Before you get defensive, this is not a mindless rant against fat folk. I’ve been one and nobody knows better than those of us who have walked (or in my case, waddled) that path how easy it is to get there. And, thank you, how hard it is to get to a better set point.
You will note that I did NOT say skinny, or model size. Nor did I say become a fitness model.
Please, this is important. Fit, or well, has billions of different looks. What magazines airbrush and hand to us as societal standards are already largely freaks of nature. Then they are corrected well beyond anything that person could possibly achieve. So let’s get clear. If you drink the collective Koolaid that any of us at ANY age or at ANY level of fitness should look like what we are force-fed by the ad machines, then you are a goddamned fool.
I was that goddamned fool, and it nearly took my life. I speak from years of experience. I wasn’t born with a body meant to be slim. I got fat, I got smaller, and I have stayed there since 1987 because I chose to learn to take care of myself.
This is my rant. Bear with me here.
This is brought on by comments that I periodically get from fellow Medium commenters and/or writers- mostly women, at, near or older than my 66 years- who choose to read certain intentions in my articles about fitness. They put words into my mouth, choose to hear that I am stating that we should all aspire to be like fitness models, and that I am fat-shaming them personally.
When I do my best to politely engage, and point out that not only are they misreading AND misquoting me, what I often receive are more defensive rants which further both misquote me and put additional words into my articles that are neither there nor intended. To quote one commenter from yesterday, she claimed that I said “we should be like uber jocks who climb Everest.” Not only did I not write this, but there was nothing in my article that implied such a thing.
Let’s be clear, folks. It is NOBODY ELSE’S FAULT if you or I chose not to be mindful of our diet and exercise. It is NOBODY ELSE’S problem or issue if you or I are suffering from a series of largely-reversible lifestyle choices that have left us ill, out of shape, overweight, and liable to fall down from polypharmacy.
I repeat: these are largely reversible conditions.
It is why, when I am on hold with my local VA hospital, there is an endless loop of information admonishing my fellow vets to lose weight, exercise, quit smoking and stop taking drugs.
In case you missed that message, here you are: https://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2013/09/20/exercise-health-benefits.aspx
I regularly receive missives from fellow Medium peeps of a Certain Age who also turned their bodies into machines after getting a terrible diagnosis, having a devastating illness, or getting way out of shape. They CHOSE. In many cases, what it took was a very big life event. Does it matter? No. What matters is that we make that choice to begin, then to stick with it for life. It’s not easy. It’s not meant to be. If it were easy, folks, we’d all be sporting a six pack.
Here’s the piece. Every single one of us has the same 24 hours in the day. Every single one of us can make better choices about diet and exercise. The information is widely available. You and I would be hard-pressed NOT to know how to make better food choices (which is 85% of what we look like). How to start a gentle, simple exercise program which is perfectly suited to our age, our fitness level. Try:( http://sixtyandme.com/gentle-yoga-for-seniors-videos/) Whether it’s Silver Sneakers or just getting up off the couch and walking around the block, it makes no damned difference. MOVE.
Plenty of folks in wheelchairs exercise every single day. That is no excuse. The question has more to do with where is your investment? To be a victim, totally helpless to take care of yourself? Or are you going to dip a spoon into the inherent potential that every single one of us carries to live a better quality of life for yourself?
Nobody else can do this but YOU.
The other day I saw a video of a morbidly obese woman who was beginning her exercise program- all she could do was lift her arms and legs from a prone position. That activity burns calories. That activity engenders blood flow. Those things make us feel better. The more we do them, the more the body wants to work. We all have to begin somewhere.
That is, if you would like to feel and look better.
That morbidly obese woman had made a decision. She began where she was. It’s a long, hard road. Took her a long time to get to that kind of shape. It will be a long climb out of the trough. But it is available.
However let’s also be both clear and fair. Obesity has myriad of causes, not all of which is simply lack of exercise and a bad diet, despite fat-shaming doctors who should know better. For more please see The Secret Life of Fat by Dr. Sylvia Tara. That might help you not only understand the critical role of fat in our body (as important as lungs and liver) but also why it is so evilly hard to keep it off once we’ve lost it. I can attest.
As for exercise? Well. It can be hard to start, especially if you never have.
Will you be sore? Damned right. That’s the body’s way of saying where the hell have YOU been all these years? This too shall pass. As you pass into a fitter form, your body simply adjusts. It loves to be worked. It was designed for work. When we work it, we get paid back in a million million ways.
If we abuse our body, it will LET. US. DOWN.
Before someone writes me the inevitable rant that I am saying that we all have to be senior Oylmpians, please: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201505/very-small-amounts-exercise-can-reap-huge-benefits.
Now. Are there folks past the point of no return? Of course. This article is not for them. However there are vastly too many of us who say we are but we aren’t. Unless you are bedridden and riddled with tubes, chances are you can indeed do something. And doing something is the beginning of a journey much larger, much more satisfying, than sitting around being mad at yourself, at your body, at the world.
