Of course, unless you suddenly take up marathon running, exercise alone won’t restore the calorie burn of youth. That’s because roughly 50 to 70 percent of the energy you burn each day goes toward sustaining the body: organ function, respiration and the other processes that keep you alive. Nutritionists call this your basal metabolic rate, and it’s the slowdown of this rate — not your lapsed gym membership — that’s the main reason you need fewer calories with age.
Although creeping weight gain may be normal, that doesn’t make it healthy. So what number should you look for on the scale? Think more about your waistline: A waist circumference of greater than 40 inches for men, or 35 inches for women, puts you at greater risk for disease. To get, and remain, below those numbers, you have to cut a few calories — start with 200 — from your daily diet. Yet rather than concentrating on eating less, think about eating better, especially when snacking. If you can answer your cravings with hunger-satisfying protein and belly-filling fiber, you can cut calories without thinking about it.
“An Oreo has roughly the same number of calories as a small apple,” says Niedert. “But while it’s easy to eat six Oreos, how many people could eat six apples?”
Fruit is, of course, a healthy snack. So are nuts, raw vegetables and unsweetened yogurt. All these filling foods provide you with fiber and/or protein while injecting an army of disease-fighting, brain-protecting nutrients into your bloodstream. “The big challenge for older adults is that they need less energy overall but more micronutrients,” Tucker says, “which means you need a greater focus on nutrient-dense foods.”
So try to pack as many fruits and vegetables into your day as possible, and limit (or even better, eliminate!) nutritionally bankrupt doughnuts, cookies and candy. By using each snack craving as an opportunity to add nutrients into your diet, you’ll slim down without having to obsess about calories.