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Managing Your Weight After 50

How can I lose a few pounds?

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Obesity is both a chronic disease on its own and a risk factor for other diseases — the heavier you are, the sicker you often become. Learn some of the biggest weight worries and smart ways to tip the scale in your favor.

I try diets but can't stick with them. How can I get the willpower?

Rule number one of dieting: Willpower alone doesn't work. Researchers have specifically tested this. A 2016 study found that participants who practiced willpower exercises for six weeks didn't improve their self-control issues. What should you try instead? Brainpower — that is, thinking about and planning how you eat. For instance, don't keep junk food in the house. And if you're going out to eat, check the menu online first and know what you're going to order. Also try mindful eating — focusing on and savoring each bite of food you eat in the moment and pausing between bites to do so. It may help control binge eating and emotional eating, a 2014 study analysis in Obesity Reviews showed. The good news: Getting older may help you take back control. “Our weight-loss research has found that older adults were more successful with adhering to a weight-reducing diet than young adults were,” says physician Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

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Do I eat too much sugar?

Even without knowing your diet, the answer most likely is yes. Manufactured foods now feature “Added Sugars” on the nutrition label. That's your key to avoiding too much sugar intake, Klein adds. Reduce or eliminate added sugars from your diet while not worrying so much about natural sugars in fruits, for example. Added sugars show up in pasta sauces, flavored yogurts, breads and even salad dressings. While you're cutting sugar, try to eat more beans and lentils. A 2018 study in Clinical Nutrition found that subjects who ate the most beans and lentils had the lowest risk of diabetes.

I'm overweight, but I don't have any symptoms of diabetes. Am I in the clear?

Sorry, but if you carry extra weight, you're still at greater risk of diabetes. Be sure to get checked routinely. “About one-fourth of adults with diabetes have not even been diagnosed as having this disease,” Klein says.

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I have a big belly. Is that dangerous?

Um … yes. You see, not all body fat is equal. Abdominal fat is composed of both subcutaneous fat (located underneath your skin) and visceral fat (located inside your belly around internal organs, such as your liver). Unlike excess fat in your butt and thigh areas, excess abdominal fat is a risk factor for high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dedicate yourself to losing 5 percent of your body weight and check if your belly retreats. “You lose fat everywhere when you lose weight, but the proportion of fat you lose in your belly is higher than in the rest of your body, because there's less fat there,” Klein explains. “Let's say you lose 10 percent of your total body fat. You'll probably lose 15 percent of your intra-abdominal fat and 50 percent of your liver fat."

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Nothing can stop my late-night cravings. Help!

Try some decaf green or black tea in the evening. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that umami, the savory flavor, can help increase feelings of satiety and decrease food cravings. L-theanine in tea — this is also linked to better sleep, which will keep you out of the kitchen at night — can deliver that umami kick.

How do I know if I have good gut health?

There's no way to know for sure. But there are steps you can take to make your gut healthier. Our intestinal tract contains trillions of bacteria, known collectively as the microbiome. “We are now learning that the composition of the microbiome can affect many different aspects of our health,” Klein notes. “But the day of having a simple stool test for gut health is still far down the road.” In the meantime, the best way to maintain a healthy microbiome is to maintain a healthy body weight; avoid packaged, highly processed and refined foods; and eat a diverse mixture of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

I dieted and lost some weight, but I look and feel flabby. What gives?

You may have lost the kind of weight you don't want to lose. People 50 and older can drop pounds on a diet just like anyone else, yet research shows that older adults lose both fat and muscle. That's not good, because losing muscle means you're slowing your metabolism and setting yourself up for future weight gain — plus the physical-mobility problems that come with a weakened physique. Any diet needs to provide enough protein to help offset muscle loss. One study of more than 2,900 people found that older adults who ate the most protein were 30 percent less likely to suffer physical impairment than those who ate the least. Many researchers today recommend that older adults eat 25 to 30 grams of protein at every meal — especially breakfast — as well as protein-rich snacks. Even more might be appropriate during times of physical stress, such as when you're recovering from surgery, says Stuart Phillips, director of McMaster University's Centre for Nutrition, Exercise and Health Research in Hamilton, Ontario. His breakfast is a cup of Greek yogurt, one-third cup of mixed nuts and a glass of milk, which adds up to a little more than 35 grams of protein.

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