Tag: Weight Loss After 50 (page 1 of 7)

Weight loss after 50: How Canada’s Food Guide keeps us obese

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Dear Wendy,

The other day a friend mentioned to me that she’d decided to embark on a weight-loss program based on Canada’s Food Guide. alt="IMAGE-Canada-Food-Guide"

She’s about our age—in her mid-50s—and said she feels like it’s time to stop messing around with her health. And since the Food Guide is a product of Health Canada, a federal government agency with a mandate to promote national health standards, it seems like a sane, rational choice.

At first I agreed: on the face of it, Canada’s Food Guide seems like a great choice. But then I went and actually looked at the thing. That’s when things got a bit murky.

For example: when I looked up the recommended number of servings for a woman between the ages of 51 and 70, I found that the Food Guide doesn’t distinguish by height, weight, build, or activity level. So apparently all women our age, whether they’re 5’2″ or 5’11 inches tall, whether they’re tiny-boned or sturdy, whether they’re constantly active or complete couch potatoes, should eat this much food:

alt="IMAGE-canada-food-guide-woman-age-51-70"

Canada’s Food Guide recommendations

Serving sizes are obscure

Okay….fair enough. Setting aside the issue of whether this is an appropriate across-the-board recommendation for all women our age, let’s look at what constitutes a serving.

In the Vegetables and Fruit choices, the Food Guide would have us equate a “medium apple” (no weight given) with “half an avocado” (again, no weight given). A “medium banana” is apparently comparable to “half a cup of chard.” A “stalk of celery” is the same as “half a cup of sweet potato.”

Even the least calorie-aware person should be able to tell that these foods aren’t in the same ballpark with one another, calorie-wise, yet the Food Guide seems to be saying they’re interchangeable.

But when it comes to portion control, size does count. These days, a “medium apple” might weigh 150 grams; that’s about twice as large as the fruit we consumed as kids. But the Food Guide makes no mention of this. To the Guide, an apple is an apple is an avocado.

Advice is vague

In the “Meats and Alternates” section, the Food Guide tells us to select “lean meat.”

But 2.5 ounces of chicken is listed as equivalent to 2.5 ounces of duck, which is the same as 2.5 ounces of pork. I don’t know how to break it to the good folks at Health Canada, but 100 grams of skinless chicken breast yields about 172 calories and 9 grams of fat, while 100 grams of duck contains 372 calories (less if you eat it without the skin, but the Food Guide doesn’t mention anything about skin, so what the hey? Let’s live a little!).

We’re told to have meat alternatives such as beans, lentils, or tofu “often.” But how often? Your guess is as good as mine.

Oh, and remember how I talked about the hidden calories in fruit juices a couple of weeks ago? Well, the Food Guide does advise us to “have vegetables and fruit more often than juice.” And that’s it. Nothing about why, nothing about exactly how much juice is equivalent to a piece of fruit.

Nothing about the fact that ounce for ounce, many fruit juices have the same caloric values as sugary sodas.

Dubious food choices

When we get to the dairy section, we’re advised to “drink skim, 1%, or 2% milk each day.”

But how much? And since when is chocolate milk listed as a legitimate milk serving? And pudding/custard? Hey, according to the Food Guide, as long as it’s made with milk, it’s a milk product, so consume away!

alt="IMAGE-chocolate-skim-milk-nutrition"

Skim: 86 calories per cup. Chocolate: 209 calories per cup. But Canada’s Food Guide calls it a draw.

Similarly, in the “Grain Products” section, a 30 gram serving of “cold cereal” is on a par with half a cup of brown rice, which is the same as half a bagel. But what if your cold cereal choice is “Sugar Frosted Woofies with Chocolate Coating and Extra Honey”? The Food Guide is silent on the subject.

Granted, it does recommend making “at least half” your daily grain servings whole grain—but why not go all the way and tell us “processed grain is crap and shouldn’t really be consumed except at gunpoint”?

