Family Goes Strong contributing writer Karen Springen spent 24 years at Newsweek magazine. She currently teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and writes for many national publications.
KAREN SPRINGEN: Like most women, I've spent decades worrying about weight. Some years I ate like a rabbit (restricting myself to lots of carrots and salad with no dressing), and other years I ate like a lumberjack (running marathons to compensate).
When I got pregnant with our first daughter more than 16 years ago, I finally got my priorities straight. Obsessed with being a good mom, even before my girl was born, I was a nutritionist's dream. I ate loads of colorful fruits and vegetables. And I drank skim milk by the pint (albeit heated up with cocoa powder). Guess what? I liked how it all tasted, and I liked how I felt. So after I gave birth, I stuck with the healthy stuff. Sure, I still indulge in a Dairy Queen Blizzard once in a while. But I live by a simple rule: If I don't LOVE a food, I don't eat it. Ever. I'm neutral on potato chips. So I never touch them. But I adore ice cream and chocolate. So they're on my just-say-yes list. I still know by heart the number of calories in just about everything, but I no longer dwell on them. And my doctor compliments me on staying slim. My secret? Stick to the foods I ate during pregnancy, when I wanted every morsel that passed through my lips to be nutritious.
Health Goes Strong's "Everyday Dietitian," Robyn Flipse has headed up the nutritional care services division in a large teaching hospital; maintained a private practice as a registered dietitian; taught nutrition courses at three New Jersey colleges; and published dozens of magazine and newsletter articles.
ROBYN FLIPSE: While people all around me continue to pursue the secret to weight loss, I've managed to maintain the same weight for the past 40 years by making good health my goal. That's because when you're paying attention to good health you make better food choices at each and every meal, take advantage of every opportunity to be physically active, and get all the sleep you need every night—all things equally important to good health and a lower body weight.
Unfortunately, not everyone has been on this path. So if you do need to lose weight, that's a pretty good sign your lifestyle is out of sync with good health. Starting another diet won't fix that. You need a change in lifestyle. And that may mean shifting your priorities to make nutrition, fitness, and rest more important than, say, long work hours, an over-booked calendar, and endless amounts of time in front of the television. But the best news of all is that no matter what your age, if you make good health your goal, weight loss will follow.
A former founding editor of More magazine, a frequent contributor to Ladies' Home Journal and Town & Country, and the author of two books, Susan Crandell brings her wisdom and insights regularly to Work, Family, and Health Goes Strong.
SUSAN CRANDELL: I have 15 pounds that like nothing more than to travel around on my belly. For much of my life, I've spent a lot of effort convincing them to take a hike. Reluctantly, they'll part company, but then before you know it, they're back. The one time I banished them for years was ironic—but offers a good lesson about weight loss.
Some years ago, when I was a contributing editor to Spa Finder magazine, my editor asked me to recommend somebody to write a weight-loss column, somebody who struggled with 10 – 15 pounds. "I'm your woman," I told him, and when he enthusiastically agreed, any notion that my extra bulk was visible only to me vaporized. Along with my articles about how to lose weight, I would do a little side story each month reporting my weight and chronicling my battles with the scale.
What kept me on the straight and narrow through the life of the column was accountability. Every day, with every morsel of food I put in my mouth, I knew I would have to step on the scale and broadcast the results to an entire magazine readership.
Accountability is one of the pillars of Weight Watchers, and it's a powerful tool. Agree with a friend that you'll step on the scale together once a week (preferably at the gym!). Start a Biggest Loser competition as one of my buddies does, contributing a small cash prize to the family member who drops the most weight. Or you can multitask by becoming accountable to a nutritionist you hire to guide your weight loss, who also gives you advice on what foods to eat and how to halt cravings. Of course, there's no free lunch. You still have to do all the hard work—meting out portions, hopping on the treadmill—but accountability might just be the asset that puts you over the top in a weight loss program.
Health Goes Strong writer Celeste Perron has covered health and wellbeing topics for many magazines including Prevention, Women's Health, Marie Claire, Parenting and Cosmopolitan, where she served as lifestyle director.
CELESTE PERRON: My basic diet and nutrition philosophy mirrors Michael Pollan's instant-classic advice "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." But I've found that, unfortunately, eating a whole foods, Pollan-approved diet can still pack on extra pounds. When I've gained extra weight I follow a "diet" that is not at all dietician-approved, but has always worked for me: I call it the "Don't Eat Dinner Diet."
I find that if I eat normally during the day and eat a hearty lunch, followed by a satisfying afternoon snack, I can skip dinner without feeling deprived. Doing this a few days a week usually erases extra pounds that have crept on. Although diet experts always admonish against skipping meals, this strategy works for me. Skipping dinner is different than skipping breakfast or lunch, I reckon, since with those earlier meals you need fuel for the day's activities, whereas you usually just lie around and head to bed after dinner, so eating it doesn't seem crucial. Skipping dinner only works on nights when you're able to keep it mellow—if you're working late or gearing up for a night on the town you, of course, have eat. To keep myself distracted on no-dinner nights, I sip herb tea and then brush my teeth and climb into bed as early as possible.
I imagine the reason my "Don't Eat Dinner" diet results in weight loss is that it prevents insulin from being released into the blood stream for a 12+ hour stretch (I doubt it's the calories—any calories I save by skipping dinner I spend on a big breakfast the next morning). To quote endocrinologist Robert Lustig, "It's the insulin, stupid." There's a growing body of research that high insulin levels in the blood are a big factor in weight gain. But long before I learned anything about insulin I just knew that this diet trick works for me—I stumbled upon it in my twenties and it's been keeping me (relatively) lean ever since, without the calorie counting and deprivation that other diets require.
Healthy living tips for the 50+ brought to you by Crest & Oral-B ProHealth For Life.