Health & Fitness

Fruit, veggies help older women keep weight off

It looks like eating more fruits and vegetables is the not-so-surprising secret to weight control for older women.

It’s a common complaint as waistlines widen with advancing birthdays, especially for post-menopausal women, who typically say, “I’m eating the same, but the numbers on the scale just keep creeping higher.” What’s not the same, unfortunately, is the body’s metabolic rate, which naturally slows down with age. Add to that a lifestyle that’s often less active, and you’ve got the math to verify that calories in vs. calories out can move the scales in the wrong direction.

Sure, you can step up the exercise regime and vow never to order dessert again. But according to a new study of nearly 500 overweight women in their 50s and 60s, it’s what they were adding to their meals that ultimately helped them lose weight and keep it off.

Bethany Barone Gibbs and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh studied eating habits of women who lost weight during short term (six months) and long term (four years). The highly motivated dieters in the six-month group ate fewer desserts and fried foods, drank fewer sugar-sweetened beverages and ate more fish.

After four years, the women were still saying “no” to pie and soda fairly often, but the habit that emerged as the most powerful predictor for long-term weight loss was eating more fruits and vegetables, followed by eating less meat and cheese. And they weren’t necessarily skipping fried foods.

“People are so motivated when they start a weight-loss program,” said Barone Gibbs. “You can say, ‘I’m never going to eat another piece of pie,’ and you see the pounds coming off. Eating fruits and vegetables may not make as big a difference in your caloric intake. But that small change can build up and give you a better long-term result, because it’s not as hard to do as giving up french fries forever.”

During the four-year study, the number of times dieters ate out in restaurants declined, but Barone Gibbs chalks that up to the downturn in the economy, not a sign that eating out less is linked to weight loss.

A weight-control study published in the September issue of The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that adding just two servings of fruit and vegetables to a daily diet was linked to a 3-pound weight loss over four years. This may not sound like much, but keep in mind that most folks gain weight every year.

It turns out the small changes we can sustain during the long haul make the biggest difference in life-long weight control. So a perfect meal for me would be a big green salad, grilled fish with lemon and, yup, french fries.