The old saying is you’re over the hill at age 40. There’s also a greek mythology story about pushing a boulder uphill as punishment because it’s sure to fall back down on you.
That was me three years ago – the uphill battle part when life seemed to be rolling over me. My career that had experienced success for 16 years threw me a curveball in the form of a layoff that left me questioning what I could do, should do, wanted to do, and was willing to do as I entered my late 30s.
The struggles of building my own business had taken a toll on my health and my priorities. I focused so much on work that I neglected my weight and any healthy balance of sleep, nutrition, and stress relief.
Find an Excuse to Hit Start
My 40th birthday was approaching. That impending milestone turned out to be exactly the kick in the pants I needed to get myself back on track (the largest size pants I had ever worn, mind you).
I decided to plan one year for myself. One year to retrain my behaviors: how to eat, how to move, and how to be the mom and wife I want to be — and to discover whether I could enjoy my work life without overdoing it. I finally said NO to a lot of distractions (sorry, PTA) – anything that didn’t directly help me reach my goals.
365 days to get my 39-year old self ready to enter 40 with a bang.
I had a perfect excuse to make myself a priority, but maybe for you, it’s something other than a milestone birthday. Can you give yourself an excuse to do something bold – for you?
Starting a new year might be your excuse to make it happen. Or maybe it’s an upcoming event or vacation. It could be a pair of too-tight jeans you want to get back into or simply a desire to feel better, sleep better and have more confidence. Whatever your reason is, make it your theme and a starting point to motivate you to a better you.
Starting Point: Bottom of the Hill
But, the professionals helped me realize that my clever 40×40 goal wasn’t the right goal for me. I learned that I had 19 pounds of fat mass and a body fat percentage way higher than it should have been — over 30%.
I decided to work toward lowering that number to a fit range of 21-24%. Rather than continue to visit the expensive clinic, I did some research and put a plan in place that depended on local resources and help from friends.
First, I enlisted my friend Lisa Manchee, a Beachbody coach, to talk through the best way to get started. Pantry and fridge clean-out was top of the list. She said to make a shelf only for me and either trash everything else or move it to the other shelves.
It worked. I learned to only pick from my shelf and to not even think about the snacks and food on the other shelves.
With Lisa’s expert advice (she owns the amazing plantbasedgrocery.com), I learned to incorporate a healthy protein shake into my day, something that has become a huge factor in my meal planning and keeps me in check.
She went to the grocery store with me and was available to talk through nutrition questions or to get me back on track when I needed it.
She would even answer the random text from me at Target asking if the fancy juice drinks were a thumbs up or not.
Goals and Transparency
A year is a long time so I broke it into small achievable goals instead of one big goal. My first goals were things like walking at least 4 times a week, prepping my meals once a week, and getting my wedding ring off. Yes, you read that right. My wedding ring was stuck on my finger, and I saw it as a daily reminder that I had too much fat on my body and needed to change it.
It was important for me to tell people what I was doing. Quiet wasn’t going to work here. I wanted a significant change, and to do that, I needed to be held accountable and put it all out in the open.
I publicly shared my plan and the commitment I had made to get there.
I also got a scale. I always took pride in not having one, but I caved. And, I’m glad I did because it tells me body fat percentage, bone mass, BMI, subcutaneous fat and much more while tracking my progress over time via a cool phone app called FitIndex.
While I do hop on the scale about twice a week, I didn’t want to stare at and obsess over the pounds, so instead, I focused on goals like fitting into certain clothes, completing workouts, and drinking water.
Those small goals worked. Goal #1? Say goodbye to size 12 pants. Check. Goal #2? Size 10. Check. Size 8, check. Every several weeks I was seeing results, which is the absolute best motivator in the world.
Plan and Prep
I only survived this nutrition shift in my life by planning it on paper. Lisa brought me all the tools and spreadsheets and planning resources to write down meals that helped me stay on track. On Sundays, I literally wrote down each meal I’d have for the whole week and stuck to it as best I could, checking off each snack and meal with a great sense of pride.
In my younger days, I used to work out pretty intensely, but I’ve now learned that it doesn’t do any good if your kitchen situation isn’t on point. It was a game-changer for me.
Learning to Love New Foods
This commitment to myself meant that instead of candy and sweets on holidays and pizza on Friday nights with my family, I tried things previously foreign to me, like hummus, quinoa, falafel, and cauliflower pizza. Now, those things are my favorites, believe it or not. I swapped out traditional chips or french fries for veggie crips, multi-grain crackers, cucumbers, and bell peppers.
