The Missing Key to Losing Weight After 50: Why Willpower Alone Won’t Work

Losing weight is easy, but losing weight after 50 not so much. Learn how to keep the weight off for good, and why willpower is not the answer.

How many times have you tried to lose weight or “get in shape” in your adult life? I’ll bet it’s a bunch.

Being over 50 means you’ve probably tried or considered at least one or two of these doozies:

  • Protein Sparing Modified Fast
  • Atkins Diet
  • Grapefruit Diet
  • Optifast
  • Slimfast
  • Beverly Hills Diet
  • Scarsdale Diet
  • Jenny Craig

So maybe it’s not just the diet, ya think?

And what about the exercise fads back in the day?

  • Jazzercise
  • Aerobics (remember legwarmers?)
  • jogging
  • inline skating
  • Buns of Steel
  • Richard Simmons
  • Thighmaster

Again, maybe it’s not the program.

If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to sustain weight loss after 50, you’re probably doing it all wrong. Let’s find out why here in Part 1 of a 5-part series on The Key To Losing Weight After 50.

Part 1 is an overview of the problem with losing weight at any time, but especially after 50. If you’re in your second phase of life, chances are you’ve tried more than a few times to lose weight.

You’ve probably succeeded many of those times to get the weight off, but it’s come back. Again.

Losing weight at any age, let alone after 50, is a daunting prospect. Why? In theory, losing weight is very simple: expend more calories than you take in.

If only it were easy in practice! If your lazy habit-loving brain would loosen its grip just a little so you wouldn’t have to WORK. SO. HARD. to fight your cravings.

Or exercise when you just want to veg out in front of the TV.

Roadblocks On The Way To Permanent Weight Loss

Hormones, menopause, stress, you name it. It all works against you in your quest for healthy habits or weight loss.

Your current state of health, access to healthy foods, the kind of job you have, your parents’ weights…all of these things and more have an effect on your ability to permanently lose weight.

Not only that, but the big daddy of them all is our brain. Our problem-solving brain specifically.

Dr. Howard Rankin

First you need to remember a bit about human evolution.

Back in the caveman days, when people died at around age 35 or so, making sure you had enough to eat was crucial.

During times of plenty, it was evolutionarily important to eat enough to be absolutely STUFFED so your body and brain would have fuel to get you through a famine.

And guess what? Our current 21st century brains don’t realize that most of us have plenty (and more) to eat every minute of every day and night.

See the chart below for how calorie consumption has changed in 40 years in the US alone!

That’s why we keep eating when we’ve had enough to satisfy true hunger.

Especially if the food is something you really love, you think is forbidden, haven’t eaten in a while, only get a couple times a year. Whatever.

But hey, this doesn’t have to be your fate. You don’t HAVE to gain weight or become some dumpy version of your 30-year-old self.

And while it’s true that a certain amount of wear and tear is inevitable, and may lead to some stiffness, or lessening of range of motion, there are many things you can do to stave off the ravages of aging.

It doesn’t matter whether you do or don’t care so much about looking fit and sexy, but everyone should care about their health, mobility, and longevity.

It’s All In Your Mind

I write a lot about mindset and habits. Healthy habits for life are the key to making lasting change.

Imagine you’re in your 80s, people marveling at how healthy and fit you are. Do you think you’ll look back on the year (or more) it took you to work on your mindset and change your unhealthy habits and think it was too hard?

I doubt it.

Can you imagine not having to force yourself through your dreadmill workout? Or ditch your strength training “just this once” because you had a tough day. Maybe you’ll crave exercise instead.

Well, maybe you’ll never crave it.

Let’s be real.

But you can learn to exercise and eat healthy food even if you don’t love it.

You do this by getting clear on your values.

What you value needs to be more important than the urge to engage in unhealthy behavior.

You can learn to overcome even the most persistent voice in your head telling you to veg out on the couch, eat the second slice of cake, or drink another glass of wine.

It takes some practice and work, sure, but what thing of value doesn’t? No matter what anyone tells you, losing weight, becoming fit, quitting smoking, getting up earlier in the morning…all these things take effort.

But you can you learn better, more effective ways to make lasting changes in your habits.

How Your Values Relate To Health

Let’s say you decide to get healthy and lose weight (again). You find a new diet and/or exercise program. Monday rolls around and you enthusiastically begin your new regimen.

After a few days, when it’s time to choke down some broccoli again, you rationalize how good you’ve been the last couple of days.

Maybe you could forgo the cruciferous crap and have some chips and dip instead.

What You Value Needs to be more important than the urge to engage in unhealthy behavior”

Just this once. Of course you’ll get back to the broccoli tomorrow! No doubt about it.

Do we all know how this turns out? How can you make the outcome different this time? Is there really no hope?

Yes, there is, and the hope is in your values. Not goals (though those are important, too), but values. And here’s why.

What Is A Goal?

A goal is “the end toward which effort is directed.”

Miriam Webster

The key word in the definition is “end.” A goal is something that either happens or doesn’t happen. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds in a month, you either do it or you don’t.

