Stay Lean in Retirement
Contributed by Dr. Amy Whittington, Trilogy’s Naturopathic Physician
Ahhh, retirement (or pre-retirement), from my perspective (a person still working, but lucky enough to surround herself with this fun group of people): a time when relaxation, fun, and social activities fill up your schedule and the memories of work and stress begin to fade into the distance. You have done well. You’ve moved to a great community; this is what it’s all about. I see it again and again. New members move to the community, wrap up their work, settle into this next phase, partake in all the great social events . . . and gain weight. Okay, so that last bit is not so great. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, watch out; and if it has, here is what you can do about it.
I like to refer to this unwanted weight gain as the new “freshman fifteen.” Traditionally, the term refers to unsuspecting teenagers as they leave home for the first time and enter college. They change their dietary habits to include more social eating and drinking, they pay less attention to nutrition, and they often find themselves less focused on physical activity because they are so consumed by all of the exciting new possibilities in their surroundings.
Combine the lifestyle change with already fluctuating hormones, and weight gain easily follows. Flash forward to an equally fun-loving group of 50- and 60-somethings moving to new surroundings, enjoying more social activities, more food, more wine – throw in already fluctuating hormones – and once again, we have a recipe for very easy weight gain.
Your new lifestyle isn’t a death sentence for your waistline, however, if you just take the right steps. The first way to decrease your chances of unwanted weight gain is to try to maintain, not increase, your calorie intake. I’m an advocate of wine consumption for most of us. Red wine, especially, has been linked to improvements in heart health, metabolism, and aging. However, adding wine into your diet can add up in calories. Consider that the average 5-ounce glass of wine has 100 calories. If you do nothing but add two extra glasses of wine each night of the week, you’ve added 1,400 calories that week. If you keep that up for a year, you will have added about 72,800 calories. At 3,500 calories per pound, that’s about 20 pounds for the year.
Do I discourage any wine intake? No. But do understand that you will need to find a way to adjust for the intake. For men, your alcohol intake should not exceed 2 servings per day, and for women, limit it to 1 to 1.5 servings per day. When you drink any kind of alcohol, you should treat it like a sugar. Try to decrease sugar in other forms to accommodate for this sugar intake, and combine the alcohol consumption with a fiber or protein (i.e., have your drink with dinner, cheese, or a handful of nuts). The fiber and/or protein will slow the absorption of the sugar into your bloodstream, preventing you from having a blood sugar spike, and then fall. Thus, you will be less likely to have sugar cravings later in the day.
Consider having a healthy snack on your way out the door to a party just in case the drinks are served first, so that you have your ‘blood sugar buffer’ in place. A high protein or fiber snack, like an apple, pear, raw vegetables, nuts, or seeds, will prevent that spike in your blood sugar, and will also provide satiety so that it will be easier to choose healthy options once you arrive at the party (appetizers and finger-foods being the second offender after alcohol involved in your freshman fifteen).
Another easy fix to prevent your freshman fifteen is to indulge in all of the amenities that now surround you. The gyms, on-site trainers, hiking trails, golf courses, tennis, and multiple athletic groups and clubs are all great ways to improve your metabolism and adopt a lifestyle that automatically burns more calories each day.
Remember that 20-pound weight gain I proposed you might see with 2 added glasses of wine per day? Add 6 hours of golf (with a cart), per week, and you can kiss 1,400 of those calories goodbye (and that 20 pounds over the course of the year).
Add an extra hour of aerobics, a tennis match, or do some laps in the pool to burn another 450 calories. Two extra hours of any of these each week, and you can afford to take in an extra 46,800 calories over the course of the year, and spare yourself a 13-pound weight gain. A walk around your beautiful community will exert 250 calories.
I think you see the point: if you have more free time, use just a little bit of it to increase your activity, and you will not suffer the weight consequences of your newly packed social life. As a side note, exercise has been shown to be a powerful mood enhancer. Adjusting to a new life or phase can cause anxiety or low mood for some, but a little exercise can help prevent this.
As you focus on increasing activities to allow for imperfections in your food choices, don’t forget the dietary basics, and remember that nutrition really is much more complicated than calories in versus calories out. Your day-to-day focus should be providing your body with good fuel and your body will provide you with good metabolism. Adjusting your activity is a fine way to compensate now and then, but the mainstay of your diet should still be whole, non-processed foods, lots of colorful vegetables, fish and other lean meats, and whole grains. Don’t skip any meals and make sure that you at least get a snack with protein (lean meats, nuts, cheese) or fiber (vegetables, fruit, whole grains) every few hours. Keep sugars moderated and stay away from sugar substitutes. And don’t forget to drink water: usually about half of the number of your body weight in ounces (i.e., if you weigh 150 pounds, drink about 75 ounces of water per day).
If you feel like you are doing everything right but the weight still stays with you, see a doctor to consider having your thyroid, blood sugar, hormones, and adrenals checked. Remember those changing hormones that I mentioned? Your new active lifestyle coincides with a drop in production of many of these hormones for many of you, male and female alike.
This is a great time in your life, and you should celebrate with your friends and neighbors. Whether you are retired or working your way there, I encourage you to partake in the social activities, fun, and relaxation. Just remember to also take advantage of the exercise, outdoor activities, and health professionals at your disposal, and encourage each other to maintain colorful, whole food diets. You can have fun and stay lean in retirement.
Stay healthy & be well!
– Amy Whittington, NMD