This year we've all faced many months of working from home and increased time indoors.
And while many people understandably relaxed their fitness and nutrition routines this year (turning to comfort eating and Netflix to get through lockdown) there’s never been a more important time to focus on your health and wellbeing.
Finding a home fitness routine and healthy eating programme that works for you could pay off hugely for both your mental and physical health.
For me, I decided to use the first lockdown to try to reverse five years of menopausal weight gain.
It all started a little bit before that though....
Nine months ago, when I announced to my family that I was, (no not pregnant!), finally ‘losing it’, they laughed and pointed out that I had in fact ‘lost it’ years ago, somewhere between baby number four and the onset of perimenopause (rude!).
“I’m serious guys, I’m sick of struggling with my weight, I need to shift it once and for all.”
They looked on with boredom – this was something they had heard SO many times over recent years, that it just wasn’t worth the expended calories to even glance up and engage with me.
Quietly motivated for midlife weight loss
So I decided to take matters quietly into my own hands and do something about it without the big announcement, which had fallen on deaf ears anyway.
But where to start?
I’ve always struggled with my weight; I’m embarrassed to admit that comfort eating was my ‘go-to ‘coping mechanism for dealing with life's ups and downs.
Triggered by low self esteem after being bullied at primary school, which was compounded further by a traumatic loss in my early 20s, my eating habits throughout my childhood and young adult life, were not something to be proud of.
With each baby I just gained more and more weight and once I hit perimenopause, followed by a hysterectomy, my weight gain was out of control and for the next decade I just didn’t really seem to be able to do anything about it or care even.
But with me turning 50 and the year turning 2020, something felt different and I was determined to prove to my family and, more importantly prove to myself, that I was taking this seriously.
Finding the right approach for me
A friend had suggested I try Slimming World, but I hated slimming clubs and the thought of having to sit in a hall with a group of women I didn’t know, their eyes boring into the back of my head as I approached the scales, just didn’t sit well with me.
Now I’m not knocking slimming clubs (I know many women who swear by them), but I needed a more anonymous approach. Luckily my friend told me there was a Slimming World app, so I signed up for a 3 month subscription and downloaded it onto my phone.
In the past, the only way I have ever managed to be successful with my weight loss has been to incorporate a regular fitness routine to run alongside it (‘it’ would run alongside it, I should add, not me – I don’t do running!).
However, I’m one of those girls that hates, and fares badly, exercising on my own. This is mainly because I can always manage to talk myself out of it, so I needed to recruit a couple of unsuspecting victims who would have my back and not take no for an answer!
So victims number 1 & 2 (aka a couple of my lovely friends) and I, found a local health club for us all to join, and we merrily signed up for 3-4 classes a week. These ranged from Body Conditioning, Pilates, Legs, Bums & Tums & Cardio Burst (not for me that one, except for the teacher – wow talk about eye candy for us midlife ladies – sorry if that’s a cliché and not very PC, but it's true!).
So from January through to lockdown in March Slimming World suited me well as I could track everything on the app and I was allowed to eat carbs and fruit all day long and a few other treats too– so what’s not to love?
And slowly the weight started to drop off at a steady rate of 1lb a week.
Then the pandemic arrived
That was until our lives were all abruptly brought to a halt with a little thing called a pandemic, and sadly my merry routine was halted with it.
Being a creature of habit, I felt anxious knowing that I would no longer be able to attend these classes in person and feared my successes to date would all have been thrown away.
So I told myself I had two options, either I follow the rest of the world, hibernate and just go back to comfort eating to deal with the new reality or…….. just maybe I could come out, like a hedgehog in spring, a new slimmer, fitter version of me and not throw away everything I had worked so hard on pre-Covid.
Settling on the latter, I now had the task of finding an online fitness routine that would resemble what I had been doing at our leisure centre.
I trawled the internet and tried various things but most of them were led by young nubile 20 somethings shouting at me to ‘hit the floor and give them 10’ with exceptionally loud music pumping in the background - Sorry, but as a mum of four in lockdown, I didn’t need to start my day with yet more blaring music and people shouting in my ear.
Getting passionate about fitness!
Just as I was starting to give up hope I landed on a website, run by a lady called Reena Vokoun, who has a fitness business in San Francisco Bay, California, called Passion Fit. (I have since contacted Reena and interviewed her! She shared some really useful advice for midlife fitness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. You can watch the interview here.)
Finally I had found something that reminded me a little bit of what I had been doing pre-lockdown.
