Getting old is a weighty issue

Balancing calories with exercise is tricky business as you age.

Reading success stories about other people my age can prove inspirational or soul crushing, depending upon their endeavours and lasting success.

A news item of an 80-year-old woman who skydives to celebrate her special birthday at first makes me feel wimpy.

On second reading and giving it more consideration, I think, “Why would I want to do something so risky?”

I didn’t reach this age by nipping across streets in front of moving cars. Not sensible to do that. How sensible is sky-diving?

How many things can go wrong? Parachute fail to open.

Tangle in another parachutist’s lines. Land on a rock and break a hip.

Then I listened to a video report of 81-year-old Tootsie, a woman in Lexington, Texas who is pitmaster at Snow’s BBQ, rated by readers of The Texas Monthly as the best barbecue in Texas.

She works five days a week as a middle school janitor. Every Saturday she cooks up 800 pounds of beef for locals and tourists.

Serving begins at 8 a.m. and ends when the beef runs out, often before noon.

To prepare the hardwood coals for the barbecue she arrives at midnight, starts the fire, and when the coals are ready, shovels them into the cast iron “pit”.

She shoulders 150 to 200 pound quarters of beef from the storeroom to the pit. And she handles the entire job alone, no flunkies, basting the chunks of beef with  sauce dripping from a clump of rag bound around the end of a short handle like a sailor’s mop.

I admire Tootsie, her cooking skills, and her work ethic but I have no desire to mimic her.

One report that cheered me comes from a study done on winning contestants who participated in the 2008 reality show, The Biggest Loser. One couple together lost almost 250 pounds. Six years later they had regained most of that.

The study concluded while the couple took part in the program they engaged in strenuous activity and radically reduced their calorie intake. Which inevitably led to a remarkable weight loss.

But all the time they struggled to become leaner, their body fought to maintain its previous top weight, sabotaging their success the moment they returned to their previous life style.

When I was in my 20’s and reading Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, I learned our body has a natural “set point”, a weight it strives to maintain despite whatever we do to shed extra pounds.

When we diet, our body slows our metabolism to  burn fewer calories.

But when we quit exercising and dieting, our metabolism remains slower than normal just in case we repeat our foolishness and  starve our cells again. Each time we diet, our metabolism slows more.

In the words of this study, “There is always a weight a person’s body maintains without any effort. That is the weight the body fights to defend.”

Over 55 years my weight has  fluctuated within ten pounds of my wedding day weight. Staying at that weight is easy.

If I drop an extra pound, I may reward myself binging on peanuts, a second piece of blueberry pie, or a bedtime treat of peanut butter and raspberry jam  on a freshly baked bun.

Three days later the scale tells me I’ve overshot my caloric intake.

I have to rein myself in once more.

A day or two of mindful eating is an easy cure. I could never face the starvation diet and army recruit exercises Biggest Losers undertook to lose those 250 pounds.

Then to gain most of them back … in six years …

Columnist Claudette Sandecki keeps an eye on her calories from her home in Thornhill, B.C.