Eat to Live

By Robert F. Bornstein, PhD and Mary A. Languirand, PhD

We met on the first day of graduate school at SUNY-Buffalo, on September 1, 1981, at the orientation for incoming clinical psychology doctoral students. Within a year we had moved in together (though it took us another decade to get married….apparently we don't like to rush into things).

Back then we spent many a Saturday night at home, sharing a pizza with the works and two dozen Buffalo wings, the whole mess washed down by a couple of liters of sugary cola. Never one to quit easily, Bob would often end the evening by downing a few pickles from the fridge, just to take the edge off (that cola was awfully sweet).

Those were the days….

As we age, gastric acidity changes, intestinal motility slows, kidneys lose some of their filtering power, and insulin may fail to do its job as effectively as it once did. As a result you'll probably be more prone to indigestion, reflux, nausea, constipation, and a host of other digestive woes. You may find that you can no longer tolerate the spicy foods you once loved (we can't, unfortunately….no more wings for us). Your physician may tell you to lay off the sweets and carbs. The martini that once produced a pleasant buzz now makes you dizzy.

Does this mean your days of enjoying food and drink are over? No-as long as you use your head. Portion size, intensity of spice or heat, and the contents of your cocktail can all be tweaked. You can pace yourself, eating smaller portions more slowly. (Do you really need an entire turkey leg? A foot-long sub? A six pack?) Preventive medications are available to quell some of the impact of Szechuan or Thai food. Many ingredients have healthy substitutes that taste pretty close to the original.

A few simple strategies can lead to healthier eating (not to mention a better night's sleep afterward):

  • The Company We Keep

    People who eat with others eat better. Older adults who live alone sometimes lose weight because they skip meals; others gain weight because they subsist on a steady diet of toaster waffles and junk food. Maybe it's the distraction of conversation, or the need to watch your table manners, but whatever it is mealtime companionship usually translates into better nutrition. This is one reason that shared prepared meals at senior centers and other group venues tend to result in better health for all.
  • Pesky Calories

    Because 3,500 calories translates into one pound of fat, you need to burn that many extra calories to lose a pound. It's not as bad as it sounds, because you don't have to do it all at once. (in fact slower is better where weight loss is concerned). If you burn an extra 100 calories per day (or reduce your daily calorie intake by 100…..any combination of the two) you could lose about a pound per month. That's 12 pounds in a year.
  • Together We Stand

    Food prices are going up-not news. This is why "couponing" is now a verb, and more people are taking advantage of big box stores and buying clubs that sell food and other items in bulk at lower prices (some involve an annual membership fee, but if you use them fairly often it's worth it). One good option is to shop with friends, splitting the costs and dividing up the mega-size portions. (Of course, if you're loyal to certain brands you may find that your favorites just aren't available, so take that into account as well.)
  • Cooking for One (or Two)

    If you're accustomed to preparing meals for a gang, the work involved in cooking for one (or even two) people may strike you as a "why bother?" experience. It needn't be. You can still prepare a big pot of stew-you'll just freeze some portions for later. Cooking for one or two allows you the luxury of creating simpler and more elegant meals, and indulging the occasional culinary experiment. After decades of trying to please a crowd it can be fun to eat what you want.
  • Meal Clubs and Cooperatives

    Just as shopping opportunities can be shared, so can the meals themselves. If you buy meat in bulk try splitting it with neighbors, each preparing your specialty then swapping the dishes among yourselves. You'll get savings, variety, and the chance to benefit from others' culinary mastery. Some people opt to share the food literally, dining together and making an event of it-now you get company as well as good food. While this might not be a realistic option for those with challenging dietary restrictions, meal co-ops can be a great way to experience new foods in new ways.

Robert Bornstein and Mary Languirand are the authors of When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In Home Care, which is available at, or may be purchased directly from HarperCollins Publishers.

Our latest book is entitled How to Age in Place: Planning for a Happy, Independent, and Financially Secure Retirement, published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.