Eating out for casual meals now means much more Freshii, Zoe’s and Tropical Smoothie Cafe — and fewer burgers, fries, and anything greasy. It means having five servings of steel-cut oats ready each week for breakfast and knowing before I walk into a party that brownies or cake is a hard no.
For me, it also means no meat. Learning how to have a healthier body opened my eyes, so I’m going without eating animals at the moment, and it’s pretty awesome. I like knowing the animal fat isn’t there, and instead, I’m fueling up on protein and nutrition from veggies, fruits, beans, and nuts. It’s working for me and my family.
Have you ever piddled your way around the gym for an hour only to realize you didn’t do all that much actual work?
Over the years I’ve tried many different exercises. I ran. I did sit-ups. I did elliptical machines all day, but what I needed to learn was what my body needed to actually change it.
I enlisted the help of my friend, Alba Hatcher, The Trainer in Pink. Not only did she help me through an injury, but she also gave me light bulb moments — moments of clarity about fat and muscle and why certain exercises could be hurting me instead of helping me reach my goals.
She taught me about my Diastasis (separation of my stomach muscles), which I never realized I suffered from. I always just thought my stomach pooched out because of the extra fat, but she helped me work to repair it over several months of daily work to get those ab muscles back where they should be!
My friends jumped in and encouraged me with daily workout challenges. Even my out-of-town girlfriends got on board via the Marco Polo app keeping me accountable to get up, get out, and move every day.
When a friend asked me to play softball, who knew it would make such an emotional impact. I’ve played softball since I was nine. I played in high school, during my college years, and even on the Wall Street Journal team when I started working there after college. Now, I remembered how much I love being out there, and it further motivated me to be stronger, faster, and leaner.
From there I decided to try some new forms of fitness around Frisco. I’m lucky to have been exposed to many Health and Fitness-related business clients at Lifestyle Frisco, several of which became awesome resources for me: The Bar Method, Conquer Fitness, and Rush Cycle.
Reshoo Patel at The Bar Method took the time to get to know me and my aches and pains so that we could navigate through classes to get the leaner, toned shape that I wanted.
Dr. John Dougherty at Conquer Fitness and Performance taught me that lifting weights was incredibly effective. It took inches off my waist only a few weeks after incorporating it into my routine.
They’re each completely different workouts, but I love them both and I love the variety. I can’t do only one thing to move and stay active. I’ll get burned out or bored!
Positive Reinforcement to Finish Strong
Three months into my year of 40×40 my co-worker, Korinna, asked if I had lost weight. I had lost 5 simple little pounds but it was awesome to have someone notice and give me a pat on the back throughout this process. The more those small doses of positive reinforcement were received this past year, the more strength it gave me to keep pushing hard, to sacrifice, plan, and commit to change for the better.
I don’t see it every day, but now that I’m 365 beyond the bottom of that hill, I see it.
I see the new shape, the new attitude, the new level of energy to be strong and happier for my kids and husband. I feel it on the loose wedding ring twisting around my finger every day. I see it on the scale, just 15 pounds gone, but they’re a significant 15 pounds in my life.
I feel it when I carry around only 18% body fat as opposed to 30+% one year ago. I literally have a lighter rock to push up that hill.
Takeaways from a Year Focusing on Me
You can’t make time. People say “I need to make time for that”, but it’s not real. You have 24 hours and 7 days a week and that’s it. No extras. You have to decide what you’ll do with those hours. What are your priorities?
Small steps can make for a big change over time. You don’t have to love new foods overnight. Take small steps to try new things. Mix it in even if it’s not the healthiest way to eat it. Then, gradually continue to step it up and before you know it you’ll be eating cleaner and more healthily without thinking about it.
Tell your inner circle. Tell people you’re making a change and invite them to do small things with you along the way. When they see you opting for the broccoli instead of the fries, they’ll understand why.
It’s not easy or fast. Give yourself time to get it right. Habits take time to break. Three weeks can form a new habit. Allow yourself to do the work over enough time to let it settle into your life and become your new normal.
The weight of life can be so heavy. Those words were the title of a church sermon this summer and they spoke to me. The weight of relationships, work, guilt, and setbacks – it’s that heavy rock we all have to keep pushing up the hill. It’s hard work.
You have to forgive yourself to keep moving forward. Maybe now that I’m 40 I’m starting to get over that figurative hill and set myself up for a lighter load for the next 40.