We have plenty of explanations for why we have put on a few pounds. In any case, whether it is from poor eating habits and inactivity, or just a more sluggish metabolism, the pounds seem harder than ever to take off. We know we need more fruits and vegetables. We know seniors need more protein. And we know getting enough water to avoid dehydration is an issue, especially if our medications include a diuretic.
Once you decide it is time to do something, the question becomes “Which of the endless number of diet plans is the right one for me?”(Will the pounds really melt away overnight?) In a weight loss market worth over $68 billion, and as one of more than 97 million Americans on a diet, only one thing counts: how do you get – and stay – healthy.
So many diets fail because we go on them without thinking if they fit with our lives and our personalities.No one said dieting was easy; if it were, we would all be skinny. To increase our chances for success, we need to find a diet plan that meets five criteria. A diet plan should:
- Fit within our budget to avoid adding financial stress;
- Offer an easy transition from how we ate before;
- Taste good enough to keep us from dreading mealtime;
- Include enough food so we don’t feel empty and hungry; and
- Be flexible and convenient enough to fit into our lifestyle.
Today, diet plans can take any form we want. Everything is available, from a month’s food boxed and shipped to freshly prepared meals delivered daily. Plans can follow rigid rules or gentle suggestions. Support can come from face-to-face regular group meetings or our own sheer willpower.
There are no right or wrong diet plans. There are just those that work for us and those that do not. If we want to be our healthiest in our senior years, it is worth finding one that works well enough to take off any extra weight and keep it off.
If we thought it was difficult to take off pounds in our twenties and thirties, it is doubly hard now that our bodies have changed. As we age, our lean mass and bone mineral density drops while the amount of body fat rises. That fat heads straight to our abdominal region – which is associated with heart disease and diabetes. As a result, finding a diet that works for us is not just about getting into last year’s jeans; it is about our health and quality of life.
Finding a diet plan that works for us means:
- Knowing we are giving our bodies a chance to be healthy;
- Having the energy to be active, participating fully in life;
- Getting off some of the medications we thought we would be on forever;
- Fitting into clothes we never imagined wearing again; and
- Having the pride of accomplishment as our friends compliment our new smaller selves.
As you compare diet plans, you want to know that any costs will fit within your budget. You also want to be sure you are not adding any struggles or inconveniences to what is already a challenging effort. You want to check on warranties, how easy it is to get enrolled, how easy to cancel and what support you can expect.
Then you want to know about the food itself and about logistics: whether you can customize the food choices and if options exist, such as gluten-free. Then, regarding logistics, whether the company offers online tracking of your order, whether it charges for shipping and if, for convenience sake, you can set up auto delivery.
Cost is often an issue when we pick a diet plan to follow, especially if our budget is limited. Specialty ingredients, prepackaged foods and high initiation fees may rule out a plan from the outset. However, that just rules out a few plans; there are so many more available.
Any medical condition you might have, starting with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease, means checking with your doctor to know the boundaries of what is safe for you. Do not forget to check on conflicts with medications you might be taking. Then, does the plan provide enough nutrition to give you the energy your body needs?In short, if a diet plan could hurt us in any way, it is not the diet plan for us.
Next, you want to think about how comfortable a plan might feel to you, which will determine if you will stay on it long enough for the plan to have its desired effect. How easy is it to follow? (The simpler, the better.) Do you need something structured, or something flexible to fit into your life? Do you want the plan to pick your food, or do you want to pick it? How much preparation do you want to do? Do you need a support system, or do you have enough self-discipline? Does the plan have to work with the rest of your household, or are you on your own? How fast do you need to see results so you do not lose motivation?
All those questions will help you decide what diet plan has the greatest chance of success for you. After all, it’s not about taking off the weight; it’s also about keeping it off. It is easy to get excited about a diet plan based on a new television ad or celebrity endorsement, but you need to trust your instinct. You are doing this for you; don’t start something that is likely to lead to disappointment.
Two areas differentiate what seniors prioritize from what younger people do when selecting diet plans: age-friendliness and health-related value.
Age friendliness: Different diet plans call for different interaction with the diet plan provider. If it calls for ongoing product orders, the ordering and billing process should be easy. If the plan entails group support, either face-to-face, video chat or an online group, again the process needs to be easy or you will not do it.
