Gaining weight is easy for most people – it’s losing it that becomes exceptionally difficult when we hit 60. But is there a strategy that actually works? Join us in discussion with registered dietitian Ashley Koff who has some great information to share. Enjoy the show!
My guest today is Ashley Koff who is a nutrition expert and registered dietitian. She has written several books and has a program called Road Trip to Better Health. I’m super excited to have you here, Ashley. Welcome.
Thanks for having me.
I’ve got so many questions for you. We have a large community of women over 55-60 and one of the things that is on their minds is losing some weight.
It seems that once you hit 60 something magical happens to your metabolism and it becomes impossible to lose those pounds. What advice have you got for us?
This has been a huge part of my practice for the last 20 years. When you hit your 50s or 60s, it’s important to consider whether this is your first time gaining weight, or you have gained, lost and re-gained it numerous times in the past.
We tend to stress out when we start gaining weight around our belly, which has a lot to do with hormonal changes. But also, I just think that people, and women in particular, simply don’t pay enough attention to that accumulating fat.
So, if you have kids or loved ones in their 30s or 40s, make sure you tell them how important it is to spend some time working toward a healthy body. If you yourself are dealing with already accumulated fat, you should know that it is critical to lose weight without compromising your health.
You want to be full of energy, you want to be healthy, and you want to enjoy going out with friends and spending time outside. You don’t want to constantly be in the horrible diet space. So, first and foremost, we need to start paying attention to our digestion.
You are not what you eat. You are what you digest and absorb. In the process of aging, our digestive system starts working differently, and we are seeing a reduction in acid, a reduction in absorption, etc. A lot of those changes impact how your body is going to respond to what it is receiving.
Therefore, the first thing I suggest to my patients is to do a digestive assessment. That process is described on my website, so I won’t go into detail here, but a lot of times we have to tune up the digestive system before we do anything else.
The second step is to undo some of the things that we’ve been taught. We have been taught a lot about calories and that losing weight has to do with fewer calories.
I have one patient who is 75. She’s athletic, she’s really active and still working. She was obsessed about keeping her intake at 600 calories and still not losing weight. That was an insane and completely useless diet regime.
One of the things you have to understand is, you have to think about your body like a race car, not a street car. When the race car gets right up to the starting line, it’s already been assessed. Everybody has done their job clean it, tuning it and preparing it to go.
It’s been filled up with exactly what it needs: the right kind of gas, the right amount of air in the tires and the right amount of oil in the engine. Certainly, there is not going to be a whole lot of junk in the car to weigh it down.
The analogy here is, the gas is our carbohydrate, the air in the tires is our protein, and the engine oil are those healthy fats. We get rid of the dirt in the car by getting rid of our non-starchy vegetables. Instead of thinking about calories, what we want to think about are better pit stops.
Basically, when you start off with your initial quantities, you then go around the laps, and about three hours later you are ready for a pit stop. The idea of not having too much at one time means that your body is actually going to burn through and use what you have given it.
For example, I have patients who will have an organic egg, wholegrain toast and some blueberries, which they know are a healthy fruit, for breakfast. Maybe that combination was working before, but as we age, our digestion changes, so our food choices have to change too.
The blueberries are a carbohydrate and the toast is a carbohydrate. So, usually I would have you pick one of those. You can save the blueberries and have them with some pistachios about three hours later. By splitting the carbohydrates apart you’re doing yourself a favor.
Now, let’s say you have a cup of coffee with your breakfast, and you take it with milk. Milk is also a carbohydrate, so instead of one serving, we stack them up to two or three servings. Those leftover servings are what is keeping the fat on or putting the fat on.
It seems to me that what’s important here is to know your food groups. For instance, I had no idea blueberries are a carbohydrate. I often have an egg with toast and blueberries for breakfast, and I thought I was eating super healthy. It is really important to understand what food you are eating.
Exactly. It’s the same thing with sweet potatoes, which are all the rage now. Instead of having wholegrain toast, I make sweet potato toast. You can put an egg on it, some hemp seeds or milk butter, but you have to remember that this is your carbohydrate.
Instead of having a full sandwich, do an open face sandwich. When I go out and want to have a turkey burger, instead of having the burger on a bun, I have it in a bowl of veggies with sautéed onions and mushrooms.
For good nutrition, the food has to be delicious, so make sure it tastes good. Then on the side I can have a glass of wine or some sweet potato fries, but notice I said or. Keeping your diet balanced is really key.
The third thing we have to keep in mind after digestion and balanced nutrition is that at this stage of live your body is not going to put up with any of the tricks anymore. Be it artificial sweeteners, artificial colors or anything else, there’s no reason to have it in your diet.
With blueberries, the reason they are considered a super food is that blue is important for the health of our body. But if I take an artificial blue it might actually be irritating to my body.
