I thought I was immune. For 25 years, I exercised 4 to 6 days a week, ate a well-balanced diet and enjoyed a healthy relationship with food. I was the weird girl who actually liked her body, loved vegetables and looked forward to workouts. I was certain the inevitable “Slowing Metabolism” that comes with age would bypass me. After all, I did everything right. Right?
The year I turned 40, I gained 23 pounds. It came on quickly, at a rate of about 2 pounds a week. I changed nothing to trigger the weight gain, other than starting on a “weight-neutral” anti-depressant a year earlier. I was still exercising, still eating well.
It was scary. Every time I stepped on the scale, the number was higher. I couldn’t fit into any of my clothes. I hardly recognized myself in the mirror. After I took approximately 8 home pregnancy tests (all negative), triple checked my scale for battery failure or technical malfunction (all in fine working order) and checked every clothing label to see if someone accidently switched my clothes with those of my 10-year-old daughter (nope), I self-diagnosed a 20-pound butt/thigh tumor.
I made an appointment with my family doctor, my GYN, a homeopathic physician and a dietician. The overwhelming consensus and final diagnosis was that I was….
I wasn’t sure what to do with that. I mean, I didn’t want to be sick, but I desperately needed an explanation for the weight gain. Mostly, I got a shoulder shrug and a sympathetic, “Well, you ARE 40 now. This sometimes happens…the metabolism slows…”
It took about a year of very hard, focused work to lose 15 of those 23 pounds. I never did get to my pre-40/pre-Lexapro weight, and I’ve been struggling to get there ever since. I’ve done all I know to do. Everything from up switching up my diet (vegan, vegetarian, paleo, calorie restriction, intermittent fasting and gluten free) to continued back-to-back high-intensity workout programs, (1 year with a personal trainer, followed by P90X, P90X2, P90X3, Insanity, and Jillian Michaels Body Revolution.) On top of all of that, I walk or jog a few days a week. Yet, depending on the season, I still remain anywhere from 6 to 15 pounds over my Pre-40/Pre-Lexapro weight.
I used to think if a woman struggled with her weight, it was because she wasn’t trying hard enough. After six years of trying hard, I don’t think that anymore.
Redefining My Goals
In January, I led a 90-Day Challenge group on Facebook. There were about 15 women, most of us 35 or older each with different goals. Over those three months, I observed the women fall into one of two camps: those who struggled with maintaining consistency (would skip workouts, binge on a plate of cookies) and those who struggled with progress (would consistently eat well and exercise, but failed to see the scale budge.)
I shared that with my husband, who said, “Where are the ones who are consistent AND reaching their goals?”
Good question. Most of them are in their 20’s or early 30’s, I suppose.
That got me thinking that perhaps we were setting the wrong goals.
In a culture that idolizes youth, it’s tough to grow old. Pick up any woman’s magazine and there is a cover article encouraging us to “defy” age. Every other advertisement promotes a product promising to “erase lines,” “smooth wrinkles,” and “reverse damage.” We celebrate women with firm skin and toned thighs, even if it comes by way of surgical or digital alteration. The juiciest celebrity scandal is often a favorite actress caught in a bikini, revealing her cellulite.
This is ridiculous. And insulting.
As a 46-year-old woman, it’s wearisome to constantly counterbalance this garbage with reality—the reality that we are, in fact, aging. And with that age comes some wrinkles, sunspots and cellulite.
Women over 40 must come to terms with the fact that we are not our 25-year-old-pre-baby selves. Shoot, we’re not even our 35-year-old-post-baby selves! This is not an insult. Age really DOES slow the metabolism. Our thighs really DO get bumpy. Our bellies really DO get softer. Even if we’ve been doing everything right for decades. Even if we are still doing everything right.
So, Do We Just Give Up?
I have a “perfect weight” in my head. A number I’m constantly measuring myself against. Wanna know the last time I was that “perfect weight?”
It was after I buried my son.
Oh, and one other time a few years later: after coming off a 40-day fruit and vegetable fast.
So, let’s review: The only times in the last two decades I was my “perfect weight” were when I was 29 years old, grieving the loss of my first born child, too devastated to eat—-essentially starving myself. And also, when I had gone almost 6 weeks eliminating meat, dairy, grains, beans, nuts, sugar and skipping meals—-essentially starving myself.
The problem with most weight-loss goals is that we are often using a bad measuring stick. Measuring yourself against a 20-something-pre-baby version of you is a BAD measuring stick. Measuring yourself against a post-tragedy or post-fasting version of you is a BAD measuring stick.
I’m so done with that.
Maybe we should go ahead and set a weight loss goal, but adjust it to fit our current season of life. Maybe we do need to lose 20 pounds or more for our heart or to treat diabetes, but maybe it’s going to take a lot longer than the recommended 1-2 pounds per week.
Or maybe we should just treat our bodies kindly and let the scale fall where it may.
Like in the trash bin, perhaps?
Maybe instead of berating our bodies over ten pounds or arm flab or muffin tops we could set some health goals that look more like this:
1. Completing a workout program.
2. Training for a race or event.
3. Gaining strength, endurance or speed.
4. Managing a medical condition without meds or with a reduced dosage.
5. Eliminating or greatly reducing processed foods and sugar.
6. Trying something new. (OMG, remind me to tell you about trying CrossFit last week)
7. Drinking water.
8. Giving up alcohol.
9. Getting enough rest.
10. Successfully managing stress.
11. Trying new recipes with local, seasonal food.
12. Feeling good.
13. Setting a good, well-balanced example for our children.
14. Liking our bodies.
Does that sound like giving up? Giving in? Unbalanced in any way?
I don’t think so. I think it’s wisdom. We may gain a few more inches on our hips after 40, but with those inches come wisdom. Why don’t they mention THAT on those magazine covers?
Sure, we may mourn the loss of our flat bellies and firm booties, but look at everything we gain: life-experience, patience, self-confidence, grace, perspective, intelligence, balance and a healthy sense of humor about it all.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much prefer I inspire someone with my patience or my perspective rather than the circumference of my waist or the width of my rear end.
Let’s set some new goals, ladies.* Let’s give ourselves and each other permission to grow older. And if we are going to defy something, let it be the misconception that being thin and young and flawless is all that matters to a woman. You will inspire an entire generation of young women coming up behind you.
And that, my friend, is infinitely more beautiful than firm thighs.
*If you are a man of any age and your testosterone and muscle mass has allowed you to reach all your weight-loss goals and you’re all, “What’s the big deal? Just cut back on the brewskis!“, I think I speak for every one of my female readers when I say, you best be quiet right now.