Why is this so important for those of us of a Certain Age? Because this: http://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/health-care/older-women-need-aca.pdf
Many of us- including me- still have to work for a living. Aging is tough enough. Aging badly when as women we often end up being caretakers is wicked hard. So if you and I aren’t well, we can’t work, which helps with expenses. Besides, for a great many of us older women, it’s at this very point we have the most to offer. It’s a criminal waste to be so ill we can’t continue to make a difference, to say nothing about simply being self-sufficient in a world that’s already tough on older women.
If we allow ourselves to fall into decrepitude, there are enormous prices to pay. Not only we can hardly take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of a family member who could be in worse shape than we are. It’s not just a matter of vanity, folks. It’s a matter of our thrival. Being healthy and vital is everything. If you need to work, you can. If you have to care for someone you can. It’s not just a matter of being able to play. It’s being able to live.
You have access to the same books and articles I’ve researched (and often listed here on Medium) about fat, sugar, diet, and exercise. You have access to the same articles, the same magazines. You have access to the same information that shreds the lousy government guidelines about what to eat and why. Given our access to the Internet and its vast resources, you and I no longer have the excuse to say we didn’t know. The information is widely available. I have and will continue to do my level best to curate good articles and information so that people can make better choices.
It’s work to sort it out. Of course it is. The advertising machine and corporations count on our lack of motivation. They bank billions on our belligerent desire to avoid the work, for a magic pill, on the anxiety that we ALL have about how we look. My. Hand. Is. UP. The incessant messaging to which we are all subjected is brutal. If we’re not young and perfect, we’re useless. That kind of messaging makes money on our misery. It’s communicated so often society has accepted it as fact.
To fight that nonsense takes work. Motivation. Commitment.
However if you don’t feel that your well being is worth that work, that is YOUR decision. How you and I end up, the shape we are in physically and emotionally is largely OUR doing. Nobody is force-feeding us Big Macs and fries. Nobody is forcing us to sit fourteen hours day. You and I can always take short, swift, simple exercise breaks which go a long way towards making a difference( https://www.silversneakers.com/blog/daily-exercises-older-adults/).
Barring bad accidents, about 70% of how we age is up to us. It’s largely determined by our lifelong daily habits: how we eat, move, drink, think. That last piece is a huge piece of this pie. In fact, our emotional makeup is a massive piece of our overall health.
As for folks who have trouble getting access to better food there is this: http://time.com/5534352/food-best-medicine/. Even the medical community has begun to prescribe better food.
Being well is a lifetime commitment. That wellness isn’t guaranteed if we are foolish enough to abuse our bodies. I’ve done it. I’ve been there. This isn’t about shaming. It’s about naming the bullshit. Don’t like where you are in life? You can change it. Nobody else can.
I note again, I did NOT say you had to look like a fitness model. Feeling and looking better are relative to age, your body type, your genetics, and whatever godawful mess you may or may not have gotten yourself into because of poor life choices.
I’ve made plenty of those poor life choices. This is not a judgement. I’ve got decades of practice. I did not become a late-in-life athlete overnight. I had to clean up a lifetime of stupidity. I got raped in my twenties. That particular event sent me tumbling down a rabbit hole that lasted four decades. But I by God climbed out of it.
I chose to the do the work.
I chose to research and discipline my eating habits.
I chose to do the research and find the lifestyle that work for me.
That I got there, that I have earned my way to a superb level of fitness in my mid-sixties is the result of will, focus, determination, and a willingness to carve out a different kind of life. That’s not a statement of superiority. It’s a fact. There are many, many more who are far more dedicated, stronger, focused and better at it than I am. Some people do this in groups. Some with besties. I did it alone. There is no good or bad or better or best. It’s whatever works for us as individuals.
BUT I CHOSE. That choice is just as available to the angry old folks who bark at me about my articles as it was to me.
I am tired of people whose life choices have crippled them who are are angry at me and other elder folks for living a different kind of life. Who fire nasty darts at us calling us “lucky,” and accusing us of having it easy, and for telling others of my vintage that they should look like something out of a magazine.
Never once did I ever say or imply such a foolish thing.
I am tired of people who sit in their houses or apartments feeling miserable and pitiful because of the shape they are in and then get angry at those of us who have done something with our lives. As though it’s a personal affront.
GET OVER YOURSELF ALREADY.
Being fit -the way I see it -has nothing to do with being beautiful and young and gorgeous and lording it over everyone else. It’s a quality of life issue. Being vital and lively well into old age has everything to do with having choices. Waking up raring to go. Enjoying every minute. Being able to fight off diseases and heal fast from injuries. Being armed with the kind of well-being that allows us to laugh at life, which is the best single defense against the inevitable insults of old age.
Aging can be terrifying. Of course it can. However, consider the options. Then, consider the options that we all have to make aging an adventure instead of an agony.
