My early summer was fun, chaotic, and action-packed, with two Women’s Adventure groups in Indonesia plus more flights and changes of lodging than I usually have in a year. So I set myself up with an entire month of solitude afterward, and I decided to make that month a fitness retreat for myself, with a strong focus on weight loss.
Recently when I see myself in photos, I literally don’t recognize myself. More than once I’ve looked at a photo and thought “But I was there, why aren’t I in the photo? And who is that big older lady, I don’t remember her being there!”
I love womanly curves on other women, but I still strongly identify with how I used to look and I have never adjusted to this bigger body.
It’s not just appearance, though. I’m carrying about 60 extra pounds now. Have you ever picked up a 20-pound bag of dog food? When I think about having three of those strapped around my middle while I try to dance, do yoga, hike up mountains, ride a bike, and all the other things I want to do — well, it’s no wonder I’m slowing down. Plus I’ve dealt with chronic hip pain that had me in a wheelchair at one point, and I live with the fear of being permanently disabled by it. Losing weight would reduce the strain on my lower limbs for sure.
Note: If you’re not interested in reading about my weight loss attempts during this month — well, I don’t blame you. Scroll down to the last section!
I need to recover financially as well as mentally and physically, so I rented a small condo just outside Hua Hin Thailand. It had a kitchen, so I could prepare my own meals, a giant swimming pool and a fitness room for workouts, and was located near the beach so I could run, swim, or just enjoy whenever I want. I checked the reviews to make sure that stores and restaurants were within walking distance. The place was perfect for me.
The cost for one month was $564, which is inside my budget of $600. If you’re comparing that to your rent at home, keep in mind it’s for a place that’s furnished down to the forks and pillowcases and includes all utilities plus wifi. The only other things I need in my budget are food and transportation (and I’ll be walking all month).
However, when I arrived I learned that the “kitchen,” while it is a room of its own, is equipped only with a refrigerator and microwave. No stove, no oven, no pots and pans, and no cooking oil, salt, or other essentials. To make matters worse, while there are stores within walking distance, they are all convenience stores. No grocery or produce market that I could find. Eating healthy on a budget was going to be more challenging than I anticipated.
But I’m stubborn, so I managed. I learned how to cook eggs in the microwave and had them for lunch every day, and I found local restaurants that offered tasty meals in good portion sizes for dinners. I immediately set up these parameters for myself:
- Workout one-two hours a day, alternating swimming, elliptical machine, walking, dancing, and yoga each day.
- No bread, pasta, potatoes, etc (rice had to be allowed because I’m in Asia)
- No fried foods, including packaged chips
- Low sugar
- Fast from 8 pm each evening until noon the next day
- Count & journal all calories (aiming for a base of 1200 per day, plus exercise)
I forced myself to take “vacation” from all non-critical work for the first week so that I could stay focused (and also because I really needed it) and I found it surprisingly easy to follow through on all my intentions.
Week 1: the results
I’m not a morning eater, so waiting until noon for my first meal was easy. My attention span for workouts is about 30 minutes, but if I walked on the treadmill after lunch and went swimming after dinner, it was easy to hit an hour each day, and if I did a little dance or yoga I was well into my “green zone.” I had milk in my coffee and two eggs at noon every day, which kept me full until dinner for under 200 calories. With all the exercise I was getting, I could have a little curry and rice for supper and still have plenty of calories left over for a treat. Almost every day I was able to have an ice cream bar or a beer and still stay well under my goal. I was very happy with how I was doing.
Weighing in was hilarious, yet humiliating. The only scale I could access was across the street, outside the 7-11. When I dropped in a 1 Baht coin to get my weight, the machine would play a LOUD melody, like an ice cream truck, just to make sure all the petite Asian passersby turned to stare at the giantess on the scale.
At my first check-in, I discovered that I had lost… NOTHING! Not an ounce. Ah, you say, but muscle weighs more than fat, and you’re doing all those workouts. Well, I also carry a small tape measure in my pack, and it confirmed that I also had not lost one millimeter of body fat.
Step it up!
OK, so my plan wasn’t working. As a post-menopausal woman, my metabolism has slowed too much to respond even to a full-time commitment like this. No problem, I decided to make some adjustments. Here’s what I changed:
- Eat ONLY 1200 calories; ignore any additional calories “earned” from exercise (My calorie-counting app is probably overestimating my calorie burn anyway, and most calorie calculators suggest I need fewer than 1200 to lose weight at my age — although other sources suggest that fewer than 1200 will slow metabolism even further. It’s very unclear what a post-menopausal woman’s calorie intake should be.)
