The warm weather of summer is here, but you’re less thrilled about squeezing into a swimsuit (or even a pair of "mom" shorts!). As a woman of a certain age—say, somewhere between late 30s and early 60s—your bikini has had its last poolside outing. For the most part you’re fine with that—hey, Christie Brinkley and Jane Seymour are freaks of nature anyway!—but still, you’d love to drop a good 10 or 20 (or 30) pounds. Is that too much to ask?
Of course not. Not only can you get in shape this summer, you can look, and feel sexier than you ever thought possible. The great thing about being "middle aged"—whatever that means—is that you’re young enough to look fabulous yet old enough not to care that you don’t look perfect.
I’ve cried my share of tears as a result of the changes my body has undergone over the past few decades. But hey, my body has survived childbirth, menopause, and more. I’ve earned the right not to have to compete with the 20-something gals. And just because my body doesn’t look like theirs, that doesn’t mean I can’t keep it healthy and be proud of it.
Here, I share 15 practical ways to lose weight, get in shape, and rediscover your confidence this summer.
1. Find a balance between, "I’m never eating a carb again" and "Screw it all, where’s the doughnut shop?" One of the gifts of being, well, mature is that you know yourself pretty well. You’re not going to stick to a rigid bread-free, sugar-free, fat-free (and flavor-free) diet forever. Are you? We humans aren’t meant to deprive ourselves of major food groups—or even of a reasonable amount of culinary satisfaction, indefinitely. That’s why I urge you to think about healthy eating as a lifestyle change, not a "diet."
Change your eating habits, but make it sustainable. Even if results happen more gradually than you’d like, sticking to a handful of healthy eating habits (like the ones shared below) and staying focused on your wellness goal will serve you better than obsessing over a rigid diet plan with unrealistic promises.
2. Know how much is too much. Much of the time our problem isn’t that we’re eating the wrong things; it’s that we’re eating way too much. (Not surprising in the Land of Super-sized Everything!) You’ve probably heard the (depressing) facts before: Three to four ounces of protein is enough, and is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. And one ounce of cheese is roughly the size of your thumb.
Portion distortion is everywhere. Most people are shocked when they learn what recommended serving sizes actually look like! To help you get used to the "correct" portion sizes, I recommend investing in a small kitchen scale. And if you’re experiencing "size shock," try serving yourself on a salad plate with a smaller fork. It’s an optical illusion, like wearing black and it works!
3. Choose the fruits (and veggies) of summer. As the temperatures get warmer, green things will begin to grow again. Take advantage of the seasonal bounty in your area and fill up on the recommended seven servings of fruits and veggies per day. Not only will fresh produce be a welcome change for your taste buds after this long winter, it will also help you achieve your get-in-shape goals.
When you’re at the farmers’ market or in the produce section of your superstore, think variety and color. Add more greens, reds, yellows, and oranges to your basket. Try seasonal vegetables that may be new to you. Mix them up and experience wonderful new flavors and textures. And don’t forget about fragrant spices and fresh herbs! These seasonings have no calories and can transform simple, healthy ingredients into exciting dishes.
4. Savor each bite. Summer is a season of slowing down: watching a sunset from your porch, taking a vacation, basking by the pool, etc. So why not extend that attitude to mealtimes?
Eat slowly. Take sensual pleasure in the taste and texture of your food and the knowledge that your healthy diet is one of the building blocks of your wellness potential. You’ll enjoy your food more and be more aware of when you’re feeling satisfied.
5. Have a BBQ battle plan. Despite its fresh produce and leisurely mealtimes, the upcoming season has one major pitfall: food-centric get-togethers. Summer-related holiday cookouts, and dealing with tables full of tempting treats might be your downfall. That’s why I recommend planning ahead so that you can hit the food line with a strategy.
First of all, if you are heading out to a party and you know that the food will be fat-, sugar-, and salt-laden (in other words, delicious), eat a big salad before you go. Then, scope out the buffet and fill a small plate with tastes of the dishes that make you salivate most. Once you get to the drink table, watch the booze! I’m not saying you have to be a teetotaler, but keep your intake reasonable (more on that later). Finally, if you are going to be attending the gathering with a spouse or friend, ask that person to watch your intake and keep you honest.
