I look at life as a plane flight. Several decades ago, your parents started the engine. They revved the motor and headed down the runway until — liftoff! — you were born. Your plane continued to climb through childhood and adolescence, until you reached adulthood: full cruising altitude. Throughout your 20s and 30s, flying felt effortless. No matter what you ate, how little you slept, or how infrequently you exercised, your body kept its sleek, strong lines. No engine troubles for you!
Then, out of the blue, you hit the Big Four-O. Suddenly, you’re not cruising along so easily anymore. Hormonal and metabolic changes are creating turbulence. Your plane is losing altitude. Time to turn off the autopilot and seize the controls. As you guide your plane through post-40 skies, here are some tips for a smoother ride.
Don’t Clean Your Plate
As your body nears menopause, it burns calories less efficiently. The end result is that although you may be following the same diet that kept you slim at 30, it no longer works when you’re 40 or 50. Cutting a mere 100 calories from your daily consumption can put you back on track. What’s 100 calories? It’s equal to a small snack. Another way to look at it: At the end of the day, it’s the same as leaving two bites of every meal untouched on your plate.
Steer Clear of Starbucks
If you’re anything like most post-40 women I know, you’re in the business of coordinating life amidst everyday chaos — work, husband, dirty laundry, hyper kids. And that’s exactly what those frozen-cappuccino peddlers are counting on. You drive up, run in, pop a straw through the top, and peel off to pick up Junior at swim camp. Big mistake. Studies show that your body doesn’t register a feeling of fullness from the calories you drink. Whether it’s juice, soda, or alcohol, your body won’t say to itself, “Wow, that eight-ounce glass really filled me up.” If you ate an orange instead of drinking the juice, you would feel satisfied. But instead, liquid calories help you gain weight by causing you to overeat later. Do me a favor: Keep a piece of fruit in your bag at all times. Whenever you want a snack, drink a 12-ounce glass of water, then eat the fruit. Not only will you feel full, but most importantly you’ll stay that way until dinner. And your hips will thank you.
Eat Like a Grown-Up, Part I
Do you remember when the only person you had to feed was yourself? Those days are gone. For many women over 40, the main concern is getting enough food on the table to satisfy one husband and two or three children — fast. And more often than not, those meals are composed of what you know the kids will eat. The trouble is, many of these are unhappy meals for an adult on a diet. Cheeseburgers? Pizza? Macaroni and cheese? Don’t get me started. Rather than tailoring your dinners to your children’s whims, maybe it’s time they started eating more like adults. Pasta primavera. Broiled scallops. Grilled salmon. Or just add a big bowl of steamed vegetables as the first course. If these menu changes feel drastic, try alternating kid days with grown-up days. It’ll be healthier for all of you.
Eat Like a Grown-Up, Part II
Okay, now that you’re cooking lighter fare, don’t blow it by adding unnecessary calories. The recipe may call for a generous brushing, pouring or slathering of oil or butter, but you know better. Butter has a whopping 90 calories per tablespoon; every type of oil has 120. The over-40 edit of all your recipes should read: “drizzle,” “lightly spray,” or “dab” the butter. Think of it this way: Kids’ dinners are high in fat because oil is used to add flavor to an otherwise bland meal. But if you start with a quality cut of steak or fillet of fresh fish, why destroy the flavor by suffocating it in grease? Instead, season generously with the recipe’s spices and invest in an oil sprayer so you can make a little bit of fat go an extra-long way.
Drop and Give Me 20
Push-ups, sit-ups, lunges — your choice. The biggest factor for succeeding with your weight-loss plan once you’ve reached age 40 is strength training. If you’ve tried my easy workout, you know that strength training builds lean muscle, which, in turn, can burn 50 calories per pound every day. So push yourself a little: Each morning, between the time you roll out of bed and the moment you hit the shower, string together 20 sit-ups, 20 squats, 20 leg lifts, and as many push-ups as you can manage. It won’t take more than five minutes, but over the next year, it can trim five pounds from your frame.
Befriend Your Scale
Funny how as your waistline expands, your interest in tracking the numbers wanes. Don’t let it. It’s no longer advisable to guesstimate your weight by the way your favorite jeans fit (or don’t fit). Headlines that scream, “Stop Being a Slave to Your Scale!” are missing the point: Post-40 weight gain sneaks up on you. If the plane symbolizes your body, then its instrument panel is your scale — it provides you with important data. Once a week, same time, same scale, weigh yourself and see with your own eyes what’s happening with your body.
Make Weight Loss a Priority
Let’s face it: Finding time to exercise only gets harder as you age. It helps to remember that working out gives you the sanity, strength, and good health to keep the rest of your world running smoothly. Can an overweight woman really preach to her children about the merits of eating right? Can an out-of-shape mom hope to get through an afternoon of soccer with her son without gasping for breath? Committing to a fitness routine is the first step in becoming a positive force to those around you. The time crunch isn’t going to go away, so maybe you’ll need to wake up earlier, or use your lunch break to hit the gym or walk home from work instead of driving. The better shape you’re in, the better you’ll feel inside and out. And the better you feel, the easier it will be to deal with life’s headaches — like demanding bosses, moody teenagers, and your husband’s addiction to Monday Night Footbal. Some things you can’t change. Thank goodness your weight isn’t one of them.
Get a Regular Tune-up
Until this point, you’ve treated annual physicals as optional, but now you need to get serious. Blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels all need routine checks, especially if you know there is a family history of troubles. The ache you feel today could be nothing — then again, it may have been caused by too much or too little exercise, a diet deficiency, or something more serious. The sooner you catch it, the less damage done. If your knees ache, your back hurts, or you suffer from persistent headaches, see your doctor. Wouldn’t you be hesitant to pilot a plane that didn’t receive regular maintenance and service?
Beware Post-40 Stress Attacks
Some days, just making it to midnight without a major catastrophe is an accomplishment in itself. Stress is one of the biggest reasons women overeat, so taking a few minutes each day to unwind is key to your weight-loss success. Soak in a hot bath, light some candles or get out and enjoy the summer sunshine. You started life as a sleek new jet, one that was built to last. Feed your body high-quality fuel, monitor its intake and routinely push your engine’s limits to keep it running smoothly. Remember, you are the captain of your plane. Just reach out and take the controls.
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