Caloric penance is no way to win the weight loss battle.


The holiday season is on us. Rather than cycling caloric penance and gluttony, try to be sensible.


The Empty Nesters spent the last seven months working hard to regain our health. Thanksgiving day inflicted a serious setback on the weight loss part of the equation. We do not know the precise amount of the damage because we lack access to a scale. To be on the safe side, however, we gave caloric penance by fasting from yesterday evening until 5:00 p.m. tonight. Of course, after the fast ended we binged on Thanksgiving leftovers. One step forward and two steps back.

Caloric penance through deprivation results in meals looking like this. And late-night refrigerator raids.
Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Losing weight is like trench warfare. Small gains come only with Herculean effort and still you find yourself pushed back to the trench where you started. Trying to lose substantial pounds after age 50 raises the difficulty level to an absurd level. Ask any AARP member on a diet and they will tell you that the real magic of a flux capacitor is the ability to undo the hundreds of decisions involving chicken-fried steaks, chocolate shakes, and other indulgences that forced us onto the battlefield to begin with. It turns out that caloric penance is a sure way to lose the war.


We have known for a long time that “yo-yo dieting” (a quasi-scientific name for caloric penance) will almost certainly not work. You lose weight and feel good so you relax a bit. Next, you gain weight because you relaxed a bit so you feel bad. Then you eat more because you feel bad. Inevitably, the ups you get from starving yourself end up in bigger downs that result from not being able to starve yourself.

Muscle mass is the overlooked key to weight loss. as opposed to calorie deprivation.
Not an Empty Nester, most likely. Photo via Pixabay.

Losing weight when older is more than than just the caloric penance psychological battle. With age comes the loss of muscle mass at a rate of 3-8% a decade. So what? Well, lean muscle burns calories. With less lean mass to burn those calories, that extra helping of mashed potatoes goes straight to fat. In addition, muscle mass helps control your metabolism; with less of of the good stuff, the calories stay with you longer.

As if the news about waning muscle mass is not bad enough, consider that hormones are changing your body also. The last time this happened, you had to deal with acne and a variety of other embarrassing body reactions. This time around, decreases in estrogen (women) and testosterone (men) cause subtle changes that make it more difficult for a body to effectively burn calories. Add the biological changes to a lifestyle that does not prioritize exercise or healthy eating and you get inevitable disappointment.


Staring the holiday season in the face, the Empty Nesters needed a battle plan. Having established that caloric penance is not a workable answer, we have decided to actually do what people have been telling us to do for decades. First and foremost, our exercise plan must involve working the major muscle groups. M’Lissa enjoys yoga and I tolerate traditional exercise routines. COVID slows down going to the gym, but pushups. crunches and other traditional exercises can do the trick. If you are looking for a way to get organized, try the workouts suggested by the National Institute of Health on their GO4Life workout page found here. More advanced, gender specific workouts are here for men and here for women.

Second, hydrate yourself. Forever, I have resisted drinking enough water. I need to taste something. Thankfully, the good people at Gatorade solved that problem in the form of their Propel waters. I cannot get enough of the stuff and it is zero calories, In addition, the electrolytes and anti-oxidants seem to be good stuff.

Third, we are going to be chill. Seriously, just chill out. COVID, elections, economy, racism, blah, blah, blah. We are going to make it, I promise you. The less you worry, the less impact those hormone changes will have. If you cannot just flip the switch on chilling out, try meditation or calming apps.

Fourth, we are going to get some serious shut-eye. Better sleep and healthy living are a virtuous circle. We kick started that circle with the purchase of a new mattress and it makes a difference. We bought a Nectar, but there are a million brands out there. And related to the chill out paragraph, almost any new mattress is going to be much better than your old mattress. So forgiving the pun, do not lose sleep over the decision process. Just get a quality mattress and use it.

Fifth and finally, we are going to be conscious of the types and amounts of food we consume. As mentioned before, we have found that the Defined Dish cookbook to be a terrific resource. The recipes can be prepared quickly, but if time is an overwhelming issue, think about a meal delivery plan. This internet stuff is getting good.


Caloric penance carries with it the twin appeals of instant gratification and “no pain, no gain.” Deprive yourself for 24 hours and enjoy the lower number on the scale the next morning. DO that 30 days in a row and…you are dead. Any “diet” that will ultimately kill you should probably be avoided.

So accept the fact that this is going to take a while. And that there is no better time to start a long trip than right now. I am getting back on the same road right after this last slice of pie.

The opposite of caloric penance. But it is going to be ok.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

No consideration received for commercial products mentioned in this article.

Share this post


Related Posts
Recent Posts
Consent of the Governed


Steve’s annual Fourth of July thoughts come from visiting his old haunts at Sheppard Air Force Base, looking forward to a flyover, and reminding himself about the promise of America

Read More »
Consent of the Governed

Ben Franklin’s Fourth of July Toast

The remarkable Ben Franklin secured America’s victory in the revolution without ever firing a shot. As always, Franklin’s lessons for the country he helped make are enduring.

Read More »


Thankful for a Well-Kept Lawn. My first interaction with Russell Bradford, my father-in-law, was strictly commercial. Before the internet replaced newspapers and before modern distribution

Read More »