This post has been a long time coming… just like losing weight can be.
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At the end of last year I wrote a “preview” post to this one entitled 3 Quick Tips to Kickstart Weight Loss for Over 40 Women. In it, I described three things that would set you on a journey to get fit and lose weight and I promised the longer, more in-depth post would follow. In fact, it ended up being SO long I’ve divided the follow-up post into two. It is, if you like, my Kill Bill Volume 1 of my “how I lost weight in my 40s” story.
I’ll tell you the end of Volume 2 first: I lost 22lbs (10 kg) in 4 months. That’s on average 1.5lbs/0.6kg a week… a very healthy, steady rate to lose it. No one was more surprised than me. I’d been trying to shift what I’d gained for YEARS.
What I’ve written here is not a drastic lose-a-stone-in-two-weeks quick-fix. (If that’s what you’re looking for I’d suggest you look elsewhere; even better, stop thinking that that’s a great way to do it altogether. I promise you it isn’t.) I’m writing something that’ll hopefully change your mindset, help you rethink the way you look at weight loss and aim to give you the tools and show you the way to finding the same mentality that I’ve gained over the last nine months or so.
Losing weight – or, I should say, getting fit – at this age (me: nearly 48) is very different to doing it at 22. Your body is working against you because that’s where, unfortunately, age comes into it. That’s why I found it so hard to shift the pounds I’d slowly gained over the course of several years, mostly following my “leg injury” and the operation I had to sort it out at the beginning of 2018.
I still have a LONG way to go before I’m at the fitness level I want to be at. But hey, talking about it – and admitting you need to do something about it – is the first step. Even if it’s you discussing it with yourself in your own head, or it’s you discussing it with your other half, or it’s you writing it all in a blog post to make yourself accountable (that’d be me, then).
Refusing to bury your head in
yet another cream cake the sand is a start. Promising to give your body the healthy, fit life it deserves is the next step.
How I gained weight and how far I have to go
It sounds like a long time to gain it, and it WAS gradual, but I gained exactly 3 stone (42lbs / 19kg) in four years. I was, however, very underweight at my lightest. My final weight – before I started to find an effective routine that had results – was the heaviest I’d ever been in my life by a VERY long way. The main image is what the difference of 3 stone looks like…
I’ll post it here again to save you scrolling.
Left, above: 2013 / Right: April 2019
Both photos scare me. Both scream “ill health” to me. (That’s not something I expect anyone to see by looking at a picture – though I am pretty gaunt in the first one. Everyone has their own story and health issues that shouldn’t be judged by physical size or a photograph. The photos represent what I know about the state of my health at the time.)
The one on the left shows me at a time when I was in a very unhappy place. Amongst other things, I was deeply unhappy in my job, and just a couple of months after the photo was taken I took voluntary redundancy and began blogging full time. It took a while, but eventually, happiness followed, and so did the extra pounds.
The one on the right shows me at my heaviest weight (ever). Being that size took a severe toll on my physical and mental health. I am small-boned, was a naturally bony, skinny child, and I’ve not had children. The weight I gained was all down to a very, very unhealthy lifestyle. It was down to no sleep (a poorly Riley needed to go out several times in the night and one or the other of us slept downstairs with him for several months), being too tired to exercise AT ALL, and eating a lot of take-out, comfort food or skipping meals.
I had regular headaches. My periods were much more crampy than usual. I ached all over. I had extreme lethargy all the time. My skin wasn’t great. And because I couldn’t fit into ANY of my clothes it affected me mentally, making me very despondent every time I went to try my regular clothes on and one item after the other not fitting me or being WAY too tight to wear comfortably.
What helped me break the cycle was a week-long wake-up call, otherwise known as the Slimmeria fitness and detox retreat. The first time I went I came back supercharged; however, I slowly started to pile the weight back on again (Riley being unwell and a Christmas break was a lot to do with it). However, the second time I went, something switched in my brain.
I’m not saying you need to go on a detox retreat (you might want to – in which case I say GO FOR IT). I’m saying that you need to have a good chat with yourself. Find that wake-up call. Face up to some home truths. Your OWN home truths. Hopefully what I’ve written here will help you get you in the right mindset and set you on the path that I eventually took.
This time the path actually led me somewhere… no more “Go Back, Wrong Way” signs for me.
What I’m going to talk about here…
Firstly, I want to make it clear that this post won’t be dictating to you about what you “should” be doing if your fitness levels or waistlines aren’t what they should be to keep you healthy and happy for life. This is not a “one size fits all” read. I’ll merely be talking about what I did to break the cycle of not losing weight and what I started to do differently, and some of these processes may help you work out how to break your own cycle. Please do not expect a “Eat these foods, do these exercises” kind of post.
