Everything I know about weight loss I learned after 50.


“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


“Skinny Joan”

Booty camp.

Dear friends,

Three weeks ago, one of my running buddies admitted to me and another friend that she had been two-timing us. As in — pursuing another fitness regimen on our “off” days.

Rather than being miffed, I was intrigued when she said she had attended “boot camp,” an aptly named exercise torture device that I have heard of, but had never experienced.

It’s free, she said. At a local church, she said. Come along, she said.

So I went. And LORD HAVE MERCY did I experience it.

For the uninitiated, boot camp is an hour long, high-intensity, old-school workout not for the faint of heart. It involves jumping jacks and push ups and sit ups (the old-fashioned kind, not wussy crunches) and sprinting and lunges.

And burpees.

Never heard of a burpee? I hadn’t either until three weeks ago, when I immediately recognized 1) I AM OLD, 2) I AM TRAGICALLY UNFIT, 3) I AM FEARFUL.

Here’s sort of what a burpee looks like:


Thing is, you don’t do it slow. You do it fast. And bouncy. See that squat in position two? From there you BOUNCE to position three. Then you BOUNCE from position three to position four. Then you bounce STRAIGHT UP IN THE AIR.

Then you immediately repeat it. Over and over and over again for 45 seconds.

If you can do a burpee, it will make you want to kill yourself. If you can’t do a burpee, which I couldn’t, it will make you laugh maniacally while you try, then cry bitterly from humiliation when you fail, then make you want to kill yourself. (But in a way far less painful than a burpee, of course.)

I had no idea that a thing that looks so simple could be so hard, where hard equals a feeling approximately equivalent to sucking the flames of a blow torch into your lungs while simultaneously crushing your upper arms and legs in a vise.

Yeah, it’s that awesome.

Anyway, after my excursion to boot camp, I couldn’t walk upright or sit without moaning for three days. I ate Advil like Pez. And, curiously, I went back to boot camp four days later, determined not to let the burpee break me like when Sgt. Foley screams at Mayo for his D-O-R!

I even practiced burpees at home under the tutelage of Mr. Mom, who said my technique was wrong (NOT TRUE), and Parker, who said my upper body is too weak (BINGO!). By the way, “practice at home” equals one or two tries because after that, I’m too tired to try again until the next day. BURPEES ARE THAT HARD.

Anyway, today I finished my 7th boot camp workout and I did all the burpees I should have done except one. In the last three seconds of my final 45-second rotation, I lost all strength in my body and failed to do the final burpee. Instead, I rolled over into the fetal position and — unlike the shame of my first day at boot camp — felt nothing but honor for having given the &%$# burpee everything I had.

Did I mention we do burpees at 5:30 in the morning?

Yeah, so I’m just saying . . . well, I’m just saying I’m awesome for even showing up. (By the way, if you haven’t heard of Kid President, Google him. Or watch this short video. In the words of Kid President: “Being a human is hard. Some days, you ought to get a high-five for getting out of bed.” Amen, brother!)

After arriving back home following today’s victory, Mr. Mom asked me how “booty camp” went. (He calls it booty camp as a nod to the improving shape of my backside. He’s sweet that way.)

I said it was awesome. I said I did burpees. I said I claimed victory even though I fell one short of a boot camp’s worth of burpees.

And in the immortal words of “Lynette” in the final scene of the greatest boot camp story in cinematic history: “Way to go, Joan! Way to go!”

With gratitude {for good friends, good medicine, and a cracker jack drill sergeant},

Joan, but you can call me GI Joan

Day 28: The Turkey Trotters.

Dear friends,


On the 28th day of this month of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the family and friends who humored me by starting the day with a 5K.

It was a chilly 25 degrees and I must have asked each person in our group no fewer than five times if they were dressed warmly enough. Parker answered yes more than once then froze to death without gloves and a hat. (Told ya!)

Must be why he flew through the course. He placed 6th out of 67 runners with a very respectable 24:17.

I flew through dinner afterwards.


And later, I’m going to fly through pumpkin cake and pecan pie.

