There is much “push back” when it comes to the standard advice to “eat less and exercise more” as a means of losing weight, and for good reason. For one, metabolism will slow as a result of caloric restriction — making it that much more difficult to lose weight when deliberately cutting calories. Another reason is that it is exceedingly difficult for an obese person to exercise. For many, just getting around is a chore. It is for this reason that I focus on helping people be less hungry by eating a different mix of protein, fat and carbohydrate — because a natural byproduct of being less hungry, is eating less. Being active is possible once a person is losing weight and not feeling hungry all the time. Yes, they are still “eating less and moving more” — but as a result, not as the focus.
Addendum (Sept 10 2019) — Weight loss is not only about what we eat. It’s also about when we don’t eat; whether it’s having times between meals where we don’t eat, or not eating from the end of supper until the first meal of the following day (whenever that is). Thanks Dr. Andy Phung for the reminder!
A new study published yesterday (September 9, 2019) in the journal Nature Medicine has found that “eating less and exercising more” may actually be good advice as we age — because it turns out that we have decreased fat turnover as we age. If we eat the same amount as we always have and don’t increase the amount we exercise, we will end up gaining approximately 20% over a 10-15 year period .
Until recently little was known about fat turnover  — which is the storage and removal of fat from adipocytes (fat cells). A 2011 study showed that during the average ten-year lifespan of human fat cells, the fat in them (triglycerides) turns over six times, in both men and women , and that when people are obese, the fat removal rate decreases and the amount of fat as triglyceride stored each year increases . What we didn’t know until now is what happened to fat turnover as we age. This follow-up study headed by the same lead researcher as the 2011 study explored this issue, as well as differences in fat turnover after people have bariatric surgery which helps explain why some people regain their weight after weight loss, where as others don’t.
Eating Less Matters as We Age
Fat turnover is a difference between the rate of fat uptake into fat cells and the fat removal rate. High fat storage but low fat removal is what results in the accumulation of fat and in obesity. The “bad news” of this new study is that fat accumulation due to decreased fat turnover is what happens as we age, leading to accumulation of fat. That is, even if we don’t eat more or exercise less than previously, we will store more fat — which can result in as much as a 20% increase in body weight over 13 years .
“Those who didn’t compensate for that (i.e. decrease fat turnover) by eating less calories gained weight by an average of 20 percent”.
Researchers from the University of Uppsala in Sweden and the University of Lyon in France studied the fat cells of 54 men and women over an average 13 year period  and regardless of whether the subjects gained weight or lost weight, they had a decreased fat turnover.
Since fat turnover is decreased as we age, to prevent weight gain we need to take in less calories than we used to, even if we are just as active.
Why We Regain Weight After Weight Loss
The study also looked at fat turnover in 41 women who underwent bariatric surgery. Results showed that only those who had a low lipid turnover rate before the surgery were able to increase their lipid turnover after surgery and maintain their weight loss 4-7 years after surgery . Researchers think that if people had a high lipid turnover rate before surgery, there is less ‘room’ for them to increase their lipid turnover rate after surgery, which is why they regain the weight. This could explain why so many people who lose incredible amounts of weight following any one of a number of “diets” regain it (and then some) afterwards.
Exercise and Lipid Turnover
Previous studies have reported that fat turnover increases as we exercise , so based on this new study, the idea of ‘eating less and exercising more’ actually matters as we age. We can either decrease our intake as we age and/or be a little more active and avoid gaining weight — which is easy enough to do for those who are slim, if they know.
But what about those who are already overweight or obese and now find out they are more prone to storing fat now that they’re older, even though they eat the exact same way and haven’t changed their activity level?
I believe the solution is the same regardless of a person’s age — focusing on the person eating in such a way as to be less hungry, so that in the end they end up eating less. As they lose weight because they’re not hungry all the time, being more active is easier to implement. The difference between it being “doable” depends on what we focus on. As covered in a previous article, we understand why a person who eats foods that are a combination of fat and carbs together eat more, but my approach is to gradually adjust the amount of carbohydrate in the diet, so that people can eat more protein and healthy fat, and end up feeling less hungry. When they aren’t being driven by the reward system of their brain (see linked article) to want more and more foods with carbs and fat together, it is much easier for them to eat when they are actually hungry. As they do, their weight drops as a result.
In light of this new study, what is important is that as people age there is a natural tendency to put on weight, even if they eat the same and don’t change their activity level. This means older people need to modify the amount of calories they take in and/or expend more energy, the question is how.
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LEGAL NOTICE: The contents of this blog, including text, images and cited statistics as well as all other material contained here (the “content”) are for information purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, medical diagnosis and/or treatment and is not suitable for self-administration without the knowledge of your physician and regular monitoring by your physician. Do not disregard medical advice and always consult your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or before implementing anything you have read or heard in our content.
- Arner P, Bernard S, Appelsved K-Y et al. (2019). “Adipose lipid turnover and long-term changes in body weight.” Nature Medicine 25(9): 1385-1389.
- Arner, P. et al. Dynamics of human adipose lipid turnover in health and metabolic disease. Nature 478, 110–113 (2011).
- Karolinska Institutet, New study shows why people gain weight as they get older, Published: 2019-09-09 18:35, https://news.ki.se/new-study-shows-why-people-gain-weight-as-they-get-older