(I will list the exercises I did and what I ate/eat in a part 2 post. But I’ll also talk about how to find your OWN lifestyle, diet and exercise routine.)
You’re hopefully here because you value the quality of life you’ll have as you go onwards into your later years. I mean that in a positive way; I’m merely breaking up our lives into two halves. Pre and post-menopause, if you like (I’ll come onto the M-word in a bit).
Before I discovered the processes that finally had some effect, my health was a bit like a game of football:
The game of football analogy
At the beginning of last year, I felt like the halftime whistle had gone and the team I was managing was losing 3-0. That’s despite me putting out the same great team I’d had for years. I’d started with my best, most experienced strikers right from the outset and a solid defence that was always dependable and got results. However, this time it felt like a lost cause. The team’s performance was totally uninspiring and they were letting in goal after goal.
I realised I could either carry on with the same team, playing in the same way, and not get any results with the same team formation. Or, I could bring on my subs, change things around and take some risks.
It was time to be Gareth Southgate managing England and bring out an all-new team in the 2018 World Cup, not Fabio Capello playing the same old they’re-just-not-working squad yet again (and getting thrashed 4-1 by Germany) in 2010.
(I know it’s an English football analogy with people that not everyone will be familiar with, but I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at.)
It was time to be Gareth, not Fabio.
If YOU feel like you’re at half time and you’re getting thrashed by the other team, then you’ll want to read on. In this post I’ll talk about getting your head in the right place. Because if you don’t do that first, then no amount of fitness or diet tips will help you.
First, get to grips with these ideas…
1. Be honest with yourself.
Not being honest with yourself is the BIGGEST hurdle to overcome when wanting to get fit and lose weight. Your reasons for doing it have to be the right ones. Wanting to fit into that dress for your holiday in July? Not really a long term goal, and you’ll probably look for quick fixes that won’t last. Want to be able to run around after your children/grandchildren and be as immune as you can be from health problems, aches and pain as you grow old? Now that is what will get you results because it’s a long term goal.
You’ve got to be doing it for your health and to increase your life expectancy and quality of life, not for a bikini. I won’t deny that looking good in a bikini when you’re fitter is a bonus – but it’s exactly that: a bonus. It’s not the end goal. Healthy, fit and happy is your end goal.
Another part of being honest with yourself is to admit when you’re always kidding yourself about how healthy you already are. “It doesn’t matter how healthily I eat/how many meals I skip, I still can’t shift the weight!” Sound familiar? It’s what I kept telling myself when I continued to pile weight on. “But I’m so healthy! I eat all the right foods! I drink lots of water!”
If I’d been REALLY honest with myself, I’d have realised that it was the extra, “hidden” calories I was consuming that caused so much weight gain, and too little exercise.
“One pizza a week won’t hurt. I had so much veg for lunch!
These two beers will be fine, it’s a one-off.
I know I just ate a whole packet of Jaffa Cakes, but I’ll walk more on Monday.”
And then in theory I was drinking lots of water (I LIKE drinking water), but so often I just wasn’t actually doing it.
In terms of not being honest where my fitness was concerned: You know questionnaires (any type) where you’re asked how many times a week do you exercise? I’d always tick 3-4 times a week. Again – IN THEORY I would be exercising that much. I would be doing that much in an ideal world. In reality, I was doing nothing. Maybe two morning walks a week. Then four weeks without anything at all.
So BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. Don’t say you’ve tried everything and nothing works. If nothing’s shifting despite you “trying everything”, then something else entirely needs to change.
2. Realise you need a routine you can stick to
Something I often hear people say is that they have no time to exercise or prep good food. Think of this: do you have time to brush your teeth? Brushing your teeth and going to the dentist are vital if we want to keep our own teeth past the age of 50. Do we skip brushing and flossing because we don’t have time? No. In the same way, good diet and exercise are VITAL to our health and well being.
It’s actually part of being honest with yourself.
Do you WANT to live a long life and do whatever you can to stay as fit and healthy as you can be with each decade that passes?
Do you WANT to decrease your risk of various cancers, a stroke or heart disease?
Do you WANT to avoid aching bones, arthritis, reduced brain function, dehydrated and dull, wrinkled skin?
If you do, then making time and establishing a routine for a good diet and some exercise is ESSENTIAL.
