4 Women Shape Up

In just three months, they learned to love exercise, healthier food — and their over-40 bodies.

By Elena Rover
Elena Rover

It was clear we needed to reenergize our programs. Like most women who exercise to control weight, we’d focused on the activities that were most convenient for us without giving much thought to what we would enjoy. Now that our bodies were used to our routines, they weren’t being challenged enough to drop pounds.

Jan had a fix: She gave each of us a quiz from The Chelsea Piers Fitness Solution, a guide for using sports to make exercise enjoyable; our scores would match our personalities with sports. Elizabeth’s results showed that she loves learning new skills. She likes to compete with herself but also enjoys the camaraderie of group activities. So Elizabeth went rock climbing with Jan. It’s Jan’s favorite sport for midlife women because many think they can’t do it; scaling the wall builds confidence that is often lacking after years of unsuccessful attempts to diet and exercise. When Elizabeth e-mailed us her on-the-wall photos, we cheered her accomplishment.

Marcia’s quiz results showed that she strives to be an ace player. Golf and yoga are excellent options for her personality type and practical alternatives when she travels. Jan suggested she take a beginner-yoga DVD to play on her laptop in the hotel room.

Karen scored as semicompetitive. Her results suggested golf, ice-skating, swimming, tennis, boxing, and yoga. My quiz results showed me to be more competitive and in need of a challenge. I’d never tried boxing, so one Saturday morning Karen and I found ourselves the only virgins in a class of 16. We jumped rope, put on gloves, and learned to throw a few punches. After some bag work, the instructor sent us all side-skipping around the track, then put us through sets of killer abs exercises. We were sweating rivers but happy and never bored. Call me crazy, but I felt 20 years younger.

Final Move: Shaping Up Our Diets

"The age-related decline in metabolism, coupled with any decrease in activity, makes it much harder to lose weight after 40," says Theresa Kinsella, RD, the registered dietitian at Chelsea Piers. Ten weeks into the program, she asked us all to keep three-day food diaries and gave us a form with questions next to every meal or snack: If you’re not hungry, why are you eating? "Stress, boredom, or procrastination are common reasons for non-hunger eating, which can lead to extra pounds," Theresa says. "The food diary lets you look at your patterns."

Karen was eating the right foods in the right portions, thanks to the Weight Watchers points system. Theresa advised her to learn to eyeball serving sizes so she could maintain her weight loss when she went off the program — to note, for instance, how full her bowl was after she poured in one cup of cereal and a half cup of milk.

Marcia needed to drink less juice and eat more whole fruit for additional fiber and fewer calories. To help prevent diabetes, Theresa suggested she add more vegetables and lean protein to her diet, which contained Jamaican dishes such as fried fish and seasoned rice (high in salt and fat). She also said we could all avoid getting bored with our diets by adding herbs and spices to bland foods: cinnamon and nutmeg to oatmeal and yogurt; garlic to vegetables and stews; chili powder to anything with beans.

Elizabeth needed to make a strong commitment to bone health by adding more low-fat dairy to her meals. Theresa said she could satisfy cravings for rich foods and at the same time give her bones a calcium boost by adding nonfat yogurt to oatmeal or nonfat ricotta to pasta marinara. But Elizabeth’s big hurdle turned out to be the seven daily snacks she used as breaks from the stress of work and her father’s ongoing care. She attempted to make them healthy — fruit and nuts — but she was still consuming an extra 600 calories a day.

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