Approaching your forties or fifties is probably when you spend more time thinking about early retirement or, perhaps like me, you've already got there. It can also be the age when you start to find it harder to keep to your preferred weight and body shape, something else that I've already had experience of!
The science between gaining weight and age isn't fully understood, although there are various matters that are thought to contribute. Some of the more and less obvious ones are:
These days, more of our jobs involve sitting down for all or most of the working day. Even those jobs that are more active seem to have a higher paperwork requirement now, increasing the sit down time. Our entertainment is often the TV, our games are online rather than outside, news comes on our mobile device instead of a newspaper that we walked to buy, and travel is mostly by car rather than by foot or bicycle. We seem to simply be less active compared to a relatively short number of years ago.
As we get older, we perhaps have a higher pressure job, greater family responsibilities, more financial commitments etc, which may increase our stress levels. Some studies have suggested that stress causes our bodies to release certain hormones that may change our metabolism, contributing to weight gain.
I know that my parents looked after my diet when I was young, and that there is a tendency for diet to go downhill from there. The proliferation of fast food, matched with our busy lives, can turn the less healthy option into the easy option, which is not so good for us or our weight.
As kids, we had timetabled exercise at school, along with the natural exercise of the games we played, and hopefully we carry this through to our earlier adult years and keep up an exercise regime. As we get older, other responsibilities and demands on our time come along, and the exercise regime may suffer.
The Young Hunter Theory considers that the younger generation needed more muscle to be able to hunt and gather, whereas older people were better off having more fat in order to stave of starvation. The theory is that humans evolved accordingly, which is why our bodies naturally hold more fat as we get older. Now that our hunting and gathering is mostly no more than a drive to the grocery store, we are not so keen on this clever bit of evolution.
The good news is that whether you are still working towards your early retirement, or have already retired early, there are things that we can do to get to our desired weight and body shape. But before I go on, I want to give a disclaimer, and also whatever the opposite of a disclaimer is called.
Firstly the disclaimer, I'm not a heath, exercise or diet expert, so I just wanted to let you know that.
Now the opposite of a disclaimer, I've done this myself so, while I may not be an expert, I can talk from my own experience. From a starting weight of 103kg (227 pounds or 16 stone 3 pounds) in October 2012, I reduced my weight down to 83kg (183 pounds or 13 stone 1 pound), and have kept it there ever since. Here are the before and after Body Mass Index (BMI) results for me:
So, having done this, what tips did I learn along the way that I think may be useful to share?
You can find the time to lose weight when you're still working, so don't put it off
The first thing that I want to say is that I did this when I was still working. For sure, finding time to exercise well and eat healthily is competing for time with your day job, but it absolutely is possible to do both. I know, because I did it. For me, one of the key things was to work my weight loss programme into my daily routine so that it simply became a normal part of my day. Putting it off will only make it a bigger and harder task when you do try to shed the pounds later on.
You have more time for exercise once retired, but beware of other temptations
It makes sense that if you have retired already, this ought to remove the problem of not having time to reduce the weight and keep in shape. But that doesn't mean it will be easy. You also have more time to snack and, being at home more, I can tell you that the kitchen with a host of tasty snacks is not far from where I'm sitting right now, and it seems to be calling my name.
Find someone to help you
Most things are easier if you have someone else to do it with. Fortunately, I was able to persuade my wife, Sally, to join me when I realized that I needed to lose weight. I'm not saying that I wouldn't have succeeded on my own, but I have no doubt that it would have been much harder.
Choose a diet that suits you
If you are going to use a diet, be realistic and choose one that you can stick to. When I lost my weight, I did it by following quite an extreme rule based diet and religiously stuck to it. I'm quite good at following rules, so that worked for me. It wasn't always easy but, by sticking to the rules, I got results quickly. I came off the strict diet after about 10 weeks, and then had around three more months in a less strict maintenance phase. By then I had achieved my target weight so I dropped the diet but kept eating more healthily. One thing I liked about the diet that I did was that I didn't feel hungry as I could eat as much as I wanted, as long as it was the right stuff. I'm not recommending the diet that I went on one way or the other - it certainly worked for me, but you should think through what will work for you, and what you will be able to stick to.
Combine good diet with realistic exercise for better results
The diet that I did also mandated a brisk 20 minute walk every day. That didn't sound too bad and Sally and I probably averaged closer to 40 minutes each day. It was brisk walking though, not a casual stroll. I liked this because it was achievable exercise, I was overweight and so asking me to run miles at that time would simply have caused me to fail, and potentially give up on the whole thing. After work, Sally and I would walk to the supermarket to buy ingredients for that evening's dinner. The walk was good talking time when previously we would have simply sat on the couch watching TV, so that was an extra benefit.
Losing or maintaining weight is not rocket science
It may not help everyone, but I found it useful to remember that weight gain or loss is mostly an equation between calories consumed and calories burned. To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you eat. I know it's obvious, and maybe I'm not that clever, but this seems to help me. For example, if I eat badly for a few days, I figure that I had better do a bit more exercise to balance that out, so that's what I do. Of course, the best thing is to eat sensibly all of the time, but who's going to do that?!
Burning calories through exercise is fun
Honestly, it is! I started running after going on my diet, and it was horrible, plus it really hurt, and not just a little bit, it hurt a lot! So how come I'm saying it's fun? I'm saying it for three reasons, one is that it does get easier the more you do it, the second is that exercise and sport can be a great social activity, and thirdly it can be tremendously rewarding when you achieve something that you didn't think you could. By the way, it doesn't have to be running, that's just what works for me.
Other bits and pieces
These are some of the other things that come to mind:
Drink lots of water - it's good for you, plus it fills you up and stops you feeling so hungry and eating too much.
Try to limit snacks between mealtimes - I've been trying not to fail on this one all morning while writing this, now only 40 minutes until lunch, I think I can make it!
If you're dieting, see if you can do it with someone else. I know that I already said this, but I think it must make a massive difference.
Eat healthily, at least most of the time. Try to create meals from fresh, unprocessed ingredients, so that you know what you're eating. There are loads of quick and healthy recipes on the internet, so try to avoid the pre-packed ready made meals.
Have you seen how much sugar certain drinks have in them? It's worth looking and trying to avoid them. Sugar is addictive, and I need to work to reduce my addiction!
Portion control - dishing up too much means that you are eating more calories than you need. This is one that I need to work on - I think I may try getting smaller plates.
You do have time to exercise. When I was working, I used to think I was too busy and important to leave work at 5:30pm to get to run with my friends. It turns out that I wasn't. Once I decided to do it, I always found the time, and my work still got done.
Exercise with others. It makes it more fun and, if you have arranged to meet them, it will make you go on the days that you are wavering.
And eat less chocolate than I do. In fact, please tell Sally to stop buying it so that I stop eating it!
It's an unfortunate fact that as we get a bit older, we're more likely to find our weight creeping up, or for our body to have bulges in some of the wrong places. My message is that we can do something about this and, if possible, doing so earlier rather than later makes it easier. Healthy options are tasty, and needn't be difficult or time consuming to prepare and, for me, exercise is the magic ingredient that lets me indulge in the foods that I like and still maintain a good weight.
That's it, my views based on personal experience on losing weight/getting to a body shape that I'm happy with. Five years ago, I was overweight and doing no exercise, and I've turned that into being at a good weight, exercising regularly, and still eating too much chocolate! Other than the chocolate bit, I'm quite proud of what I achieved.