Losing weight after 50
The basic equation for weight management is calories in – calories out and doesn’t change as you get older. Whether you are 30 or 60, the same rule applies: if you consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. This is because your fat stores will be utilized as a source of energy.
However, as you get older your metabolism begins to slow down, which means that you burn fewer calories per day. As a result, you have to adjust your food intake accordingly, in order to lose weight.
Besides age, calorie requirements are dependent on the height, weight, gender, activity levels and overall goals of an individual. You can use the tool below to calculate a fairly accurate estimate of the number of calories that you should be consuming.
This calculator will never show a number below 1000 calories per day. Please speak to a qualified health professional before attempting to eat less than that.
For example, a 60 year old lady who weighs 70 kg (154 lb), is 170 cm tall and exercises 3 – 5 days a week will need to consume approximately 2000 calories to maintain her weight, 1600 calories to lose weight and 1200 calories to lose weight fast.
(It is recommended that you don’t consume fewer than 1000 – 1200 calories per day over long periods of time without medical supervision. If you are planning on consuming less than this amount, speak to your doctor before doing so).
If the lady were 30 years old with the same weight, height and activity levels, she would need to consume approximately 2250 calories to maintain her weight and 1800 calories to lose weight.
Modifying your diet for weight loss
Even though the number of calories that you can eat decreases as you get older, there are a number of tactics that you can use to effectively manage your calorie intake, as we will see below.
Reduce or eliminate junk & highly processed foods
These foods do your waistline no good. In most cases, they are loaded with refined carbohydrates, processed fat, sugar and salt. Examples of these foods include cookies, cakes, pizza, burgers, milkshakes, potato chips, doughnuts and some types of frozen meals.
When you eat these foods, they provide large bursts of energy that cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to rise and fall dramatically. This together with the fact that they are not particularly filling leaves you feeling hungry soon after eating them.
They also tend to be very high in calories, but provide only a few nutrients, making them a source of empty calories. As you get older, getting sufficient amounts of vitamins & minerals becomes increasingly important, which means that calorie for calorie, there are much better food choices out there.
Eat more vegetables and some fruit
The vast majority of vegetables are low in calories. For example, a cup of cooked spinach only has 41 calories and a whole cucumber has around 45. Because of this, you can eat large amounts of vegetables and still be able to stay within your calorie limits.
Vegetables are also high in dietary fiber, which cannot be digested by the body. When you ingest fiber, it combines with water and forms a thick gel that moves slowly through your digestive system. This helps to keep you feeling satisfied and reduces overall food intake.
Unlike junk food, vegetables are bursting with nutrients. A medium sized carrot provides you with double your daily requirement of vitamin A and a cup of kale has almost seven times your daily requirement of vitamin K. Vegetables are also rich in antioxidants and other compounds that benefit one’s health.
Like vegetables, most fruits tend to be low in calories and are nutrient rich. They have the added advantage of containing naturally occurring sugars, which comes in handy if you have a sweet tooth. You can eat a combination of fleshy and dried fruit, so long as the latter is consumed in moderation.
Aim to eat at least 3 servings of vegetables and 2 – 3 servings of fruit per day.
Eat plenty of protein
Protein is very filling and has the highest satiety out of all of the 3 macro-nutrients. It also boosts metabolism slightly. Because of this, protein is beneficial on both ends of the calories in – calories out equation.
A large number of studies have been carried out to determine how protein affects weight management. Most have shown that it can have a positive impact on weight loss.
This study found that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of total calories resulted in a decreased consumption of 441 calories. Another study involving obese men showed that protein rich diets can reduce obsessive thoughts about food.
There is a wide choice of protein rich foods including eggs, legumes, fish, meat, dairy, nuts, seeds and even some vegetables. A protein intake of 30% of total calories seems to be the sweet spot for weight loss, so aim to eat this much if you can. Protein has 4 calories per gram, so on a 1600 calorie diet, that would be 120 g per day.
Eat the right types of carbs and fat
Studies have shown that low carbohydrate diets are highly effective for weight loss. For example, this study found that individuals who followed a low carb diet lost much more weight than those who followed a low fat diet. Studies such as this, this and this have shown similar results.
Because of this, you may want to give a low carbohydrate diet a try. Keep in mind however that low carbohydrate does not mean no carbohydrate. You still need carbs in small quantities, but where you get them from is very important.
As you have seen above, junk foods contain large amounts of refined carbs and sugars, which is why you want to avoid them as much as possible. The carb rich foods that you want to eat more of are those that are as close to their natural state as possible.
This includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. These foods are sources of complex carbohydrates, which provide a slow and steady release of energy.
