Explain motivation to a gone to seed person
July 5, 2009 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Is your 58 year old Mom or Grandmother a chunky depressed wreck? If she would listen to your advice...what would you tell her?

I just came back from trying on clothes for three hours and I hated everything. I am no longer young (58) and this last year I have experienced changes that were unexpected and absolutely no fun. I'm a wreck. I used to be able to wear anything! I didn't have to do much to stay slim during most of my liftime...but that is obviously over.

I need to lose 25 -30 pounds to be the weight that looks right on me. I realize I must eat sensibly and exercise--do you have advice how to get started (especially for someone who hasn't ever had much experience in exercise and hasn't ever been much of a cook?) Do you know any older females who regained their (more) youthful physique? How did they do it? I am very tired all the time and have battled depression forever. I THINK I am alright physically--just depressed. I took a stress test not long ago and "passed" it, however I reached an anaerobic stage after only a few minutes.

The trouble is that when my mind chemistry is "off" eating is the only thing that makes me feel better. I haven't found an antidepressant (yet) that works for me.
I have thought about going in for hypnotism. Do you have any knowledge about whether or not that would help kick start some motivation for me? I would love to see some rapid results ...of course!

OH..AND.. all my friends eat constantly and I eat out way too often. I have no family and no in-person role models. Additionally.. I am a member of a gym!..the young fit people there intimidate me! How can I get myself to go in??

Thanks for considering my question.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
1) switch gyms. Some gyms are for gym rats and gym bunnies and some gyms are for regular people. Find one of those and it'll be a lot easier to go. Also, sign up for some classes. My favorite gym has classes for all ages, sizes, interests and fitness levels.

2) Pick something to cut out of your diet. For me it was sugar. And since most of the fattening things I loved had sugar in them, it cut down on my snacking. Unfortunately, I've since been able to gain weight despite the no-sugar handicap, but it is harder.

3) Can you get a shopping friend to shop with you? I loathe shopping, get depressed and overwhelmed in 15 minutes and can't figure out what looks good on me even if I find something that theoretically fits. I have a friend who is magic though. She found me not one but TWO pairs of pants that are actually pretty attractive. Having that as a base made it easier to shop for cute tops and I generally felt less loathsome when I went out. It was a big boost.

4) Depression is trickier since it's so individual, but for myself I've discovered I need at least one face-to-face social interaction a day with a friend. Not a relative. Not a co-worker. (This is a new discovery.) I don't always get it but I try to build it in as best I can. Usually when I'm depressed I feel toxic and isolate. I also joined a support group of sorts and it's great to hang out with people who are trying to better themselves. More importantly, it's great to have to shower, get dressed, and behave like a socialized animal more often. YMMV with this part.

Good luck. I sympathize completely.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:02 AM on July 5, 2009

Re: advice on getting started: Baby steps. Especially when you're dealing with depression, which can really make everything seem insurmountable and that if you don't fix everything instantly you are a huge failure.

Say, I am going to cut 100 calories today. Or, I am going to do 15 minutes on the treadmill today. Or take the stairs. Or whatever. Let yourself feel good about it when you do. Don't beat yourself up when you slip up, just say, "okay, well, I'm not going to keep doing that." Gradually you will find it easier to eat less and exercise more - but you have to work up to it.

Re: friends: Can you do non-food centric things when you are together? Go shopping or even meet for coffee rather than a full meal? Go for a walk on a nice day? Make one of your daily goals be "when [friend] eats [tempting food] around me I will politely decline?"

Re: gym: the young fit people at the gym are not judging you. Many of them probably applaud your efforts. Everyone who is there is fighting the same thing - it's not a competition.

The big thing for you here is not to feel overwhelmed. Take it one step at a time. There is no such thing as overnight results, so adjust your expectations accordingly and don't give up just because you're not seeing progress right away.

It's never too late - good luck.
posted by AV at 11:14 AM on July 5, 2009

I just had lunch with a very successful woman in her upper 50s - as I am - and she talked more about her weight than her career, children or husband. I was appalled when I thought about it.

I'm trying to exercise enough to stay reasonably healthy. I am trying not to define myself by how much I weigh.

You wrote that you want to be "the weight that looks right on me". Are you seriously overweight, or just not model-thin? If you're seriously overweight, I agree with small_ruminant - find a gym where you're comfortable, or just walk outside with an mp3 player and some energetic music. If you want to look like Angelina Jolie, maybe you should think about why.

