and the underlying purpose was to create those bad feelings. That’s bizarre, right? But true. It’s almost as if, the bad feelings are more comfortable. They’re at least more familiar. You can busy yourself with more exercise, fewer calories and get “back on track.” That feels like a game you can win. But then it backfires again and you’re right back where you started. Or worse.
You’re not right back where you started from because…losing weight you lose fat AND muscle. Regaining weight is 100% fat.
Exercise as a punishment is like paying the interest on some huge loan. The cycle usually goes like this: you’ve overeaten something you wish you hadn’t, and you’re going to compensate for it with excess exercise. You might also use exercise as a coping mechanism for emotions you don’t like feeling. Frustrated, angry, sad or feeling inadequate, your exercise gives you a fix of mojo, at least temporarily. If this is you, you like exercise. Or you did, until you began abusing it.
The payback is the overcompensation that happens after being particularly “good,” which in my experience with is restricting calories or foods they love, and you got it, dieting. You’re “on something.” It may be legal but it’s not good. The off ramp on that diet highway has a lot of roadblocks on it. You end up eating because you deserve it, you can’t resist any more (there’s science behind that: your body is doing everything it can to tell you to eat more).
Then there’s the, “I exercised today so I can have this” and the opposite, “I haven’t exercised so I can’t eat.” Certain types of exercise actually make you more prone to over eating afterwards. You can sabotage yourself in fact with some of the recommended activities for weight loss. Longer extended walks are recommended. They’re lower impact, anyone can walk, and yet, if you get that information and you’re gung ho whether it’s January 2 or not, you’re likely to take that downtown with the if-a-little-is-good-more-must-be-better and you’ll over do it.
Certain types of exercise actually make you more prone to over eating afterwards.
The withdrawal is getting a great (long, or exceptionally hard, or both) workout in or dieting all week so that you can do the payback. You might have the special event and the dress to fit into. You might be planning it. You might not. You’re just trying to get ahead and “work hard” to get results until eventually the payback comes. That’s what clever programs call “cheat” days and what I call binge days. It happens if you’re starting something that you can’t possibly ever sustain. If it feels temporary, it will be, and it usually doesn’t end well.
My girlfriends and I used to joke that we each had to have (or in this case we were talking about someone’s daughter) a “bad boy” relationship. It was that one that everyone else knew wasn’t good for you, wasn’t going to last and yet you couldn’t resist. Yep. A bit like a diet or exercise plan that you start thinking that you can make it through this eight weeks and be magically transformed, skinny, and then you can do it normally. It never works that way.
Weight Loss After 50 and Exercise
Diets or crazy kamikaze bootcamps full of burpees, squats, and lunges that send you home unable to sit down and bring you back the next day more sore than you should be starting a new exercise session don’t instill #joyofmotion in most of us. Granted there are possibly the less than 1% of you reading this who are saying, yes, I truly LOVE to do punishing workouts, but the majority of us who follow human nature seek pleasure and run (or walk or bike) from pain.
The reality is that whatever you do to get to a goal – weight loss- fitness, you have to do MORE of to sustain. Why? Because a 250 lb body requires more calories to move, and sustain than does a 150 lb body.
You will slow your metabolism by becoming a smaller person. The good news: By changing the way your body burns fuel and adjusting it to becoming a higher fat burner, and increasing lean muscle tissue you can overcome and offset this seemingly BIG obstacle.
Why can some people lose 50 or 100 pounds and keep it off? They’ve adapted eating and exercise habits that change the way they eat and exercise permanently. They’ve looked far beyond calories and looked at hormones and quality of food vs. quantity of food.
Hormones, not calories, control your weight.
You have an abundance of hormones. So at first glance, it’s a challenge less simple than addition and subtraction required to do calories in calories out. It’s like me and trigonometry. I had the multiplication tables down, damn it. Who moved the cheese?
But it’s also easier to balance out hormones. [The hardest part is reconciling your brain with the idea that less exercise is more, and more good food is more.]
It’s not punishing exercise. It’s exercise you like and less of it but with more purpose.
It’s not dieting or deprivation. It’s flipping foods you love that negatively impact your hormones into foods you love made with food that loves you back.
You don’t need bootcamp 6 days a week at high intensity. You don’t have to say no forever to dessert or to snacks. That would be unrealistic.
Remember this one thing about your body: It wants to be at ideal weight.
Now, your ideal weight might not look like the cover model on a magazine. (Even the model on the cover doesn’t look like the model on the cover). Your body wants the path of least resistance as much as your mind does. So if you feed it and move it optimally, it will respond by releasing fat it no longer wants to carry around.
If you have tried or are trying to burpee and starve your way to get there, or you “have to have” some crazy concoction of foods made or delivered to you to make your goal a reality, chances are this is not sustainable. If you want weight loss and yet your relationship with foods that feel comforting (momentarily) is so great you can’t or you refuse to break that cycle, now may not be the time.
What? That’s not where you thought this was going? I wish I could give you a program that works even when you aren’t ready to change. But, I simply can’t.
No one can want it worse than you.
This place you’re in could be your upper limit. You’re possibly afraid of changing so much that you won’t. Something about your struggle is working for you. You may associate yourself with the struggle. You spend time, energy, maybe money investing in new programs, or finding new experts to ask about what to do. You get a lot of answers. But you don’t DO any of them.
Then nothing I say can help.
If you are ready to make changes, to see changes, there are things to consider. If you have more than 20 pounds to lose, the changes you need to make with mindset become more important.
Women over 50 have a unique set of circumstances:
- A mindset from 30+ years of our adult lives.
- Physical habits we do that are almost compulsive from our morning routines to the way we go to bed at night.
- Others around us who have influenced us and are a part of right where we are today.
- Joints and muscles that are a little less resilient and might limit us in certain ways.
- Definite opinions and habits around the foods we eat.
- A young thinking mind that is a huge asset! We’re starting over, going to school, raising young children, starting businesses. Most of us are looking to what’s next more than to what’s over, and that can be a huge motivation.
You need to address the whole person you are. You’re going to be either positively or negatively influenced by each of these:
- Physical Activity
- Behavior Change
- Medication Interaction
So if you’ve skipped or ignored any one of those needs during a “diet” or a “bootcamp” or delivery of food to your door, there have been potentially more obstacles than solutions. It’s not your fault.
You can’t diet the way a 20-year-old does. You can’t fast the way a 30-year-old does. You can’t exercise the way you did even at 40. Make no mistake, you can look and feel as good (and often better – we’ve been beating ourselves up for a long time) as you did at 20, 30 or 40, as long as you don’t attempt to get there the way you did at 20, 30 or 40. For two reasons:
- The science of fat loss. The science of today needs to replace the science you learned 20, 30, or more years ago.
- The science of hormones and exercise, and food.
This is an integrated relationship and successful integration determines your success. At midlife and beyond the impact of hormones is amplified. [You’re not off the hook at 60 or just because you’ve gone through the other side.] You can’t outwork hormones and you can’t out-diet them; you can outsmart them.