A new age of eating
Once you hit middle age, you have to pay special attention to your lifestyle habits to protect your health during your older years. Professor Kerryn Phelps and her daughter, dietitian and nutritionist Jaime Rose Chambers, explain these shifts and offer ex
For most women, “The Big Five-Oh” is a time of transition and there are several health challenges at this age – such as weight gain – that women should be aware of and take steps to manage.
The obvious transition is the hormonal change from premenopause to peri-menopause to menopause, where the most significant change is a drop in progesterone and oestrogen levels. At the same time there is a slowing metabolism as part of the ageing process.
It’s the decline in these hormones that can be responsible for an increase in weight around the waist. There can also be a change in body composition where some women find they have increased fat mass and decreased muscle mass – without any change in body weight. An increase of body weight or abdominal girth increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer.
Some women will develop chronic diseases or mobility problems such as arthritis as they get older, and this can cause you to stop or slow down your usual activities, which can also cause weight gain.
Fifty-something can also correspond with a number of life changes, which make it hard to get the balance of healthy eating and exercise right. These can include elderly parents needing extra support, adult children leaving home and grandchildren coming along.
Reduced bone density with an increased incidence of bone fractures also becomes a risk after menopause, so a nutritional plan needs to consider adequate calcium and magnesium and other micronutrients to maintain your bone strength.
Problems with digestion are also relatively common with age. Constipation, heartburn, diverticular disease, and flatulence can all make food planning a challenge. Some older women cut out foods from their diet in an attempt to relieve these symptoms.
Avoiding the food traps
To keep your weight in check, be aware of these common food traps:
“MINDLESS” EATING: Many people eat “mindlessly” – that is, eating without thinking about what they are doing. Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention, non-judgementally, to what is going on in your internal and external environment. It’s a technique that’s used to help you overcome all sorts of automatic, habitual patterns, like snacking.
WATCH YOUR PORTIONS: As you get older, your kilojoule requirements are less. If your partner is younger, or a larger body size than you, your portion sizes need to be different.
EATING FOR ONE: Eating is a very social event for many of us. If you find yourself single or widowed in your middle years, it can be hard to find the motivation to cook for yourself every night. One solution is to focus on nutrient quality for breakfast and lunch and arrange to eat with friends or family at least a few nights a week.
NOT ENOUGH PROTEIN: A common problem we see is not eating enough protein. Maintaining bone and muscle mass depends on adequate protein, so including eggs, lean meat, chicken, fish, or tofu twice a day is important. For the sake of your bones, don’t avoid dairy products unless you have another source of calcium.
AND PANTRY: It is hard to plan meals unless you have the ingredients. Plan your meals for the week, and aim to shop for fresh food at least twice a week. Make sure the staple ingredients don’t run out.