I am sympathetic - the upper 50s are just hard, and it's really difficult to lose anything you had, whether it be hearing, vision, mobility or good body image, but I wish we older women would stop making everything harder for ourselves by buying into the media message that we have to look skinny and young.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 11:16 AM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't think of the gym as a competitive place- think of it as a club where everyone is cheering each other on and inspiring each other. I look at people and think, wow, look at all that weight she's lifting, or wow, look how fast he's running, I better step it up. I see older ladies at my gym and I think it's great that they're moving and grooving. Good luck, I know you can do it!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:20 AM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

1) switch gyms. Some gyms are for gym rats and gym bunnies and some gyms are for regular people. Find one of those and it'll be a lot easier to go. Also, sign up for some classes. My favorite gym has classes for all ages, sizes, interests and fitness levels.

I go to such a gym and I highly, highly recommend this advice.

I'm fifty, I'm short, and I'm too plump for most petite clothing, too small/too short for women's sizes, and regular misses sizes just don't fit me right. So I share your pain. What I have found tho is that since I am older, I just have to find certain clothing lines that cater to my body shape as a middleaged person.

As to exercise, the best advice I ever had was to start out "building base." Get a heart rate monitor, and make sure you don't get any where near anaerobic for eight weeks. Walking or cycling would be perfect. After that go ahead and add some intervals or heavier work-but your body will thank you for it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:24 AM on July 5, 2009

This book discusses weight lifting for older women. As you get older, you start to lose muscle and even worse bone. Muscle burns calories more quickly than fat. The linked booked discusses how older women can safely begin to lift weight (beginning with very small weights) and start to replace some of the muscle and bone they lost. Many of the women who followed the program lost several dress sizes. There is also an eating plan at the back of the book. Good luck.
posted by bananafish at 11:25 AM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and as I am a chunky grandma I do have to tell you that it isn't easy getting over the culture's message of what we are supposed to look like even at our age. I do think that it's a transition time where our minds and spirits are ever so much more important, and that we can be beautiful at this age-it's just that it won't look the same as it did in our twenties. And that's ok.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:26 AM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some study came out which said people tend to eat more when eating with friends. When you're out with friends, make an effort to say, eat only half of what you're served. Just 'cos they're having dessert doesn't mean you need to, or maybe you could split one. Also, talk to your doctor about your health overall, both mental and physical. Weight isn't always an indicator of health. There are skinny people with heart disease and whatnot, and a mental health referral may be helpful. Working out is easier when you're motivated. Good luck!
posted by ShadePlant at 11:37 AM on July 5, 2009

When the focal point of our lives is our job or our children, those things define us to a very large extent. When those things are no longer our anchor points, we need to redefine ourselves and our physical self-image often becomes more important to us.

Some gyms are competitive places, but many are not. My daughter's gym isn't one of the trendy ones frequented by the latte set - there's an 80 year old woman in her classes who puts the young 'uns to shame and who is genuinely an inspiration to them (and challenges all their notions about "old people" to boot).

Also, bear in mind that a lot of those "body culture" people aren't doing "normal" workouts and aren't relying on workouts alone to produce their "look".

Yes, you're in the age bracket where being overweight really counts in terms of health risks and energy loss, but you don't have a huge amount of weight to lose and it's not a "lose twenty pounds in two months or else" kind of medical issue.

Maybe forget about the weight and focus instead on the lifestyle changes which will bring you more energy - which also happen to be the ones which lead to weight loss over time. If feeling alive, vibrant, and energetic is your major goal, you may find that the other things are natural consequences of pursuing it.

Learn to cook. Make it your new hobby. You can do this on your own, but taking classes in a particular style of cooking may be a good investment. You get to relate to food socially in a healthy way, meet new people who have no pre-set "image" of you, and you get to feel both competent and confident. It might even be a better investment than your gym membership. I'm pretty accomplished professionally, but nothing has boosted my ego more during these menopausal years than learning to cook Chinese food that tastes like what you buy at a Chinese restaurant - that it's healthy is a side benefit, it wasn't the goal.
posted by Lolie at 11:47 AM on July 5, 2009

Okay, forget your physique for a moment. That will follow.


Is your life a good one? Are you valuable to other people? