I’m a realistic person. I’d rather focus on staving off midlife weight gain than try to whittle down to a 25-year-old’s physique. Not that I’m completely past the body insecurities that have followed me around since I was a child, but I’m finally wise enough to realize I’m not supposed to look like the young moms I see at the community pool. I’m not sure that’s even possible at this point without physically torturing myself. Bottom line is I’m currently at a healthy weight and I don’t need to lose for medical reasons, but I have neither the stamina nor the time to climb a metaphorical Mt. Everest.
When I reached my 40s, I kept hearing that it would be much harder to lose and maintain weight. Personally, I haven’t noticed much of a difference when it comes to maintaining, and it could be that I’m just not yet affected by hormonal changes. But I am a creature of (bad) habits. I know that unless I set goals and follow through, I won’t achieve what I want. If I’m not ultra-aware of what I’m eating, I gain weight. The same goes for activity: I need to be serious about establishing an exercise routine if I want to keep in shape. When the midlife hormones do take over, it’s going to be more difficult to maintain my weight and tone, but I think I’ll be ready for it using my current approach.
I’ve always struggled to keep weight off (see childhood photo, left) so I’m no novice when it comes to diets and exercise programs. I’ve mostly avoided fad diets and those that aren’t supported by science, and I’m knowledgeable enough about nutrition to understand what I should be eating and what I should cut back on. I’m also fairly educated about the need to balance aerobic activity with weight-bearing workouts although I’m by no means an expert in this area.
But you don’t need to have years of dieting and exercise experience to get serious right now. And my plan is simple in concept. It requires both self-awareness and accountability, and you have to commit to it. That might be the most difficult part.
7 Specific Ways I’m Beating Midlife Weight Gain
1. I follow a healthy nutrition plan and write down what I eat during the day. In fact, I like to plan what I’m going to eat for the entire week.
For years, I ate according to the principles of the South Beach Diet, and these days I’m into the 21-Day-Fix. However, I’ve learned to use these plans as guidelines only. Both nutrition plans limit high-fat foods and unhealthy carbs, and the Fix goes a step further by emphasizing portion sizes. I learned a lot about the 21-Day-Fix on Pinterest and have seen some elaborate recipes that aim to reduce boredom and help you to enjoy your food while you’re “dieting.” I think it’s easier to plan simple meals, but do whatever feels right for you, and will get you motivated to follow a nutrition plan.
Another reason a food plan or diary is great is that you can occasionally substitute a treat (or an adult beverage) without feeling like you messed up your diet. You simply switch it out for a carb portion and go on about your day.
Finally, I tend to plan out my meals for the week because it makes grocery shopping easier and keeps me from making bad choices when I want a snack.
2. I am well aware of what I crave.
Speaking of treats, I love dark chocolate. I also love bread. But I’m totally a cheese freak. I used to grab a stick of string cheese whenever I felt hungry, and I wasn’t even paying attention to how often I did that. When I’m aware of my cravings, I can incorporate them into my daily nutrition plan. I hold myself accountable for the quantity I eat without banning the food altogether. Eliminating a craved food makes me feel deprived, and that never leads to anywhere good.
3. Everything counts: Mentally prepare yourself for that bit of truth.
Sometimes when I’m preparing mac & cheese for my boys, I’ll taste a bit of it before I serve it to them. I’ll rationalize this by telling myself I want to make sure I have the correct balance of butter and milk to powder. But then I find myself eating the leftovers in their bowls at the end of the meal as I’m cleaning up. The same goes for pizza and sandwich crusts because I was taught not to waste food. But THESE CALORIES COUNT. I have to constantly remind myself not to open my mouth near these kinds of foods because I know that it’s really hard to stop once I start.
4. If I get hungry after dinner, I eat a sanctioned snack.
I remember watching Oprah sign a contract on TV stating she wasn’t going to eat after 7 p.m. I realized – even if she didn’t – that unless I was going to go to bed right after dinner, I was going to get hungry again during the next few hours, and that contract would be worthless! Before I was tracking my food, I would browse the shelves (pantry and fridge) and keep popping something into my mouth until I stopped feeling hungry. Of course, that was a bad idea! Now, since I know I’m going to eat after dinner, I choose a reasonable, filling snack and I don’t let myself eat anything else – it’s a food I’ve decided upon earlier in the day and not something I’ve grabbed on impulse. Protein is a good choice because it helps me to feel full, and my protein of choice is a low-calorie Greek-style yogurt. If I haven’t eaten enough fruit during the day, I’ll cut up a few strawberries and throw them on top. Look how pretty!
5. After that nighttime snack, I brush my teeth. Immediately.
For me, it’s kind of like sealing the deal. Brushing my teeth is boring and tedious. Waiting for that electric toothbrush to make its way around my mouth for two minutes seems like the longest time interval ever. Why would I want to do it twice? I don’t. That’s why I won’t eat after brushing. Something about the minty taste makes my appetite retreat, too.
6. I don’t overexert (or overwhelm) myself with my activity plan.
Exercise is beneficial in so many ways. It improves your physical, mental, and emotional health, and by doing it regularly you’ll be able to eat more than if you lead a sedentary life. But there was a time when I would take on more than I could physically or mentally handle. Then I’d start to feel guilty if I didn’t run a set number of miles per week, or if I skipped the particular PiYo workout I was supposed to do that day. There will always be days when I can’t muster up the energy to spend 47 minutes on a yoga mat in front of the TV, or dial it up to 7 m.p.h. on the treadmill, but I can do something! I’ve found that if I can sneak in a walk (either outside or on the treadmill) I’m a much happier person for just doing any kind of movement.
7. Tomorrow is another day. And so is the day after that.
This past weekend I had a birthday, and I had made a conscious decision not to monitor my food intake very carefully during those celebratory days. Well, you can probably guess what happened…mayhem in the area of impulse control. Also, I had delicious leftovers (and a CAKE) that I didn’t want to waste. I’ll admit that straying so far from a “plan” made me feel sluggish and guilty. But do you know what would have made me feel worse? Giving up because I strayed off course. Once that cake was gone, I recommitted myself to the plan and began anew.
Summing it up in simple terms
As you can see, the principles behind beating midlife weight gain are fairly basic*: self-awareness, accountability, and commitment. Following through is more challenging. But if you’re like me, and your goal is to live a more fulfilling life, you’ll realize that health and confidence will greatly contribute to your contentment. If you have any tips or tricks for keeping weight off in midlife, I’d love for you to share them in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
*You should always consult a physician before you begin any weight loss or exercise plan as there may be an underlying cause for weight gain, and you’ll want to ensure you’re healthy enough for exercise.