Midlife is a time of change. Our hair, our skin, our bodies don’t work as well as they used to. From vague annoyances like heartburn or poor sleep quality, to more significant disappointments like injuries, fatigue, chronic illness or mental illness… our chaotic nutrition and lifestyle no longer optimally supports our body. Just like our lives, our bodies change in midlife.
We are aware that our lifestyle impacts our personal health. Yet, we are juggling with creating and maintaining our lifestyle while also managing the other demands on our time… our kids, aging parents, struggling relationships, questioning your career and life direction, addictions, money management, grief, loss, disappointment and regret. I know this because I am right there juggling with you.
I am a Registered Dietitian and specialize in medical nutrition therapy and behaviour change strategies for health and wellness in midlife. I have contracts in two medical clinics where I support clients with creating a healthful, sustainable lifestyles that support their holistic health. I am very familiar with the story above.
I have written several posts in the past about how our bodies change in midlife, the reasons why managing weight in midlife is hard and the process of accepting your midlife body.
So if we accept that our bodies will change in midlife, where does that leave us?
You have options. Here are some things to stop and start doing, and some reflective questions to build awareness of how these areas impact you.
Maybe we had children. Maybe we had an injury. Maybe our priorities became focused on just getting through a very difficult time. Maybe we are processing trauma. We may be coping with life circumstances that we didn’t have a choice in.
Have curiosity and self-compassion for where you are. Observe where you are – don’t evaluate or judge where you are.
As we go through life, it is normal to see that our bodies change.
I too have felt that pang of anxiety when you see one of your friends or coworkers suddenly have a change in how they eat or how they live, and their body changes. I have wondered whether they know something I don’t? I especially feel more vulnerable to this anxiety when my body and life feel out of balance. They become a traveling salesperson of the (initial) ways our bodies change when following a structured approach to their food/nutrition like keto, intermittent fasting, low carb lifestyle, paleo diet, etc. Should you try what has so clearly “worked” for them?
But what “works” for one person may not be right for you. You are different people. You have different histories, experiences, food and lifestyle preferences, health profiles, you have different bodies, you have different habits, you are different.
Stop comparing your journey to someone else’s. You have no idea what their journey is about.
Instead, get curious about your current habits around food and the role foods plays in your life.
Do some food and lifestyle journaling to shed light into what your current diet and lifestyle actually looks like. Observe this and get curious, don’t evaluate or judge yourself.
When the time you devote to you diet and lifestyle plays an abnormally large role in your life, your world gets smaller.
The 2020 Canadian Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines emphasize the importance of creating a lifestyle that you can enjoy and maintain. Sure, you can do the 7-day program that your friend did. But unless you make actual changes to what you eat, how you engage with food, and how you live, you will find that you will have a tumultuous relationship with food and with your body.
Without a sustainable lifestyle, you are likely to see weight cycling, a situation where you have weight loss, followed by weight regain, and often times, more weight gain. Weight cycling is demoralizing and is harmful to your physical and mental health.
As you think about building a lifestyle that supports your health and wellness, consider how you are doing in the following six areas of a healthful lifestyle, as outlined in lifestyle medicine.
We have a toxic culture around our physical appearance that places unrealistic expectations on how our bodies look. Examine the media you consume, the people in your life, and the places where you spend time.
How does the culture in which you are marinating contribute to your body satisfaction versus dissatisfaction? How you can change in what “soup” you choose to marinate?
For example, can you watch a show that focuses on something that interests you, like home renovation or crime detection, instead of watching a show that shames diverse body sizes and glorifies weight loss?
When you change what and how you eat and live, weight loss may or may not happen. Weight loss is an outcome, not a behaviour. You have some influence over your weight, but not as much as you have been led to believe by dieting industries, magazines, or some health professionals.
Research shows that there are many benefits to improving your diet and lifestyle, independent of weight loss. Have a look for some non-weight indicators that you can use for evaluating your lifestyle.
Table source: Brown J, Clarke C, Johnson Stoklossa C, Sievenpiper J. Canadian Adult Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines: Medical Nutrition Therapy in Obesity Management. Available from: http://obesitycanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/8-MNT-Table-2-with-links-1.pdf Accessed [Oct 28, 2020].
What you do have influence over is how you live. Finding a more natural weight in midlife is about finding a way of eating and living that you can enjoy and maintain. It is about exploring how you support your body with food and nutrition, and find your own, unique, personal balance.
I believe moderation is helpful in most areas of our life, including what we eat and how we live. And I also believe in moderation in moderation! Eating well and being active is not meant to be a full-time job. But some amount of planning and organizing is helpful to making this area of your life simpler.