Get your glow back

It’s pos­si­ble to eat your way out of a midlife en­ergy cri­sis, says Clodagh Finn

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Feature -

THERE was a time when a midlife cri­sis was char­ac­terised by a sud­den urge to spend thou­sands on a flash new car or think about in­vest­ing in a bit of sur­rep­ti­tious Bo­tox.

The em­pha­sis, though, has shifted. These days, the most com­mon midlife cri­sis is one that is marked by flag­ging en­ergy and weight gain. Ear­lier this year, an Ir­ish Life Health sur­vey screened thou­sands of work­ers and found that a ma­jor­ity (54%) were over­weight and a third (34%) had high choles­terol.

Sarah Keogh, di­eti­cian at, has seen the ef­fects of that weight gain and re­ports that an in­creas­ing num­ber of 40-some­things are seek­ing help to find lost en­ergy. They say they’re feel­ing tired, run down, and lack the drive they took for granted in their 20s and 30s.

Part of the rea­son is sim­ple: It’s pay­back time for the way you treated the body over the pre­vi­ous 30 years. But that does not mean you are con­demned to live life in the slow lane once you hit midlife. Tweak­ing your diet and mak­ing small changes to your life­style can bring about big changes.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help midlif­ers eat their way to bet­ter health — and more en­ergy.

Can you avoid the mid­dle-age spread?

“Of course,” says con­sul­tant di­eti­cian Aveen Ban­non. “Women, once post-menopausal, have a drop in oe­stro­gen lev­els which can cause a slight change in body shape mak­ing it more likely to gain weight around the mid­dle. This does not mean that the mid­dle-aged spread is in­evitable. It just means we need to make ad­just­ments to main­tain a healthy weight.”

How­ever, midlif­ers prob­a­bly do need to make sure they are get­ting enough ex­er­cise and eat­ing in a bal­anced way, she says. And they need to set aside time to make sure they are do­ing that.

Busy life­styles, ex­plains Ban­non, can of­ten mean ex­er­cise rou­tines and food plan­ning fall down the pri­or­ity list. “As we get older, we prob­a­bly need to look at the qual­ity of the calo­ries and to en­sure that we are get­ting nu­tri­en­trich foods with­out over­do­ing the calo­ries.”

Why do I have less en­ergy in my 40s-50s?

It’s not rocket science. As we age, the body starts to slow down and de­gen­er­ate. Car­diac out­put de­creases, blood pres­sure in­creases, muscle loses tone, and skin elas­tic­ity. That, how­ever, is not nec­es­sar­ily bad news. The age­ing process is nat­u­ral and while it means your body is chang­ing, it does not have to mean a strug­gle in your midlife years.

Sarah Keogh says one of the most com­mon rea­sons for lack of en­ergy in midlife is that many of the peo­ple she sees in their 40s and 50s are car­ry­ing ex­tra weight. The weight gain might not be dra­matic, she says, but each ex­tra pound of body weight will put 4lbs of ex­tra pres­sure on your knees.

“If you are two or three stone over­weight, that is putting an aw­ful lot of pres­sure on your joints and mus­cles,” she says.

What do I need to cut back on por­tion sizes?

Serv­ing plates are now a full 2in-3in big­ger than they were in the 1960s. Por­tion sizes have steadily in­creased too. For in­stance, if you asked for pop­corn at the flicks in the 1950s, you’d have been served a por­tion mea­sur­ing about three cups. These days, your back-row snack can mea­sure any­thing up to 21 cups, and of­ten it comes with calo­rie-laden but­ter.

Keogh says big­ger por­tions and snacking are two of the big­gest rea­sons for Ire­land’s grow­ing obe­sity prob­lem, which, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, is one of the worst in Europe.

If you want to know how big your din­ner plate should be, here’s what Keogh ad­vises you do: Put your hand on a piece of pa­per and spread out your fin­gers as widely as you can. Draw a cir­cle around your out­stretched hand. That’s the size of your ideal din­ner plate.

Should I cut out carbs?

“No,” says Ban­non. “They can be a great source of fi­bre. Watch por­tion sizes and chose high-fi­bre op­tions.”

Whole­grain car­bo­hy­drates and grains are fan­tas­tic, adds Keogh, but she ad­vises lim­it­ing re­fined and pro­cessed car­bo­hy­drates (white bread, bis­cuits, cakes).

