Everything I know about weight loss I learned after 50.

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“Bony Joanie”

Dear friends,

The headline is not exactly true; on some level I succumbed to the allure of so-called “click bait.” But it is true that I’ve had a lifelong struggle with feeling okay about my body/managing my weight. And the struggle is — mercifully at age 54 — virtually over.

As a young person, I was known as “Bony Joanie.” The photo above makes the reason for my nickname abundantly clear (knock knees much?). But despite how angular I was — a good thing by modeling standards — I felt bad about my appearance. Being buck-toothed and freckled didn’t help a girl who desperately wanted to look like Malibu Barbie. But mostly I was a head (or more) taller than my peers and in my mind, height equated to being “big.” My senior year in high school I was crowned Football Queen and I was taller than my escort. My adolescent psyche found this humiliating. (Let’s think about this: I was voted “Queen” by a group of male contemporaries and yet failed to accept it as an affirmation because of a single physical attribute. What can you say about the mind of a young girl?) So even though I was 5’10” and 130 pounds, I still felt BIG.

I was in my late 20s before I owned my stature. Marrying a man who is 6’6″ and broad-shouldered probably had a lot to do with that. The good news was that I no longer felt too big to be around others. I even started wearing heels regularly. It was a real breakthrough.

Still my weight fluctuated a lot. By 25 I was no longer bony. I gained the Freshman 10, then packed on another 10 post-college. My weight went up and down with the vicissitudes of my life, including pregnancy and job stress. I lost 30 pounds before my wedding; gained 52 with my first pregnancy; lost 18 in preparation for my 20th high school reunion; and lost 10 pounds too many times to count when discontent surged as a result of tight clothing. Through it all, I pinballed between 1) careful eating and regular exercise, and 2) sloth and eating with abandon. It’s a pretty typical story for many of the women I know.

But a couple of years ago, I started eating better. Like, really better. And it’s made a difference in my weight maintenance. I fluctuate between being vegan and vegetarian, but I’m not a nut about it. I eat the occasional chicken wing or hamburger when the cravings are strong. But 18 out of  20 meals are plant-based and involve a predominance of whole foods. I rarely eat desserts or sweets. My biggest vice is diet soda. (Sometimes I swear it off for months at a time. Other times, I indulge regularly. Such is the continuing saga of human cravings for comfort and familiarity.)

And I run regularly. I’ve been a runner for 31 years. I’ve taken off for long periods (especially in the baby years), but I’ve never entirely stopped. In the last decade, I haven’t laid off for more than a few weeks at a time. And it’s made a difference in my fitness level.

A couple of years ago I read an article that said weight management is 9 parts eating right and 1 part exercise. It’s proven so true in my life that I think the two ought not to be talked about in the same breath. Because here’s the deal: you can be a healthy weight but a long way from fit. And you can be overweight and demonstrably fit. I’ve been both combinations so I know fitness and weight are not inextricably linked. So here are my two truths:

If you want to be fit, or strong, or have improved stamina and endurance, EXERCISE to achieve those results. Fitness is a health and lifestyle goal in and of itself. If you exercise only to lose weight, you likely aren’t enjoying it (meaning there’s a good chance it won’t “stick” as a lifelong habit). Besides, I know plenty of people who have lost a lot of weight while doing nothing more strenuous than walking. So the goal of losing weight doesn’t have to “condemn (you) to the gym.”

If you want to lose or maintain your weight, EAT to achieve those results. Weight management is a goal in and of itself. It’s true that adding a little exercise to your routine jump starts your metabolism. And regular exercise allows you to eat more than if you were sedentary. But it’s not necessary to your weight management goals.

Ten months ago I saw a photo of myself that I didn’t like. Even though I had been eating healthy, I had been consuming more calories than was necessary for my age, metabolism and activity level — and my weight had crept up over time. I decided to cut back on my portions and it made an immediate difference. I lost 10 pounds quickly and felt measurably, physically better. A few weeks later, I realized I had let my fitness slip considerably, too, so I amped up my running program. I lost another 10 pounds. Eventually I lost six more pounds and realized I weighed less than I had in a decade. I was tempted to say “Holy cow, that was easy.”

It wasn’t, of course, easy. What I mean is that it wasn’t fraught with panic, self-loathing, guilt, deprivation or any of those other emotions I know so intimately.

It was, however, rooted in awareness. “This is what I’m choosing to eat today.”

It was rooted in discipline. “I’m keeping track and monitoring the result.”

It was rooted in patience. “I allowed myself to lose track of my weight and fitness goals for a while now. It’s not realistic to turn this ship around in two weeks. (Or two months.)”

It was rooted in equanimity. “All things come. And all things go. Accept the seasons of your life for the lessons and gifts each bring.” (Let me tell you . . . of all the gifts being over 50 have brought me, equanimity is surely at the top of the list.)

Interestingly, I had an overly indulgent February. Two business trips and plenty of good food and alcohol later, I noticed my weight had crept up a bit. Not a lot. Five pounds. I didn’t panic. Nor did I beat myself up. I became aware. And a couple of weeks after becoming aware, 2 of those 5 pounds vanished. It was another breakthrough, of sorts — the kind that makes me ponder the long trajectory of wisdom and my intersection with it.

