Health & Wellness: Weight gain as we age isn’t inevitable

It seems to be almost a fact of life that as we get older we also get heavier. Why does this happen? And is there anything that can prevent it? Neither of these questions has a simple answer but here are some factors that have traditionally affected this phenomenon.
One of the biggest factors that influences weight gain is our metabolism. When we’re young it’s high. As we get older, usually around our mid-20s, it slows down which means that we burn calories at a slower rate. There’s nothing anyone can do about this as it’s part of normal human development.
Another big factor, unsurprisingly, is the rate at which we consume calories. Obviously, the more calories that you consume, the more you have to burn off and if you don’t burn off those calories then you’re going to gain weight. It’s really as simple as that.
There’s another factor that may be affecting weight gain as people get older and that’s the loss of sensory stimulation from physical sources. Quite simply, as people get older and have sex less frequently there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that substituting food for sex is something that many people do to compensate for receiving less physical satisfaction than during their more sexually active years.
The fact that eating is an important source of sensory stimulation was driven home to me the first time I fasted. I lived on protein pills and apple juice for 15 days and could have done so for a lot longer (I think) except for the fact that the loss of sensory stimulation from tasting food became a real problem.
When I finally did start eating again the flavors were, seemingly at least, more powerful or concentrated or something that I definitely noticed as being different. What I think happened was just that I really missed the simple sensation of eating and tasting flavors which is a powerful sensory experience.
And researchers hacve found that the brain treats food and sex in many similar ways so there is some scientific evidence of a direct correlation between having less sex and feeling like eating more. So maybe having sex more to help control your appetite will work or maybe it won’t, but surely there’s no downside to trying this.
So what can we influence in our quest to keep off weight otherwise? Since our bodies store excess calories as fat, the most obvious way to keep your weight down is to consume less calories. Eat less, in other words. Easier said than done, obviously, but it’s the first step to take.
One of the best ways to make money, it seems, is to come up with a new diet plan for people who haven’t been able to lose weight. Most of these are fads and are ineffective, of course, because if anyone ever came up with a plan that actually worked for people then everybody that wanted to lose weight would already be following it.
And there is also, I think, a real misconception of what it takes to actually lose weight and keep it off. The greatest development in the last decade or so for people who want to watch their weight has been the introduction of nutrition labels on food and calorie counts on restaurant menus. You can now easily calculate the number of calories that you consume every day.
It’s very easy to see how many calories you consume and then it’s easy to gradually find out how many calories you actually need each day. Everybody’s different but most adults need about 2,000-2,500 per day to maintain their weight. Consume less than that amount and you lose weight; consume more than that and you’ll gain.
First, get a scale and weigh yourself every day. Every day. Then track your caloric intake every day. Gradually you’ll see the direct correlation between what you’re eating and how it affects your weight.
You will gradually find out how many calories you need to consume every day until you lose what you want. And here’s a reason that people have a hard time committing to a diet in the first place — the thought of not being able to eat food that you love in order to lose weight. Here’s the reality.
First, when you’re at the weight you want, you don’t need to eat less than your optimal daily calorie count. If you don’t need to lose weight then eat as many calories a day as you can without going over your optimal amount (2,000-2,500). You can eat a cheeseburger whenever you want, for example, as long as your calorie count for the day is okay.
This may seem like a pain in the butt at first since it requires a bit more planning than usual. But, the more you count calories the easier it gets and eventually you’ll know what you can eat and how much of it, based on your experience.
In the beginning you might want to write down everything you eat and then calculate the number of calories you consumed. That’s an easy way to keep track. And it’s easy to find out how many calories anything has. Just Google it.
The other side of the equation to eating sensibly is exercising in some way. I’ve spent most of the last 45 years running and working out, usually five or six days a week.
This is probably more than most people have the time for if they are of working age and have families, commitments, etc. I would argue that there is nothing more important than staying as healthy as you can, however the reality is that most people aren’t going to have the time or inclination to be as dedicated as I am in this regard.
But that’s okay. In my next column I’m going to show some ways to work out that don’t take a lot of time and are enough to keep you active and burning calories without exhausting you.
With a sensible exercise plan that you can maintain to complement your healthy eating, you should hit your target weight eventually and, more importantly, stay there.
— John Williams