Tag Archives: weight loss

The Power of Habit: a Daily Hour of Exercise

“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.”

— John Irving

Oh là là! The one-year anniversary of my retirement slipped by without my noticing it. I was busy celebrating my sister-in-law’s retirement, also from teaching, and entertaining house guests. Well then, it’s been a year now: a whole year of doing as I please (mostly), of cultivating my talents and passions (well, some of them), of sleeping in as late as I like (almost always)—a very good year indeed.

I started out this first year of retirement with two goals: to become a consistent, daily writer, and to become very physically fit. I had vague notions of becoming a fitness instructor and offering on-site exercise classes to teachers after school. Well…

The good news is that the writing is going swimmingly. Most days, I spend at least two hours at my computer, either writing or editing a draft. And while I could do much better with this blog (and I shall), I’m moving steadily toward my goal of becoming a professionally-published fiction author. What really gave me a boost was participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last November. In order to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days, I had to write for at least two hours each day. And I did, thus establishing a writing habit that stuck.

The bad news is that a series of visitors, the holidays, a back injury, and more visitors—plus human nature and the siren song of the internet—have pulled me away from the gym. That is, I have allowed myself to be pulled away; there’s nothing to be gained by blaming others for one’s own faults, eh? My girth is expanding, and it’s high time to do something about that.

Here’s my plan: I shall henceforth exercise for an hour every day. That’s it. I mean, really—as a retired person, I have no excuse for not devoting at least an hour a day to moving around in this body I hope to inhabit for the next thirty years. Eight hours of sleep per night plus one hour of exercise still leaves me fifteen hours per day to do everything else. Unless I am ill, by which I mean feverish, I can certainly work in an hour’s activity each day. On a busy day, I can divide that hour up into smaller segments if need be.

And by exercise I mean a brisk walk, a run, an exercise DVD, a Zumba class, a spin class, weight training, golf, yoga, belly dancing, mowing the lawn…anything that’s somewhat strenuous. Yesterday’s Zumba class at the Y was quite strenuous, and this morning’s spin class kicked my plump behind—but in a good way. Anna, our wonderful cycling instructor, said today, “You’re only one workout away from a good mood.” Isn’t that the truth? I always walk out of the Y feeling a bit giddy and delightfully relaxed, no matter what the weather. And if I’m going to pay $40 per month for membership (a bargain, in my estimation), I really ought to go to the gym most days.

My hypothesis is that by working in an hour of exercise—Every. Single. Day.—I should be able to lose this extra bit of writer’s padding I’ve acquired, even if I continue my nightly glass of wine and other foodie indulgences. I do eat a healthy diet overall, but the occasional cup of clam chowder does cross my lips. So, I’ll check back in a month from now, and will do my very best to avoid humiliation by sticking to the plan. Does anyone care to join me in the an-hour-a-day pledge?

Making Peace with My Belly

This topic holds so much meat—no, not my belly, but my relationship with same. I’m 52 and, like most menopausal women, my belly is swelly. My body has taking on the shape of a kidney bean as my belly reaches ever more insistently for the wall in front of me. When I catch sight of my reflection in lax moments, my belly looks like one of those fruitful domes you see on medieval Madonnas—not the look I’m aiming for.

And yet, when I look around me, I see round bellies on almost all the older women. Being a regular gym-goer, I see lots of naked mature ladies, and most are thicker in the middle than the younger women are; even those over-50s who have excellent muscle tone and trim, firm behinds are a bit thick in the middle. (And those few older women who’ve maintained a slim waist show the effect of gravity in other areas—no one escapes unscathed.) This fullness in the middle seems to be the shape we take on as we age. So why do we beat ourselves up about it?

Perhaps because it’s not sexy. Says who? Well, scientific studies that tell us the exact waist-to-hip ratio that stirs men’s loins, no matter how old they may be. According to a 2001 study, men in Western countries prefer women with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7. (Mine is 0.5229, for the record.)

More magazine, which has lots of good content that I enjoy, relentlessly pushes the idea that we older women must fight against the appearance of age with all means necessary: needles, scalpels, burning chemical peels, rigid diets, punishing work-out routines. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the embracing of our sexy, wise womanhood? After all, the swelling belly of middle age is usually accompanied by swelling boobs as well.

But just try to find a pair of pants cut for a kidney-bean-shaped, middle-aged figure like mine. You will, in the granny department: baggy stretch pants of double-knit with gathered elastic waistbands. Ugh! Just putting a pair on ages you a whole generation.  And what do More mag and her sisters advocate? Spanx! Squish your guts with uncomfortable, confining girdles. Way to accept your body and age gracefully. You go, girls!

So—each morning I search my closet for something that doesn’t pinch and doesn’t make me look like I’m smuggling a watermelon under my shirt. Self-acceptance, good humor, and self-loathing duke it out in front of the mirror every day. My inner drill sergeant plans out my day: exercise routine, diet meals, no alcohol, early to bed, early to rise for more exercise, etc. “Eins, Zwei, Drei! Und vee iss marchink now!”

The endless battle between the pleasures of the flesh and the pleasure of having less flesh—when does self-denial cease to be worth it? I guess if I do plenty of exercise and choose my clothing carefully, I can be a lush, slightly tummified middle-aged mama. That’s a good goal: accept my basic shape, do my best to stay trim and fit with exercise that’s fun, and enjoy life, because life’s too short for dinners of plain broiled fish and steamed vegetables. I want a saucy, delicious life.

