How to lose weight in middle age — since you can’t blame metabolism

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Last week’s study that found you can’t blame middle-age weight gain on metabolism was a kick in the gut.

The global report, published in the journal Science, analyzed metabolic data from 6,400 people of ages 8 days to 95 years, and found that metabolism stays pretty much the same throughout our adult lives instead of slowing down with age, as long believed.

So what does this game-changing study mean for middle-aged people trying to lose weight?

“We have to look at all the reasons your body may have gotten heavier,” said Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CND, a nutritionist in private practice in New York City. “We’ve assumed that it’s because your metabolism has slowed down but actually we have to consider your sleep, your stress, your exercise, your alcohol consumption, your nutritional status and your hormones.”

The metabolism-free goal: Focus on eating nutritious foods instead of calorie counting, Smith said.

“The amount of food dieters aren’t eating is dramatic,” Smith said. “They’re eating an egg white for breakfast, skipping lunch, having five almonds mid-afternoon and some kind of dinner — and that’s not providing the nutrition they need.”

With metabolism out of the way as an excuse, Smith sees this as the perfect moment to rethink everything we thought would help us lose weight.

“I switch the paradigm and provide people with tons of nutrition to get their bodies and their brains everything they need, because most of us have inadequate amounts of nutrients to power our cells,” Smith said.

“This means lots of healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds and avocado, good sources of proteins such as responsibly farmed fish and six-plus servings of veggies a day,” she added. 

For breakfast that might mean seedy bread with avocado and a sprinkle of chia seeds or flaxseed (with an optional egg), followed by an arugula salad for lunch, complete with shaved veggies (carrots, beets, fennel), sunflower seeds, fresh mint, sustainably raised salmon, farro, olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. For dinner, team a different protein (tofu is also an option) with cauliflower, asparagus and broccoli sautéed with garlic, herbs and avocado oil.

Still hungry? Snack on a handful of pistachios with berries and one or two squares of dark chocolate.  

Mark Koester, director of fitness at the 92nd Street Y, shows how to do a proper squat.
Squat: While holding a five-pound weight, plant your feet on the ground, bend your knees and keep your heels on the ground. Lower your body as far to the floor as you can. Exhale as you rise. Note: Use a chair if needed for stability.
Courtesy of Mark Koester

Pair Smith’s eating plan with cardio, strength training and muscle-building moves for a fighting chance of blasting the pounds, said Mark Koester, director of fitness at the 92nd Street Y. “Weight training is really important because you’ll burn calories more quickly the more muscle you have on your body, since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does.”

He encourages 150 minutes of exercise a week: 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The ideal mix is cardio — such as walking or biking, to strengthen your heart and lungs — one day, followed by strength training the next.

For the latter, Koester recommends a quick-moving circuit training session focusing on legs, back, core and chest. This includes 10 to 15 reps of exercises — squats, bent-over rows, dead lifts, chair planks and chest presses — with a 10 to 15 second break in between (or long enough to catch your breath). Consider starting with a five to 10-pound weight if you’re just beginning.

Ultimately, Smith wants people to try to banish the “M” word from their vocabulary.

“Instead of giving up and thinking you’re fighting a battle against your own metabolism, this is an opportunity for us to look at how we’re taking care of ourselves,” she said. “Look at what you’re eating, make sure you’re drinking enough water and not overdoing the caffeine and alcohol and think about how you feel. That’s more important than anything else.”

Bent-over rows: While holding a five-pound weight in each hand, bend your knees slightly and lean forward at the hips to about a 45-degree angle. With your core braced, bring the weights towards your shins with your arms fully extended. Then pull your elbows past your ribs, bringing the weights towards your midsection.
Courtesy Mark Koester
Mark Koester, director of fitness at the 92nd Street Y, shows how to do a chest press.
Chest press: With a five-pound weight in each hand, press the weights up towards the ceiling while lying on a bench.
Courtesy Mark Koester
Mark Koester, director of fitness at the 92nd Street Y, shows how to do a dead lift.
Dead lift: Bow at the hips in a 90-degree angle, maintaining a flat back and soft bend in the knees. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings, then come to a standing position. Do this while holding a five-pound weight in each hand.
Courtesy Mark Koester
Mark Koester, director of fitness at the 92nd Street Y, shows how to do a chair plank.
Chair plank: Place your palms on a flat, elevated surface with your elbows directly under your shoulders. Walk your feet back until your body is in a flat, push-up like position. Brace your core. Squeeze your glutes and shoulders while you breathe naturally. Hold.
Courtesy Mark Koester

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