Goal tracker to help you lose weight after 50

And what happens once you reach this goal? Are you finished? By definition, yes you are. Now you would usually stop with the pursuit and go back to whatever you did before you met the goal.

Well, with weight loss, what might this mean? If you ate a certain number of calories in order to reach the goal, are you going to go back to the way you ate before? If so, isn’t there a good chance the weight will eventually come back?

Probably. There must be a better way!

Focus On Values Instead of Goals

There is nothing wrong with having goals. Goals are good. It’s just better to have goals that support your values instead of goals in isolation.

Let me explain.

Values are: “basic and fundamental beliefs that guide or motivate attitudes or actions.”

Values help you understand what’s important to you. They are a direction you head in. By definition, you never “arrive” at a value.

Your goals and actions can either move you toward, or away from your values.

People usually have several core values, such as compassion, trustworthiness, persistence, health, etc. They are qualities, not goals or things.

If, for example, you want to be healthier, ask yourself why? Is it to look better? To live longer (or at least avoid some bad health outcome)? Maybe you want more energy.

Or you want to be strong in your later years so you can stay independent.

woman working out showing the missing key to weight loss she values strength

Your answers to this question will reveal what really matters to you.

Take your time to think about this. Write it down, too.

Writing things down makes them more concrete and real. Neuroscience says so!

7 Layers Deep Why Exercise

A very wise lady named Frances Vidakovic has a great exercise called 7 Layers Deep Why Exercise. The first layer is what you want to do or have. So, let’s say it’s lose 10 pounds.

  • Layer 1 is Why Do You Want To Lose 10 Pounds? Your answer may be, “I want to fit into the size 6 pants I wore on my honeymoon.”
  • Layer 2 is Why Is This Important To You? Why do you want to achieve this thing above? Maybe the answer to this is, “I feel bloated and fat and I don’t want to feel that way.”
  • Next Layer: Why Is This Important To You? This answer may be as simple as “I want to feel better…I don’t like feeling bloated”
  • Next layer: Why Is It Important That You To Feel Better? And then you answer this one with something like, “because I want to walk with my husband every day and feel enough energy to do so.”
  • You know what’s next! Why Is The Above Important To You? “Because I love my husband and enjoy spending time with him.”

And so on. You keep doing this until you have reached the ultimate value for the thing you want to achieve. In this case, it could be intimacy, romance, respect, or loving-kindness.

Senior couple walking hand in hand working on the missing key to losing weight after 50

So you ultimately want to lose 10 pounds in order to be more intimate with, or loving toward your husband.

Not because he’ll love you more if you weigh less.

Because it’s easier and more comfortable for you to walk with him and this is a way you express intimacy or love toward him.

Do you see how this value is something that is always there? There is no end-point to it.

It’s something you’re always working toward, and any number of things you do for your health can move you toward manifesting this value.

How To Discover Your Values [And How They Relate to Losing Weight]

There’s no question that you have values, even if you never think about them, or really don’t know what they are. You can use something like the 7 Layers Deep strategy above and eventually figure out what they are.

Another way is to look at a list of common and some not-so-common values so you have something to start with.

This is helpful especially if knowing your values is something you’ve just never focused on or thought about before (like me a while back).

Below are some common values to get you thinking. You can also ponder a weighty question like, how can I find joy? Or, how can I give joy?

How can I positively influence the world?

These are the kinds of questions that can help you identify what you truly value, deep inside your being.

  • Adventure
  • Authenticity
  • Beauty
  • Compassion
  • Courage
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Excitement
  • Fairness
  • Fitness
  • Freedom
  • Generosity
  • Health
  • Intimacy
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Love
  • Patience
  • Pleasure
  • Power
  • Respect
  • Romance
  • Self-care
  • Spirituality
  • Skillfulness
  • Trust

Once you have identified your top values (perhaps 4 or 5), you can then determine the goals that will move you toward what you value.

Only then will your efforts to lose weight or be healthy become truly meaningful and permanent.

Oh, yes, you’ll still have ups and downs, but they won’t derail you permanently because you’re always becoming a person who expresses the value of health or fitness.

For a deeper dive into identifying your core values, download the guide below.

You Can Find The Missing Key To Health & Fitness After 50

You just need to throw out pretty much everything you’ve ever learned or heard about losing weight!

Well, maybe it’s not that bad. But instead of focusing on this or that diet, or this or that exercise program, get clear on your values first.

Once you have nailed those, think about how your desire to be fit is related to those values.

Once you’re clear on that, you can align your value(s) to your health behaviors, which is what we’ll explore in part 2 of this series!

Liked This Post?

You’ll love the Phase Two Fitness Facebook Group

Want to remember this post “The Missing Key To Losing Weight [After Fifty]? Save it to your favorite Pinterest board!

If you like this post, please share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Thanks for breaking this down. Itโ€™s so interesting when we place a value on something instead of judging our avoidance. It definitely makes it easier to attain. Mindset is key in most areas of life!