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Boomer Bytes #60: We Are What We Eat

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

We Are What We Eat

By Steve Canipe

March 6, 2015. The saying “you are what you eat” may be applicable to the Boomer generation. According to a Time magazine article in July 2014, a National Institutes of Health report found that we are, as an age group, overweight. The report found that 72 percent of men and 67 percent of women over the age of 65 were overweight or even considered obese! There was a bit of good news in report as well; we are smoking and drinking less.


Earlier research reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, listed other health issues that seem to plague our generation, which are related to eating issues; namely high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Each of these can lead to long term medical complications, which can in turn cause a need for long term confinement in a health care or nursing facility. Recent cost estimates from the 2010 Census show that the average yearly cost of a private nursing room is $83,585.

In past generations, much health care was provided by extended families in homes. With our Boomer tendency to have fewer children and to have been divorced, we have a more disrupted family structure. This will put the burden on society and on various other societal structures that might not be up to the task in order to provide adequate care as we age and develop the medical complications due to being overweight..

Ok, you might say – let’s lose weight and become the biggest losing generation. Well not so fast – as anyone knows who has attempted to lose weight, there are all sorts of barriers to accomplishing any weight loss goal. In the Parade magazine article “9 Ways to Battle Boomer Bulge” from 1 March 2015, weight loss trainer Chris Powell discussed with Marianne Wait several steps for us Boomers to take, which might help us slim down a bit. He opines that after age 35 our natural body mechanisms for helping control our weight begin to decline: growth hormones, testosterone, and others. These mechanisms worked in concert when we were younger to help keep our muscle mass from turning into more flabby tissue.

Calorie counting is a helpful strategy but it is not the be all and end all. There must be activity, exercise if you will, to help in using up those calories that are no longer being converted into muscle mass.

Mr. Powell’s suggestions go from the easy to the hard. His first suggestion is to eat at home more often. It is not that he is anti-eating out, but he does say that restaurant meals tend to be heavy from a calorie standpoint. He is thinking beyond fast food eateries. If you do eat out, his advice is to box up at least half of the meal and take it home, or if you are with someone else split the entrée. He is a big proponent of calorie counting although not every dietician is as strong a believer in this alone working out well. With the number of apps for smartphones that now exist doing this counting calorie intake is not as much of a burden as it once was.

Counting not only calories but carbs is important, Mr. Powell says. Carbohydrates are the primary energy source and are quickly converted to fat if not used for the body’s energy needs. He suggests a 30/50/20 ratio of protein, carbs, and fat if you are being active. If you are more of a couch potato, the split should be closer to 40/40/20 he says.

Cutting out sugar and salt are also ways to limit weight gain and actually to lose some that may already be present. Sugar can be almost like a drug he states, with each “dose” creating a desire for more. Salt has long been known for creating dehydration in the body and this simply exacerbates the already sluggish metabolism of aging boomers.

There are other good pieces of advice that are noted in the Parade article “9 Ways to Battle Boomer Bulge.” These are eating your protein first (steak before potatoes); eating breakfast and then nibbling every 3 hours or so (but not carbs); and even if you feel tired do at least 5 minutes of exercise. Sort of make yourselves do these things and they will become habit and easier to do.

He also suggests that we should think FITT – frequency, intensity, time, and type of movement. Don’t do the same thing for the same amount of time every day. I know I don’t follow this advice really well but I know I need to start. My typical week day workout is to go to the Wellness Center and walk for at about an hour. If we are in Arizona at our winter place being snowbirds, I tend to go to the Tucson Mall where, unlike the Boone Mall, a single circuit is about .75 miles. I don’t vary the time very much or the type of exercise I do but I do skip weekends! My wife and I have been pretty faithful to the daily walking routine for well over 10 years now. It is a habit and if we don’t go, we don’t feel as good during the day. But we are committed to begin to start following the FITT regimen being mentioned, at least part of the time.

Comparing our weight with the previous generation, called the “silent generation” (1927-1945) showed basically the same amount of activity at specific ages but we have higher obesity rates. For example, the silent generation when they were ages 35 – 44 had obesity rates of 14 – 18 % but we boomers had obesity rates of 28 – 32% at the same age. Even though there was improved nutrition information available for boomers, there was a large rise in consumption of high fat and high carbohydrate foods leading to the increased obesity rates. These data were reported in the September 2005 American Journal of Public Health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1449405/).

The article from this journal was looking specifically at increased health issues and found a rise in arthritis among overweight boomers. The birth cohorts did not show any differences in the prevalence of arthritis. However when obesity was considered, the study determined that “…arthritis cases attributable to obesity increased from 3% to 18% between 1971 and 2002.”

Unfortunately being overweight is not just about developing diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis. There is a whole litany of diseases either caused by or made worse by being not just obese but just being classified as heavy. According to an article from the News Medical site (http://www.news-medical.net/health/Obesity-and-Fast-Food.aspx), these include, stroke, gall bladder disease, fatty liver, joint disorders other than arthritis and even some cancers.

So what are we to do about this? There was some recent research reported in 2014 in the magazine Nature (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v514/n7521/full/nature13793.html) about resistance to weigh loss being caused by interruption to normal gut biota. The culprit identified in the article is artificial sweeteners. So, if this information is correct, those individuals trying to lose weight are actually working at cross purposes. The chemicals these folks are using in lieu of sugar to cut calories are actually killing the natural microorganisms in the intestines. It should be noted that this view is not 100% accepted in the dietary community. An Internet search can provide one with references on both sides of this debate.

Regardless, we do know without a doubt that we are fatter than previous generations. We also know that we are dying more often from diseases caused or exacerbated by being overweight. There may someday be a magic pill to help. But so far all those “magic beans” have failed to grow the beanstalk!! It may be that I will continue to fight my being over my ideal weight and my higher than desired BMI. I know I do count calories (at least somewhat), I definitely exercise regularly, and I do try to limit the carbohydrates.

Unfortunately, I have a theory that there is an inverse relationship between what is good for you and tastes good!! I know dieticians would tell us that we can get used to eating less sugar and less salt. Maybe we can get used to food that does not taste as good otherwise! From my standpoint, I don’t eat anywhere near as much salt or fat as Dad did. When Mom would cook something, he would grab the salt shaker without even tasting and shake a bunch of salt on the food; often a blob of butter (the real thing) would also find its way on the green beans that were cooked with a slab of pork! I try not to do those kind of things and my wife is very good about trying to minimize those “good/bad” things!!

I would like to hear your stories with weight loss/gain. I know some of us boomers have been blessed with a metabolism that seems capable of eating everything without weight gain…but for the rest of us – tell me your stories. Share either below or via an email to boomerbytes@yahoo.com.