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Dieting After 50: The Surprising Benefits of Shedding 10 Percent of Your Body Weight

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Woo-hoo! Yay for me! I have officially lost 10 percent of my body weight since Feb. 2, the day I joined Weight Watchers. While I'd like to celebrate tonight with an extra cheesy thin-crust pizza washed down with a half bottle of good Pinot Noir, I won't. Weight slips on with great ease when you are middle aged and getting it off requires a whole new arsenal of willpower weaponry. I've approached dieting as an all-or-nothing mandate: Once I fall off the wagon, it's just too hard for me to crawl my way back on -- especially now that I'm post-60.

I'm especially glad to be the salmon bucking the trend of America growing fatter. How much of a problem is it? A new report says that obesity is responsible for $190 billion a year in excess medical spending (more than even smoking) and the Federal Transit Administration is examining what heavier riders are doing to their buses' steering and brake systems. Hospitals, says Reuters, are replacing older wall-mounted toilets to floor-anchored ones that can better withstand the weight of obese patients. For those into factoids: Cars are burning almost a billion gallons of gasoline more a year than if passengers weighed what they did in 1960.

Meanwhile, being overweight can hurt your career prospects. In a new study in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers had subjects study a group of resumes with photos of applicants attached before and after weight-loss surgery. "The researchers discovered that criteria like starting salary, leadership potential and the selection of the candidate for the job were all negatively affected for women who were considered obese," Time magazine reported.

And while, thanks to our First Lady, we have plenty of attention focused on childhood obesity, there's also a problem going on at the other end of the birthday scale. What happens in middle age is something I like to call Body Betrayal. The food, routines and exercise habits that got you through your 30s and 40s somehow don't matter anymore. Without any radical change in what you have always done, you suddenly gain weight with a vengeance.

There are two approaches to coping with this when it happens: You ignore it and just buy a new wardrobe in a bigger size, or you pre-empt your doctor writing out prescriptions for anti-cholesterol and high-blood pressure drugs and decide to fight back.

I chose the latter, but boy, what a battle it's been. First, all the carb-loaded cereal boxes and breads got tossed out the window, along with the high-fat red meats and my much-cherished glass of wine with dinner. I've never taken a shine to exercise and hitting middle age didn't change that. (The treadmill in the garage, purchased with the best of intentions, serves primarily as a platform for storing boxes of out-of-season clothes -- most of them still too small for me.)

For me, removing temptations has been critical. Gone are all the chips, sweets, cupcakes and Friday night pizzas for dinner, much to my kids' chagrin. (Weight Watchers will tell you not to deny yourself things, to just eat them in moderation. No can do. Moderation may exist in someone else's world, but not in mine.) Family support, which is to say the kids now eat all that stuff out of the back of their father's car, has been crucial to my success.

And just what kind of success does a 10 percent weight loss mean? According to Weight Watchers, by losing just 10 percent of your body weight, you can lower your cholesterol and reduce your blood pressure, decreasing your risk of heart disease. Losing 10 percent of your body weight also reduces the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes by improving the body's ability to use the insulin it makes. A 10 percent weight loss, they told me in my congratulatory message this morning, should increase my feelings of vigor and vitality. "You'll feel better and have more energy." OK, still waiting on that one, but maybe they just never met my kids.

Perhaps more importantly, losing 10 percent gives you the motivation to keep going. The pounds come off quicker in the beginning of any diet and now is when I need the dieters' pep rally to begin.

"Health-wise, a 10-percent weight loss is a great achievement," noted G. Ken Goodrick, a psychologist and associate professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, in my Weight Watchers email. Yeah, and fitting into my old jeans feels pretty good too.