Retirement life can bring new challenges especially when it comes to eating and exercise. Will having greater access to food make me want to eat more? Are fewer stairs to climb in my one level abode a good thing? As I look forward to celebrating my 60th birthday, it seems more important than ever to be fit and to feel good about my aging body.
I see many overweight people of all ages everywhere I go, but I don’t stand in judgment of them. I have witnessed firsthand the power of addiction in my own family, be it alcohol, food or cigarettes, and I know how much people suffer when they feel at a loss to control their own choices.
I sometimes think that what saved me from being either an alcoholic or overweight was leaving home at the age of 18. We learn habits from our families when we are younger and then we eventually decide whether or not to repeat their pattern or to choose our own habits as adults. While in college I got to see how others live their lives and compare it to my own family. It seemed I never learned much about self love or self control.
Growing up I was aware that my mother hated her body. She gained extra weight with each pregnancy and so after 6 children she no longer was the same size as when she got married. She was always trying different diets and weighing food on a little scale on the kitchen counter. My father was no help at all—in fact he made no secret to any of us that he thought more highly of anyone who was thin which included himself of course. He boasted that he only needed one meal a day. Which he did but the other 5 courses were Kentucky Bourbon.
My wanting to be free from the burden my mother carried began in middle school. There was going to be a fashion show and they needed models. I waited and waited for them to choose me, but they didn’t because of my weight. I remember quite vividly babysitting one night and watching Miss America. In one hand was a 16 ounce bottle of coke and in the other a bag of Lay’s potato chips. I remember looking at Miss Norway on the runway with her ribbon sash over her delicate shoulder and flat stomach and then looking at the curves on the Coca cola bottle I held in front of my face. Maybe if I had those curves, I would be on a date instead of babysitting. I set the drink down.
That summer I met a boy at the beach and was kissed for the first time. Then I came down with a severe case of mononucleosis and infected strep throat. I was so sick that I lost 20 pounds. When I returned to school the boys noticed me. I rather liked this attention! More important, I liked the way my new clothes fit.
I stayed at the average weight through high school and sailed off to college where I put on the freshman fifteen by Christmas. I vowed to take it off and I did! In April, my father told me he couldn’t afford to send me back to school. I also learned that my fiancé was cheating on me. I began seeking out chocolates, sugar in any form. For me weight loss is directly related to my emotional state. I know to eat a salad instead of a donut, but there are times in my life when I lack all will power. I am normal.
I did not give up on myself. I found a way to stay in school and to even complete a master’s degree before getting married in 1979. Then I was pregnant with my first child in 1982, and gained 36 pounds. I was miserable. I lost some of those pounds, but by the time my daughter entered kindergarten, I was twenty pounds overweight again. Being a stay at home mom wasn’t as gratifying as Donna Reed made it out to be. I needed to go back to work. Throughout my career as a teacher, I stayed at a healthy weight in part because I rarely sat down at a desk.
I was worried about weight gain when I first retired in 2010, so I hired a personal trainer at the YMCA. I met with her twice a week. This was a huge step for me because I hate gyms and I don’t like to lift weights. My PT gave me confidence and the personal attention to really set goals, but I didn’t really want to work out. Who wants to work out? Play out. Dance out. Walk out—YES! If I walk several miles each day, I can eat whatever I want and not gain weight. I have tried this in Spain, in Italy and in Vienna where the pastries are sinful! Even on a 13 day cruise I vowed never to take the elevator.
My second exercise strategy is yoga. I became conscious of my breathing and stretching my muscles. Side stretches have helped give me a waist. Now I include TRX, strength training using suspension straps, where we increase our heart rates for the first 45 minutes and then end our workout with 45 minutes of stretch yoga. My third and most preferred method of exercise is dancing and I am always looking for an opportunity.
Don’t think in terms of depriving yourself of whatever food you want. I love eating!
My mother used to say “the best diet is pushing yourself away from the table.” I believe that the best diet is to push yourself out the front door of your own home. Walk into retirement as long as your legs will carry you.