And please don’t send me advice on how to banish midlife belly fat. I got it—eat less, move more. Or guzzle apple-cider vinegar. Or avoid white foods.

Here’s the thing: I’m looking for the balance point—that magical place of peace, serenity, and acceptance, of knowing that I’m taking good care of my body, and being at peace with a rounder-than-I’d-like belly. I love to exercise; I also love good food, I love good wine, and I’m not willing to live like a Puritan in order to have a flat belly. In fact, I’m pretty sure that nothing will ever flatten this belly completely. Life is about pleasure, and I want the pleasure of enjoying my life and—is it possible?—loving my round belly. You too, perhaps? If so, please share your thoughts on living the good life with a thick middle.

Singh, Devendra; Young, Robert K. (2001-06-27). “Body Weight, Waist-to-Hip Ratio, Breasts, and    Hips: Role in Judgments of Female Attractiveness and Desirability for Relationships”  Ethology and Sociobiology 16 (6): 483–507.

Lavish Praise for the Fast Diet

It started with a colonoscopy. “TMI!” I hear you scream. Well, dears, I’m over fifty, and when one is fifty, one must have the nasty procedure. Better 24 hours of nasty than colon cancer. So I booked an appointment with our excellent local gastroenterologist, picked up my packets of poop-o-matic, and – being the research nut that I am – proceeded to Google all the advice I could find on preparing for this nasty procedure.

            And did I ever find advice! God bless all the generous people who share such advice on the internet. So I followed the advice of those who had gone before me and consumed nothing but clear liquids for two days before the test. I dreaded the discomfort of fasting, but much less than I dreaded the night of a thousand waterfalls. 

            Well, imagine my surprise when two days of white grape juice (so tasty!), green tea and veggie broth turned out to be not so bad. I was uncomfortable, but just a bit, and tired, but not too tired to function at work. Hmm – I’d always thought that when I went without food for any length of time, I’d feel cranky, headachy, and miserable. Not this time. And – after having recovered from the anesthesia – I got to thinking. I remembered having read Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat and Dr. Will Clower’s The Fat Fallacy, both of which remind us greedy, snack-grazing Americans that the French do not snack between meals. Hmm. But don’t our fitness magazines tell us to eat several small snacks a day to avoid dips in our – what, insulin levels? energy levels? weight? pants size?

            And then, in one of those God-thunks-you-on- the-head weekends, I ran across several mentions of intermittent fasting, both online and in magazines. Didn’t Dr. Andrew Weil, that wise and jolly health guru, also advocate a once-a-week fast for health benefits? And mightn’t my angry belly benefit from an occasional rest? I was intrigued – not enough to book a week-long Fasten Kur (supervised fast) at a German spa, but enough to download Dr. Michael Mosely’s The Fast Diet on my Kindle. Well!

            The Fast Diet is a quick and easy read. I won’t bore you with a lengthy review – there are plenty of good reviews online, such as here: http://foodwatch.com.au/reviews/item/the-fast-diet.html. Basically, Dr. Mosely says that by consuming only 500 calories (600 for men) on two non-consecutive days each week and eating normally on the other five days, one can lose weight steadily and reap other health benefits. I was intrigued. I liked the idea of exercising strict control, but not all the time – and I really liked the idea of once again being able to wear those size 10 pants I’d stashed away in the attic.

            Now ten weeks into the routine of Monday and Thursday “fasts,” really more like mini-famines, I feel dandy and have dropped thirteen pounds. Wow! And that includes a month of visiting friends and family in the U.S., during which I managed only five fast days. A typical fast day looks like this for me:

  • No breakfast, just black coffee with Splenda. I’d never been a breakfast-skipper, but I find that I really don’t miss it that much and feel pretty good until lunchtime.
  • For lunch, a salad with tuna, lots of greens, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, carrots, green onions, dressed with lemon juice and lots of spicy seasoning. Not the best salad I’ve ever eaten, but filling and tasty-ish.
  • For dinner, lots more veg., either roasted, grilled, or “stir-fried” in cooking spray and some broth, along with a bit of boiled chicken breast, boiled shrimp, or a small portion of broiled tofu or fish. No alcohol, no starches, no sweets. Not gourmet fare, but not bad!

             My body seems to like this routine; I sleep great on fast nights, and my twice-weekly fast days fit well into my work routine. Do I pig out on non-fast days? Not at all! If anything, this new (for me) way of eating has sharpened my awareness of calorie counts, of real hunger v. eating out of boredom or habit, and I seem to crave starchy foods less often – I, the former pasta junkie and slave to crackers! Sweets were never really my thing, but salty crunchies? I was helpless before them. Having lost the weight feels so good that I don’t want to screw it up by over-indulging.

            But the most important benefit of this experience is that I’ve lost my fear of hunger. I used to be convinced that if I allowed myself to get really hungry, I’d …what? Feel really awful? Bite someone’s head off? Lose my mind? Curl up and bawl like a baby? Actually, none of that happens. So far, there are moments during “fast” days when I feel a little tired, a little unfocused, but those feelings pass pretty quickly. If I acknowledge the hunger, remind myself that I can eat a little this evening and I can eat whatever I want tomorrow, this much-feared discomfort goes away, and I get on with my day. This is a revelation! It’s a type of freedom. And I’ve shrunk back into so many cute outfits that I couldn’t zip up two dress sizes ago. Who’da thunk it was so simple? Thank you, Dr. Mosely!