Weight loss after forty

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

March 2007

Forty, frustrated and fighting fat? With a little understanding of how your body works you can reduce the frustration — and the fat!

Beginning during the teen years the average person becomes less active and more desk-bound because of the demands of school and career. By the time a couple of decades have passed and the forties have arrived, very few of us actively engage in the kind of physical activity that keeps muscles toned, so our muscle mass begins to decrease. This is the basis of our fat-and-forty problem.

Muscle is metabolically active; fat is metabolically quiescent. In other words, muscle, especially when we use it regularly, burns up calories even when we sleep. Fat, on the other hand, is a low-maintenance tissue. It just doesn't take nearly as many calories to feed a pound of fat as it does for a pound of muscle. That means if our food intake hasn't changed while we have been losing muscle, those extra unused calories turn into fat deposits. However, our food intake usually does change — it increases because we are able to afford more and we have added expensive well-marbled (translate: fattier) cuts of meat, rich desserts and tasty wines.

Women are particularly susceptible to this creeping obesity. Most forty-something women are no longer lugging around young infants with all the paraphernalia that they require. When the kids are in school mom can occasionally put her feet up and relax. A few years later the book club, bridge club and lunch with friends are a double-whammy: little activity and extra food.

The solution is to put those fat-building activities into reverse. Warning: it's not easy!

First on the list is more physical activity. A brisk one-hour walk will burn 200 calories or more. That will melt away nearly a pound every couple of weeks if your food intake is the same. It doesn't sound like much but you'd be taking if off 20 times faster than you put it on.

Next on the list are empty calories. There are plenty of substitutes for white flour and sugar, neither of which has any nutritional value yet produce spikes in blood sugar that lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. You can still enjoy pasta, cereal and bread but by choosing those made with whole grain flour you'll gain more nutrients and more fiber. You'll also lessen the risk of diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer. Lose the sugar by eliminating sweetened soft drinks and fruit juice. If you're worried about the safety of sugar substitutes, keep in mind that dragging around a few extra pounds for half your life carries a lot more risk than saccharin and sucralose.

Replace your traditional dinnertime starch (potatoes, pasta, rice) with an extra vegetable. A piece of fruit between smaller meals goes a long way to prevent cravings, which after all, represent the body's attempt to prevent starvation. If you're used to a daily dessert, make it a fresh fruit medley. That single change will save roughly 1500 calories a week or two more pounds a month.

With a few strategic changes in your daily activity you can be fit at fifty even if you weren't at forty.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.