The Age - Health - Weight Connection (and how to deal with it!)

I'm going to take a guess and say that, like me, as you've gotten older, you've noticed a gradual weight gain. And that it takes less food to cause that gain. And that health issues play a part, not only in the gain, but also in not being able to exercise as much or in the same way. Can you relate?

Infographic that says "Age-Health-Weight Connection (and how to deal with it)"

(Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended as medical advice. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should seek a professional opinion from a medical doctor. If you have medical conditions, you should consult your doctor before beginning any new diet/exercise program.)

(This post may contain affiliate links which were added to make it easier for you to find the items. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). You are free to use the links or not - if you do, I thank you!)

At the age of 57, I want to know all I can about all aspects of aging. Why is it so difficult to lose weight? How much exercise should I get - and what do I do when health issues prevent me from exercising? I've said it before, and it's still true - I'm not trying to look 20 years younger, I just want to be the best me at my current age.

I don't have all the answers, and I'm not offering any medical advice, but I am going to share "my story": some of the issues that I have encountered and the ways in which I have dealt (or am dealing) with them. This is what works for me. I know there are others out there (both under and over age 50) who are experiencing the same issues, so my hope is that I can offer inspiration and support!

photos of woman's face before and after 20 lb. weight loss
What a difference 20 pounds and the right diet can make! I was 53 in the photo on the left - overweight and dealing with health issues. In the photo on the right, I was 56 - looking and feeling much better!

In general, as we age, it becomes extremely easy to gain and more difficult to lose weight. Our metabolism slows a bit, but what might be even more important is that we tend to become less active. Sometimes, this is due to health issues that we didn't have when we were younger. Menopause? Don't even get me started! Before we know it, a five pound weight gain has turned into ten, and a couple of years later the scale is registering 20 pounds heavier. We're left standing in front of the mirror wondering what the heck happened!

Health issues can also play in big part in weight gain. These issues can also make it impossible/more difficult to exercise. This can be due to pain or something like insulin resistance. Maybe you are physically unable to exercise or you have to find a different type of exercise to accommodate the changes in your body.

Like many of you, I have several health issues that affect my ability to exercise and maintain my weight.
  • insulin resistance
  • degenerative disc disease (5 surgeries)
  • osteoarthritis
  • migraines
I also have familial hypercholesterolemia and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol and high triglycerides). Since it's genetic, a simple change in diet doesn't fix it. My liver makes too much cholesterol. Diet is still very important, as is medication, but no matter what I do, it's likely that my numbers will never be normal. Exercise is also very important.

Today, I'm going to focus on the conditions I mentioned above (yes, I have even more!) - those that have affected my ability to exercise and maintain my weight: insulin resistance, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and migraines. Can I get an amen? I know a lot of you are dealing with these, too!

Let's start in 2011, the year I turned 50. I lost 20 pounds in three weeks due to complications during my third back surgery. While this was NOT the way to lose, this actually put me at a good weight. I'm 5'3" tall and I was at 150 lbs. For those of you wondering how that fits into sizing - when I'm at that weight, I wear sizes 6-8. Charts may say that I should weigh 107-140, but my body likes 150-155 better. I feel good, my labwork is stable, and I can maintain it without feeling deprived. I tried to find a photo, but apparently I felt so bad that year that I didn't take any.

Here I am in 2012 with my great-grandmother. You can see by the shape of my face that I've started to gain weight. I was still having significant pain from the surgery (even though it had been 11 months), and I was also getting steroid injections. At this point the insulin resistance hadn't been diagnosed.

photo of two women standing in a park
September 2012

Between 2012-2013, I slowly gained back those 20 pounds. You might be thinking "Oh, it's because she had back problems". You would be wrong. I was keeping my calories at 1200/day and exercising 30-45 minutes 5-6 days/week. I started noticing that after I would eat dinner, I couldn't keep my eyes open. And I never nap. I knew something was wrong, and to make a long story short, I was eventually diagnosed with insulin resistance. (You can read more about that journey in my post No One Knows You Better Than You.)

In 2013, I started on the low carb diet recommended by my endocrinologist, and over the next 5 months, I lost 15 pounds. I was so happy! I was feeling better, had more energy, and I had a good diet and exercise routine. I thought, "I got this", but then life said, "Um, wait a minute..."

photo of woman with blonde hair and blue eyes
June 2014, after the 15 lb. weigh loss

Starting in spring of 2014, I developed pain in my left ankle. No injury, it just started hurting as I was walking up the stairs one day. After many months of being in a boot (and unable to exercise) I had surgery in October 2014, during which they discovered a torn tendon in my ankle. During the 8+ week non-weight-bearing period, I couldn’t exercise. My carb intake increased a bit and so did my weight.

