Did you know that the entire month of May was called “Older Adults Month?”
Yes, there was a whole month devoted to help combat ageism. Aging Unbound, this year’s theme, reminds us to combat stereotypes about ageing – stereotypes such as being wrinkled, unattractive, useless members of society, among many others!
As a brand new member of AARP, I wholeheartedly agree!
Older adults can, and should, live long and productive lives, yet in order to do so, we need to focus on the role diet culture plays in all of it.
Recently, I’ve had a personal experience that got me thinking more and more about this.
I’ve just returned from a month in Florida taking care of my independent 92-year-old mother who fell in her kitchen and broke her hip – one of the most common pitfalls among older people. We went through a challenging journey of surgery, complications, rehabilitation, and then returning home to a newly-found loss of independence.
Yet, amidst it all, this major problem with her hip and her health … her main concern remained focused on losing weight.
And yes, she permitted me to share this little tidbit ~ because this experience highlights the pervasive influence of diet culture, even in the face of more critical health concerns.
Losing weight should be the least of anyone’s problems when they’ve had a hip fracture!
This is why I want to talk about a holistic approach to bone health for aging adults and ways to navigate the challenges of diet culture and prioritize our well-being – and that of our family members too.
The more we can be aware of these issues and prioritize our own care, the more we can ensure that as we age, we are doing the best possible for our bodies – and our minds!
The Importance of Bone Health
Bone health is the backbone of our physical well-being. Maintaining healthy bones becomes paramount for preserving strength, mobility, and independence as we age. However, the journey to optimal bone health is filled with hurdles that demand our attention.
Approximately 40% of women will experience a fracture due to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is not just a women’s disease, though! In fact, 1 in 4 men over age 50 will experience an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime.
Hip (and other bone) fractures are most often a result of osteoporosis, which is a geriatric problem that actually starts in adolescence!
We don’t think about our bones when we are young, but the fact is, adolescents of all sexes achieve adult peak bone mass before age 30, and the bone-building years before age 18 are very significant.
Children and adolescents have the best chance to develop habits resulting in peak adult bone mass. Some of the ways they can do this are to get plenty of physical activity, and eat a balanced diet including plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
Weight Loss Diets and Bone Loss
Studies have delved into the relationship between weight loss diets and bone health in older adults, shedding light on the potential risks involved.
One study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that rapid weight loss among older women led to increased bone loss and a higher risk of fractures.
Another study in Osteoporosis International demonstrated that caloric restriction in postmenopausal women resulted in decreased bone mineral density and an elevated risk of osteoporosis.
We talk all the time about how diets don’t work for weight loss, but they do accelerate bone loss, and this is NOT a good thing!
It’s also why our entire team calls ourselves Anti-Diet Dietitians. We know that diets harm people in more ways than one. Getting off the diet roller coaster is the best way to ensure you are not practicing habits that will harm you even more as you age.
Navigating Diet Culture and Weight Loss
Diet culture is pervasive, affecting people of all ages, and can be particularly challenging to address among older women. Society bombards us with messages equating thinness with beauty and worth, making it difficult to convince older women that weight loss might not be necessary or beneficial at this stage of life.
We need to challenge this mindset.
Celebrating diverse body shapes and sizes is essential, helping older women embrace their bodies and appreciate the unique strengths that come with age.
Education is key for people of all ages. As clinicians working with our clients, we focus on ways to dispel the myths and misconceptions about weight loss and bone health while providing tailored information based on individual needs.
But empathy and compassion are equally important. We must understand the emotional connections older women may have with their bodies and the societal pressures they face.
My mother was right there in this situation this past month. Experiencing a major health issue and worried mainly about losing weight! This is not the path to overall well-being.
Embracing the DCPM Elements
To counteract the pitfalls of diet culture and prioritize bone health, we must shift our focus to several key elements that help our bones not harm them.
Vitamin D | Calcium | Protein | Movement
The DCPM elements are making sure you get adequate Calcium and Vitamin D intake, along with Protein intake and Movement or physical activity.
To read more about calcium, Vitamin D, and osteoporosis prevention and treatment, you can read these two articles on my website:
Adequate protein is vital in supporting bone health, as well as preserving muscle mass. Ageing is associated with sarcopenia, which is a gradual and progressive decline in muscle mass, strength and endurance, which also impacts our overall bone health. Encouraging adults over the age of 50 to embrace a balanced diet, and in particular, protein-rich foods such as lean meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, legumes, and nuts can contribute to maintaining muscle mass and reducing the risk of falls and fractures.
For younger folks out there, particularly those assigned female at birth, here is another important fact to consider. Having a history of dieting and/or having an eating disorder puts an individual at particularly high risk for osteoporosis and has often been overlooked as a contributing factor.
Regularly moving our bodies is a game-changer in nurturing bone health. I spent more than two weeks at a high-intensity rehab facility with my mother. There, she discovered the transformative power of tailored exercises designed to rebuild strength and promote bone density. Weight-bearing activities like walking, and muscle-strengthening exercise (weightlifting) stimulate bone remodeling, leading to more robust and denser bones.
Emphasizing the importance of personalized movement and exercise plans that suit individual abilities and preferences is crucial for older adults to enjoy the benefits of physical activity.
For the younger generation, the same recommendations are just as important for you too. Finding enjoyable movement patterns is critical to your bone health.
Lifestyle factors that support healthy aging include eating a balanced diet, hydration, stress management, avoiding smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Making all of these changes is not easy… diet culture has been wreaking havoc on our brains and our bodies for years. It will take time to make these changes to your habits, your thoughts, and your actions.
If we can learn how to better take care of our bodies when we are younger, then we can create a world where fewer older adults are prone to bone loss and falls are not as common as they are today. A world where we live with peace with food and our bodies.
Think about how you can incorporate some of these strategies into your life and tell others about it too. We can educate one another and leave the chaos of diet culture behind so the next generations can age in a different way.
Are you ready to move forward on your Recovery Journey with more food freedom?
Click here to purchase your Recipes for Recovery Cookbook now!
Following the Recipes for Recovery Cookbook will help you:
- Reconnect with positive eating experiences you had before the eating disorder
- Explore new flavors, colors, textures and aromas that connect your senses
- Experiment with previously forbidden foods that bring awareness to the present moment
- Challenge and let go of food restrictions and rigid rules to rekindle a healthy and fulfilling pattern of eating
- See success as you continue to discover food freedom
- Iguacel I, et al. Weight cycling and bone health in obese postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int. 2015.
- Hays NP, et al. Effects of a high, moderate and low-volume weight loss programme on bone mineral density in obese men and women. Br J Nutr. 2012.
- Morais JA, et al. Impact of aging and obesity on metabolism and thermogenesis. Int J Obes. 2017.
- Osteoporosis prevention starts in adolescence. J Am Acad Nurse Pract 2004 Jul;16(7):274-82.
- Seniors: Know your risk for osteoporosis | El Camino Health.
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
Erica is a highly sensitive nutrition therapist who takes the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, she will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!
Download our Free Intuitive Eating Guide and get off that Diet Roller Coaster for good!