Reena stood at the front of the class with a group of women (her friends and family) behind her, following her routine too, while she demonstrated the moves.
As a woman in her forties I could tell from the way Reena talked that she understood (that most of us can’t deal with high-impact fast-paced routines anymore and everything was explained slowly and carefully to avoid injuries, allowing you to work at your own pace and within your own capabilities. And with the whole thing done and dusted in 45 minutes it really didn’t impact on the rest of my day.
So with my slimming world app, my new workout regime and a daily dog walk with my hubby or kids, I felt I had found a routine that worked wonders for me.
Here's one of my favourite workouts from Reena, if you'd like to give it a go!
Check out this fun Total Body Sculpt workout including a warm-up, cool-down/stretch and 10 different intervals focusing on your upper body, lower body, core and glutes. You'll be sculpting your entire body from head to toe using your own body weight. Enjoy and subscribe to my Passion Fit YouTube channel as well!
Pushing through temptation
Now I’m not going to lie and say it was all smooth sailing from the get go. My daughters boyfriend had moved into our bubble and with 7 people to feed in lockdown there were days where I just didn’t feel like making yet another healthy meal with all the tidying up that came with it – far easier to just grab a snack to fill the hunger pangs.
So pushing through the temptation took a lot of mind over matter. Luckily my daughter loves food, cooking and fitness and is a really healthy eater, and she was the one that encouraged the entire family to organise our days around proper mealtimes so we had something to look forward to and more importantly prepare together.
So every Sunday night we would do an online shopping list together for the week ahead, prepare our meals in advance and take it in turns to cook. This really kept me motivated and more importantly kept my blood sugar level so I felt satiated after every meal and never felt the need to pick at unhealthy food or left overs.
Because I could see a small but steady weekly drop in weight it kept me motivated to keep going. Normally my hurdles in the past have been because I would go for weeks without losing a pound and would then just get angry and give up, turning to my old faithful routine of comfort eating to deal with my disappointment.
I think also in the past every ‘diet’ I had tried banned carbs and treats so it was only a matter of time before I would fall off the band wagon again, craving a nice bowl of pasta or chocolate bar! But with Slimming World you can have all of these so you never feel like you are missing out.
Another important factor for me was hearing and seeing on the news that obese/overweight people with a high BMI faired worse in Covid also really made me determined to keep going for health rather than appearance.
A network of support to lose weight
My kids and husband were my cheerleaders, they could see how well I was doing and at times when I was losing motivation they would encourage me on. My daughter and I also did some workouts together and my husband joined me for Reena’s workouts and on our dog walks so really it was the ‘doing this together’ that kept me on track - so often weight loss and fitness journeys can be a very lonely existence.
And on the days where I really didn’t feel like exercising I listened to my body and allowed myself to have a day off making a personal commitment to getting back to it the day after – I asked my family to help me make sure I would, and I have to say they certainly policed it!
So I’m pleased to report that, although 2020 has been a really awful year for us all to date, somehow I have been able to take something positive from it, by losing 3 stone to date, getting much fitter and am now living the healthiest life I have lived in more than a decade.
If I can do it you most definitely can too.
My top tips to anyone like me who feels like they will never be able to lose weight or get fit in midlife:
- This is not a dress rehearsal, we only get one life so live it as if it's the opening night!
- Commit to a period of time that you are able to find to dedicate to your midlife weight loss - be it 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months or a year.
- Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day, just do a day at a time.
- Pick a weekly day and time to do a shopping list and meal plan for the week and if possible get an online delivery weekly slot set up so you never run out of food. Fill your shopping basket with healthy snacks.
- Find a friend to exercise and possibly do a weight loss regime together with – so much easier if you have someone else to help motivate each other. Try not to let two days go by without some form of exercise.
- Ensure your family are on board and supporting you
- Don’t obsess over the scales. If you do want to weigh yourself do it no more than once a week, ideally once a fortnight at the same time of day.
- Get a dog or borrow one! Long dog walks don’t feel like exercise and going with a friend or partner out in nature is so good for your mental health and endorphins.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon, just commit to getting back on it within a few days.
- Try and avoid sugary, fatty or processed foods where possible as they are as addictive as cocaine and can cause the binge, yo-yo diet cycle that I have spent years tied to. Our weight management in menopause resource hub might be helpful for you too!
- I recently interviewed Reena Vokoun, whose workouts I followed in lockdown. She shared some really useful advice for midlife fitness and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. You can watch it here.
- For more support with perimenopause and menopause, including the effect of changing hormone, head to our menopause resources area.