Carbohydrate requirements vary from person to person. As a general guideline, aim to eat 50 g – 150 g of carbs per day. You may need to adjust your intake, depending on how it affects your energy levels and mood.
A similar rule to carbs applies to fat when it comes to the types of fat rich foods that you should eat. Again, aim to eat those foods that have been processed as little as possible. Good sources of fat include avocados, olives & olive oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and coconut oil.
Drink enough water and fewer sugary beverages
Because water has 0 calories, it is the best thing to drink when trying to lose weight. Indeed, studies have shown that drinking sufficient amounts of water can help you to become slimmer by boosting metabolism and reducing appetite slightly.
For example, this study involved 48 adults who were split into two groups. Both groups followed a calorie deficit diet but one group also drank 500 ml of water before each meal. After twelve weeks, the water drinking group lost an average of 2 kg more.
A lot of people are chronically dehydrated and mistake thirst for hunger. The next time you feel hungry, drink a glass of water, wait 10 minutes or so and then decide whether you really need to eat.
Unlike water, the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages such as soda and even some types of fruit juice can be detrimental for weight loss. This is because these beverages don’t have as strong of an effect on one’s appetite as solid food has and the calories from them are not registered as efficiently.
If you drink lots of sugar sweetened beverages, start weaning yourself off them slowly and drink water instead. Doing this in itself can have dramatic effects on your weight loss efforts.
If you don’t like the taste of plain water you can infuse it with lemons or a little bit of fruit to make it taste better. You can also drink unsweetened coffee and tea occasionally.
With these rules in mind, you can begin devising meal plans that are nutritious, filling and meet your calorie goals. It can be difficult to determine how many calories certain foods have off the top of your head, but luckily there are apps and websites that provide this information for you.
Here is an example of a 1600 calorie meal plan for one day that the 60 year old lady mentioned at the top of the page could follow.
Breakfast: 2 large boiled eggs, 1 cup of cooked oatmeal and 1 medium sized banana – 425 calories
Snack: 1 cup of Greek yogurt with 1/2 a cup of strawberries – 220 calories
Lunch: 1 grilled chicken breast with steamed vegetables – 394 calories
Snack: a handful of almonds and a medium sized apple – 257 calories
Dinner: 1 cup of cooked lentils and a medium sized baked sweet potato – 333 calories
Total calories: 1629 calories
Together with a calorie restricted diet, exercise is important when trying to lose weight. The more active you are, the more calories you burn. An individual who exercises 4 times a week will use up far more energy than someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle.
The amount of exercise that a person can do will vary greatly. In fact some people over the age of 50 will be able to engage in more exercise than certain individuals half their age.
That being said, if you have not been active over the last few years, it is very important to start off slowly and gradually build up your strength & endurance. Rushing into vigorous exercise can lead to injury and other health problems. It may be a good idea to visit your doctor so that he or she can give you the all clear before you start an exercise routine.
When just starting out, you could go for a 20 – 30 minute walk at a comfortable pace a few times a week. You can then slowly begin to increase the speed at which you walk until you are able to jog at a brisk pace. This transformation will not be instantaneous though, so give it time. If you have joint problems, you may want to try out a low impact form of exercise such as swimming instead.
If you are already a regular exerciser, then aim to do 30 – 45 minutes of activity at least 4 times a week. The activity that you engage in can be anything that you enjoy, so long as it gets your heart pumping. Examples include playing squash, cycling, martial arts and dancing.
Together with cardiovascular exercise, you should train with weights. The reason for this is because as you get older, you begin to lose muscle mass. The fact that you will be in a calorie deficit and some of your muscle tissue will be used as a source of fuel doesn’t help either.
You don’t have to do anything intense. Doing some compound weight based exercises a few times a week that work different parts of the body and eating a protein rich diet will help you to retain muscle mass, which is crucial for maintaining a high metabolism.
One final thing to keep in mind is not to rely solely on a weighing scale when monitoring weight loss progress. This is because ordinary scales are unable to differentiate between fat, water and muscle weight (muscle has mass like fat but is much more compact, so takes up less space in your body). You may be losing fat, but also gaining muscle or retaining water at the same time and as a result the number on the scale won’t budge much.
Together with a weighing scale, measure your body fat percentage (at the gym or at home using calipers) and various parts of your body (such as your waist) with a measuring tape. If your body fat percentage decreases over time, your clothes feel looser and you can see visible changes in the mirror, this is great progress.
It is also important to be consistent with the time at which you weigh yourself. This should ideally be first thing in the morning, before you have eaten and after you have visited the bathroom.
At the end of the day, weight loss comes down to energy management. So long as you can burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. If this does not happen for you, speak to your doctor as there may be an underlying medical condition that is preventing you from losing weight.