Here I am in November of 2014, just a few weeks after my ankle surgery. You can see the extent of my weight gain just by looking at my face and chin(s). I was also on a good bit of medication at this time.

photo of woman with blond hair and blue eyes wearing a black knit scarf
November 2014

Before I could complete physical therapy (PT) following that surgery, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and torn articular cartilage in my right knee. In September 2015 I had surgery for that, putting me on crutches for several weeks and back in PT. At this point, I was becoming pretty frustrated.

Between the stress of these “injuries” and the lack of exercise over the previous year, I gained the 15 pounds back. But even worse was that my cholesterol and triglyceride levels were up more than usual. As I mentioned, with familial hypercholesterolemia, even when I eat clean my numbers are still high. But as long as I'm able to exercise it seems to keep them in a steady, though higher than normal, range.

This is when I started the Metabolism Miracle diet. I lost 13 pounds in the first two months during Step 1 of the program. (You can read more about that in my posts Could You Have Metabolism B? and Metabolism Miracle: What Happens During Step 1.)

woman with blonde hair and sunglasses - looking very happy
July 2015

I continued with a relatively low carb diet and exercised 30-45 minutes 5-6 days/week over the next 3 years, got back down to 150-155 and maintained it. And then just when I started to think, "I've really got this now", my back started giving me issues again.

blonde woman holding a baby at a party
June 2016

family - mother, father, and daughter
February 2017

blonde woman with blue eyes
April 2017

In July 2018 I had to have another back (thoracic) surgery. Just as I felt like I might be ready to start exercising again, I started having neck and arm pain. That was a herniated disc and bone spurs in my cervical spine. By October 2018, I had gained about five pounds. You can see in the photo below that my face is a little fuller.

mother and daughter standing in front of a restaurant
October 2018

In December 2018, I opted for a foraminotomy (making the space for the nerve larger so it’s no longer pinched) rather than fusion. (I'm already fused from C4-C7 and T5-T9 so I didn't want to lose more movement unless absolutely necessary.) After the surgery, some of my symptoms were gone, but I began having neck pain on the other side, along with debilitating daily headaches.

Dry needling has provided some relief, but I still have some neck and back pain as well as headaches. Once again, I haven’t seriously exercised for almost a year, I’ve eaten more carbs than I should, and you guessed it - I’ve gained 10 pounds total. Sigh.

blond woman and dark-haired man with gray beard at a park
February 2019

I've given a lot of thought to the last eight years and all of the ups and downs. There have been times when I was in too much pain to even think about my diet and I certainly did not exercise. There have been times when I felt guilty about not being able to be more active - and sometimes I fed that guilt with unwise food choices. Have you been there?

My spine isn't going to miraculously get better - it's a degenerative disease. So is arthritis. My cholesterol at best can be "managed" and will never be normal due to my genetics. Migraines? What's the weather? But just because I have periods where I am unable to exercise doesn't mean I shouldn't get right back into it as soon as I'm able. It also doesn't mean I should feel guilty when I'm unable to exercise.

The Serenity Prayer really fits my situation - and it may fit yours as well:

infographic featuring the Serenity Prayer

I accept that aging and health conditions are things that I cannot change. The health problems are going to flare up from time to time and they're not going away. I will let my body heal and then get back on track as soon as possible. I will be more committed to a low carb lifestyle because not only is it best for my body, but it also makes me feel better. If I stray, I will only look forward and step back on the path as soon as possible. No guilt, no regrets. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time.

Last week, I went back to a serious low carb lifestyle and began using the treadmill for 20 minutes 3 days/week. The low carb is going well, I'm tolerating the treadmill with minimal pain in my neck, and I lost 2.5 lbs.

My current plan is to continue this for 2 weeks. If that works out, I’ll slowly increase my exercise. But - and this is important! - even if all I can ever do is 20 minutes 3-4 days/week, then that's what I'll do. If that's all my body will tolerate, then so be it. You have to work within your limitations - but it's still important to work. Acceptance, but never surrender.

I'm going to be talking more about my journey: tools I use to help me stay on track, favorite foods, and more. If you're interested in aging, health, weight, or if you relate to one of my health issues - be sure to check back for additional info. You can also subscribe to the newsletter, and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. I like to use Snapchat and Insta-stories to show what I'm eating (along with the amusing show that is my daily life!). I'd love to connect with you and hear your story!

**Don't miss the second post in the series: My Favorite Tools for Weight Management (+ free printables!)**


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