A girl’s got to play to her strengths, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever},

Joan, who didn’t come in last (or even next to last) among her group, which is no small feat given she was the oldest of the six Turkey Trotters

Day 12: Thermodynamics.

Dear friends,


On the 12th day of this month of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the nuclear furnace that lives inside me.

At least that’s what Mr. Mom says — that I am a walking, talking thermodynamics experiment. At night, I radiate heat in bed like a glowing ember, which you might imagine makes snuggling with me a winning proposition for a man with long, frigid limbs like Mr. Mom.

It was a balmy 17 degrees during this morning’s run. No big in my book. Two layers on top and one on bottom and I’m good to go. I don’t break out the big guns of warmth (triple layers and a face mask) until much closer to zero.

The winter before I left Mayberry was an exceptionally cold one. After running through a week of sub-zero temps, I just happened to sleep in on the morning Mayberry set a state record cold temperature at -31 degrees. I’m still bemoaning the fact that I ran faithfully that frigid winter but can’t tell my grandkids I ran on the coldest day ever.

I’m not sure, but I think my Native American blood is particularly suited to cold weather. I like that explanation better than the layer of maternal blubber which I am also certain provides strong insulating properties.

By the way, after this morning’s run, I made an unexpected stop at a local coffee shop. I was the lone patron on this dark, cold morning and the college student/barista looked especially glad to see me. As I took off my hat and gloves and ordered my specialty latte, he noticed my cold weather gear and began telling me how cold he had felt this morning while scraping the frost off his windshield without gloves.

Three decades and several good jobs have separated me from my peanut-butter-and-ramen-noodles existence, so I offered the boy my gloves. (They’re black, unisex, and made by North Face, a leading outfitter.) He declined, and I said goodbye hoping I didn’t embarrass him. I just acutely remember my 20s and the perpetual feeling of being a day late and dollar short. I also remember the feeling of luxury and privilege that came with owning a home with a garage and saying goodbye forever to cold-weather windshield scrapings.

With gratitude {for warmth, in all forms},

Joan, who loves to reminds her children that when she lived in Boston she daily walked ONE MILE EACH WAY through heavy snow to the subway station

Day 3: The race.

Dear friends,


I did it!

I ran my first race.

I finished my first race.

It was so much more than I expected.

It was more nerve-wracking. (Where-to-go and what-to-do issues worry me. Fortunately, everybody was very helpful and answered every single one of my questions. And my irrational fear of getting off course because I’ve fallen behind and can’t see the runners ahead of me never came to pass, not to mention the course was well marked.)

It was more challenging. (Uphill start, roller-coaster middle, uphill finish tells you everything you need to know.)

It was more taxing. (I started too fast and never really caught my breath, but managed to push through it nevertheless. I think my loud wheezing scared a couple of people, especially when we realized I was breathing too hard to drink the cup of water handed to me by the race volunteers. But, hey, nobody questioned my effort.)

It was more rewarding. (I came in 31st out of 61 runners. Middle of the pack, baby! I had no idea being solidly average could feel so damn good.)

It was more interesting. (I ran with all kinds of folks. Among the people I beat was a 13-year-old boy in his pajamas and robe, and a woman I only know casually but who’s very fit and who I would have wagered could smoke me. Among the people who beat me was a women about my age who confessed at the starting line that she’s a heavy smoker and runs in the hopes it will persuade her to give up nicotine, and a colleague who’s 10 years my senior.)

It was more fun. (Afterwards, race organizers invited runners to the local brew pub, where we all enjoyed a complimentary beer. After that, my regular running buddy and I went to breakfast with two other racers. Corned beef hash, eggs over easy, and biscuits and gravy were a fabulous prize for having conquered my fear.)

It was more surprising. (I placed third in my age group and won a prize. How’s that for positive reinforcement? Yes, there were only five ladies in the 50-59 category, but I was less than three minutes behind the first two.)

It was more alluring. (There’s a local race on Thanksgiving morning and I’ve already persuaded Kate and her college roommate, Kris, to join me. I have a feeling there are many more races in my future.)

It was more more. (Who knew a little weekend competition among souls of all ages and abilities could bring out the athlete in me?)