I know it sounds like I’m being a right old bore/dictator here, but I wish I’d had similar truths pointed out to me back when I was gaining weight. So many things I read were just “eat this, eat that, do this exercise, do that exercise”. There’s no motivation to do any of it. Or sometimes you start and because you don’t see results like, NOW, you give up because the bigger picture of lifelong health and happiness wasn’t your goal in the first place.
So, second only to the right reasons for setting out on this journey, routine is key. Think about when you’re going to make time to eat well and exercise. Make changes to your current routine to accommodate it. We all have to earn a living, we all have others to look after, we all have to get to work/do the grocery shopping/do the laundry/get the kids off to school/tidy the house/visit our friends and family. It’s all got to be fitted in somehow. Making time for your own well being and “future-proofness” – so that when you’re old you can still do all those other things without it hurting too much(!) – should be right up there at the top of your daily To-Do list.
You DESERVE to be fit and healthy. YOUR LOVED ONES deserve to have you fit and healthy now and going forward. Plus, what better way than to inspire your children and grandchildren than by being an active, fit and healthy 80 year old? I never had grandparents, but I can only imagine having had a sprightly grandmother. She would have inspired me beyond belief.
Take a long, hard look at your daily routine and find time. Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day to exercise and 15 minutes extra each day for prepping food, it’s half an hour more than you’re already doing. Make those change of routine goals REALISTIC to start with or you’ll fail at the first hurdle.
3. Get your sleep pattern in order
Some people are great at getting to bed early. I am not one of them. I’m unfortunately a night owl and feel my most productive then. I’m also a freelancer and my job means my work is never, ever finished… there’s ALWAYS “one more thing” I could get done. Therefore I find it very easy to work late, thus affecting my sleep pattern. If you’re like this and go to bed at inconsistent times every night, often very late, then all I can say is SORT IT OUT. Your health depends on sleep soooooooo much, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you all the ways in which you’re risking your health when you don’t sleep.
Akkkk I’ll tell you anyway, as I need to tell myself this regularly. As the NHS website states, long term poor sleep “makes you prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes”. Notice they put obesity first. If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, you’ll never shift the weight or be as fit as you can be.
For me, a good night’s sleep has a knock-on effect with EVERYTHING in my day. If I go to bed late, I find it hard to get up in the morning. I’m too tired to function and make excuses not to get up and go for my early morning walk. I then don’t come back to the next part of my routine: doing my strength (weight) training. I don’t eat my proper breakfast. I’ll start my work too late, and the whole day gets shifted on several hours, and my work output is slow and poor. I then try and make up for lost time in the evening by doing more work then, and I end up going to bed late… hence, the vicious cycle.
GET TO BED. Turn your phone off an hour before bed. Read up about sleep techniques (and why sleep is so important) if you have trouble sleeping. Even if you only initially change one thing about your routine to get healthy, make sleep the no.1 priority. Everything else will follow.
4. Accept that midlife is working against you – it’s about health, not physical size
This, unfortunately, is where I get to be a bit of a Debbie Downer. Like it or not, advancing years ARE working against you. That’s not to say it’s too late to do anything about your health and fitness (far from it!), but you have to realise that your metabolism is not, and never will be, what it was when you were 22.
For AGES I kept saying “But I never used to put on weight! I was always naturally slim! I was a skinny child!” – blah blah, blahdy BLAH. But one day I woke up and realised that menopause is around the corner. I am NOT 22. I am approaching 50. A different approach – and attitude – was needed.
This is why I suggested being a Gareth… sometimes you have to throw all your old techniques, routines and dusty exercise DVDs out of the window and do something totally different.
(If it’s exercise VIDEOS you still have, then OMG you need to try something new!)
If you’re perimenopausal or menopausal, then unfortunately you will most likely be more prone to weight gain. Your metabolism slows down as you age. Whereas when you were younger you could still burn calories even when sitting, that’s not the case anymore. So a combination of prolonged periods of sitting and too many calorific foods (you know the ones…) will inevitably lead to extra pounds. We lose muscle mass as we get older, so that has to be addressed. Our estrogen going nuts can lead to increased fat storage, so that has to be addressed. Difficulty sleeping is common in perimenopause or menopause (my increasingly-more-common night sweats can be horrific!), so that has to be addressed.
All this stuff is working against us. I honestly thought I was ready to give up because of all these factors working against me – I was just about ready to accept a life of constant lethargy and weight gain. Thank goodness that switch in my brain went off.
