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You’ve spent the last four decades of your life getting your metabolism and eating habits in the right shape. Now is the time to really tighten the belt (so to speak) and focus on managing a normal weight and developing a fierce disease reversal plan.
In your 50s, major shifts in hormones and habits can make losing weight a real challenge. You may also be seeing multiple doctors for various reasons, and considering natural remedies versus medication for new issues.
Regardless of the approach you choose, a good diet and an active lifestyle will go a long way. Here’s what to focus on if you want to lose weight in your 50s:
1. Spice things up
In many studies, cayenne pepper has been linked to helping increase metabolism and decrease cravings. A 2011 study revealed people who added cayenne pepper to their dishes showed a decreased amount of energy intake as well a decreased desire to consume fatty, sweet, or salty foods. If you like your food spicy, this could help you keep the weight down.
2. Be a kid again
Have you ever noticed children take forever to eat? That’s a good thing. A 2015 study found when people took 30 seconds in between bites, they stopped eating when they were no longer hungry, so they saved calories and pounds. This example of more chewing and less weight gain has been proven in several studies. We tend to consume more food than necessary as we age because emotion and stress can take over. To combat this, I suggest going back to childhood habits by using smaller plates and chewing longer. A smaller plate will make a smaller portion of food seem bigger. Focusing on slowing down your eating will help fill you up without filling you out.
3. Don’t retire from exercise
Many of my patients 50 and older come to their appointments with similar reasons for not keeping up with a workout plan. These often include some sort of joint pain, but this is not the decade to stop moving. First, assess what you can do. Then, take away the “I can’t” phrase out of your vocabulary. Swimming, walking, exercising on the elliptical machine and biking are low-impact activities. You’ll also want to focus on developing muscle mass to help preserve your metabolism. Finding a good trainer can be the first step in determining which resistance training activities will work best for you.
4. Plan ahead
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” You can wish for your 30something body back, but without strong goals and plans, it may not happen. Now more than ever, you need to focus on meal planning so you don’t rely on going out to eat all the time. I see this in a lot of my patients who are 50 and older. They don’t cook as much because their kids have grown up and moved out. Plan ahead by chopping fresh veggies on the weekend, making soups you can freeze, and having healthy convenient food options (like frozen quinoa, vegetables, and wild salmon burgers) ready in a pinch.
5. Apply a 'just a few bites' approach
Have you ever found yourself trying not to eat that piece of chocolate cake you’ve been craving all day, so you end up eating everything else in its path (and probably still eat the cake, too)? One way to enjoy some of the foods you want without reaping the negative consequences is to allow yourself a few bites. This tactic has helped many of my patients who are going on vacation or dealing with the struggle of powerful cravings.
6. Focus on quality over quantity
Straight calorie counting is not always effective because it forces you to start obsessing more about quantity rather than quality. Research already supports the notion that when comparing a higher quality whole foods diet with a standard processed food diet and calorie counting, the whole foods diet can help aid more in weight loss. Get rid of the pressure of counting every calorie.
7. Turn off the TV
Studies have found if you eat in front of the TV when it’s turned on, you may consume 13 to 25 percent more calories than if the TV was turned off. Further, a recent survey shows most Americans stop eating when their plate is empty or their TV show has ended. It may be extremely beneficial to tune into your mindful eating habits by turning off the TV and listening to your body.
Weight loss success, at any age, is based on many different factors. After 50, these factors increase. Don’t throw in the towel, though. It’s never too late to change your lifestyle habits and find a weight that makes you happy and healthy.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, R.D., is the manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, and the author of "Skinny Liver." Follow her on Twitter @KristinKirkpat. For more diet and fitness advice, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter.
This article was originally published in July 2017.