Are you a woman in your forties or fifties?
Do you feel like it’s increasingly harder to feel fit, toned and healthy?
If so, you’re definitely not alone.
The most common causes for mid-life women to struggle with their weight and lack of body tone are changing hormones (especially connected to the menopause), stress, lack of sleep, an overly sedentary lifestyle and dietary problems. You may identify with just one or two of these factors or the whole list.
When you get to the point of thinking “right, it’s time to do something”, it can be tempting to focus all your efforts on a diet or an exercise programme or some kind of supplement or meal replacement. But the truth is the best results come from a more holistic and gradual approach to improving your overall well being.
Results come when you take action not only on improving your diet and exercising habits, but also on managing your stress and prioritising sleep and relaxation. In a nutshell, the best changes happen once you start to take your self-care seriously and you’re committed to it as a journey rather than a quick fix.
Below are some of my top tips to help you kickstart your journey to feeling fitter, stronger and more toned.
Some of these relate specifically to losing weight and body fat. I know that this is a sensitive topic and I’m a big advocate of loving your body whatever shape it is. However, there are real health risks with carrying excess body fat, particularly around your midsection.
If you are carrying excess weight which you want to lose, start with the aim of improving your health, give a LOT of love for what your body can do now and get excited about what’s possible once you put your mind to it!
1. Keep a food diary
There’s a saying that you can’t out train a bad diet and it’s true! You can exercise 5 or 6 days a week, but unless you’re careful with your diet for the majority of the time, you won’t get the results you want. Keeping a food diary for a week is a good way to see where your diet may be letting you down. Those weekend glasses of wine, morning lattes and late evening snacks all add up in terms of calorie intake. Many of my clients find that keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks not only helps them track their food intake more accurately, but it also helps them eat more mindfully and make more conscious food choices.
2. Think about WHEN you eat, not just what you eat
There is a lot of evidence that our bodies benefit from fasting, especially from a weight loss point of view. I’m not suggesting that you stop eating for 3 days or immediately start the 5:2 or 16:8 diets without looking carefully into whether these approaches are suitable for your particular needs . But I do recommend to all my clients who are generally fit and well that they try to introduce a 12 hour daily fasting period. This may mean eating breakfast later or having dinner earlier. Most people can manage one or the other. For me, it means eating my breakfast around 8am and finishing my dinner by 7.30pm. I don’t manage to do it every day but as with my general approach to diet, I aim for 80/20 – so about 5 days a week.
One thing to bear in mind is that you still have to eat healthy food during your non fasting periods in order to get the benefits. I also advise my clients who want to lose weight to taper off their carbs over the course of the day. So start with a good healthy carb breakfast such as oats, have a smaller serving of carbs at lunch and then go light with carbs for dinner. Make sure you include protein and a small serving of healthy fat with each meal – and plenty of vegetables.
3. Stay hydrated (with water!)
It’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger so next time you get a case of what you think are the munchies, have a glass of water first, then see if you’re still hungry. Track your water consumption over the day – you may be surprised how little water you drink on busy days when you are running from appointment to appointment. It’s easy to stay hydrated if you get in the habit of always carrying a water bottle with you and drinking from it regularly. You should aim for 1.5 to 2 litres of water per day, possibly more if it’s very hot weather or you’re doing a lot of exercise.
4. Exercise smarter, not harder or longer
In order to have muscle definition in your body, you need to exercise in a way that challenges your muscles and burns fat. Strength training, which you can do using your own bodyweight or resistance equipment, will help increase your muscle definition as well as making you stronger.
If you are carrying excess body fat, you also need to exercise that will burn fat. Interval training (where you exercise at a high intensity for short bursts) is proven to be highly effective for burning body fat.
For best results, you should aim to do 2 strength training sessions per week and 2 interval training sessions per week. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym either – 20-30 minutes per workout will get you results if you push yourself hard enough.
Get excited about what’s possible once you put your mind to it!
You also need to keep as active as possible during the day – get up from your desk and walk around, take the stairs, do some hoovering or gardening. Not only is this good for your body, but you’ll be more productive and focused when you get back to your desk.
5. Prioritise sleep and relaxation
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you will find it much harder to lose body fat. The same thing goes if you are not managing your stress and making time for regular relaxation. Lack of sleep and stress play havoc with your hormones and this has a knock on effect on your weight. When you’re tired, your hormones make you feel hungry with a particular craving for sugar and starchy carbs.
Stress is equally unhelpful from a weight loss point of view as it produces cortisol and an excess of cortisol often leads to stubborn belly fat. Plus feeling tired generally does not translate well to feeling motivated to exercise.
To help improve your sleep, try a week where you go to bed at roughly the same time every night and give yourself an 8 hour sleep window. Make sure you switch off those screens at least an hour before bedtime.
Try to make some time during the day for relaxation – just 10 minutes a day of doing something you really enjoy can help you unwind and de-stress. Daily practices such as mindfulness, yoga and breathing exercises can really help with stress management and general wellbeing.
6. Ditch the scales
The numbers on the scales are not always an accurate reflection of how your body is changing and in particular, whether you are losing body fat and replacing it with lean muscle. If you can bear to take a selfie in your underwear or swimsuit, that will give you a much better sense of how your body is changing. If that’s not your style, then take your measurements around your waist, hips and the tops of your arms. After a month of regular training, healthy eating and prioritising self care, those numbers should go down and you should start to notice some visible differences.
7. Use visualisation to keep you motivated
You may think you don’t have time to exercise or make healthy food, but the reality is that these things just need to have higher priority! Prioritisation is more likely to be a bigger barrier than actual lack of time. When you’re motivated to do something, you prioritise it. So how can you feel more motivated?
An exercise that I get all my clients to do is to envision a future version themselves looking and feeling amazing, as specific as wearing a particular outfit and being in a particular location – it could be on holiday you have planned or attending a big event such as a wedding. Any time you’re feeling unmotivated, use that visualisation to help get you out the door for your run or to make yourself a healthy, homemade lunch.
The best changes happen once you commit to your self-care as a journey
The reality is that there’s no quick fix for feeling fit, strong and healthy. You need to invest time and energy into changing your lifestyle and habits – but once these actions become habits, it all becomes so much easier.
Need some help?
If you’re struggling with your fitness mojo or you just can’t seem to stick to a healthy diet, I can help you.
If you know you need to make some big changes, but you don’t know where to start and you don’t want to go it alone, I’m here for you. Book a free discovery call