Meal preparation also needs to be easy. As we age, long, difficult meal preparation will become less and less appealing, and ready-prepared meals may be a better solution. Even if the plan itself does not include prepared foods, local companies are delivering meals on demand or subscription. You can probably find a resource that meets the requirements of the diet plan you have selected.
Health-related value: Malnutrition can be a concern among seniors. We do not have to add to the problem by going on a diet that lacks the nutrition our older bodies require. Most fad diets that emphasize any one food or food group over another are not likely to provide the balance needed to support your health.It is short-sighted to think that we need an extreme diet to overcome our bodies’ resistance to losing weight. First, it is unlikely we can stay on the plan for long and second, it can do us harm. A balanced diet combined with some physical exercise makes much more sense.
Matching a diet plan to our medical condition is vital. While good nutrition is the key to preventing certain health conditions from developing, it is even more critical as a way to avoid aggravating them. For example, eating correctly can help manage diabetes, but eating incorrectly can become dangerous very quickly. The more our health has declined, the more we need to be sure we are giving our bodies the best fuel and nutrients we can. If you are not certain, work with a dietician.
The fee structure of diet plans can vary radically. Some diet plans can require just the cost of a book or ebook, plus the actual ingredients called for by the plan. Others can include initiation fees in plans with support programs, whether monthly membership fees or the cost of one-on-one coaching.
The costliest alternative will be a diet plan that supplies the food. ‘Boxed’ meal plans can run $200-350 per month; that covers just one part of the meals and you still need to purchase fresh ingredients. Shipping costs may or may not be included. Plans that deliver freshly prepared meals can also run in the many hundreds of dollars per month, determined by your meal selection and the quality of the service.
If budget is not an issue and you tend to be home for most meals, freshly prepared meal delivery will likely give you the greatest chance of success, as it removes virtually every obstacle. However, it will not come cheap.
To select a diet plan, besides finding the one that feels like it will work for you, the initial evaluation criteria include the cost per month; the warranty the company offers on the food if food is provided; the ease of setting up the service and of canceling if you so choose; and the accessibility of the company's customer support.
Cost: Where there are any, costs start at $4-10/week for access to online tracking programs or online support groups, plus the cost of the food recommended by the plan. On the other extreme, plans can cost $600/month or higher for one person for virtually all meals, prepared and delivered. Once you identify the diet plan you want to follow, you want to compare its total cost (including shipping, handling, add-ons and the complementary food you need to purchase) with what you typically spend for food each month. Can you afford any increase and is it worth it?
Warranty: Online tracking and support groups function like regular memberships, with fees being deducted from your credit card or bank account periodically. In place of warranties, those diet plans tend to make it easy for you to cancel to avoid further deductions instead. Diet plans with food shipments will usually not offer refunds or returns once a shipment has been processed. Some will allow you to exchange unopened, undamaged items within 30 days.
Ease: The internet plays a major role in today’s diet plans. Most group meetings have become online meetings using today’s technology. Access to tracking tools, recipes and product ordering is all online. It should be easy to navigate a company's website, and the site’s meal-selection process should be easy to understand. Ordering and billing should be trouble free. The easier a plan is to interact with, the greater the chance you will stick with it.
Cancellation: Any ongoing program will have a deadline by which you have to cancel, following the company’s protocol, to avoid a further charge. Before starting, you want to know how simple and transparent that process is, so you can avoid unexpected deductions from you credit card or bank account, plus the back-and-forth telephone calls needed to reverse them.
Customer support: Most diet plans that call for repeated online interaction tend to have very intuitive and easy-to-navigate websites. However, should something not go as planned, you should be able to reach a live person easily by phone or chat during extended daytime hours, seven days a week, and they should be able to resolve your issue quickly.
We are so much more aware today of the effects of our food choices, as nutritionists explore the impact of things like gluten on our metabolism. Most of us are aware of the dietary restrictions any medical condition calls for, whether our eating has to be diabetes-friendly, heart-healthy or gluten-free. Any diet plan we select should offer customizable options that allow us to eat as our body requires. If it does not, it is not the diet for us.
We also must have access to nutritional information on what is being proposed, whether as a recipe or a delivered meal. That information should cover what we see on any commercially packaged food: Calories per serving, Total Fat (saturated and trans fat), Cholesterol, Sodium, Total Carbohydrate (dietary fibers and sugars) and Protein.
By this time in your life, you know your body well. You know what works and what does not. A diet plan can give you any extra structure you need, as well as information that reflects new research and knowledge. Beyond that, its success is up to you.