How to Manage Unintentional Weight Loss

by Fit After Fifty
An apple and measuring tape on top of a scale indoors on a wooden floor

In an effort to stay fit, most of us have tried to lose weight at some point, and know how difficult it can be. Sometimes, weight loss can happen without any effort, and that’s a good thing, right? Well, if the unintentional weight loss is more than 5 percent within six months to a year, it may be a sign of an underlying medical disorder, or other age-related issues.

Rule Out Underlying Conditions

The first step in managing unintentional weight loss is to identify and treat any of the potential medical causes, including:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Dementia
  • Alcoholism
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Medication side effects

If your doctor rules out any medical conditions, there are some things you can do that can help to slow or even reverse unintentional weight loss.

Eat Well to Prevent Unintentional Weight Loss

Some older adults have trouble eating enough calories because of diminishing senses of smell and taste that can develop as we age. Without a variety of flavors, eating can lose its enjoyment, leading to reduced caloric intake.

Dentures can also affect food intake, preventing the complete chewing of food, so visit your dentist frequently to ensure a proper fit.

To get the most out of what you eat, doctors recommend eating frequent, small, yet high-calorie meals. Avoid gas-producing foods, which can lead to a false feeling of fullness. Add fats and oils to meals, or take nutritionally dense supplements.

Don’t eat alone, if you have the option. Eating with others can lead to more enjoyment of the meal, and that can mean higher intake of calories. Add flavor enhancers, such as herbs and spices, to make food more flavorful.

Exercise to Keep the Weight On

Another potential reason for unintentional weight loss is sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle tissue. Sarcopenia is a natural part of the aging process, and loss of muscle means a loss in body weight. The good news is that with regular weight training, we can continue to build our muscle mass well into our 90s!

Exercise physiologist Mark Peterson of the University of Michigan has been researching sarcopenia. His research revealed that for adults over the age of 50, exercise can add almost 2.5 pounds of muscle in less than six months.

For adults that haven’t been active in a while, Peterson recommends starting slowly, using just body weight as the resistance. One of the simplest ways to start for sedentary adults is to just get in and out of a chair at least 10 times. As strength builds, you can add more reps, and even small weights (stick to five pounds at a time).

A good rule of thumb is to choose weights or resistance that you can do for no more than 10 or 15 reps. If you can do more than that, you won’t build muscle. Resting between sets is important, because that’s when the muscle is building. If you do two to three sets for each major muscle group a few times a week, you will see the best results. Eating protein after a workout is important because it’s what muscles are made of.

Whole Body Benefits

Slowing or reversing unintentional weight loss can have a huge impact on health. Adding muscle will make you stronger and feel better, as well. With proper nutrition and plenty of exercise, you will benefit — body, mind, and soul.

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