Likewise, I tend to look for organic whenever possible, even if it’s frozen organic, so that I get better quality. I also think it’s important to choose foods in a form closer to how they exist in nature.
The term processed food can be a little confusing, because a juice or a smoothie could also be processed, but so is whey protein isolate.
The term I use instead is kitchen processed. If you can do a certain food treatment in your kitchen, like dehydration for instance, then you are going to be fine to consume the thus processed food. What I don’t want to consume are the chemistry lab projects that are going to be overwhelming and irritating.
I’ve never personally used artificial sweeteners, but I know a lot of women do. However, I’ve heard that there are plant based sweeteners like stevia and xylitol. Are they okay to use?
Well, xylitol, stevia and monk fruit, which is also called lo han, are widely used, but we use them because we want to cheat. From really young age we want our food to taste really sweet, but we also don’t want that to count on our bodies.
The fact is, though, that cheating doesn’t work. Natural or so-called plant based sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than fruit sugar, whereas a lot of the artificial sweeteners are thousands of times sweeter. However, plant based sweeteners do something difficult to us.
For instance, if I’m having good quality Stevia consistently every day, in my coffee or yogurt, I am going hundreds of times sweeter. I get used to that super sweet taste, so I no longer think that an apple or a baked sweet potato is sweet.
I have patients telling me that after having fruit for desert, they still crave something sweet. If that is the case, I would make them do sweet retraining. If you don’t think blueberries are sweet enough for you, it means you’ve dialed up your sweet taste buds too high.
On the flip side, I would sometimes put Stevia in my lemon water because it takes like lemonade. But then, I happen to like Kim-chi and odd flavored things that will give me a counter balance to the sweet. So, sometimes it’s okay to use a good quality organic or whole leaf Stevia.
The other question is, are you trying to lose weight by cheating? If you are cheating to get there and it’s not working, then it’s not working. I would so much rather you enjoy an amazing scoop of ice-cream than a pint of artificially sweetened ice-cream.
It’s really challenging sometimes to make that decision. For example, I love turmeric tea with ginger and lemon juice. Sometimes I want to put in a teaspoon of honey as well, but is that a good option? So it’s a matter of choosing between the kind of sweetener that is best for you.
Exactly. You bring up a great point, actually. The World Health Organization says that from a health standpoint we can probably get in about six teaspoons of added sugar in a day, if you’re healthy. The question is how are you going to get those in?
If you think about it, 6 teaspoons amount to a lot of sugar. I prefer we don’t do six all at once, so break the intake into several portions. Now honey is a great sweetener as it also provides all these great nutrients.
However, if you are a pre-diabetic or working on insulin resistance or you’ve got something else going on, then a good choice for you might be to use a little bit of Stevia. I like to say, “Better nutrition better be delicious.” We want to make sure what you’re having is both delicious and nutritious. The key is in the balance.
That is super helpful information. Circling back to weight loss, it seems that calorie intake doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter when you eat, or how much you eat, as long as you cover all your food groups – carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats – in the right proportion. Then of course, we also have to exercise.
Yes, we have to be active, we have to be breathing, and I think we have to laugh more often.
I’m going to disagree with your comment about not paying attention to the quantities. Better nutrition depends on quantity, quality, nutrient balance and frequency. Here comes the idea of quantity instead of portion control.
When you think of quantity, imagine your body is like that race car we talked about earlier. If you are putting too much gas in your gas tank at one time, it is wasteful and could be dangerous. Instead, what you should be thinking about is making another pit stop.
A good example is splitting your morning muffin, that absolutely delicious muffin that you just totally want to have with a tablespoon or two of nut butter on it, and having the second half at another point in time. Having the whole muffin at one time might be too much for that gas tank.
I’m glad you caught me on that. In my defense though, I was thinking of spinach and other things that you could eat a lot of, the nutrient dense kind of stuff.
I love vegetables so that is always great. You have given us great information, thank you. I was going to ask you, what is the appropriate number of calories for an average 55–60-year-old woman?
What I would like to say to all of my wonderful female friends out there is that none of you are average. You are all exceptional. I would never put a calorie number on a group. For instance, I have a 55-year-old client who just had twins. I’m not going to put her on a calorie count.
There might be a role of assessing your calories, but it’s really down low on the list. There are other things we can do assessment-wise, but if you want a more specific calorie or nutrient guidance pop on over to my website. I also do a Facebook live every Monday night.
Fantastic. Thank you, Ashley. Fabulous advice as always. We really appreciate your time. Thank you.
Have you gained weight after 60 that you just can’t lose, no matter what you try? Do you count your calories? How many times have you gone on a diet for the past five years? Has it worked? Please share your experiences and insights below.