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Battle of the Bulge

That day will come not long after turning 50. You are getting dressed one morning and notice your naked reflection in the full-length mirror. OMG! What has happened?

The image in the mirror doesn’t match the image in your memory. Don’t worry. It is not the Netflix drama
“Stranger Things.” There is no alien from the upside down.

This is the new you. The 30-year-old you is gone. Man or woman, you have changed. You notice less muscle tone, thinning or graying hair, a few early wrinkles and an extra chin perhaps.

Your arms are not as defined. Your legs are thicker–and not with new muscle. That belly has grown. There is more than an inch to pinch.

Why? You eat pretty well. You exercise some. Your life is full. What has happened?

The truth is that you have not done nearly enough, nor been persistent enough through these last two decades as you needed to be. Eating a bit more or more of the wrong things can add 1-3 pounds each year. Being more sedentary will decrease muscle and bone mass over time. A full life usually means you are just over-scheduled and not taking enough time to take care of yourself.

Yes, there are significant changes happening in your body that you have little control over. Unless you have a significant underlying health issue or extreme hormonal imbalance, you can’t blame your body, though. Your body has not let you down. You have let your body down. Less than 1 to 3 percent of body weight and body fat changes are due directly to normal aging changes.

So now you know. Most of how you look and feel at 50 is your own doing. The exciting news is that you can undo it. It is not easy. It takes a lifetime of persistence, but the size of your belly (and the rest of your body) is up to you.

Over time, there are several main factors why your shape is your shape. The only one you have no control over is DNA. The others are all parts of a chosen lifestyle. How you control your nutrition, exercise and stress largely determines your future health and vitality.

You have likely adopted the typical American diet and have succumbed to its effects. Americans comprise the most overweight country in the world.

Very soon, two of every three Americans will be overweight. One in three will be obese. We are overfed and undernourished. The food choices we make are poor. It all amounts to 50 years of cereals, breads, pastas and rice, in great abundance–white or whole grain, it hardly matters.

Of course, there are America’s favorite indulgences such as cookies, doughnuts, chips and pretzels. It is always Halloween for Americans and it is no treat. Through the years, it adds up. As we age, fewer calories are burned and these processed carbohydrates add weight at an alarming rate. The body is overwhelmed and converts it to fat. Fat around our stomachs is the giveaway. We have not been eating “pretty good” after all.

Americans have been on a low-fat diet since the 1950s, yet we are fatter than ever. This experiment is over. It failed. The data is in. Fat does not make us fat. Processed carbohydrates do.

The best advice is to eliminate them. Reducing them is likely not enough. At 50, we metabolize more slowly and have become insulin-sensitive or resistant. A little becomes a lot. A “cheat” is not a reward. It is a setback.

Changing your diet should therefore be a priority. Eat lots of vegetables at every meal and use real butter or olive oil or coconut oil to season or cook. Eat chicken, eggs, fish and red meat and choose hormone-free and grass-fed if possible.

Reduce your fruit and eat only a serving or so in the middle of the day. Keep in mind that fruit is sugar. Eat slowly and only until you are full. Eat smaller meals more often. Don’t eat late at night. Only drink water, coffee or tea. Always eat well.

At 50, we naturally have lost more than 20 percent of the muscle mass we had three decades before. We have lost some bone density as well. Testosterone (in both men and woman) is on a decline as well. This enhances all of the natural aging effects.

Other hormones become imbalanced. Our metabolic rate decreases 1 to 2 percent each decade after the age of 20. All of this makes it much easier to gain weight and body fat, especially if we don’t alter our lifestyle.

You must begin serious and regular (four to six times each week) exercise. Cardio workouts must include interval training to burn more fat (even after your session) and build core. Weight training and core building burn fat and increase muscle and bone mass.

Go easy on your joints. They are more worn. Swimming, cycling, walking and yoga are terrific. Increase your training as your strength and fitness improves, but slowly. An hour a day of varying workout sessions is a very good start. Work hard and stay persistent. You will love the results.

In our 50s, we shoulder the greatest amount of life responsibility. We are at our peak financial earnings and must bear the demands to maintain that production. Our children are older and their lives and problems more complicated. College tuition may be looming. Retirement (hopefully) plans need to become a priority.

You have no spare time in your daily life. Sleep patterns are often interrupted and irregular. You are stressed to the max. Stress makes our bellies bigger directly through chemical changes that deposit more fat. We never have a chance to physiologically recover. We are always in “fight or flight” mode indirectly by confusing our emotions.

Eating poorly is often the result of emotional triggers combined with trigger foods. You know which foods they are, so don’t keep them around.

Another thing to consider is drinking less alcohol.  A single drink on occasion won’t hurt, but more might.

Make time to prepare proper meals and set aside the proper time to eat them. We have become far too sedentary, so schedule time to be active.

Now that you are armed with this information, it is time to take to take a long, deep breath. Inhale and exhale. Take time out. Reduce stress. Schedule breaks. Read. Write in a journal. Meditate. Pray. Do Yoga or Tai Chi or Qigong. Settle the mind and calm the spirit. Make family time and self time. Don’t neglect yourself. The price is too high.

Professional guidance with nutrition, exercise and stress is recommended. Take control of what goes in your mouth and your mind. Exercise with exuberance. Do these things and the war against that dreaded “battle of the bulge” can be won.

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