Is skip­ping break­fast or fast­ing the an­swer?

Fast­ing has its place, says Keogh, but it should only be done un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a di­eti­cian.

As it stands, the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are not get­ting the nu­tri­ents they need in what they are eat­ing, so cut­ting out meals or fast­ing will only make things worse. For in­stance, 30% of Ir­ish women don’t get enough cal­cium, while 40% don’t get the rec­om­mended daily in­take of iron.

Just one in three of us eats the rec­om­mended five-a-day por­tions of health-giv­ing fruit and veg, ac­cord­ing to Safe­food fig­ures. Boost­ing in­take of fruit and veg, rather than fol­low­ing a par­tic­u­lar regime, is the best way to in­crease en­ergy lev­els.

In­clude them at ev­ery meal. At lunch and din­ner, veg­eta­bles should make up half of your plate, ad­vises Keogh.

Is there a spe­cial mid-life diet that I should fol­low?

As we get older, par­tic­u­larly past 55, we need more pro­tein, says Ban­non. “But this can start in your 40s. Higher pro­tein in­takes, of up to 35% of daily calo­ries, may be ben­e­fi­cial in older age groups. The rea­son for this in­creased re­quire­ment is due to the fact that we lose muscle as we age and the body strug­gles to re­pair it ef­fi­ciently. How­ever, good di­etary pro­tein in­take cou­pled with ex­er­cise can help main­tain good muscle.”

It’s also very im­por­tant to fo­cus on bone health, she says. Vi­ta­min D, cal­cium, and mag­ne­sium are all im­por­tant. “Dairy, oily fish, tinned fish, and eggs are nat­u­ral food sources of these nu­tri­ents but some­times peo­ple may re­quire sup­ple­ments.”

What about al­co­hol?

In moder­a­tion, al­co­hol is OK but that means keep­ing al­co­hol in­take to 11 or fewer units per week, says Ban­non. A unit of al­co­hol is one 25ml mea­sure of whiskey, a third of a pint of beer, or half a stan­dard glass of wine.

She says midlif­ers should also aim for a few al­co­hol-free nights each week.

Do I have to say good­bye to the barista?

There is good news for cof­fee-lovers. Stud­ies have shown that mod­er­ate amounts — one or two mugs a day — can help fight de­men­tia.

How­ever, Keogh warns against drink­ing cof­fee, or in­deed tea, in late af­ter­noon as it can in­ter­fere with sleep. And get­ting a good night’s sleep is vi­tal to re­boost en­ergy lev­els.

Stay­ing hy­drated is also vi­tal to keep en­ergy lev­els buoy­ant. Aim for at least 1.5 to 2 litres a day and drink wa­ter in the mid-af­ter­noon — it will help you beat su­gar crav­ings, ex­plains Keogh.

Is fat al­ways bad?

No, fat is not nec­es­sar­ily the vil­lain of the piece. It’s es­sen­tial to main­tain­ing a healthy heart with good-qual­ity fats. In­clude omega-es­sen­tial fats from oily fish and heart-healthy mo­noun­sat­u­rated fats from olive or rape­seed oil, says Ban­non.

What about ex­er­cise?

It’s hard to over­state the im­por­tance of ex­er­cise. Euro­pean Week of Sport runs Septem­ber 23-30 and it aims to get peo­ple of all ages and at all lev­els of phys­i­cal fit­ness up and ac­tive.

If you need a lit­tle in­spi­ra­tion, you’ll find a full list of events on the Sport Ire­land web­site (sportire­ Aim for at least 30 min­utes of mod­er­ate to vig­or­ous ac­tiv­ity five or more days a week.

It’s never too late to start and reap some of the im­mense num­ber of ben­e­fits. How­ever, fail­ing to do so will in­crease your risk of ill­ness. A US study of more than 18,000 adults, pub­lished in the Ar­chives of In­ter­nal Medicine, found that mid­dle-aged adults who didn’t ex­er­cise were most likely to de­velop chronic con­di­tions in the age­ing process, such as heart dis­ease, di­a­betes, Alzheimer’s, or can­cer.


Di­eti­tians Sarah Keogh, left, and Aveen Ban­non, right, rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude lim­it­ing al­co­hol in­take,mod­er­at­ing cof­fee lev­els, and eat­ing good carbs such as whole­grains.

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