That you haven’t chosen this path isn’t my fault or anyone else’s fault. That you or I or anyone else has made poor lifestyle decisions, eat badly, are ill, overweight, sedentary, house-bound, addicted to drugs and painkillers, believe doctors who do not have our wellness in mind, folks, that is not anyone else’s fault.
It’s OURS. I did it myself, I know the path. And reversed it. You can, too.
Nobody made you make those decisions, any more than anyone forced me to eat too many Krispy Kremes. To descend into the unique hell of four decades of eating disorders. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone else, but for me it was precisely what sculpted me into where I am today. Sometimes we have to descend in order to rise.
Over sixty? Out of shape? See https://justfitnesshub.com/starting-exercising-at-60/.
There are endless online resources. Plenty of pools and rec centers where older folk are starting and maintaining programs in the company of people battling identical challenges. People who can help you laugh at your condition, make water aerobics fun, and who reinvigorate you top to bottom. Where I swim there are hundreds of older folks just like this. I laugh with them every time I do laps. We joke about cranky knees and cellulite and floppy breasts when we dress next to each other in the locker room. It makes things funny and fun. No fitness models at my rec center. Just us grey girls putting in our time.
While I have all the empathy and compassion in the world for anyone who has let themselves slide, because I have been there, I am done with folks who feel it is their right to bite chunks out of those of us who choose to do the work.
You can reverse any to all of your condition. But it takes your choice. It doesn’t happen overnight. Didn’t for me, and it won’t for most of us. It doesn’t stop once we’re there, either. The older I get the harder I have to work to earn the right to enjoy my meals as well as enjoy the sports I love. It’s a lifetime commitment. Worth every single second of sweating I do.
Here’s an example of what’s wrong with the mindless assumption that we have to be skinny in order to be fit:
Pat Gallant-Charette is hardly a swimsuit model. But damn girl. She is one hell of an athlete. She isn’t trying to be Diana Nyad. She’s just being herself. Here’s what rocks about Pat:
But the really crazy part? Gallant-Charette didn’t get serious about swimming until she was 58. (bold added) And she was terrified of the ocean for years, after she had what she thought was a close encounter with a shark (it was really a curious seal) when she was 13. “I wouldn’t get in the water above my knees for years,” says Gallant-Charette in her strong New England accent.
The Senior Olympics is not full of photos of fitness models. These are everyday Joes and Jills who chose to do the work: http://nsga.com/2017photos.
You and I don’t have to be senior Olympians. We don’t have to be Masters athletes. When I run the steps at Red Rocks, those aging women bypass me at three times my speed. I run between 2400 and 3600 steps at a time. They are my age and older and they leave me in the dust.
I don’t get pissed off at them for being in better shape. How puerile.
They inspire the hell out of me.
Their commitment energizes me. Makes me damned proud. What motivation to see elder athletes crushing it. Pat didn’t know what she could do until she tried. Same for me. I had no idea I could climb Kilimanjaro till I tried. Or the Everest Base Camp. Or kayak the Arctic Ocean. I had no clue. Neither do you. You have no idea the riches that await genuine effort and joy.
And this: https://www.outsideonline.com/2153626/these-80-year-old-athletes-will-blow-your-mind. Kindly, these people aren’t fitness models. They’re grey, bald, their skin sags, they’re wrinkled. They’re old. But they are by god athletes, loud, proud, and living a vastly better life as their bodies do what Nature intends. We diminish. However you and I do not have to diminish badly. That is the whole point.
You and I are the results of years of lifestyle choices. Yet we can turn things around.
Two of the most prominent women bodybuilders in America, one in her early eighties (http://ernestineshepherd.net/?page_id=2) and one in her seventies (https://www.drjosefina.com/), never touched a weight until they were 59.
Where you and I are in life right now, at any age, once we have reached some level of adulthood (and in the age of Trump that’s a very real issue) is the result of your choices. Nobody else’s. That I have none of my natural teeth left is the result of four decades of eating disorders. I did that to myself. I’m not going to blame my rapist. That gives away my power. I am no victim. I CHOSE.
Because this: in many ways if that hadn’t happened to me, I may well not be living the life I do now. Every single thing that has happened in my life has been a gift. Learning to see it that way was hard damned work. That in and of itself was a choice: to see things a different way.
That’s mental, emotional and spiritual Olympic exercise.
Because I know I chose, I can also choose to do everything I can to make the rest of my life vastly better.
You do not have to be an athlete. The point is to be fit- whatever that looks like for you, your age, your condition in life. To be well. To feel good and happy and confident. To have a full and fun life until Nature takes Her body back, because by god She will. I’d like to give her one that has had one hell of a good ride. I’d like you to do that, too.
Choosing a better life eases the terror, redirects your thoughts, and focuses you on what’s right with your life, your body, your well-being.
I sincerely hope you do. Because nobody will cheer you on louder than I will.
The choice is yours. Always has been. Always will be.
I hope you choose.
See you out there: eating healthy, kayaking, walking, riding, cycling, swimming, spinning, lifting. Being. In. Life.
I can’t wait.