By the way, I feel compelled to point out I’m no expert on health and fitness beyond the impacts both have had on my own well-being and what I’ve learned, mostly informally, through an awful lot of research, reading and reflection. The diet and exercise industries are a combined $40+ billion enterprise so there’s plenty of expertise right at your fingertips. You know you better than anyone else, so read up and ask yourself how it applies to you (if it applies to you). Ask a knowledgeable friend or professional source for additional resources. Trust your body intuition. Become aware.

Most of all, tell yourself the truth about the choices you make, the motivations inherent in those choices, and the predictable results. Because that’s where the real breakthrough — at any age — comes from.

With gratitude {for, what else, the awareness and equanimity that seems to come with age in Mother Nature’s ironic trade-off},

Joan, who nobody calls bony anymore but whose dear friend recently called skinny and lit up the pre-frontal cortex of Joan-Marie’s brain in a Pavolovian response tied to her Barbie-worship days

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“Skinny Joan”

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The Great Clean Out of 2017.

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Dear friends,

One of my favorite memories about my unconventional father is his “honor garage sales.” Although I spent most of my life separated from my father, I lived with him for two full years in college. (It was a little weird; after all those years apart we were suddenly adult roommates.) Bob loved money and loved cutting a deal, but he didn’t much care for the logistics and customer relations aspects of hosting a garage sale. So he tagged all his items and displayed them in the front yard with a sign describing the rules of his garage sale. (“Take your item and leave your money in the envelope in the mailbox.”) Then he drove to the neighborhood bar where he threw back a few and waited out the crowd. Several hours later, Bob came home to an envelope full of money and a mostly cleared yard. What a deal!

I’ve started off 2017 with a New Year’s Resolution to purge my life of excess baggage.  My approach is a little different than Bob’s but it works for me. I made an extensive list of every “space” in my home to be purged, cleaned and/or reorganized. I mentally gave myself a full year to do the job, but I was exceptionally industrious in January and made a ton of progress. I purposefully avoided a list that said “Clean Den” because I knew it would be overwhelming. The key to success, I figured, was the satisfaction of seeing regular check marks indicating progress on my list.

In that spirit, my list says things like “De-clutter nightstands.” “Purge jewelry drawer.” “Tackle the den bookshelves.” You know . . . bite-size, manageable chunks. So far, I’ve tackled my dish pantry (it took an entire day); my dining room buffet; every single drawer and cabinet in my kitchen (all 39 of them), including the kitchen counter tops, coffee stand, and kitchen appliance cart; hung a new light fixture in the kitchen (okay, Mr. Mom did that, but I helped); repainted the fireplace mantle and screen; purged and reorganized the front coat closet; Mr. Mom’s closet; the mud room (really a glorified alcove); the master bathroom sink cabinet; every table surface and wall in the living room; and the half bath counter top. I’ve hauled too many car loads to count of purged possessions to a local charity resale store. And I’ve still got a long ways to go.

Including a basement that’s not even on the list because it’s too overwhelming.

But hey, it’s only February, right? And you ought to see my house. It really is looking so good.

I’m not sure that any woman who calls herself Magpie and has an entire pantry of dishes (on top of all the dishes in her large kitchen) can ever claim to be a minimalist. But, lordy, you ought to see how de-cluttered my house is looking. There are tables and counter tops and walls with plenty of open space. The drawers are organized. There are EMPTY drawers! (Okay, there’s one empty drawer in my buffet, but still. It’s EMPTY!) I actually gave away one bag of table linens and several boxes of dishes, my most treasured collections.

And I feel so good about my newly airy 2500 square feet of dwelling space!

Actually, I feel guilty. A little. Because no good deed goes unpunished in the Magpie psyche, I feel bad for living in such a big house and having spent money over the years on so many possessions I’m now giving away. But I read this article earlier this week and decided to “own my mistakes” and “let go.” And even Mr. Mom has given me an important affirmation. A couple of weeks ago he said “Things are really looking good honey. The key, I think, now is to maintain it. Quit bringing stuff home.”

No penance for past sins. Just forward progress. He’s a gem of a guy, ain’t he?

And I really feel like I’ve turned the corner emotionally. I amused my friends when I declared I was going to pare a little each year until five years from my death I would live in a very small space and be free of possessions. They are anxious to know how I’m going to know when I’m five years from death. But I figure barring a tragic accident or very sudden illness, I’ll know. And I’ll trim accordingly because I’m committed to not leaving a trail of possessions for my loved ones to deal with. It’s not what defines me, much as I’ve allowed it to as reflected in my self-selected nickname.

It’s worth mentioning my friend and colleague died suddenly two weeks ago at age 59. I absolutely adore his wife and our circle of friends’ shared grief has been a bit of a wake-up call. Life is short. Hug your people. Tell them you love them every day. Get your shit in order and focus on love and kindness, not things. I hear the message, dear universe.

I’m not only cleaning out the physical clutter, I’m sweeping away the emotional detritus. Or trying to, anyway. And I’m telling everyone I care about in every way I know how — I love you!