- Step up my workout intensity. I started doing the Couch to 5K program (C25K) to gradually replace my walking with jogging.
- No more treats like ice cream or beer. I snacked on small portions of nuts, and a small cup of yogurt every other day was my only sugar. I wasn’t even eating fruit.
- I kept the rest the same (no carbs except for rice, no fried food, fasting 16 hours)
Again, not as hard as it seemed. My two-egg lunch was keeping me satisfied until dinner with loads of calories left over. My evening snack cravings were more about boredom than hunger, so I satisfied them with other sensory treats like taking a shower, rubbing scented lotion into my hands and feet, or going for a short walk.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed the C25K program On the treadmill it was easier than I expected, but when I ran on the beach in the mornings it really kicked my ass. I would run in the mornings and then swim in the evening when no one else was using the pool. Swimming felt like yoga to me, my body stretching out in every direction while I pulled myself through the cool water under the stars. So peaceful. I swam 10-12 laps at a time, and I’m not a fast swimmer so that made a great workout.
The results of my new plan
So how did the tweaks work? They didn’t, really. I had some small weight fluctuations, but at the end of the month I weighed the same as I did at the beginning, and my measurements didn’t change much either. It was disappointing, to say the least, and the whole experiment is hope-crushing.
Scientists are discovering (finally) that there’s more to weight loss than the calories in-calories out model. I’ve known that was true for a long time. (The most recent research points very strongly to a gut bacteria/metabolism connection). When I was 30, I ate ridiculous amounts of junk food, was almost completely sedentary, and had a svelte, slender body. Now I eat virtually none of that crap, I’m more active than most people, and yet I can’t drop a single pound.
Note: If you’re tempted to reply to this post with some assessment or advice, you’d better first be able to tell me how you personally lost over 50 pounds after menopause. I majored in this shit in college, I’m ACE certified, and I’m an RYT, I’m not clueless about weight management. Mansplainers and people who think they know all about fitness because they’re naturally thin are not invited to comment. Thank you.
However, this other thing was happening at the same time
So, that’s all pretty discouraging, but luckily there was something else happening in that apartment in Hua Hin.
- It was very hot — around 100˚ most days.
- I had to all my laundry by hand, including my swimwear, towels, and the clothes I ran in, as well as what I wore to go out to the store or to dinner most nights.
- I lived completely alone and no one ever came to my door.
Add those three facts together and you won’t be surprised to learn that I was usually naked when I was indoors. And there was a full-length mirror right in the middle of my one-room apartment, where I couldn’t avoid it.
When I see myself in photos, I’m always standing next to smaller people. Because I’m 5’9. I always look like a hulking giant – my upper arms are sometimes the size of their thighs. Even women who have the exact same girth as me look very small next to me. Think about Dorothy on the Golden Girls — one thinks of her as being super sturdy and thick, although her proportions probably weren’t much different from the others.
But in that mirror every day, there was no one standing next to me to make me look huge. As I got used to seeing myself, I started feeling like I don’t look too bad for a woman of 54. Sure, there are parts of my body I’d like to change. I’d love to have a flat tummy and I feel like my inner thighs are showing their age. It would be nice if my upper arms were more slender again.
But, I have to ask myself “What did you expect to look like at 54?” My boobs are still cute. My legs are strong. I like the curve of my waist and my hips. My skin is in pretty good shape (except for my upper chest — sunscreen ladies!) I’ve long been a fan of womanly curves in art and in life; I was finally seeing the beauty in my own.
I started focusing on the positive when I walked past that mirror. My body started feeling like an old friend I was happy to see.
I knew that when I rejoined society, I would be back in touch with other people’s opinions of my body. I am still dating, for one thing. I have to deal with whole countries that don’t sell clothing in my size, and some places where retail staff act like I have a lot of audacity to show up in a big American body and expect to shop (I’m lookin’ at you, France!). But other peoples’ feelings about me are none of my business.
I’ve made friends with this post-menopausal body, and no one can take that away from me. It would be awesome to have a lean strong body again, but I’m happy with this juicy one, too.
Postscript: while my weight didn’t change, my fitness level did. I can see a difference in my heart rate recovery time, and I can jog three times as long as I could before. I definitely have more energy. I’m continuing the C25K program, and hope to run in a 5k in St. Louis when I’m home this fall.
I want the best life I can have, in whatever body I’m living in.