T Nation

Help with Oveweight Over-50 Female


I got problems, ya'll. So, it's a long story, but I'm a 27-year old New York transplant to Seattle, WA, living with my girlfriend (31, fairly fit), her mother (50-something, overweight) and stepfather (50-something, not in great shape, but weight not "an issue"). I'm trying to help my girlfriend's mother lose some weight (she is at an unhealthy [and undisclosed] weight and has been diagnosed with heart disease).

I am a T-Nation convert for about three or four years now. I've lived a very carb-reduced life since coming to T-Nation. I've done some Crossfit and I believe strongly in circuit training at intense intervals for fat loss. I have lost 75 lbs, but I am still about 20 lbs of fat away from my own fitness goals. (Current program "Real Fast Fat Loss.")

Some of my biggest fat-loss tenets are:
1. Least amount of carbs possible per day
2. NO CARBS after 7PM (earlier, say, 5PM if possible)
3. Only lean meat, green vegetables, and low-carb protein shakes (From Biotest - shameless plug!) after 7PM.
4. High Intensity Interval Training for fat loss 3 days per week (with proper peri-workout nutrition - also featuring high quality Biotest supplements!) and proper rest periods
5. High protein intake (6 +/- meals per day, including at least 3 low-carb protein shakes) aiming for approx .8 grams of high-quality protein per pound of body weight.
6. More green vegetables (3-4 servings per day, not including superfood style supplements, at least 2 servings should be uncooked if possible)

I have tried to impart all of these tenets to her in order to help her move towards better fitness (although for injury reasons, she cannot engage in HIIT training, nor would I necessarily recommend HIIT for the beginning lifter seeking fat loss, I just recognize it as pretty much the best form).

Some big problems in this situation:
1. My GF's Mom (let's just refer to her as "mom" from here on) has very poor health: she has all sorts of injuries (knee, back, and neck) and stomach problems (making dietary stuff problematic at times).

  1. Mom has very poor nutritional information. She doesn't realize the importance of eating as few carbs as possible and never to eat them late at night and that "a little bit of chocolate" is still sugar and carbs!

  2. My girlfriend thinks that my demonization of carbs borders on fanatical (which it...kinda does...but I'm right!). She's not 100% behind my crusade to eliminate carbs in her mother's life in order to help her lose weight.

  3. Mom is picky. She has one brand of protein powder (Spirutein,14 grams protein, 11 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber per serving - this doesn't meet my high standards for low-carb protein shakes), which she says that she likes the flavor of and "digests well." She claims to be lactose intolerant. I have heard reports that some high quality whey proteins do not cause adverse reactions in people with lactose intolerance. Can anyone substantiate this for me? I'd really like to get her on Biotest GROW! ASAP. Mom is also picky about the foods that she will eat in general, and she leans on the carbs.

  4. Mom's husband (we'll call him "dad") is clueless: Dad is in his 50s, techy, doesn't care much about his physical form, isn't in good shape, but isn't dangerously overweight or sedentary or injured or anything, he's just clueless about health and nutrition, etc. and therefore can't really help Mom on her journey towards fitness. Furthermore, he goes food shopping with her and grabs carby stuff off the shelf, then they buy it, and he may or may not eat it, but either way, now it's around the house and it finds its way into Mom's mouth. (this whole "buying carby crap" thing has to go).

  5. Mom's son (who is a totally great guy!) is about my age, but in better physical condition - he's been working out longer than I have, has a great frame, and really applies himself. The problem is, he doesn't have a ton of experience losing fat, so his only real data is about developing and maintaining muscle, and his information doesn't go very deep. He's dropped some information around her about periworkout nutrition (needing sugar and protein, which is all well and good and fine), but she's not doing any work right now that is hard enough to necessitate highly specialized periworkout nutrition (I'd personally like to see her drink 30 grams of Grow! protein with a handful of BCAAs before her workouts and that's it).

  6. Mom doesn't make "working out" (which, in T-Nation tradition, I call "training," which often causes people to ask "training for what?" to which I reply: "fuck you.") a priority. Most days, if it even crosses her mind, it's at about 9:30 at night. The gym closes at 10.