And there’s a minimalist quality to those three simple words that are fitting, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for the energy and inspiration to clean, for the incredible luxury of worldly goods I can share with others, for a large circle of peeps to love, for today’s breath},

Joan, who thinks Bob almost had it just right and is seriously contemplating a “charity garage sale” where everything is free, first come, first served, and wonders what you think about her crackpot idea

 

 

 

Money for nothing.

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Dear friends,

Monday, Mr. Mom drove me to a doctor’s appointment because 1) it’s 90 miles away and 2) I dearly value time in the car with my favorite guy and he’s very good about indulging me on car trips. As we were leaving the big city, we encountered what is sometimes called a “panhandler” while stopped at a busy intersection. I instinctively reached for my wallet but quickly remembered it was empty.

“Do you have any cash?” I asked Mr. Mom.

“For what?” he said.

“The man. Holding the sign,” I said as I pointed in the gentleman’s direction. “I want to give him some money and I don’t have any.”

The light turned green as Mr. Mom explained his wallet was buried in his back pocket.  We left the intersection without helping a haggard looking man whose cardboard sign said he was hungry.

We were silent for a bit then Mr. Mom asked “How often do you do that? Give money to strangers.”

“Every time I can,” I answered. “If I see someone asking and I have cash on me, I give it. Last week when I visited Kate in Tulsa, we encountered a fellow at an intersection and I gave him all I had, which was $10.”

I could tell Mr. Mom was surprised but had no further comment.

Earlier in the day, while waiting at the doctor’s office, I overheard two women talking. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop and it took me a few moments to piece together that between the two of them (presumably an adult daughter and her older mother), they were having trouble coming up with $8 for the daughter’s co-pay. The mother had a debit card with $6 on it and the daughter was rummaging through her purse for change. That’s when I discovered my wallet my was empty. I was about to offer my own debit card when the nurse called my name. I walked into the examination room feeling guilty for not insisting the nurse give me a moment to help.

I haven’t always been this way. I used to be notoriously cash poor. I carry a credit card and a debit card and use them almost exclusively, even for minor purchases like coffee. When I worked in the big city I was frequently approached by individuals seeking money and almost always turned them away with a truthful statement: “I’m sorry. I don’t have any cash on me.”

But in recent years I’ve started carrying cash for the express purpose of giving it away. I consider it just one form of the variety of charitable contributions I am committed to. (In case you’re wondering, higher education, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are all high on my priority list.) But in regard to my cash donations, I’m not very methodical about it, honestly. I have no scheme for “who” merits “what.” I’ve given as little as $1 and as much as $40 depending on how much cash I have on me and how in need the person making the request appears.

I find it curious that I’ve been occasionally criticized by friends and acquaintances for this practice.  The critics seem convinced that panhandlers are “too lazy” to work, or use the money for alcohol or drugs. And don’t get the critics started on the “fake veterans” whose “ploy” they find particularly objectionable.  I have no idea how anyone seems so sure of their conclusion that the needy aren’t really in need. They are strangers, after all. So what do we know about them except the fact that they are asking for money? I want to say to the critics “On what basis are you making this assumption?” but I usually keep quiet.

A few times I have said this: “Have you ever thought about what circumstances would lead an individual to ask a complete stranger for money and think that is the preferred option over all others? I have. And I’ve concluded things must be pretty desperate — or other viable options exhausted — to compel someone to beg.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “bootstraps” theory of life. Especially American life. There seems to be a strain of the American psyche that values self-determination, rugged independence and individual industriousness above all else. I admire self-made men and women. I do. But I also think not every soul on this earth can pull themselves up by the bootstraps — for a variety of reasons that I’m in no position to judge. It doesn’t make them less than. And it doesn’t make them pitiable. It does make them worthy of my help.

There’s been a renewed emphasis in the last couple of years, especially on social media, on the notion of “paying it forward.” Again, I find it curious that folks want to buy breakfast for the person in line behind them at McDonald’s but don’t want to help the person asking for it face-to-face. I’m not trying to judge. I’m trying to understand. Both are money for nothing, in my book, but somehow the unseen person seems so much worthier.

For what’s it worth, this reflection on the “bootstraps” theory isn’t meant to be a political statement. But I will admit I’m politically exhausted and dispirited right now. I’ve allowed myself to wallow a bit about the Bannon-ization of the White House, which is just plain wrong. Say what you will about anybody in the White House right now, it’s up to ALL of us to build a better world. So I’m trying to focus less on what elected officials are doing wrong in my mind, and more on what I can do right.

And I’m putting my money where my mouth is, or in this case, in the requestor’s hand.

With gratitude {for days mercifully long gone when a co-pay put me in a bind},

Joan, who for too many years criticized her mother for giving her last dime to anyone who needed it and now understands Colleen was doing the Lord’s work in her own way

PS: I’ve written around this topic before so forgive me if you think I’m a harpy. But this post sums up my feelings on the topic of entitlements versus opportunity and is, in my humble opinion, worth your time if you’re so inclined. And this is my favorite post on the topic of begging.