I’ve dithered about writing this blog, chiefly because I don’t want to come off as preachy, and partly because I’m not a professional or an expert about these things.
However, there are a few things that I’ve learned about staying in shape as a woman in your 30s, and upon hearing some of the things my friends still believe about losing weight/staying in shape makes me believe that people still have the wrong idea, and in doing so are creating an impossible goal for themselves.
Caveat: I am not advocating this per se, rather saying what worked for me.
To set the baseline, I am more or less happy with my body. I was not in my 20s – although I was slimmer, I ate tons of junk food, didn’t really know what I was doing in the gym, and was boozed up to the eyeballs.
Now, I am stronger than I have ever been in my twenties, and although there is no way I would be able to fit into my clothes of 10 years ago, I have more or less remained the same size. The reason why I can’t fit into those clothes anymore is because I have a lot more muscle – I do deadlifts and squats regularly – and also my body shape has changed because it puts fat on in different places (hello, tummy!).
Ergo, being skinny does not = being happy.
Here is what I learned:
You are never too old to do exercise
I tried this bullshit with my personal trainer and he gave me a withering look, with good reason. You can’t do something because you have an injury? Fine. But until you injure yourself, citing your age as an excuse not to push yourself to your limit is a cop-out.
20-somethings have speedier recovery time and metabolism on their side, but don’t for one minute think that with the right training you can’t be stronger or look better than you have done before. The perfect example is Madonna Buder, the ‘Iron Nun’ who does triathlons at 86 years old.
There are gym people, and there are classes people
I rarely come across people who are both – some may force themselves outside their comfort zone, but I know I will always, always enjoy myself more at the gym, on my own, than in a HIIT class. Lean in to the type of exercise you enjoy, rather than forcing yourself to do something you don’t like.
Being healthy and fit takes time
I more or less eat the same when I’m on holiday, as I do at home give or take a few glasses of wine, gelato (if I’m in Italy) and fresh bread. It doesn’t feel like a punishment, because I’ve changed my body slowly – over two to three years – to want green veg, lots of water and fewer sweets.The biggest thing that reset my appetite for sugar (and you know this includes all alcohol, right?) was a sugar-free diet for 21 days. It was fucking hard, I had all the headaches and I wanted to murder someone by day 5, but it reset my entire system. It doesn’t mean I don’t ever have biscuits or chocolate, but this has still stayed with me three years on.
There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ food
I don’t know why women do this but we demonise food and when we have something that is ‘forbidden’ we call ourselves bad or naughty. What are you, in Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain?
There is no such thing as a bad food – a food becomes bad when you eat way too much of it. Similarly ‘good foods’. I know this loser who ate 8 bananas a day and gave himself potassium poisoning. Which brings me to…
Try the 70/30 rule
Look, I hate diets. Barring the sugar detox, I cannot stick to diets because they are mostly bogus. Plus, I don’t know a single diet that is truly sustainable (as in, someone does it for a lifetime) or effective (most make you lose water, not burn fat).The way of eating that I find most suits me, and doesn’t require willpower is the 70/30 rule. 70% of the time I eat healthy and I live right, while 30% is savage time.
Since cutting my simple carbs – bread, pasta, rice – right down, I don’t really crave them in huge portions, so I usually spend this on wine and crisps.
I know people who still think the best way to get in shape is to drastically cut what they are eating, which is nuts. Food impacts your quality of sleep, and both of those things impact your workout – how on earth are you going to do a killer session if you’re tired as hell? And if you don’t tee up your staying in shape with food and fitness, you are going to have zero definition.
Having increased my calorie intake to try and build muscle, let me tell you it is FUCKING HARD. Your entire world revolves around how much you are eating and how often. For women, it is incredibly difficult.So when I hear yet another friend talk about how they are bulking up the moment they wield a 4kg dumbbell, it takes every ounce of restraint to not reply back with the eye-roll emoji.
Weights not only help prevent osteoporosis as they strengthen your bone density but they give you a tone and definition that wheezing away at cardio never can.
And if that doesn’t convince you then trust me – being able to carry your own luggage and flip your own mattress is pretty damn cool.
Stop making food restrictive…
But be realistic about what you’re eating.
Food shouldn’t ever be restrictive or something you deny yourself, but it takes work to get to a point where you’re able to enjoy your food and not feel guilty or prone to binging on it. By that, I mean not over-eating, or resorting to chocolate/crisps when you’re stressed out.
The biggest turning point for me, was actually (don’t laugh) doing a three-hour mindful eating course. Okay, so I’m not going to smell and look at every forkful of food as I’m eating, but what it prompted me to do was to a) slow down my pace of eating and b) learn to recognise when my tummy was actually full.
For years, I’ve over-eaten, and then felt gross and bloated afterwards, believing that to be a natural feeling after eating. Mainly because I come from an Asian family where second and third helpings are mandatory. Checking in with your tummy works, and it will cut your portion sizes down to what you actually need versus what you think you need.
Also – desist in making weird food bargains. Almost every woman I know has some strange food algebra that makes sense in their heads but makes no sense nutritionally. Eg, my mother will skip dinner on a Sunday evening and feel virtuous yet snack on so much crap that is twice the calorie value of an actual, good meal.
Ditch the weekly shop
The weekly shop is a hangover back from when our parents would go to a supermarket in that savage, pre-Ocado/Tesco Metro era because that was the only time they could shop.
But if you live in a city, you have access to food all the time. I had to ditch the weekly shop because it prompts you to buy shitty snacks and over-buy, and as a child of people who hate waste, I’d try to eat all of the food before it went bad.
If you are able to and don’t live in the countryside, buy your consumable food little and often.
It’s a daily commitment
You don’t have to exercise everyday, but being healthy is a daily commitment. And when it isn’t, it becomes that much harder to get back into. Case in point is being healthy on holiday. I don’t have to find a gym or I’ll die, but a long walk is a great thing to do in the morning, or just before sunset. Fuck the calories – it’s more about the mindset and making that promise to your body.
Because I think we forget how the connection between our mind and out body only goes one way – our bodies don’t have emotions, they run on biology, not thought. It doesn’t think it’s fat, or that it has cellulite. It is machine that runs on and reflects whatever is being put in it, and how often it is taken out for exercise.
It’s not easy but trust me, it’s worth it
Setting yourself up for a healthy life is the painful part because you’re retraining yourself to eat healthily and work out. But once the painful work is done, it’s remarkably easy to maintain.
It may take more time and more effort (sorry, that’s the delight of being in your 30s) but I’d like to use the analogy of success at work which is…anything that is worth having takes time and effort, learning and patience. Trust me – the moment you realise that strong, beautiful body of yours is something you personally built yourself is one of the sweetest.
If you’ve got any tips, please share ’em!