Look at Life: Fill Up or Forego?

31st August 2018

Why there's more to mid-life than a mediocre metabolism…

By Lisa Botwright

I’m a forty-something-year-old woman. What this means – apart from an inability to remember why I’ve entered a room, and a new-found dependence on tweezers (where do these weird facial hairs multiply from?) – is that I’m facing up to the fact that I can never eat dessert or bread again. Ever.

Obviously this is a first world problem. I’m well aware that people are hungry all over the world and that’s disturbingly wrong. But still, it’s depressing, not to mention unhealthy, to wake up one day and find myself considerably over my previous adult weight, when I’m not doing anything differently.

Apparently our metabolism declines due to the natural loss of muscle mass that comes with age. Muscle burns fat, but fat, sadly, doesn’t burn fat. Then there are all the hormonal factors to take into consideration (another woe entirely). And since my hobbies mostly include drinking wine, I can’t exactly say that I’ve honed a lean, muscular physique ready to do calorie-battle into middle age.

It’s not as though I sit around all day mainlining chocolate, however. With full-time work and a family to look after, I’m constantly on the go. Plus, I’m lucky that I love healthy food; I cook from scratch most nights and get ridiculously excited over my organic vegetable box deliveries. In the past, this was enough to keep me a size ten. Not any more.

I talk it over with my girlfriends (over a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a sharing platter – oops). There are two choices, we agree. Eat like we’re on a diet for the rest of our lives. Or refuse to care, and give in to comfortable plumpness.

It’s a debate I internalise regularly. Would I prefer to be sitting here in this pub garden with my friends drinking this delicious, chilled glass of wine... or would I prefer to be drinking water and be thin? Shall I eat a filling lunch that keeps me going for the rest of the afternoon, or shall I choose the low-calorie option that means my tummy will be rumbling deafeningly by 3pm?

But what’s the healthy, low-calorie option anyway? And are these two factors even the same thing? The dieting rules change on a seemingly daily basis. We’re now told we can eat fat to lose fat, but carbs are the devil incarnate. While we can have real butter, we can’t have the toast to spread it on. Back in the day, I could eat the spaghetti but not the bolognese, now it’s the other way round. For an age group reared on Rosemary Conley’s low-fat mantra, this is a very strange turnaround.

And so I did my homework. I decided that I would lose weight in time for my holiday and waded through all the nonsense on the internet to find sensible, common-sense principles grounded in up-to-date research. I ate a high protein breakfast, took a home-made salad into work for lunch, cut out starchy carbs for dinner and piled my plate with tasty veggies. Virtuously, and not a little smugly, I eschewed sweets, cake and processed food. The family fended for themselves while I joined a gym and attended twice-weekly weight-bearing exercise classes after work to tone and rev up my metabolism.

After three months on my new regime I weighed the same. My husband cut out sugar in his tea and lost ten pounds. Oh, the unfairness.

I think the key to acceptance is balance (and I don’t mean a pastry in each hand). I’m going to carry on eating healthily and exercising as much as I can fit in around life and work. (It’s been an incredible confidence-booster seeing a little bit of definition return to my upper arms. I couldn’t do a single press up before I started my classes, now I can do… well… at least… two or three). It’s madness not to try to be as healthy as we can as we get older. But I’m also going to acknowledge that I’m not 20 any more and a little bit of that dreaded plumpness isn’t so bad. Surely it’s a more noble aim to be happy in our own skin, rather than have our contentment determined by a number on the scales?

So the next time I question whether I’d prefer to be eating and drinking with family and friends, or sipping water abstemiously, I know what the answer will be... although, sadly, I’ve also come around to the idea that I’ll mostly be waving away the bread basket and opting for coffee ‘in preference to’ dessert.

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