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Old Age and Weight Control

Posted Sep 01 2011 8:30am

category_bug_journal2.gif There are a whole bunch of things I want to tell you about Social Security, Medicare, some aspects of retirement, caregiving, elders and work, along with evolving cultural attitudes toward aging, scary stuff from the potential Republican candidates for high office and more but you're probably not going to see them for a while.

The reason is they all involve a good deal of research I don't have time for because I'm working on an outside project for the next several weeks. So for the duration, you will get more posts such as yesterday's from Crabby Old Lady and this one – the kind I can run straight from my brain to the screen without much effort.

It has been awhile, but we have in the past talked about our thickening middles and increased weight. Many here have proclaimed that they no longer care, that at our age we deserve to enjoy the Haagen Dazs and let the pounds attach themselves where they may. That certainly describes me.

Then, a few months ago, I noticed it was becoming increasingly difficult to tie my sneakers. Bending over, even with my foot raised onto a stool, left me unable to breathe. Stooping over for anything stopped the air from going in and out so I began feeding the cat on the counter and I was thinking about buying a dustpan with a long handle.

When I tracked down my old blood pressure monitor in a back closet and installed new batteries, the readings were not good. I, who for a lifetime had such low blood pressure even my doctors joked about whether I was alive, was in the danger zone.

Those developments were a strong indication that my weight was no longer a lamentable but acceptable aspect of aging; it was becoming a serious health problem.

About that time, my 70th birthday rolled around and there is nothing like an anniversary with a zero at the end for new beginnings.

I have plenty of experience with weight loss. Beginning at puberty, my body has always leaned toward chubby and there is no telling how often I have lost 10 pounds that regularly crept up. For some years, I tried just about every fad diet that came along except Atkins. They all worked to take off those few pounds, but not one of them is sustainable over the over the long haul.

I finally accepted that there is only one way to lose weight: eat fewer calories than the body needs to maintain its current weight and do it with healthy, nutritional foods.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ditched its long-standing food pyramid, which they had tweaked from time to time, for a new food plate.


Makes sense to me. And so, after some fumbling during the first few weeks, I arrived at another way of eating. Lots of fruit and vegetables, some whole grains with a small piece of poached or roasted fish two or three times a week and part of a poached chicken breast cut up in a salad now and then.

I've also spent a good deal of time inventing some healthy, low-calorie, low-fat salad dressings and sauces that are tasty too.

Only those are new to me; this has been my basic diet for a long time. My problem has always been all the other stuff I like: good breads and cheeses, hummus and crackers, pastries and most of all, ice cream – at least one of those foods every day and I'm no good at portion control.

The last item in that list is where I go especially crazy. When I eat ice cream (the best food invention in the history of the planet) and wake the next day still able to get into my clothes, I think I can eat more. And more. And I do. Which is what got me, with the other favorites, to my breathing problem.

So I figured that at age 70, I am finally old enough to become less stupid about what I eat. I like to cook and I love almost all food but at last, I prefer to do what I can to preserve my health, particularly at a time in life when more is likely to go wrong with it.

As everyone except fad-diet fakirs have always told us, the best diet is one that you can maintain for the rest of your life and that's what I have created for myself.

It's been four months now and WOW! I don't own a scale so I judge what has changed by how my clothes fit and I am down to only two pairs of pants that don't fall off. Last year, not realizing how bulky I had become, I bought two shirts that, when I tried to wear them, would not button. Now they fit too loosely. (This is going to cost me big time in a new wardrobe.)

But here is what matters: I can tie my sneakers again without losing my breath. Ollie the cat is back to eating on the floor. My blood pressure is in normal range. Oh, I forgot to mention another symptom; I couldn't walk more than two miles without my feet and ankles aching. That is remedied now too. All these problems were the result of being fat.

I still have a long way to go, but it isn't about staying on a diet until I reach some mythical number of pounds. This is not a diet – it is how I eat now and the weight loss will stop when I reach a stasis where calories in match calories out.

I eat mounds and mounds of vegetables and I never feel hungry. I'm too full in the evening to crave ice cream. In time, I will allow ice cream but only as a rare treat and in small servings – no more an entire pint of Haagen Dazs. I'll allow a small portion of cheese occasionally. That won't be difficult given that the tiniest wedges of the really good stuff easily cost $8 to $10 these days.

My long-winded point (aside from boasting about my success) is that it's not hard for elders to lose weight. That's just an excuse – it certainly was mine. Yes, our metabolisms slow down along with, usually, our level of activity. But by eating wisely, we can achieve a healthy weight.

Yeah, I know. There are a lot of humorous rhymes and poems and cartoon characters like Maxine telling us life is too short to deprive ourselves of chocolate, wine and ice cream and at our age, we've earned the right to indulge. Those foods are fine in (for me, extreme) moderation. But a bonus is that I'll be able to afford better wine when I do drink it.

And the other side of those funny arguments is that I have been lucky with good health all my life. I would like to go to my grave in that condition.

Here endeth today's lecture.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Learning Their Lesson

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