From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Fabulously Fighting Fit at Fifty (and Beyond)

I don’t know what the big deal is about old age. Old people who shine from the inside look ten to twenty years younger.

Dolly Parton

I was approaching one of life’s major milestones—my fiftieth birthday. I was also fast approaching another peak in my roller coaster–style weight management plan that had been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. So what better occasion than to make some serious lifestyle changes and lose some weight? I had spent years setting goals for myself, reaching them, feeling great and then reverting back to all the bad habits that got me onto the slippery slope of weight gain in the first place. I tried all the various diets that came and went as medical and marketing opinions changed. I counted fat, fiber, calories and ounces and always lost weight. What I never managed to achieve was a state of maintenance, until now.

One day my friend Carol said, “How about doing a personal training program together?” I thought, You must be joking, but I said, “Okay, I’ll give it a go,” trying to sound positive. This was the most important step I have ever taken into the weight-loss arena. Carol and I undertook a twelve-week program, which consisted of three days a week weight training and three days a week cardio workouts with Mark, a qualified trainer at Fighting Fit Academy. I had been used to exercising and was reasonably fit. Over the years I had donned Lycra and embraced all the latest exercise trends. However, I had a feeling this would be a serious challenge, and I was not wrong.

Arriving at the gym on the first day, I was excited, but scared. We were weighed and measured; then Mark explained the program to us. I could not believe the weight I was expected to lift, press and carry, but “can’t” was a word Mark did not permit in his gym, so finding the power and strength needed, I did what I was told.

After the first day I was tired but elated, and I slept well after a long soak in a bath filled with Epsom salts and aromatherapy oils. The next day I could not move, walking was nearly impossible and areas of my body hurt where I did not know I had muscles. The next two weeks were more of the same, and I was constantly sore and tired. However, I gradually became stronger, found the training easier and recovered faster. I also began to feel invigorated instead of tired.

In parallel with the training program, I was introduced to a different way of eating—not a diet, but a sensible eating plan designed to provide the energy and nutrition needed for strenuous exercise and also designed for weight loss. I no longer ate a big meal at night but instead ate small meals, six times a day, including some protein with each meal, and greatly reduced my overall carbohydrate intake. I was rarely hungry, and what is more, I felt great. I had one day a week when I could eat what I wanted, but just knowing that I could do so provided an escape hatch that I actually did not take advantage of very often.

I had expected overnight changes, but this program was not about a quick fix. It took six weeks before anything happened, and then my shape began to change. At the end of the program, I was astounded at the results. I had lost a little more than fifteen pounds, which may not seem like a lot of weight, but by converting fat to toned muscle, I had lost inches in all the important places, rediscovered my waist and found that my small frame was quite shapely after all. I was ecstatic and basked in this feeling, soaking up compliments and enjoying the gasps of amazement at my “before and after” photos.

I had reached a pinnacle of achievement, but the real challenge was just beginning. This was not about reaching a goal and then stopping but was the start of a new lifestyle. If I was to find my Holy Grail of maintenance, I needed to make a major mind shift. I always remember one of my diet program leaders saying that the most important area for weight loss is the top three inches of our head, and that the rest follows.

I have had to acknowledge that life is not fair. I will never be able to eat what I want without getting fat, and I will always need lots of physical activity, so for the first time I accepted this as my new philosophy and turned away from the path of striving toward a goal paved with sacrifice and denial. Instead I have extended the timeframe of this goal into a lifelong journey to be cherished and enjoyed.

Now I exercise daily and eat sensibly and moderately most of the time, but I do give myself permission to indulge in the occasional treat. In this way my weight has stabilized. I never allow it to fluctuate by more than five pounds at a time.

I use my own body signals to recognize when my intake (food) and output (exercise) is out of balance and correct the imbalance immediately. I also know that the feel-good factor from a good workout is far more satisfying and longer lasting that the ephemeral joy of tantalizing the taste buds. I took up bike riding, yoga and tai chi, all of which has helped me feel in control of my body, disperse stress before it builds up and divert extreme emotions so that I can handle them better.

Two years later, I have maintained my weight and exercise regime, and I have found that I can easily cope with the changes that are a natural, but difficult, part of life for a woman in her fifties. I maintain my sanity by continuing the path I started with lots of invigorating and varied exercise. I took that first step and began to experience a feeling of well-being. Before long, my motivation led me to a new and exciting place. Now nothing can hold me back.

Janet Marianne Jackson

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