As for trans fats, which have been shown incontrovertibly to be toxic at any dose, does the Food Guide tell us not to eat them? Nope. It says “limit” your intake. Seriously.

Why is the Food Guide a recipe for obesity?

Answering that question could take up a whole essay, never mind a blog post, but my understanding is that when the government put this thing together, they invited representatives of Canada’s food industry to consult and sit on advisory boards.

As I’ve mentioned before, the food industry does not have the health of its customers in mind when it produces its over-sweet, over-salted, over-fatty foods. It has the health of its shareholders in mind. This doesn’t make the food producers “bad”—they’re just doing their job.

But it does mean that when they get to have input into things like our country’s Food Guide, they’re not going to tell us “no, no, don’t eat white bread. That stuff is crap. Eat whole-grain products.” They’re not going to suggest we forgo the sugary cereal or chocolate milk in favour of steel-cut oats or skim milk, because down that road lies a lower bottom line.

So who can you trust, if you can’t trust the Canada Food Guide? Essentially, you have three great tools at your disposal: your food scale, your measuring cups, and your food diary. If you weigh and measure your portions, you’ll know what a “medium apple” should weigh; and if you use your food diary, you’ll know how many calories it contains.

To my friend, I’d say, “Do yourself a favour. Ditch the Food Guide.” You’ll be doing your body a favour.

Love,

Karen

Weight loss after 50: There’s more than one right answer

Dear Wendy,

Last week, our blogging colleague Kay Lynn Akers wrote an article for the popular blog, Midlife Boulevard, explaining why she’s not interested in doing cross-fit training as part of her fitness journey.

I read the article, and commented on a Google+ thread that I felt her decision was sound:

“It sounds like it breaks my first rule of diet/fitness: Can you see yourself doing this for the rest of your life, without much hardship? If not, don’t bother.”

alt="IMAGE-victorian-strongman-weightlifting-fitness-training"

If you don’t do it my way, you are a poo-poo-head. So there.

I don’t know if it was Kay Lynn’s article or my comment or a combination of the two, but something set off a veritable shitstorm of invective, mostly from cross-fit-loving guys. And they all seemed personally offended that Kay Lynn and I were unwilling to engage in a fitness routine that was unappealing to us.

At last count, I saw 71 comments on that post, many along the lines of “Dumbest article I’ve ever read….If you’re doing the same routine at 75 that you were doing at 25 you’ll never see results….” Never mind that neither of us said, “Cross-fit is a crock” or “we don’t want to challenge ourselves in our fitness routines.”

This kind of exaggerated response isn’t at all unusual when it comes to health and fitness discussions, either.

Apparently, there are a lot of people out there who know The Way to lose weight and/or get totally buff, and they patrol the Internet looking for those who might dare to disagree with them, so they can pounce and refute their arguments, in the most abusive terms possible.

It seems that any time I write anything criticizing various dietary or fitness fads—my posts on Wheat Belly and butter coffee come to mind—the floodgates open, and my email inbox starts filling up with messages from people who are enraged—enraged!!—that I’m dissing something in which they’ve invested very heavily.

alt="IMAGE-fitness-class-zumba-wikimedia"

People pursue fitness in many ways. Why is this not okay?

This is the crux of it, I suspect. When people put a lot of time or energy into pursuing one path, whether it’s a gluten-free diet or cross-fit, Pilates or yoga, butter coffee or a low-carb diet, they don’t want to hear that their chosen way might not be right for everyone.

It’s important to recognize that fitness means different things to different people. For instance, when I said, “Can you see yourself doing this for the rest of your life?” I didn’t mean “…without ever changing anything, or adding any more challenges.”

I assume that as I get more fit, I’ll continue to challenge myself by upping the weights I use, changing up the exercises, and so forth. But just because I don’t plan to do it the way the cross-fit advocates would like, doesn’t mean I won’t be getting fitter.