If you've made it this far: THANK YOU! I definitely needed to get that all off my chest. If any of you have any stories, information, advice, or direction to offer for this situation, it would be greatly appreciated.

The following are some initiatives which I would like to see her undertake in order to contribute to her fat loss and overall health and fitness goals:

  1. 45-60 minutes treadmill/elliptical/walk, at a brisk pace, preferably on an empty stomach, at least 4 times per week, immediately upon arising for the day.
  2. No bread, potatoes, chocolate, sweets, etc. (basically all the stuff we think of as no-brainer type stuff for fat loss, but other people need to be told not to do).
  3. Food log - time, amounts, etc. in detail.
  4. Activity log - time, amounts, exercises, weights.
  5. Resistance training 1 - 2 times per week (goal of three times per week, eventually). [oh, another problem - she's got this resistance training thing stuck in her head like she's going to gain a ton of muscle and start burning massive amounts of fat any time soon, and she just needs to get it into her head that it's going to be a long arduous process with very little short-term gain/benefit and a lot of pain and sacrifice - and that's the GOOD news).

I would like her weight training sessions to consist of six exercises, two to four sets of each, ten to twelve reps per set, always with the option to increase weight, or do a drop down set towards the end. Rest intervals would be timed between each set. Periworkout nutrition would consist of Spirutein to start, then Biotest GROW if I can convince her to use it, then eventually SURGE (but that's at least 6 months down the road, if not further). Can anyone give any suggestions for exercises that they have used with people like Mom? I will work with her personally to determine which exercises she can accomplish safely and for maximum effect.
6. No carbs at night.
7. More small meals (at least 2 protein shakes per day).

Again: any advice, direction, or suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks for indulging me.

*****Please keep in mind that I'm always a total gentleman about all this stuff: she's asked me multiple times to show her exercises at the gym, and I've agreed, she just never makes it a priority to get there when we would actually have time to get it done. I've also undertaken most of the cooking duties in the house, favoring lean meats and fish (hello, salmon!), so I'm doing my best to help her keep on the right path*****


You've put a lot of thought into this crusade, but does Mom really want it? Does she have the desire and motivation? I can see where you are trying to do good, but people change when they are ready to. If she is not ready, not willing to put the effort into weight loss, you could very well be creating a dynamic that could do more harm than good.

That being said, maybe have her pick one small change to make each week. Don't overwhelm the woman. Look for activities that she can enjoy, maybe swimming, maybe easy yoga or just simply walking with her each evening. I'd say the key is to help her get to a place where she wants to become active, regardless of how simple or easy the activity is.


I would suggest trying every type of exercise possible...maybe she doesnt like the weights, but if you all went jogging or for a good fast walk everyday she would start to feel the benefits, and then you could slowly work in the strength training. Try all forms until you maybe hit one she likes, so it will be fun and not just work.

Also, you might need to not be nice. There was a gal who lifted with us who was 5'3", just shy of 300 lbs, and not very strong. She could probably lose 100 lbs easily. We tried all kinds of stuff with her, but what finally took was us getting in her face and saying, "This is not about your lifting, this is about your life. We do not want you to die at 30."

Do you see a future with your gf? Tell her mom that if this thing goes the distance, you dont want to have to sit down with your three year old son and explain why he doesnt have a mawmaw.
I have been in this situation. My family has heart disease on both sides, and all my grandparents were dead by the time i was 10 (my folks had me in their early 30s).
I even had this conversation with an ex. She was overweight and when I didnt cook she ate like shit, and I tried to get her to work out, and told her it wasnt for looks. But, if this thing went all the way, I didnt want to worry about a wife who was gonna die on me at 35.

My dad didnt eat great, worked out a lil and smoked. Then right after i was born he had a heart attack. He then got everything straight and now walks 5 miles aday, works out some, and eats very healthy.
I could go on with more experiences but Ill start crying all over my keyboard.

I hope this helps you out brother.


@dianab: you make a good point regarding "being ready." To be honest, I have only her word to take for that. She says that she's ready and wants to make a change. She knows that it has to be now because of all her health issues. I'm definitely going to try the slow, gradual approach that both you and LSUPOWERDC mention.