✷ A quick summary of the changes I made that got results ✷
~ I stopped having those things that are considered ‘healthy’ foods
You know the ones – they seem to have an air of goodness about them but they’re actually calorie-laden. If you’re seen eating them people will say, “Ooh that’s healthy!”
- Large glasses of orange or other fruit juice
- Fruit salad (especially tropical fruits)
- Granola or sweetened muesli
- Dried fruit
- Oversized portions of nuts (especially my weakness, cashews #drool)
- Flavoured yoghurt
- Diet drinks (don’t touch them: the artificial sweeteners cause a spike in insulin, which can turn into stored fat so they’re anything but “diet”)
- Cereal bars
- Shop-bought smoothies
- Shop-bought houmous
All of the above will, unless eaten in small portions and in moderation, pile on the pounds. The processed foods are often packed with excess sugar and salt. For me, I stopped making huge smoothies every day. The ingredients themselves were healthy (avocado, almond milk, protein whey powder, raspberries, lime juice, yoghurt), but the quantity that I was making and consuming meant that my “healthy” breakfast was incredibly calorific.
Take a long hard look at exactly what you’re consuming. Don’t try to convince yourself that, or justify why, diet drinks or that whole tub of houmous “won’t hurt because it’s healthy”.
~ I realised that cardio alone won’t burn fat
This was a big one: I made a commitment to strength training every day, even if I didn’t do any cardio. Once I started doing some simple routines with weights I saw results very quickly.
In part two I’ll discuss what exercises I did, how I came up with them, and why YOU must find a routine that works (and will get results) for YOU, not just copy what I did.
This is a BIG one. It might be the most important change I made. That’s why I want to talk about it separately, once all this “get your head in the right place” stuff has sunk in.
~ I got myself a timed water bottle
Simple, but effective. I featured this bottle in my 9 completely brilliant things I bought recently post, and it’s a lifesaver. So often I just forget to drink water (even though I have every intention of doing so), but with this it makes me keep on top of my water intake.
~ I didn’t deny myself anything and didn’t “diet”
Others may find it easy, but, for me, if I’m banned from having something then I crave it even more. You know how certain foods are absolutely banned if you go on a particular diet? Well, I’m one of those people who just can’t follow a faddy diet because I’m always thinking about the things I can’t have.
That said, I stopped stocking the kitchen cupboards with sweet treats and avoided buying them in the supermarket by switching to online deliveries only. (We used to do a big online shop every one or two weeks and then pop in several times in between to get extras, but that made me buy naughty treats every time.)
The times I practised “everything in moderation” was when, for example, we’d have dinner at my parents’ house and mum would present about four puddings for us to eat (meaning at least ONE would be my absolute favourite). Sure, I had a portion of trifle, but I put it in a very small bowl – without extra cream poured on top – and ate it slowly. Over last summer it went down VERY nicely with an occasional G&T, too.
I didn’t follow any particular “diet”. I stopped skipping meals (because I’d been grazing most of the day) and structuring my days to three good meals with two snacks in between. I just had to become very, very conscious of portion sizes, the calorie content of foods and whether I was eating out of boredom or necessity.
Finally: a caveat
One thing I have to mention… I started to see results in my weight loss about two months in, but this actually coincided with the loss of our beloved dog Riley in June. Stress and/or grief can play a HUGE part in weight loss – or weight gain.
I certainly didn’t stop eating (as can be the case when you’ve gone through something traumatic), but stress and sadness alone can affect your metabolism. So do keep this in mind. I’ll never know how much this contributed to my weight loss, but in a way I needed something to focus on and help me get over the loss, so it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.
I will admit I’ve found it harder to keep the pounds off since we adopted Suki in September. Then Christmas came, and of course the combination of being a lot happier, less stressed and having to find a routine around our new girl made the pounds start to creep back on again. But since last month I’ve been back on the game – and I’m determined to become even fitter and stronger than ever this year.
I’ve not taken any sort of official “after” photos yet as I’m still on this journey, but here’s a photo of me working out at the Slimmeria retreat at the end of last year, looking and feeling much stronger. Next to the other two photos, the difference is striking.
Part two will basically be a more in-depth version of the 3 W’s post (Water, Walking and Weights) I wrote last year. I felt that breaking this into two and talking about the stuff that affects our ability to lose weight first – the stuff that goes round in our head and the stuff that we’re subconsciously doing, or not doing at all but should be – was really important. I hope it’ll set you on the path towards a happy, healthy you.
Everyone deserves to have a body that’ll stand the test of time and hopefully see them out for a long, active and illness-free life. Thoughts…?