I was sitting watching a sports event with some over-40 moms when the discussion turned to running. These women get up before 5 a.m. every morning so they have time to run before their day starts. One of them, a mother of four, told me she has to take ibuprofen every day to deal with joint pain and sometimes ices her feet, but still she runs. The other talked about how the women in her running group wanted to go beyond the three miles they customarily do, and she wasn’t sure she was up for the challenge.
A neighbor of mine, in her 60s, spends more than an hour at a fitness center every morning, taking a spinning class. Then she comes home and walks four miles through hilly terrain before taking a shower. Her regimen is not unlike that of my friend E’s mother, who does an hour of weights and floor exercises and an hour on the elliptical every day. She’s in her late 60s.
Another neighbor, recently divorced, dropped at least 30 pounds, joined a gym and started lifting weights, and now looks half her age as she jogs through the neighborhood in a sports bra and shorts. An online friend who was extremely overweight has lost almost 100 pounds. She exercises THREE hours a day. My sister-in-law, over 50, lost 60 pounds last year through Weight Watchers. An artist friend lost the 15 she put on when her husband tore his rotator cuff, had surgery, and was unemployed for eight months. A writer friend dropped 30 pounds doing two hours of yoga and Pilates a day and up to an hour on a treadmill. A pretty blonde friend of mine who looks fine, is on the South Beach Diet, trying to look even finer.
And then there’s me, a former competitive distance runner, hiker, and gym rat. I have gained 30 pounds in the last two years and my body is unrecognizable to me. My waist is gone, I have a roll of fat over my waist band and bulges above my back bra strap. The angles of my face have disappeared and my neck and my head are morphing into one big rectangle on top of my blocky torso.
The girl who was once incredibly self-conscious about how skinny she was is now the grown woman who is embarrassed by her weight and literally pained when she catches a glimpse of her reflection in a store window or mirror.
I could make some good excuses for this sad state of affairs, blame it on health issues, medication, and the stress that engulfed my family when we were hit by a storm of personal crises in 2008. All those things have factored into my weight gain.
I could talk about the challenges of living with teens that eat constantly and a daughter who bakes cakes and cookies several times a week and many of you would nod your heads knowingly.
But all my circumstances and grievances and limitations are ones other women have overcome. So, why is it that I don’t do what I need to do to lose weight?
I need to confront and end the bad habits that contribute to the weight gain–snacking in front of the computer, eating when I’m not hungry, making poor choices even when good choices are available. Most of my issue is not eating mindfully, taking cues from what others are eating or doing and not listening to my own body or my own mind when it comes to how and when I eat.
And part of it is resisting the level of exercise it takes to be fit at my age. I’m not inactive. I walk 3-4 miles a day, but that’s not enough to make a difference in how I look. I need to weight train, I need to do yoga again, I need to ratchet up the intensity of my walking. In short, like the women I described above, if I want to look good and lose weight at my age, I need to exercise 2-3 hours a day. An hour a day, which is enough to benefit my overall health, isn’t enough to benefit my appearance or overcome my midlife metabolism.
And I find that ridiculous, annoying, and irritating. It offends me! I hate it! It seems so unfair! But I know it’s the truth, and the part of me that desperately wants to recover the look and level of fitness I had before wrestles with the rebel who rejects the discipline and sacrifice it will take to get there.
So I sit on the bank of a sports field while my incredibly fit and strong brownie-devouring daughter plays hardball. I hide my fat under a hippie tunic and pretend to be engrossed in the game as the other moms discuss their runs and their gyms and their Pilates classes and their Weight Watchers points. My eyes smart behind my sunglasses. I sit very still, wanting to disappear.
I feel huge. I feel like a blob. But I also feel small, shriveled, a shadow of my former self, a smart woman who nevertheless feels all her accomplishments are hidden in the shadow of her muffin top.