“Studies have shown that if you eat well 80 percent of the time, you can eat some of the bad stuff during the other 20 percent and still be very healthy.”
6. Drink to shrink. Water. Water. Water. Repeat that to yourself. Water should be your beverage of choice this summer (and every season!). In fact, try to drink six to eight glasses a day. Keep water on your desk to sip while you’re working and within reach when doing your chores. Have a bottle in your car. Take it with you to the park and to the pool, and definitely make sure you take a bottle of H2O with you whenever you’re exercising.
I love my water with a slice of lemon or lime. Besides staying hydrated, the big advantage of drinking water is that you aren’t drinking something else, like juice, soda, or alcohol—all of which are full of calories. If you do decide to have a drink at the end of the day (for which I wouldn’t blame you), stick to a one to two drink maximum. That’ll add up to about 300 to 400 calories, depending on the drink.
7. Know your weaknesses. It’s a simple strategy: Don’t keep "bad habit" foods around. You know what they are! Clear them out of your cabinets and stop buying them. If you don’t have that big bag of chips in your house, you’re probably not going to run out to the store to buy them. (This is one instance in which laziness works for you!) Don’t worry: The craving will pass.
If you tend to snack on chips at night, reach for fruit, munch-worthy vegetables, or have a handful of nuts instead. And banish the "Terrible Trio" now and forever. That’s saturated fat, processed foods, and refined sugars—especially those found in soda and other bottled beverages. Nothing there but empty calories.
8. Cut yourself some slack. One thing is for sure: At some point between now and summer’s end, you’re going to slip up. No matter how strong your willpower is, you’re going to cave and eat a whole pint of frozen yogurt in one sitting. Or no matter how much you want to get in shape, you’re going to give in to temptation and order one of the most calorie-laden entrées on your favorite restaurant’s menu.
When that happens, be kind to yourself. We all fall off the wagon every now and then. When it’s your turn, don’t beat yourself up. Simply be very careful the next day and reaffirm your healthy intentions. Things will balance out. Studies have shown that if you eat well 80 percent of the time, you can eat some of the bad stuff during the other 20 percent and still be very healthy.
9. Do some spring-cleaning. Cleaning the house was my mother’s favorite (and only!) form of exercise. Standing at the sink doing dishes gave her the chance to do deep knee bends. Vacuuming the house from top to bottom was her version of aerobics. Since the washer and dryer were downstairs in the basement, several trips up and down those steps were part of her day.
Like my mom, think of vacuuming and other household chores as sources of exercise and energy enhancers. The house will be clean and you’ll feel better. Once you work up to a full cleaning spree, expect to burn almost 200 calories an hour!
10. Stop taking the easy way out. You don’t need an expensive gym or piles of equipment to burn calories and tone your muscles. What you do need is a degree of focus and commitment. Opportunities to exercise are everywhere, especially now that the weather is warmer! You just need to take those opportunities instead of avoiding them.
Okay, it’s a cliché, but stop passing the staircase in favor of the elevator. Quit circling the grocery store parking lot and just pull into a space at the back already! Pull out your weed eater and rev it up yourself instead of paying the teenager next door to do it for you. Take walking breaks instead of coffee breaks. If you incorporate extra steps and extra movement into whatever you do, you’ll find those steps may add up to a half an hour or more of extra exercise each day. Remember, staying fit is about staying moving.
“You’re much more likely to keep up healthy habits if someone is holding you accountable.”
11. Walk your way to confidence. Even if your exercise regimen centers on body sculpting classes, weight training, yoga, or spinning, you should also make concentrated walking part of your day. And if aches, pains, or injuries (which, let’s face it, tend to show up once you’ve got some mileage on you) prevent you from doing anything too extreme, walking by itself can be a surprisingly effective weight control tool if you do it regularly.