The thing is, when it comes to fitness and health, there is no single correct answer that will work for everyone. If there were, we’d have solved the obesity epidemic years ago.

People come in an almost endless variety of shapes, sizes, levels of ability, and degrees of motivation. We don’t roll off an assembly line like so many automobiles, and it seems like the height of arrogance to assume that we do.

For now, all we can do is try to work out a path that works well for us, and live healthy, active lives, to the best of our abilities.

Love,

Karen

 

 

 

Weight loss after 50: What’s your goal for 2014?

Dear Wendy,

If you’re like the vast majority of people I’ve talked to over the past week or so, you’ve made some resolutions for 2014. Continue reading

Weight loss after 50: A sane holiday eating plan

Dear Wendy,

Aaaaaaand here we are in December. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it did, and you know what that means: it’s time to go totally off the deep end, diet-wise.

alt="IMAGE-hungry-must-eat"Eat it all! Mincemeat tarts! Shortbread cookies! Turkey and stuffing and gravy and sweet potatoes! Chocolate! Latkes! Not to mention all the egg nog you can imbibe without actually passing out.

Oh, wait. Wrong. Let’s try this again.

alt="IMAGE-starvation-diet"

Oh, yay. Lettuce and tomatoes. Again.

It’s time to go on a strict diet.

Time to knuckle down and grit our teeth as we adhere rigidly to our food program. We can watch our friends and families go nuts food-wise, while we gnaw on pieces of celery and sip our Perrier, secretly seething with resentment and longing.

Okay, I have to admit. Neither of these two options seems like a great idea.

I’ve worked too hard for too long to blow it all on a month-long food orgy. And yet, I’m really not willing to sit out the festivities, chewing on my own wrists to keep the cravings at bay.

What to do? Well, I think the first step is to set some kind of realistic goal for the holiday season. For me, that would be “Don’t gain weight.” Which, oddly, doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding all the treats. It does mean going easy—having a single piece of shortbread rather than a plateful, say.

Fully cooked shortbread rounds on a baking sheet.

Why yes, I do appreciate shortbread. Why do you ask? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For most people, food has a lot more meaning than “that stuff we cram into our digestive tracts to keep ourselves fuelled.”

Food means family, it means love, it means pleasure. (Especially shortbread, just saying.)

And food has cultural meaning: think of the Danish lunch that your family eats over the holidays, or the latkes I made last week for Hannukah. What would our holidays be like without those traditions?

So is it really reasonable to insist that we give it up completely at this time of year? I would argue that it’s not. So what should we do? Here are a few of the strategies I’ll be using:

  1. Stay the course: I won’t be trying to lose weight; I’ll just be trying not to gain. That gives me a bit of leeway, and offers the option of a treat from time to time.
  2. Even at this time of year, 95% of what I eat will be good for me. That means I don’t go completely off the rails; I follow my usual breakfast/snack/lunch/snack/dinner pattern. (And no fair substituting cookies for breakfast, eggnog for snack, etc. We’re talking real meals here. With veggies and protein. As usual.)
  3. Keep on tracking. Yes, I know. I’ve rattled on about food tracking so often here, I sound like a broken record. Tough noogies. Consistent, honest food tracking is the best tool I know to keep myself eating well. The only difference at this time of year is that from time to time I’ll exceed my daily calorie allowance. But here’s the trick: I planned it that way. I expect it to happen, and I’m giving myself permission to enjoy a treat or two, without stressing out about it.
  4. Plan ahead. I have a pretty good idea of the holiday events I’ll be attending this year. I don’t always know what’ll be on offer, but often I can make a good guess. One friend always serves tourtière; another can be counted on to provide cookies galore. If I know what’s coming up, I can plan ways to fit these foods into my daily food allowance.
  5. Keep moving. I’ll be continuing to exercise throughout the holidays. Exercise not only helps me burn off a few of the calories I’ll be consuming; it will help keep stress and fatigue at bay, and I’ll be happier knowing I’m still doing good things for my body.

