58 with the figure of a “20-something-year-old”: How I did it

Today is my 58th birthday, but just a few months ago, VOGUE magazine said I had the figure of someone in their late 20s. That’s a high compliment that I don’t take lightly, especially because the journey that led me here has little to do with my body.

Before I grew into who I am today, my journey was more of an obsession:

In my 20s, I obsessed about being skinny.

In my 30s, I obsessed about being buff.

In my 40s, I obsessed about being more disciplined and needing to get this shit right!

Now, in my 50s, I can tell you that all of those may be phases you will go through, but the journey, really, is about growing to a place of peace and “pure joy wellness.”

At 58, I am so happy to confirm that no matter how crazy or far away it may feel to you sometimes, it is possible to reach a place of personal peace about your body and your health. Let’s take a walk back through my decades and I will explain.

My Skinny-Fat 20s
During the first decade of my adult life I was a complete yo-yo. I went back and forth, back and forth, trying to stay skinny so my butt wouldn’t look too big.  Then I would get so skinny that I looked almost skeletal and would start bingeing to gain weight. I took diet pills and exercised like crazy to get all the way down, but would eat a dozen doughnuts to gain a few pounds when I worried I looked too skinny. I threw in a few fruits and vegetables and McDonald’s for good measure.

I was what I call “skinny fat” — when people, women in particular, do hours and hours and hours of cardio (for me, back then, it was aerobics) but their diet, isn’t the best. They appear thin, but have no muscle tone to support their body and bones, and not enough nutrients for true health. While on the outside they look fine, their organs are taxed the same as an obese person.

My Muscle Bound 30s
Everyone knew I worked out when I began working as a television producer.  One day, this guy at the television station said, “You should lift weights. I think black women do really well when they lift weights.”  I had never heard of women lifting weights before, but it got my attention. We went to this down-and-dirty gym where they had chains, boxing bags, and lots of weights.  I was the only woman there, but I was willing to try.  Once I felt the power of the weights, I was hooked. I totally stopped doing cardio and kept going back to lift more weights. This became my new obsession.

Every workout was about getting stronger, but because I was no longer doing aerobics and hadn’t changed my diet, I had no visible muscle definition.  Instead, I had a layer of fat on top of my muscle, but I thought that was okay because it had become all about pumping more and more iron.

I started eating like weight lifters and body builders – nearly all protein with a protein shake everyday. Although it was good for me to build muscle, I still wasn’t “well,” because I still didn’t know how to balance things out. I replaced my obsessions with aerobics and being skinny with weights and protein.

My Fretful 40s
With age comes wisdom, the need to balance it all began to come into focus.

I began studying. I started realizing that in order to become healthy and change my body, I needed to combine cardio, resistance training, and healthy eating in my life, but as I absorbed more about health, I replaced my behaviors with a new obsession: Perfectionism.

I would beat myself up when I fell off track. I would torture myself mentally and agonize if I ate a few of my favorites like potato chips and fries. I would “punish” myself by saying I had to be perfect and eat clean for the next three days. If I didn’t follow through, I would berate myself and say, “See, look at you. Ugh, you have no discipline.”

But I kept trying.

Toward the end of my 40s, I decided that consistency would be the key – that I would be consistent with healthful habits 80 percent of the time and do whatever I wanted 20 percent of the time. I finally realized that I just needed to hit the mark most of the time and that the mark is different for everyone. So sometimes I just might want or need a bag of potato chips. My body might be craving that for some reason so I would just go with it and totally enjoy it. If it wasn’t something I was craving or doing everyday then I was fine.

My Evolutionary 50s
Today, this lifestyle has become second nature. I stopped believing that I had to give up everything I enjoyed in order to become healthy. My belief is that moderation in life and fitness leads to health. As I near 60, I feel myself reaching total peace.

I am more at ease. Now, if I can’t make a work out, I don’t stress about it, because I know I will make it the next day. Eating healthfully most of the time is now so ingrained in me, I don’t think about eating vegetables. My body craves vegetables. I don’t have to think about whether I should eat fruit — I actually want to have an apple. I don’t think about whether I should go for a run. I desire to run and its meditative. It chills me out.

How You Make the Shift
If you are worried about whether you can also make these changes, I am here to tell you you will if you keep at it.

This quote from The Four Agreements sums it up.

“Everyday do your best, knowing that each day your best is going to be different. But as long as everyday you do the best you can, you will get there.”

And that’s how I have done it. Everyday I do my best. If my schedule is really, really busy and I want to get an hour workout in, but I can’t, I pull my jump rope out and jump for 10 minutes.  The next day, I work out again. It’s no longer all or nothing.

I rest well, I move my body, I find peace, actively stopping the chatter and dialogue, treating myself with kindness and no more beating myself up and saying horrible things about myself. That’s how the shift has happened, one decade at a time. And the shift happens inside first.

These are things I could not say in my 20s, 30s and 40s.My “best” is different day-to-day, but I give it my all each day. And with that in mind, I am looking forward to my 60s to see what will come next!