Start with 30 minutes, three times a week. Build up to 30 to 60 minutes at a time, three times a week. If you have time and energy to walk more often or more frequently, that’s even better. Now that you don’t have to wear five layers of clothing to keep warm, you’ll find that being outdoors is actually enjoyable! Do whatever works for you—some people enjoy first-thing-in-the-morning walks, while others prefer evening jaunts. You may even choose to bring athletic shoes to work so that you can walk during your lunch breaks.
12. Let your walks double as bonding time. You’re much more likely to keep up healthy habits if someone is holding you accountable. Plus, walking with someone is far less boring than hoofing it alone simply because you can talk a bit. So grab your spouse, a friend, neighbor, or even your pet when you head out for a walk.
Of course, don’t just amble along chatting. Make sure to get your heart pumping and your breathing rate up, even if it interferes with your conversation. Look at group exercise this way: It’s a great opportunity to bond with people (and animals!) you love the most. I’ve found that the more years I have under my belt, the more close relationships matter to me.
13. …or use them as an opportunity to rock out! If you’re a lone walker, consider bringing along your smartphone or Mp3 player. Pre-loaded with your favorite tunes, it can be an excellent walking companion. Not only will music make this sometimes-dreary task fly by, but you might even find yourself busting a few moves—and burning some additional calories—on your neighborhood’s sidewalk!
Don’t tell your teenager, but between you and me, their generation’s music has nothing on ours! A classic song with a great beat—and even better memories—can get you moving and keep you moving. If you don’t want to spend money recreating the playlists of your youth or creating new ones for today, there are all sorts of free music apps that you don’t need to be a tech wizard to use (my favorite is Pandora). Other listening alternatives are podcasts and audio books.
A Couple Other Things
14. Get your beauty rest. Yes, summer nights are shorter than winter ones (and you’re probably not complaining), but it’s still important to get enough sleep. For adults, that’s seven to nine hours a night.
Contrary to what you may like to tell yourself, sleep is not something you can afford to sacrifice. In addition to causing car accidents and other injuries, a lack of sleep is increasingly seen as an important health factor. People who are sleep-deprived often have chronic illnesses, such as depression, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
So for the sake of your health (if not your grainy eyes and grumpy mood), go to bed at a reasonable hour! If all else fails, think about it this way: Nobody will notice your healthy body if they’re fixated on the dark circles under your eyes.
15. Get busy. (Yes, that kind of busy.) If you have a willing partner, make love instead of snacks. Nourish yourself and you’ll forget about that craving for ice cream and pie.
Sex is great exercise any time of the day or night. Make it part of your routine. Not only will you burn calories in a really enjoyable way, knowing that your partner finds you attractive will cause your self-confidence in your swimsuit to skyrocket.
As you work on getting healthier, remember to start small. Keep in mind that lasting and successful change is all about sustainability. Work on eradicating one bad habit, then add a good one to replace it, then move on to the next change. If you start taking baby steps now, you might be surprised by how good you look and feel when it’s time to slip into that swimsuit!
And speaking of your swimsuit, I want to reiterate one more time that even though it might be more "structured" and offer more coverage than the teeny bikini you wore in your 20s, you can still look fantastic in it! Yes, you may owe part of that image to the fitness and weight loss you can achieve when you try, but above all it’s about being comfortable in your own skin, which tends to happen naturally as you age. When you’re comfortable with who you are and where you are in life, that self-confidence shines through in the way you look. It’s like magic. Confidence is sexy in any season!
Dr. Carmella Sebastian (known as Dr. Carm or "The Wellness Whisperer") was born and raised in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and received her MD degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania. She is board certified in internal medicine and was in active clinical practice before joining Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Northeastern Pennsylvania, where she was VP of medical affairs and chief medical officer. At Florida Blue, she oversees the National Committee for Quality Assurance-accredited wellness program "Better You from Blue" and manages over 100 client consultations per year. She recently published her first book, "Sex and Spaghetti Sauce: My Italian Mother’s Recipe for Getting Healthy and Getting Busy in Your 50s and Beyond." Dr. Carm lives in Tampa with her husband and two daughters, who are ongoing (and somewhat reluctant) beneficiaries of her wellness wisdom. For more information, please visit www.drcarm.com. and follow her on Google+.