Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Baltimore

Health at Every Size
Intuitive Eating Versus Dieting

Spring is here! Unfortunately, the wonderful, warmer weather is often associated with body image issues for many of us, including seniors. Due to the current culture focusing on a certain body type as ideal, we can easily become anxious about the prospect of less clothing and bathing suits. To help decrease this worry and improve body image, I’d like to share with you what science tells us about weight management and the relationship between weight and health.

First of all, although the multi-billion dollar diet industry has tried hard to convince us otherwise, dieting is the best way to gain weight, not lose it. Research has shown that 95 to 98 percent of people who lose weight by dieting will regain all the weight within five years, and 33 to 66 percent of people will regain to higher weights. The more we diet, the harder it is to lose weight, and the easier it is to regain it. This is because dieting leads to decreased metabolic rate, increased number of fat cells, and increased levels of a fat storing enzyme.

Also, dieting is a major cause of overeating and emotional eating. So, with almost half of all women and one out of every four men dieting on any given day, it is no wonder that more than 8 million Americans struggle with bingeing.

The best way to maintain at our natural or setpoint weight is to not overeat or undereat, in other words, take in the exact amount of energy that our bodies need. Since this differs from person to person, it is important for us to tune in to our internal cues of hunger and fullness in order to decide how much to eat. A process called mindful or intuitive eating can help with this. This process can also help us judge the balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate that is right for our individual bodies. Mindful eating means being totally present for the eating experience, not working at our computers or watching TV while eating. Here are some tips for developing mindful eating: 

Mindful eating can prevent overeating by helping us to slow down eating and be able to judge fullness more accurately. It also will help assure complete sensory satisfaction, allowing us to be able to stop eating when we are full. Mindful eating also means choosing the specific tastes and textures that will satisfy us when we are hungry. If we avoid certain liked foods, as we usually do when dieting, we are likely to overeat them at some point.

Next, it’s important to know that size diversity is natural and there is no such thing as ideal body weight. Weight is mostly genetically determined, and many people will be at higher weights even when their lifestyles are very healthy. It is also natural to gain some weight as we age. For women, the average weight gain in menopause is 8 to 12 pounds because hormonal shifts generate increased fat cells which produce estrogen to maintain bone density, decrease risk of osteoporosis, and help manage symptoms of menopause. For women, moderate weight gain in midlife is associated with longer life expectancy. An objective view of the research shows that health is much more related to lifestyle than weight. For example, the 2006 NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study showed that people in the “overweight” Body Mass Index category had the least risk of premature death. Also, there is much research that indicates people can lower blood pressure, blood lipids and blood glucose by making lifestyle changes, even when no or little weight is lost. In contrast, weight cycling due to chronic dieting is associated with a much greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, let’s make Spring a time to give up dieting and obsessing about our weight. Instead, let’s make it a time to embrace our natural body size and shape, and to eat mindfully and joyfully! 

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