With gratitude {for unrealized fear turned into inspiration},

Joan, who kindly asks that you hum the Chariots of Fire theme song when you think of her

The case of the bad back and the beautiful bag.

Dear friends,

I’ve been happily sewing along, finishing a new mini-quilt and several zip-bags in the last two weeks. Everything was going fabulously until my back decided to go all wonky.

It happened Friday at work. If you’ve never suffered from back problems, they always seem to appear out of the blue. I was walking down the hall to my office when — snap — the pain hit me instantly and fully. I gasped, I stooped, and then I panted and grimaced my way to my office floor, where I spent the next half hour staring at the ceiling and thinking a neurotic back can sure put a kink in your plans, pun notwithstanding.

I managed to get myself home, but I spent the rest of the day and night on my back in bed, alternating between heat and gentle stretches, which I chased with a stiff drink right before bedtime. Because the pain was in my middle back and radiated to my left underarm (rather than my lower back, which is more typical for me), by evening I was convinced I was either having a heart attack or was about to come down with shingles. (My back might not be the only neurotic part of me.)

Neither happened, of course, and by Saturday morning, I was stiff but mostly pain free. I got up very early and got started on a project I had hoped to complete the night before — a zip bag for an upcoming quilter’s swap.

I hadn’t been up more than an hour when the spasms started again, this time in my lower back. I shuffled my way back to the bed/heating pad, took my daily allowance of Advil, and thought about how mobility is never overrated.

Two hours later, I was up and moving again and managed to finish my bag project.


It’s a surprise for my swap partner so I hope she likes it. (By the way, “moda” is a fabric line beloved by most quilters. I “upcycled” some ribbon from a recent fabric shipment in hopes it would delight a fellow fabric hound.)

I have no idea what’s going on with my back. I logged four runs this week with nary a problem, so who knows? A couple of weeks ago when Mr. Mom was suffering from aches and pains, I called it Old Man Syndrome. Maybe I’ve got Old Woman Syndrome.

With gratitude {for Sewer’s Syndrome, which ultimately prevailed over lesser maladies},

Joan, who — 33 years ago next month — spent a week in traction recovering from the first of her neurotic back episodes

This is how lazy I am.

Dear friends,

I have lived in Missouri for exactly 649 days.

And for exactly 649 days I have complained to anyone who will listen to me about the ratcha-fratching hills.

Last fall, I showed you this photo of the hills by my house that I despise every single moment I am running up and down them.


(You commiserated with me. Thank you for that.)

What I haven’t told you is that while it’s really hilly where I live, there are some relatively flat stretches in town. In fact, there’s a municipal bike/walk path about five miles from my home that is pretty darn flat and that I have inexplicably ignored.

See, that’s how lazy I am. If I can’t throw on my shoes and run out my door, I’m not interested.

I have a twitchy fear of complicated, ambiguous undertakings. (Actually, most of my work life is complicated and ambiguous, so I avoid those characteristics in my personal life. I haven’t succeeded, but still I try.) And figuring out where the path goes, or the best place to start and finish, or where to park, well . . . that seemed like a lot of effort when I could just open my front door and go.

But Friday night, Mr. Mom and I went to a dinner party and noticed  a good stretch of the path ran through our friends’ neighborhood. So I came home, determined to overcome my fear and investigative inertia, and I spent a half-hour on the internet using various search terms and looking at Google maps trying to figure out the perfect route.

And I found it — a 7.3 mile route that appeared to offer minimal ascents and descents (or so it seemed to a girl who can’t really read Google maps). So I scrutinized the map, looked for landmarks I could remember, determined where to park, and tried to commit the route to memory.

I headed out Saturday morning and found a trail-head right where I expected it to be. And 20 minutes into my run, I realized I had wandered off course when I crossed a busy highway that I didn’t expect to encounter until much later in the route. (Two workmen were standing beside the highway as I ran by. I heard one of them say to the other, “See, that’s what we ought to be doing right now.” Not a bad boost for an old woman.) It seems I was lost and had no idea how to get back to the path. Worse, I didn’t have a clue how I wandered off it.

Which is exactly the kind of complicated, ambiguous result I had been steadfastly avoiding.

