Age Defying Dietary Habits Decade by Decade

Our resident dietitian Kerith Duncanson brings her real and honest take on applying the evidence of nutrition science with the practicality of trying to ‘balance’ your dietary intake in a world full of tempting foods that we use for nutrition, celebration, commiseration, pleasure and sometimes self-harm.

I hope to provide you with enough insight and information to help you cut through all the misinformation about what you do or don’t put in your mouths, to keep it real and share honestly about food related issues that affect women. I want you to expend your energy on getting out there and using those amazing bodies of yours to do what you want to do, not ‘sweating the small stuff’ about every little calorie, vitamin and / or treat you eat.

For the first issue of the new Travel, Play, Live magazine I thought it would be interesting, motivating and perhaps a little nostalgic to take trip down memory lane. So let’s talk about the changing dietary needs of women as they move through the decades of life. 

How we source food and what our bodies need varies as we age; changing from teens to twenties, twenties to thirties and forties, right through every decade until retirement and beyond.

Teen needs
The greatest need of adolescent women is to develop dietary independence in a healthy way. Nearly all young women use food as a means of asserting their independence by trying to take responsibility for their own eating. For example, this can take the form of becoming vegetarian, restricting foods eaten by the family or prepared byMum. Sometimes this process of asserting independence and seeking control over ones own life goes astray and disordered eating or a fully blown eating disorder can develop.
• Assert your dietary independence without using food as a tool to control your whole life.
• Keep eating your greens, but you don’t have to eat everything on your plate to earn dessert!

Twenty - something nutrition
Now you really are on your own and perhaps wishing you still had that structure of family meals and home cooking. Rather than being desperate for independence you might be struggling in the big wide world with so much choice. At my university, the weight gain associated with commencing this new phase of life was affectionately termed “fresher spread”. Young women, myself included, do struggle to balance socialising, less structured sport , work and study commitments with their newly gained independence including the choice of one’s own food. Not to mention, often without the time or money to choose healthy options all the time. My advice to twenty-something women is to retain the best of your early life healthy lifestyle habits while entering this new phase of life. Shop at farmers markets as well as op shops, share houses with others who enjoy cooking good, wholesome food, keep activity up by walking everywhere if you are no longer involved in sports. It took me until my forties to re-learn my healthy early life habits, wasting years of good nutrition!
• Learn moderation early and use it well.
• Think “more of this food, less of that” rather than “good or bad” foods 

Thirties – careers and kids
Time-poor thirty-something year old women struggle to find time for themselves. Structured activity gets ditched, either due to work or family commitments. Meals are planned around the preferences of others or not planned at all! My nutritional advice is really just an extension of my general advice for this life stage. If you are happy in yourself and with yourself, those around you in your home and work life are likely to be happy too. In particular, take time to think about what you feel like eating, plan it, buy it and eat it, SLOWLY. Mindful eating can improve satiety (how long you feel full after eating) and food satisfaction (how enjoyable a food experience is) and these two factors do more to curb overeating than any diet ever invented!
• Remember the term happy wife (or Mum or career-woman) happy life. Take time for you.
• Nourish your body to nurture your ‘self’, base shopping meals and snack on your preferences, with (minor) variations for other family members, not the other way around. 

Forties and fifties – maintaining muscle mass for metabolism
In your forties and fifties, energy balance and avoiding weight gain relates more to your output than dietary intake. Muscle is your new best friend as your hormones and metabolism start to change. The first and most important thing to point out here is that changes to your metabolic rate or ‘metabolism’ relate more to muscle mass than anything else. Preserve muscle mass and you keep the metabolic fire alive! For example, eating six small meals instead of three larger meals might burn up about 20 calories per day (if same total calories eaten). By comparison, each kilogram of muscle uses about 15 calories per day when at rest, and much more during and after use for activity. So if you increase muscle mass by 6 kilograms (or avoid losing 6kg of muscle) that makes 100 calories difference each day, without moving a muscle, and much more if you do!
• Maintain muscle mass for metabolism and to be able to do what you want your body to do, now you do have a bit more time to do it.
• Avoid comparisons with the good old days when you could “eat what you liked”, focus on what you can do right here right now.

Sixties and seventies – avoid becoming morbid!
While there is nothing to replace lifelong healthy eating habits, maintaining wellness and avoiding chronic disease (morbidity) becomes a priority as women start to see friends and loved ones suffering health problems. This is a time of life where managing the nutrient and calorie density of foods becomes a delicate balance. Basically, you need more vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fibre, unsaturated fats and probiotic foods than you can afford to eat from a calorie perspective. What to do?
• Maximise nutrients relative to the calorie content of foods, use fortified foods if necessary
• Take time out to consider your personal health risk factors, focus dietary habits on these target areas.

80’s – you’ve done it.
It is very interesting to read about groups of people around the world who have a high life expectancy and what they do. The place with the highest proportion of centurions in the world is Sardinia, an island off Italy. The typical Sardinian lifestyle includes minimal stress, eating lots of fresh foods, lots of fish and incidental but not structured exercise. Ironically, one of the foods that I recommend as an all-around ‘super’ food is sardines, which are high in omega 3’s, iron and calcium (from edible bones). I wonder if Sardinians eat lots of sardines?

Well done with defying the age barrier.
Please share your secrets!


By Kerith Duncanson - www.gutfeelings.com.au

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