With increasing family and work commitments as we get older, we may have lesser time for staying active and maintaining a healthy diet. As our priorities and lifestyle shift, and our metabolism slows down, we may experience fluctuations in our weight.
Accredited dietitian Ms Soh Wan Keem outlines the reasons behind age-related weight changes and shares her expert advice on how to maintain a healthy diet as we age.
Why is it harder to maintain our weight as we age?
By your 30s, you might find that you’re not as limber as you used to be, and that’s completely normal. “As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass and accumulate more fat. This slows down our metabolic rate, which makes it more challenging to lose weight,” says Ms Soh. Older adults also tend to experience higher levels of inactivity, as lifestyles get busier and more health problems arise.
“Ageing may also lead to changes in one’s appetite, such as eating too much or eating too little,” shares Ms Soh. These fluctuations in appetite can also make it difficult for you to maintain your weight.
While some changes in weight should be expected, drastic weight change can be indicative of underlying health problems. Ms Soh says, “Some of the health conditions older adults may experience include:
- Back and neck pain
- Gastro-intestinal issues
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Chronic issues such as diabetes and gout
- Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis
- Poor oral health (such as tooth decay, gum disease)
How do I set a realistic weight goal to stay healthy as I age?
While fad diets might try to convince us otherwise, losing or gaining weight sustainably takes time. “A realistic weight goal should not be more than 0.5 to 1kg per week, and not more than 10% of the body weight over a period of 6 months,” advises Ms Soh.
Healthy living doesn’t have to involve making drastic changes to our lifestyle. “A healthy diet plan brings a sustainable change towards health”, emphasises Ms Soh. Focus on cultivating tiny habits that you’ll stick with for years. The long term goal is to improve your health overall, so that you’ll maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure, and move with more energy.
What lifestyle changes and habits can help older adults maintain weight as we age?
Living healthier might require some effort at the start. Here are some tips we’ve gleaned from Ms Soh to keep it simple.
Be mindful of your diet:
Tip #1: Eat the rainbow. In order to get all the nutrients we need, variety is key! “Older adults tend to have a deficiency in calcium, Vitamin D and iron,” points out Ms Soh. “Eating a range of food ensures that we can get all the essential vitamins and nutrients to keep our body healthy.
“Make sure to consume a wide variety from the major food groups, such as complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and colourful fruits & vegetables in appropriate portions.”
Tip #2: Drink more water. We’re more dehydrated than we think. In Southeast Asia, many of us work either in dry, air-conditioned offices or spend extensive time under the gruelling tropical sun. Being in these dehydrating environments means that it’s all the more important to drink up.
Tip #3: In general, “Eating healthy should be integrated into your daily life.” It may be challenging to choose the healthier option at the start. Rather than try to change your diet drastically at one-shot, go slow and incorporate small practical changes instead.
Ensure healthy changes are sustainable by going small:
With her years of experience, Ms Soh knows the difficulties her clients faces when they first try to eat healthily. These are the three tips she often shares, to help them along the way:
Tip #1: Exercise portion control. Wait for about 20 minutes before going for seconds, because it takes a while for your stomach to signal your brain that it’s full.
Tip #2: Minimise emotional eating. Have regular meals and remove temptations so you won’t cave too easily to cravings when you’re stressed or bored.
Tip #3: Cut down on sugar and salt intake. Limit your consumption of sauces and gravy, and exchange the ice cream for plain yoghurt or fruits instead.
Over time, tiny changes can yield notable improvements for your overall health. So don’t feel daunted!
Although these tips are generally guidelines you can follow, diet is nevertheless highly personal. Should you have specific concerns, don’t hesitate to speak to a registered dietitian, such as Ms Soh, over the DA app, who can help you better understand which diets work best for your health goals.