Seniors are just as aesthetic conscious as other age groups. As the elderly are living longer today, they have become a target market for many consumer products. Marketing using slim senior models and the idea that being extremely thin is the norm has spurred seniors to join the fat busting frenzy. In some instances, dieting has become extreme with seniors resorting to many of the same practices to lose weight as do younger individuals. Starvation dieting is one of the more extreme and dangerous methods to lose weight which has numerous health consequences, especially for seniors.
Losing weight should be a gradual process involving both calorie control through dietary modification and a suitable exercise program. Excess body weight is due to the fat stores which in turn is determined by storing more calories than your body needs. Although diet or exercise alone may be sufficient for moderate weight loss, a combination of both is usually necessary for sustaining the loss.
Calories are consumed in foods and burned through physical activity and calorie needs are dependent on age, body weight and level of activity. The key is to only consume the calories needed for energy utilization in physical activity therefore avoiding any storage in the form of fat. Starving essentially means drastically cutting down the consumed calories to a point where the body has to almost entirely depend on its nutrient stores to maintain life.
Many people are under the misconception that skipping meals or eating the bare minimum will result in a sufficient calorie shift to prevent weight gain. This is true for short term and for moderate weight loss but has a host of health consequences. Starving means that the body is forced to use the fat stores for yielding energy to keep the basic life processes going.
However, additional energy for physical activity is limited leading to lethargy, dizziness and even fainting spells. In its quest for more calories, the body may also turn to the protein in muscles as a source of energy. Some fat is therefore spared while the muscle size is compromised.
Starvation leads to weight gain in the long term. When the body is put under strain to depend on its fat stores with little or no food intake, it ‘reprograms’ itself through hormonal pathways to ensure that it will preserve as much food as possible in the future. Returning to a normal diet at a later stage means that body will instead use most of the calories from these meals for fat storage. This is a survival mechanism to ensure that it has sufficient stores should it face another period of starvation. Only the bare minimum nutrients are consumed for daily activity.
In the long term this translates into weight gain often above and beyond the original body weight.
Starvation dieting on its own has a host of health consequences even in an otherwise healthy person. In the elderly who often have one or more chronic diseases and age-related changes in the body, these episodes of starvation can be disastrous. It can cause sharp drops in blood glucose levels which is dangerous in the diabetic patient and can complicate to conditions such as ketoacidosis. This can be fatal.
Disturbances in the blood volume and electrolytes coupled with the changes in hormones as a consequence of starvation can disrupt normal heart activity. This may be seen as a drop in blood pressure, abnormalities in heart rate and rhythm which on its own is serious but in person with pre-existing heart disease it can be dangerous.
Seniors are often using chronic medication which can have a host of side effects, especially when taken on an empty stomach. Starving also cause symptoms such as dizziness and fainting which can increase the risk of falls in the elderly. When driving or in compromising situations such as at heights, dizziness or fainting can lead to potentially fatal consequences.