When I was interviewed by The Active Times, I was asked specifically about my weight loss story and discovering fitness over 40 (and now 50). It wasn't until I was in the midst of my response that I realized, I've had more than one.
My first weight loss story started in my twenties
Thirty years ago (yes, I'm now 50) I went from 210lbs to 130lbs in just under 2 years. I lost the equivalent to a whole person, and it shocks me to this day to recall that I was once over 200 lbs.
My weight loss process was slow and I really wasn't focused on getting fit. I just wanted to be not fat anymore. So I focused on improving my eating habits using a philosophy similar to this one, but only dabbled in fitness.
Has my weight fluctuated over that time? Absolutely! No one maintains the exact same weight their entire life. But I've always been able to bring myself back to a healthy weight before it got out of hand (I've never been more than 10 pounds over my ideal weight). I attribute this success to learning how to eat properly and prioritize the right foods for my body.
I remained successful with my weight loss because I never felt like I was "on a diet". No foods were off limits. I simply made better choices and continued to learn more about nutrition.
But then one day, I decided to compete in a fitness competition at the age of 42. This is where I learned to diet the WRONG way. My eating habits were so restrictive and I suffered the entire time. Once the competition was over, I went back to my previous weight, which was fortunately a healthy weight. I've kept that weight consistent now in my 50s and I never ever feel deprived.
If there's one thing I know to be true, it's that diets never work and being "skinny" will NOT make you happy. Being fit, healthy and confident is where I found my happiness, and I will never stray from that feeling ever again.
My "Fitness Over 40" Story
When I committed to a fitness competition at the age of 42, I dropped down to 127lbs (about 16% body fat) through excessive dieting and exercise.
I was miserable and starving during that entire time. When I got down to my leanest weight, and yes, I was skinny, but I was also miserable. This is when I realized that weight loss and happiness do not necessarily go hand and hand.
I've often considered doing another fitness competition, but truth be told, it's such a lonely, isolating process, I don't think I'd ever want to put myself through it again.
Plus I really like wine and chocolate, so there's that.
Looking back at both my weight loss experiences (at age 20 and 40), even though they were wildly different (going from obesity to healthy, then healthy to super skinny and back to healthy), the success principles were the same - be consistent with food and nutrition and sleep a LOT.
I've always slept well and maintained healthy habits and I think that's why I've kept my weight off and continue to stay in good shape even in my 50's. If I could bottle good sleep and sell it, I'd be a bazillionaire for sure.
The one thing missing from my first weight loss story, was a commitment to fitness. If I'm being honest, I don't love working out and I've never seen myself as an active person. I was always the one trying to get out of gym class.
But in my 40's even before the competition, I started to experiment with different workouts. First it was jogging, then running (slowly), then eventually I tried a triathlon (which I'll never do again). I actually learned to enjoy working out at this point, because I realized it's not that I don't like to move my body, I just hate team sports.
Once I hit my 40s, I knew I needed to start building muscle (not huge, just toned) as I was getting very flabby. That's when I found P90x, which at the time was brand new. I loved that program because I much preferred working out at home than going to a gym (I hate gyms).
This program has such a profound impact on my body composition (I went from flabby to firm) and I enjoyed lifting weights so much, that I decided to do the fitness competition. In retrospect, I am glad I did it because it pushed me out of a comfort zone and I learned SO much about myself. But, I also pushed my diet way too far. If I were to do it again, I wouldn't starve myself.
The biggest Roadblock to Fitness over 40
I believe with all my heart that the reason women (and men) fail to reach their fitness goals after the age of 40 simply because of limiting beliefs and the absence of the right habits and systems. There are no physical reasons why you can't lose weight, gain muscle and change the shape of your body at any age.
In fact, one of my favorite transformation stories is a woman over 70...
How to get started with fitness over 40?
If you're over 40 and you're looking to lose weight or get fit, the best advice I can give you is to cultivate lifestyle habits that you can keep up for the rest of your days. Don't do a crazy crash diet, like I did for that show. It's not worth it and you will not maintain the results.
Instead, learn how to eat like a healthy person. Prioritize sleep, drink water, eat veggies, quality protein and healthy fats, don't eat sugar and find lots of reasons to smile. It's also the recipe for a happy life, so you'll get more than you bargained for with this strategy.
Pick a workout you'll enjoy doing.
If you don't have a habit of working out regularly, that's what needs to be developed first - a habit of consistency. I recommend starting with home workouts if you don't feel comfortable in a gym or you're strapped for time.
The key here is to build a habit of moving your body every single day. Once you've cultivated that habit, you can play with different types of exercise. The easiest and most effective way to build that habit is to choose a form of exercise that you enjoy. If you start with a workout you hate, you won't stick with it.
Reining in poor eating habits is critical for fat loss (and great health). I've already mentioned the basics of eating well - lots of veggies, clean protein and healthy fats. Keep processed carbs to a minimum. If you struggle with not knowing what to eat, invest in a nutritionist or nutrition program that will help you organize your food plan.
Sleep & Hydrate
These are seriously underrated strategies that actually make the world of difference. I attribute much of my success to getting plenty of rest, which balances hunger hormones and reduced cravings for junk food. Drinking half my body weight in ounces of water (about 60 to 70 ounces) kept me energized, clear-headed and also helped me manage hunger and cravings.
Put yourself first
People in their 40s and 50s are so time crunched, particularly women, who carry the brunt of family responsibilities. As a result, they put their own needs last and the default excuse for not exercising and eating well is a lack of time.
But the truth is that, you have to make time. If your health and wellbeing are of value to you, will will skip the tv shows, stop scrolling social media and do what needs to be done. You'll find ways to squeeze in meal prep, workouts and more sleep. If you don't, nothing changes.
Your Metabolism Isn't Broken
I think a lot of folks who gain weight as they age, believe it's just a natural part of the aging process, but that's not the case. Is your metabolism slowing down? It may have more to do with you slowing down and becoming more sedentary than getting older.
Commit to staying active and avoid becoming a couch potato at all costs. Even if you're just puttering around the house, cleaning, cooking and gardening, then you're moving your body and that's great! But don't overlook the value to starting a weight loss program in addition to your daily movement. This is a lifelong practice that will give you far more than a smaller waistline.
Bottom line, there is no age when getting fit is out of reach, so start now and never stop! I'm here to help if you need support or guidance.
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and author of The Fit Habit. Here she shares simple, low carb recipes, quick home workout ideas and practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.