I am 43-years-old. What would I do differently if I had to go back to my 20′s or 30′s? What would I keep the same? Here is my advice for young women who have an opportunity to take care of their bodies and have a head start when they reach their 40′s and 50′s and beyond.
I grew up playing sports . . . tennis, soccer, softball, volleyball, basketball, swimming . . . I was always athletic and am so thankful my parents made me play sports when I was a kid. It is all I’ve ever known. Playing sports taught me how to physically challenge my body and deal with a little bit of pain and discomfort. Being an athlete taught me how to move and be coordinated. Play sports every chance you can get. . . be active. . . compete . . . have fun . . . they aren’t just for kids.
For so many years, I followed a low-fat, heart-healthy diet complete with a lot of grains, fiber, healthy fats, fake sugar, and very little meat. What did it do for my body? Not much, other than help my grow a big butt and increase my cravings for sweets. In my 20′s & 30′s, my body fat was consistently around 30% or higher - not terribly lean for a woman.
What I’ve found for me now is that meat or animal protein isn’t bad for my body. . . neither is fat. Those things help me feel full throughout the day. I don’t have cravings. I don’t get all that hungry. In the past, I not only ate very little red meat, but also very little other animal proteins. For breakfast, I’d have a bowl of cereal and be hungry by 10AM. Now, I eat eggs and I can go until noon or later (and even workout). Avocados? In the past, I wouldn’t touch them or guacamole because of their high fat content. . . now, they are a staple at home.
My “heart healthy” diet also used to consist of a lot of fake foods. I used artificial sweeteners a lot. I avoided sugar, and used sugar-free versions instead. Low-fat and fat-free foods were common in our fridge to keep calories and fat content low. I was on the bandwagon with those who thought the term “fat-free” was the ticket to eating an entire box of Snackwells or a bag of baked Tostitos. Ugh. Now, I stay away from fake foods and processed & pre-packaged stuff. Girls, eat REAL FOOD!
When I was younger, I ate out a lot. At work, instead of taking my lunch every day, I’d eat out several times a week. Plus, we’d order take-out or go out for dinner as well. All that dining out, no matter how aware or how hard I tried to eat healthy, lead to excess salt, more fake food, and unnecessary calories. Now, we eat out (maybe) once a week. And, if we are eating out, it will be a treat or something I don’t normally cook at home.
Like a lot of young girls, I thought the only way to a smaller behind was to spend countless hours on the treadmill, StairMaster, or elliptical trainer. I also spent many hours each week teaching various group fitness classes. Almost ALL of my activity was spent doing moderate-intensity, steady state cardiovascular exercise. What did that get me? Not the body I wanted, that’s for sure. Yes, I had great cardiovascular endurance, however, I was neither strong, nor was I lean. I still had a big butt, even with all that “exercise”.
During my 20′s & 30′s – my fitness instructor days – I tended to stay away from heavy lifting. I dabbled with it occasionally with my husband – but never consistently. I’d convince myself that the “weight” segment of a group fitness class was enough weight lifting to suffice. I justified that using the StairMaster and teaching a step class was enough to build strong legs. And, whenever my husband would give me a workout routine to follow, I never stuck with it.
After I hit 40, I realized that my body was quickly falling apart and that I was literally turning into a mushy blob. So, I ditched my long walks and hit the weights hard, and consistently. Now, for the first time in my adult life, I can do real push-ups, and am close to doing a chin-up. And, I for the first time EVER, I can feel the muscles in my legs and butt – in the past, all I ever could feel was body fat. I am strong for the first time in my life.
Thankfully, I’ve never had any body image issues or eating disorders. However, I’m finding that they are fairly common among young women and girls. I think one of the reasons I’ve always been fairly confident with my body goes back to being an athlete. I’ve always been able to try or do anything physical. Being able to do something physically challenging, learning a new skill, or meeting a fitness goal boosts my ego like nothing else. The first time I used the 20kg kettlebell for a Turkish Get-up was instant motivation to work on the 24kg. Being able to do one push-up helped me work up to sets of 10.
Girls! Love your body, eat smart, and work smarter. Take advantage of us older women who know better and who’ve been there. Don’t hit age 40 and regret years of foolish eating and inactivity.