Despite being a life long ectomorph, the tall skinny body-type who can usually eat as much as they like, I’ve been putting on weight since I turned 45 last year. Even though I’ve never done more exercise in my life the weight has been slowly piling on.
For most of us over 40 maintaining our weight, or losing weight if we need to, can feel like a constant struggle so here’s my weight loss story and some tips for you if you’d like to join me in the resistance against middle-aged spread.
1. Accept that your body will change when you’re over 40
Through my twenties, and thirties my natural adult weight of 55kg (121lb) was defined by most weight charts as underweight. I’m five foot nine” (175cm) and spent my whole childhood being teased for being skinny.
As a child I was so self conscious of my body that school swimming lessons were an ordeal. I used to do anything to avoid people seeing my unclothed body, with ribs, hips and shoulder bones sticking out sharply as they did, and to avoid their unkind words.
Later in adult life I learnt to accept my body and even love it. I realized how lucky I was to be naturally slim.
Even after giving birth to my two boys I lost the huge amount of weight I gained during pregnancy which was a whopping 20kg or 44lbs each time. It took a year each time but without really trying I got my skinny girlish body back.
But then I had my third child aged 36 and my body didn’t go back to it’s old weight. It settled naturally around 60kg (132lbs) which put me in the normal weight range for the first time in my life and was fine with me.
A year after Kiara was born I threw away all my jeans because I could no longer pull up over my thighs and bought them again in a size bigger. I found it hard to believe that I’d ever been that thin and was quite happy with my new adult mummy body.
Everything was fine for the next ten years until very recently.
2. Acknowledge the causes of weight gain
Despite my 52 Exercises quest last year, and the fact that I’m currently fitter than I’ve ever been before, I put on weight and I know why.
I ate too much chocolate. I’m ashamed to tell you how much I ate so let’s just gloss over that and say it was definitely two bars a day and often twice that amount. Or more.
I gave up a lot of other bad habits last year and took up many healthy ones but I ate far too much chocolate on a daily basis and, even though it was dark chocolate, eventually the weight crept on and stuck around.
I still wasn’t overweight though and when summer came I started wearing loose floaty dresses to accommodate my bigger body. No one was any the wiser about the weight gain except me.
3. Define why you want to lose weight and make sure it’s for the right reasons
But as the weight carried on piling on at the end of last year I knew I’d have to do something about it because I didn’t want to carry on getting heavier. Although I looked okay my thighs were starting to rub together. My shorts were tight and uncomfy.
Even though I knew my legs were muscular from exercise I had saddlebags and my bikini bottoms were digging in around my hips.
If things carried on the way they were I’d soon have to buy a whole new wardrobe and, since I have a lot of clothes I love that I’ve spent a lot of money on over the years, I didn’t want to do that.
Worse still I knew if I didn’t change my eating habits fast then I’d just carry on getting heavier until my weight affected my health as well as the clothes I wear.
4. Work out a healthy eating plan that you can stick to most of the time
So on January 6 I stopped eating processed food including sugar, flour and grains. That might sound quite extreme but I wanted to try a lose variation of the Paleo diet although I’m still eating things like potatoes and bananas for carbohydrates as well as nuts, dairy products (mostly plain yoghurt, milk and some cheese) and lots of fruit.
I know if I could only eat chocolate in moderation I’d still lose weight but since I seemed to be having trouble stopping at one or two small bars and eating many more every single day I thought I’d better quit altogether for a while.
I don’t intend to eat like this forever and if there’s a special occasion, a meal out or a travel experience then I won’t stick rigidly to this new eating plan.
I hate the word diet which is why I’m trying to avoid using it. I think it sets you up for expectation of lack and makes you think you’re missing out when you’re not.
5. Practice mindful eating
The first week was hard enough anyway. I spent a lot of time thinking about chocolate. I made a sugar-free, gluten-free chocolate chia seed cake which helped see me through. I replaced chocolate after lunch with 15 minutes of meditation and a 10 minute nap.
I substituted chocolate after dinner with fruit salad or fruit mush, which is fruit and nuts blended with plain yogurt and tastes a lot better than it sounds.
By the second week I was becoming used to a life without chocolate. I noticed how sweet and delicious fruit was. I started to appreciate the flavours and textures rather than just see it as a substitute for chocolate.
Some evenings I didn’t bother to make a fruit salad because I was full. Something I would never have done with chocolate which I used to eat regardless of whether I was full or not and usually despite the fact that I was full.
6. Work on emotional eating issues and get therapy
I have a friend who says losing weight is easy for him but that’s not the case for me. I’m a classic over-eater who’s got away with it for over 40 years because of my metabolism and body-type. But now I’m working on eating less and kicking yet another life-long addiction of comfort eating, over-eating and relying on chocolate to boost my mood and energy levels.
Weight loss for women over 40 might be harder than it is for younger women because metabolism does slow down with age. Most women over 40 have given up bad habits like smoking or drugs which kept weight down when they were younger.
Many of us have children, work or family commitments that make it hard for us to exercise. All too often, when faced with the harsh realities, challenges and demands of adults life, we replace our childhood dreams with whatever is close to hand that makes us feel better and often that’s food.
7. Don’t get sucked in by social expectation, the media or fad diets
The media bombards us with weight loss tips, products and promises. There are replacement meals like protein shakes, low calorie ready-made meals, endless and ever-changing diets that change their names from Atkins to South Beach to Raw Food as the years go by.
There are support groups and plans like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig but at the end of the day weight maintenance and weight loss all comes back to us.
You have to embrace a new body shape as you age. You have to celebrate your body for what it can do. Things like like pushing out a 5kg (11lb) baby at home, body-building or even just a gentle swim are no mean feat.
But you also have to take responsibility for your own health, for controlling your food intake no matter how hard that is and for finding a healthy eating system that works for you. These are a few things that work for me:
- Tracking my weight with the Full Fitness app because that gives me feedback on my progress so I’m not working in the dark.
- My husband has joined me on a healthier eating plan so I have some support.
- Replacing bad habits with new healthier ones.
- Becoming more mindful about my eating as well as in the other areas of my life.
- Getting therapy so I can explore over-eating issues more and change them long term.
- Being flexible in my new eating plan so I won’t be too hard on myself and I know any small failures are just a hiccup on the path to success.
As you can see from my weight loss chart it’s early days for me but I’ve lost weight and am making progress slowly which is the way it has to be.
Weight loss for anyone is hard because we’re surrounded by food and we don’t only eat when we’re hungry, we eat when we’re tired, angry, sad, watching TV, in the car and everywhere in between.
But’s a simple equation of calories in and calories out. I exercise because I love it but, no matter how much exercise you do, you won’t lose weight unless you watch what you eat.
Using a body weight tracking chart like the one above (a screen shot from my weight loss chart with the All Fitness app) can help you track of your weight so you can reduce your food intake and lose weight at a pace that’s right for you.
Like me you might have to re-educate yourself about what you eat and why. You may have to relearn to eat only when hungry.
But weight loss is possible when you’ve over 40 and you can find a balance between deprivation and over-indulgence while still enjoying the food you love from time to time.
Now is the time to embrace a healthy lifestyle and eating habits that will keep you feeling fabulous and ready for adventure in your forties and beyond.
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