So I just kept running. I wasn’t lost-lost. I was familiar with the part of town I was in. But I was turned around and didn’t know how to find the route I was originally pursuing, or whether or not I’d make it back to my car without calling Mr. Mom for a rescue.

Fortunately, I made out just fine. I never did find most of the route I was looking for, but I found another section of the path that proved scenic and satisfyingly flat. And I made it back to my car  precisely when I was ready to quit anyway, at one hour, 25 minutes.  Success!

I estimated my distance to be at least 7.5 miles based on my time, which means I broke my Missouri distance barrier. (Around my house, I have never run farther than six miles). More success!

Which made me wonder why it took me 649 days to give it a try.

With gratitude {for the post-run healing power of bubble baths},

Joan, who figures there’s probably an app for charting runs but also has a twitchy fear of the iPhone app store unless somebody tells her straight-up which one to download


Dear friends,


This is Ed. Part Golden Retriever, part Labrador Retriever, Ed is a rescue dog that came into our lives some eight years ago after Parker begged for a canine companion of his own.

We had lost our Black Lab, Cassie, some time earlier and Ed came bounding into our lives just when our household of four broken hearts, two active children and one neurotic Chihuahua most needed him.

He’s lived in three towns with us, two in Oklahoma and now one in Missouri. He has adapted to spacious yards, small ones, the noise of city streets and now — a wooded 15 acres filled with deer and turkeys and rabbits and all kinds of woodland friends he loves to chase.

Of late, he’s been chasing something else.

My 1000 mile goal.

Ed is my running buddy. He’s covered every mile I have since I announced my goal and he’s done it with far more enthusiasm and grace than I have.

I never ran with Ed before we moved to Missouri. I’m not sure why except I just never did. Once we moved to Missouri, things changed. For one, we live in an area far outside the city limits where most of the dogs run free. Our pasture is fenced, but it’s far enough from the house that Ed and Frito (the aforementioned neurotic Chihuahua) were miserable when we first moved in and tried keeping them there (and tried convincing them to sleep in our barn). About a month in, we caved and let Ed and Frito run free like the other dogs. We moved their doghouse from the barn to a sheltered spot not far from our kitchen door and they were gloriously happy to cavort with neighborhood dogs at will and nap by the back door.

But once they were unfenced, our two outdoor dogs couldn’t help but follow me as I headed out on my runs. Whether I wanted it or not, I suddenly had running companions. After Frito died last year, the plural changed to singular, so now Ed is my trusty exercise buddy.

It’s been interesting, this journey into my own fitness that’s also a journey into Ed’s. At about 8 dog years, he’s older than me. His age shows most in the expanding mask around his eyes and the increasing time it takes him to rise after resting. But it sure doesn’t show on the hills, at least not as much as it does on me.

On weekday mornings we run before dawn and the neighborhood is deserted so I allow him to run off-leash. For the first month, I was so slow on the uphill climbs that he would often stop a few yards ahead of me and patiently wait for me to catch up. Occasionally, he would look over his shoulder at me as if to say “Come on. Can’t you go faster?” But mostly he just slowed his pace and/or patiently waited on me.

On weekends, though, I run much later, usually when cars and walkers and other dogs are out and about, so I put him on a leash. On those days that he is tethered to me, he can only get a leash’s length ahead of me and I don’t feel so slow. He is a good dog so he never tugs.

On Saturday, we ran late — almost noon — so I had him on a leash. And even though we put in six miles, I noticed I got far enough ahead of him on the final downhill run that I had to give him a little tug. It was probably unkind to Ed but it was good for my ego. “Come on, old boy,” I said out loud. “Keep up with this old gal. I’m beating you.”

It made me think about how fortunate I am to have such a faithful running companion. He never begs off, never gives up, never gets sick, never brags, never complains. Whether 7 degrees or 85 degrees, rain or shine, dark or light, he shows up. Tethered or not, he is my loyal sidekick who doesn’t know we have a goal but is determined to meet it every time I open the door and call his name.

With gratitude {for this family’s best friend},

Joan, who thinks if anything keeps her running for 52 weeks straight, it will be Ed