Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An Untold Story of Weight and Aging


An Untold Story of Weight and Aging

By Tamara McClintock Greenberg, Psy.D.

Although many of us deal with losses as we age, weight is generally not among them. In fact, pounds on the scale are a frequent reminder that one’s metabolism is no longer as efficient. Like all adults in the U.S., boomers are afflicted by grim health statistics; many are in poor health and/or are overweight.
Yet, a number of people do a lot to prevent obesity. They exercise, limit carbohydrates, and eat fruits and vegetables. I see a number of adults who are struggling with their weight, some of whom say they have to practically starve themselves to lose a few pounds.
If you ask nutritionists, they will likely say this latter claim is false. If one eats the right things, they might argue, then anyone can lose weight.
It may be that some people who engage in the right behaviors to manage weight are still heavier than they want to be. A study, reported by Stephanie Pappas, suggests that obesity is increasing in animals, though it is unclear why. Although too many calories, combined with lack of exercise, is still thought to explain why humans carry around extra weight, David Allison and his colleagues found that a number of animals, from monkeys to mice to dogs, are larger. For example, male mice increased their weight by over 10 percent and male macaques by over 7 percent in a decade.
If diet was simply the explanation, then we could understand how domestic animals, such as dogs and cats are bigger; they live with us and perhaps are eating more food. Even rats, which were also found to be increasing in size, could be ravaging our leftovers. But as the article states, many of the animals in the study are in laboratories, where their diets are controlled.
Allison explains that the reasons for these findings are unknown. Many factors unrelated to eating and exercise are thought to contribute to weight gain, including sleep deprivation, excessive light at night, and even a virus. Also, there are a number of substances in our environment, particularly those in plastic, which may make it easier to hold on to unwanted pounds.
One of the great things about boomers is that they have been a generation that can take control. Look at the popular Internet search results on weight and baby boomers and you will see a number of ways people can try to control weight. Just pick the right diet or exercise regimen; you too can look like Christie Brinkley. Really?
No. Not really.
But there are things you can do. We all know what they are. However, here is the paradox: By admitting that there are aspects of weight that may be out of our control, we can actually have more influence. We can’t change altered metabolisms and the fact that many of us can’t afford personal trainers, home delivered meals, or the ability to work out for two hours every day. Celebrities have tools that most of us don’t.  If many of us got paid to look beautiful, I am sure we would find a way.
The truth is, we don’t really know how to explain the rise in obesity. Of course, how we treat our bodies is part of the explanation. There are likely environmental factors in the equation as well. There is a lot of ambiguity to tolerate. But, I do know this: Blaming oneself for anything can lead to a downward spiral of feeling angry and powerless. The combination of these two feelings often result in poor self-care.
If people stop blaming themselves, they will feel less burdened and can focus on the ways that they can dictate their weight. I know it is paradoxical, but such a change in attitude can go a long way. Many of us want to believe that we can control a lot more than we can. Knowing we can’t control everything allows more psychic space to manage health related behaviors. In other words, focus on what you can control, even though it may be only a fraction of what is possible.

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