Most of all, enjoy the holidays, food and all. Because really, if we don’t do that, what is the point? If I moan and agonize over every extra calorie, I’ll just be undermining myself, making myself feel bad, and making everyone around me miserable. Which doesn’t sound much like the holiday spirit to me.

Better, I think, to appreciate good times with our friends and families, savour the social round, and enjoy a gustatory treat now and then, while still taking care of our health.

I’m up for it. Are you?

Love, Karen

Weight loss after 50: Don’t quit exercising…modify your moves!

Dear Wendy,

I have this one crazy-ass fitness instructor named Pam.

alt="IMAGE-woman-fitness-instructor-weights-fit-exercise"

“Now, put your ankle behind your ear….” (Photo: TownePost Network via Flickr)

Pam is probably 10 years older than me, but she moves like a panther. She’s strong—not “Arnold Schwarzenegger strong,” but “extremely fit ballet dancer strong.” Core strength is her middle name, and she demonstrates what she wants us to do with an ease and grace that are almost miraculous to behold.

And she seems to believe that her students can match her move for move.

We can’t. Okay, more specifically, I can’t.

I leave her Wednesday morning classes with my leg muscles quivering, and it’s as much as I can do to hoist my coffee cup for the rest of the day. My abs? They gave up the ghost halfway through the class, and wandered off to do something else entirely.

If I weren’t already fairly experienced in this whole fitness class thing, I might have decided a few weeks ago that Pam is just too rich for my blood. I like her teaching style—she’s a stickler for form, and I think it’s great that she challenges us—but I find that I’m just not able to do some of the exercises she performs so easily.

What to do? Well, I modify.

For instance, last week we were supposed to do the following: stand about 6 inches in front of a chair. Raise one leg in front of us, so the foot is about 12 inches off the floor. Fold our arms against our chests, and then, using the standing leg, lower ourselves slowly and steadily into the chair. Now, without moving our arms, stand back up. Using one leg.

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Fitness: It’s not supposed to actually kill you. (Photo: CrossfitPaleoDietFitnessClasses via Flickr)

Ahahahahahaha! As if.

Most of us gave up on the whole “fold arms against chest” thing after the first attempt at a rep. And some of us lowered our raised foot so it was either touching the floor, or hovering about an inch above it. Yes, this made the exercise “easier.” And maybe it sounds like cheating…but I don’t see it that way.

I see it as “working within our own limits.” And I think it’s an essential part of any fitness regime.

Not every body is capable of doing every exercise in exactly the same way. As one of my former instructors used to say, “You’re not Toyotas. You didn’t come off the assembly line with identical parts, and you’re not all going to be able to do this the same way.”

I think this is important, for a couple of reasons: too many people take one fitness class, run up against the limits of their current abilities, and decide that any kind of fitness is beyond them. So instead of seeing their current fitness level as a baseline, and working to improve, they drop out.

alt="IMAGE-fitness-elderly-old-age-modify-adapt-exercise"

No matter how old or unfit you are, there’s a way to adapt or modify. (Photo: University of the Fraser Valley, via Flickr)

And others feel self-conscious about their current level of fitness: they think everyone else in the class must be watching as they struggle, and possibly mocking or judging them. Eventually their sense of shame overwhelms them, and they quit, too. (Fact: No one else cares how you’re doing. They’re too busy worrying about how they’re doing. Trust me on this.)

Both types are foregoing the benefit they could be getting from a challenging fitness regime. Which is sad, because it’s very preventable.

All these people really need to know is that no matter how tough an exercise might seem, it’s possible to modify it to almost any fitness level. If you don’t know how to modify safely, ask your instructor. And if your instructor tells you it can’t be done, find a different instructor.

Anyone can do this stuff.

Yes, it can be challenging—but that’s the point. We want to challenge our bodies, so we get stronger and have better balance, endurance, and flexibility.

So don’t quit—modify! Your body will thank you.

Love,

Karen

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