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

My main problem was dinner: I loved trying new recipes and treating myself and my family to comfort foods like lasagna and turkey shepherd’s pie. It was my time to relax with my husband and son, plus cooking was a great break from my home office. "Make one meal for everyone," Theresa counseled, "but fill half of your plate with vegetables and take a smaller serving of the main dish." She encouraged the four of us to eat at least two cups of vegetables a day and suggested we focus on that instead of what we couldn’t eat. I embraced the half-plate veggie plan: I could eat my favorite foods, feel full, and lose weight. Brilliant.

For all of us, Theresa recommended that we eat morning meals high in fiber, like cereal, so we stay satiated and are less likely to overeat later on. For dinner, she encouraged us to try healthy frozen meals on those can’t-cook days, like the brands Amy’s and Kashi, which have whole grains, high fiber, and better-than-average taste. "Most of the prepared meals aren’t very big, so add a side of frozen vegetables, like Cascadian Farm Gardner’s Blends, to fill you up," she advised. Other tips: Choose whole grains, like whole wheat pasta, old-fashioned oatmeal, and brown rice, to stay full longer and provide more nutrients. (Recent research shows a number of health benefits from whole grains for older women, including reduced diabetes risk and staying slim.) "And use fats where you’ll notice them most — like the schmear on your toast — and cut them back in cooking," Theresa said. "Pan-fry using a thin coating of olive oil spray instead of butter, or try nonstick cookware and no fat at all."

How We Did

After three months of guidance and encouragement, each of us had lost weight — though only Karen trimmed off as much as she had hoped. She gave the program her all, getting up early every day and showing true dedication. We all felt that exercise was now a part of our lives — and that you get out of it what you put into it. As Jan had told us at the start: "Exercise is like a college course. You can’t register and skip class, then expect to ace the final." But show up, do the work, and you get great results.

Elizabeth cut way back on snacks: When the urge struck, she got up and did a few minutes of exercise, made a cup of herbal tea, or called a friend. She dropped six pounds and regained her positive body image. "I got back in touch with feelings of energy, strength, and peacefulness," she says.

Marcia attributes much of her seven-pound weight loss to changes in her diet. Her take-home from this experience: She discovered that exercise could be part of her hectic life. Now she even gets on the treadmill and lifts weights at hotel gyms when she travels.

Karen lost those extra 15 pounds, and her cholesterol dropped to 188, with her HDLs at a healthy 50, which puts her in a low-risk category for heart disease with no need for medication.

As for me, my back isn’t miraculously repaired, but I’m no longer afraid to work out, knowing that my stronger abs offer protection. I lost 10 pounds, and I’m feeling better about my body. Most important, I found a program that made fitness a part of my life, and I’m going to stick to it.

The Workout

Lower Body Toner (works buttocks)

A. Stand with legs hip-distance apart, and rest your left foot on a towel (or a paper plate if you’re on a carpet.)

B. Keeping right knee above right toes, slide left foot back so your body goes into a lunge. Bring left leg back to start. Do two sets of 10 to 12 reps. Switch legs.

Heel Slide (works hamstrings)

A. Lie on the floor, heels on a towel or paper plates. Do a pelvic tilt and raise buttocks off floor so your torso forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Rest arms on floor at sides, palms down.

B. Slowly slide heels out to straighten legs; don’t let your butt touch the floor. Hold for one count and pull heels back to starting position. Do two sets of five to 10 reps, working up to 20 reps.

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