@LSUPERDC: I've tried to take a firm hand with "mom." When it's just the four of us and she reaches for a dinner roll, I'll give her a little nod like "That's not helping." It's just about making better decisions. She says that she wants to change and improve, then she does things that work against her.

Thanks for the input. Any more will be appreciated as well.


Don't forget mini goals and good rewards, it can go far in motivating someone who isn't serious yet. See if she will sit down and make a list of her goals and motivations. You can use these to remind her everyday of what she's aiming for. Also see if you can gather some pictures of her so she can see what she wants to change (try drawing some of those changes even blacking out unwanted areas)because you can lie to yourself a lot easier in the mirror than in a photo. If she doesn't want to see photos, ask why. She may be reluctant because she doesn't want to see herself as she is, but it is a good motivator for many overweight people.

She shouldn't need to use a lot of weight to start working out, so maybe she can get some lighter weights or bands at home so there is no excuse not to work out. Maybe if she can't get to the gym she could try soup can presses and chair squats, just as long as she does something. Keep on her, but push only as far as she can handle. Perhaps even ask how far she wants you to push her on eating or exercising, she may want you to be a bit meaner to keep her on track.

Good Luck!


I re-read your post. There are 2 big things you need to consider while working with Mom:

The physical side: Being that you are working with a peri/post menopausal woman (at risk due to decreased hormone production for tears and strains) here who has injuries and perhaps other issues, (you mentioned digestion) ask yourself is you are qualified to design any sort of cardio and/or resistance training program for her. Aside from the existing issues, she likely has many muscular imbalances, postural problems etc. Apart from gentle exercise like walking or swimming, unless you are qualified to work with someone like Mom, get some help from a trained pro who has the experience.

When was her last physical and how did that go? Unless she has blood sugar issues, I can't see why you would want to eliminate carbs so drastically. Even with insulin production issues the key is timing, not elimination. I can understand that you do well on this type of diet, and maybe she would too, but why not try for a balanced diet first, with clean carb sources, including grains at the appropriate times. Changing 50 years of dietary habits will take time, get her eating whole foods first, and see where it goes. She does not need protein shakes at this point, just food, in the appropriate amounts at the appropriate time. I'd venture to say without her medical history, that she would be fine with some fish oil to help the joints out and Metamucil for the digestion issues. Add in a bunch of veggies for the vitamins, and low fat, low carb dairy for the calcium. 2 weeks and she'll be shitting like a pro ( :

The emotional side, well please tell me you are kidding about dinner rolls on the table.
Be careful about the dynamic in the home you may be creating. If she feels that you are watching her every move, she will either become dependent on you to always take the lead and what good will that do if one day you are not there? What if you and the gf move out or take a vacation? She may also get fed up and become resentful in time. You know what is said about the best intentions....

Seeking motivation and looking for inspiration, well that's a trap that extends inertia. "Just do it" instead of compiling notes and wish lists. I hope it works out for both of you.


Entirely apart from the fat issues, dianab's right, you need to be careful about starting a weights program with an older, untrained woman. I tried to teach my mom to lift this summer -- she's not overweight, but she hasn't exercised (apart from walking and chores) in over twenty years.

Lesson learned: someone in that position is very weak. She can't do a bodyweight squat or a sit-up. If I tried to get her under a bar, she'd get hurt. I would have liked to get her in a position to do ordinary bodyweight stuff (air squats, sit-ups, push-ups) so she won't be frail when she gets old, but I don't think even that's going to happen. When you're a regular guy/gal trying to be an amateur trainer without hurting Mom, you have to push less hard than you'd like.


She didnt wake up one morning, magically overweight.

hundreds of thousands of decisions over an untold period of time added up to equal a lardass.

it's going to take many decisions many days in a row to get her in the right direction.

Get off her back. You cant and shouldnt force her or berate her. What you can do is tell her to stop talking about it and when she's ready to go for a walk every night and put her ass in gear you can think about getting invested.

couple weeks after that, get her walking with ankle weights, build from there.


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low carbs + low fat = disaster.
Rabbit Starvation anyone?