You Wanted to Know: Losing Weight at Any Age

Scales for determining the weight of the body.

I talk a lot about weight loss on the show, and for good reason. The average American waistline has been increasing year after year, with almost 70% of us now overweight or obese. But losing weight is hard. Millions of Americans struggle every year to drop weight and keep it off, even when they know that doing so is the best thing for their health.

Finding out how to drop the weight for good can be a long and arduous process, which is why I wanted to answer Tasha’s question this week:

28 too late

I hear this question time and again when I’m helping patients and viewers put together plans for weight loss. The short answer to this question is, no matter how old you are it’s never too late to make a change. Let me explain why I think that’s the case.

Weight gain is a complex issue that doctors and scientists don’t fully understand. While the best ways we know of to lose weight are dietary change and exercise, it’s obvious to anyone who’s tried to lose weight that these suggestions are both difficult to implement and not the entire picture.

Many of us learned how and what to eat from our families growing up over the course of decades. We also learned how much and what we should do for exercise. And we adapted over the course of our lives to social pressures and expectations about how we should look and how we should act to either change or maintain our body weight.

As a result, we’re trying to reverse decades of body and brain programming when we decide to change. This is why it’s so easy for someone to say “You should really cut down on the amount of ‘X’ in your diet,” but so hard for you to make the change permanently. The same is true for exercise. If you were always told you “didn’t have the body for running,” you’re not likely to be keen on running a 5K. Changing your lifestyle is about reversing years of momentum to start in a new direction.

This is one reason it can be harder to lose weight the older you are. It’s like you’ve been on a train that’s been gaining speed ever since you were born. Early on it’s easy to hit the brakes, but the older you are the harder it gets.

Another reason it can be harder to lose weight as you age is that your body composition starts to change once you pass 30. With everything else being equal, your body will start to slowly and almost imperceptibly lose muscle and gain fat. Day to day it can be hard to see, but it’s the reason many women find themselves faced with a surprise weight problem in their 50s and 60s.

I know all of this sounds very discouraging and that, in part, may be where Tasha’s question is coming from. I have good news, though. It is possible to change course at any age and, while it might be long and difficult path to a better you, once you set up the tools to get there you’ll be on your way to keeping the weight off for good.

Here are some tips you can use at any age to start your path to weight loss.

1. Build a support network before you start. Accountability is key to any major life change. You’re going to need someone to keep you honest and to rely on when things get tough and you want to quit. Identify those supporters early and tell them what your goals are before you start and how they can help you reach them.

2. Set short- and long-term goals. It’s important to be ambitious in your goals while also getting positive reinforcement often. While your long-term goal might be to lose 30 pounds or to exercise six days a week, your short-term goal might be to lose a pound by next week or to add 10 minutes to your next workout.

3. Remember that small losses matter. With all the dramatic weight-loss shows on TV, it can be easy to forget that losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight has an impact on your health. While you might not be at your goal weight, you will have significantly cut your risk for diabetes and heart disease. My Two-Week Rapid Weight Loss Plan is ideal for this type of weight loss.

4. Know that health is a lifelong goal. No matter where you start, there’s always room for improvement. In choosing to eat better and lose weight, you’re committing to a path of self-improvement and better health. Carrying that decision forward is one of the most important steps you can take.