As most people know, I lost over 150 pounds by following a whole food, plant-based diet. What people may not know is that when I did that (six years ago), I did so without a lot of knowledge about nutrition. I just knew to eat a wide variety of whole plant-based foods. So, that's what I did.
Then came along How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger. I read that and started following his Daily Dozen, and that's when I stopped losing weight. Is that a coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. I understand that the body naturally fights to hold on to that last ten pounds. So, that could be what's going on.
But, the Daily Dozen did get me to start eating a certain quantity of food each day. And the more I learn about nutrition, the more important I realize it is to include certain foods in my diet. I also believe it's important to get adequate protein and healthy fats in every meal. Especially, being in my 70s now. Our nutritional requirements are definitely higher over the age of 65 than they are for younger people.
I'm reading a book now titled Never Too Late to Go Vegan, and it's written for people over the age of 50. It's an excellent book, and I recommend it to everyone over the age of 50. It goes through how to get started, what foods are important, the specific nutritional requirements for a person over the age of 50 that younger people don't have, how to handle family and friend relationships and more (including over 80 pages of whole food, plant-based recipes for us older folks Note: They do use oil though).
The book talks about just this problem of getting enough nutrients while still trying to manage your weight. It makes the statement that we have increased nutritional needs but lower caloric requirements. And therein lies the problem. That's a conflict. The book suggests exercise to compensate. And while exercise is important for a whole host of health-related reasons, more recent research (since this book was published) has found, contrary to what common sense would tell us, the human body burns pretty much the same number of calories in a day regardless of whether we exercise or we are a couch potato. So, exercising doesn't work for losing weight. It's excellent for building muscle and improving our health though.
There's no law that says there has to be a perfect answer either. We may have to each decide on an individual basis which is more important to us: weight management or optimal nutrition. Of course, it doesn't have to be an either-or answer either. We can make decisions that compromise somewhere in between. In some cases, getting an adequate amount of nutrition from certain foods will take precedent and in other cases, we might decide to sacrifice some nutritional benefit in order to more effectively manage our weight. We each have to decide for ourselves on this.
For me, nutrition has become primary and weight management has become secondary. In my mind, being overweight and healthy is better than being skinny and in the hospital. My current BMI, which is right at 25, the borderline between normal and overweight, is the same as it's been for the last four years. But my Omron scale does show that I've gained muscle and lost body fat during that time period. That is something exercise can do for us, as long as we make sure we eat enough protein in conjunction with the exercising.
Protein needs, by the way, are increased for people over the age of 65 and they are even higher for those who are athletic. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in March 2003 estimated that 40% of Americans over the age of 50 get insufficient protein. Protein deficiency shows up in the older population through decreasing muscle mass (you actually don't have to lose muscle as you age), hip fractures and wrist fractures, which are both more prevalent in older Americans. Make beans, soy, tofu, tempeh, rice and beans, and quinoa your friends and include at every meal along with exercise.
Anyway, I decided to write this for all of you who are struggling with your weight and the need to meet your nutritional needs. I hope it was helpful. As I said, there is no law of the universe that says there has to be a perfect answer. I think we oftentimes look for that perfect answer, but it's not always there. What works for one person may or may not work for you. You could do exactly what I did when I was losing the weight, and you could lose nothing.
But the worst thing you can do in that case would be to get discouraged and quit. Instead, find what works for you. To do that, you may have to decide what observable results are most important to you. It won't be the same for everybody. But eating a diet of mostly whole, plant-based foods with adequate protein, calcium, healthy fats and attention to other nutritional needs, combined with daily exercise and adequate sleep and stress management, is without a doubt the healthiest thing you can do for yourself.
J Lanning Smith
Twice the Man Half the Weight
August 19, 2019