I'm writing this on behalf of my mom, in the hopes that you can provide some advice that will turn things around for her. All my life (I'm now 34), I've watched my mom struggle with her weight, going through yo-yo after yo-yo diet in the never ending battle to get to the "perfect" body. As you probably have guessed, with the completion of each diet, the moment she began to eat what some might call "normally" again, the weight would pile back on, and then some. Each time she would try something new, something faddy, and each time with the same end result. Over the last few years she's been on the Dr. Bernstein diet multiple times, the first time to great success (but again piling the weight back on the moment she ate anything "off" of the diet).
She's now 65, and nearing 180 lbs (at 5'6") and horrified with herself. She called me the other day in tears, saying she doesn't know what to do. I worry that all of the extreme dieting that she has done over the years has trained her body to hold on to every single calorie as fat storage in the eventuality that a "starvation" period is coming (she now gains weight even if she eats extremely conscientiously and healthily). Her doctor (and I agree) has said that going on another extreme diet is not the answer, and that she needs to approach this with patience and the intention to lose weight very slowly, while incorporating life changes. She doesn't really exercise, and in fact says that at her age it is difficult to exercise in a way that actually "makes a difference". You've often talked about healthy approaches in your posts, but your readers are a lot younger than 65 for the most part. Do you have any thoughts on how to tackle the recurring dieter/post-menopausal/starved-metabolism/older generation problem?
Put yourself into your mother’s shoes for a second. She is standing at the bottom of a huge mountain and she has no idea how to take her first step. She has tried everything to reach the top, which at this point is so far away it is not even visible, and with every failed attempt she has fallen further down from the peak. With each fall she feels less capable and less motivated to reach her goal.
You need to tell your mom that she is not alone and that there are many other women her age who are also finding themselves in very similar positions. I come in contact with women like this all the time, women who come to me and say they have tried everything and have been dieting for years but nothing seems to help them lose weight.
The key here is listening to what your mother’s doctor told her, the fact that another fad diet will not work and is the last thing that she needs at this point. Your mom needs to learn that the journey required to get her back to health is a long one and will be difficult at times but when completed step by step, she will be successful. She needs to start with the first step and that first step is committing to making change and ensuring these changes that are realistic. There is a reason why the diet industry is a multi-million dollar industry. Because people keep coming back every time they fail!
Sit down with your mom and talk to her about things that she can do differently in her life and offer to be supportive of her because without the support of her family and friends she will have a hard time continuing on the road alone. Learn about nutrition together and go grocery shopping with her, teaching her the right way to shop and the right foods to buy. I would not shy away from even hiring a professional, such as a natural nutritionist or dietician to provide you both with more education.
Tell your mom that exercise is making a difference in her body, even if she cannot see it on the outside. Just because her clothes are not becoming looser immediately it does not mean that her body is not benefiting from physiological improvements such as lowered levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, increased bone density, improved balance and coordination, improvements in muscular strength, endurance and flexibility and improved cardiovascular fitness. Her mood will improve, her energy levels will increase and she will feel better about herself overall. Her increased level of activity will help get her body back to the way it was, before she started dieting. Challenging yourself physically helps you to see that you can accomplish anything. A few years back I challenged my own mom to run a 10km with me and she rocked it. Maybe join her in an activity that you think she may like or see if any of her friends will be willing to as well. Community centers are amazing and full of people just like your mom and she may surprise herself as to how much she enjoys it. Also, women’s only gyms like Curves are wonderful and inclusive environments that will provide the support and motivation your mom needs.
Help your mom understand that this does not have to happen overnight but the longer she waits to take her first step the longer it is going to take her to get to the top of the mountain. And do some of the journey with her, even if it is just supporting her.
Attached – Goldie Hawn goes for a hike with friends.