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It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to askdrgourmet@drgourmet.com and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.

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Ask Dr. Gourmet



Does age affect your ability to lose weight?

I've been following a Weight Watchers type diet for 2 1/2 months now. I'm 44 yrs old, 5'4" and weigh just over 150 lbs. In the past, as recently as last year, I have been able to go a month or two with a WW type diet and lose 5 lbs minimum. This time I have not been able to lose even 1/2 lb.

I have really been careful about sticking to eating well, but I feel at a real loss right now and don't know what to do next. Any advice you can offer to help me lose weight would be appreciated. What would you advise as the next steps?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

A woman sitting outside in the grass stretching

This is a great question. There's some evidence that as we get older - into our 40s and 50s - that it can be more difficult to lose weight. Everyone is different, of course, and there's been some research focusing on this but nothing conclusive as to the actual cause.

What we do know is that this requires more attention to calorie balance. The first thing to look at is your amount of exercise. Folks tend to be less and less active as they move toward their 50s. A lot of factors contribute to this - job, home, stress - quite simply, the time constraints of modern life. In a woman your height, burning an extra 200 calories per day is the difference between weight loss and maintaining stable weight.

Online trackers like SuperTracker from the USDA (there are dozens of similar free programs on the web) can help you to track exactly how many calories you are eating vs. what you are burning. At your height and weight you should target for a Basal Metabolic Rate of around 1,400 calories. This is what you need to maintain your weight without much movement either way. Here's a (rough) rule of thumb formula for how other people can calculate this:

1. First look at Ideal Body Weight (IBW):

Male = 106 lbs. for first 5’ and 6 lbs. for each inch over 5’

Female = 105 lbs. for first 5’ and 5 lbs. for each inch over 5’

2. To get baseline caloric requirement, multiply IBW times 11. This is a rough estimate of your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

3. For weight loss it takes cutting out about 300 to 500 calories per day - eating 300 to 500 calories less than your BMR - to achieve a 1/2 to 1 lb. weight loss per week.

You can get that lower calorie intake by either eating less (for you this would mean a target of about 1,000 to 1,100 calories per day) or by burning more. The best way is to combine the two. Work at getting more active exercise - about 200 calories per day on average - and on trimming your caloric intake to about 1,200 calories per day until you reach your target weight.

The key is to not stop this. Going on and off diets like Weight Watchers is not as unhealthy as folks once thought (the idea of yoyo dieting), but there is good evidence that sustained healthy eating along with exercise is the key to long term weight maintenance.

There's no doubt that this takes a little more work as we get older for a host of reasons. The key is knowing this and keeping on track with monitoring calories carefully.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet