After you blew out the candles on your 50th birthday cake, did you notice your waistline growing ever so steadily? You’re not alone: According to Los Angeles-based nutrition expert Whitney English, MS, RDN, CPT, “It’s perfectly normal to begin gaining weight after 50 and have a harder time keeping the weight off.”
In fact, she says, a little extra padding isn’t always bad. Some studies show that older adults with a slightly higher than normal BMI (a commonly used measure of health based on height vs. weight) have a lower risk of mortality than those with a normal BMI. But before you pop an extra potato chip in your mouth, you need understand this doesn’t give you a license to eat as though calories don’t exist.
You can thank your metabolism for this zinger: As age increases, our metabolism slows, causing pounds to pack on and stick. One cause of a snail-like metabolism: In your late 30s and onward your body experiences age-related sarcopenia, the gradual loss of muscle mass. “The less muscle and more body fat we have, the lower our metabolism will be. Due to this decrease in daily energy expenditure, weight gain can begin to creep on if eating and exercise habits aren’t adjusted,” English says.
She recommends listening to your internal hunger and fullness cues. Translation: When you’re full, put the fork down. “Eating mindfully can help prevent consuming excess nutrients that you may no longer need as your metabolism begins to slow down,” she says. You’ll also want to step up your activity: “Working to combat muscle mass loss by strength training and performing weight-bearing exercise can help to keep your metabolism revved up.”
“Sudden weight gain or even weight loss may be a concern and should be discussed with your physician, as it could be a sign of a serious medical condition,” English says. Be vigilant by visiting your doctor for yearly physicals and monitoring disease risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.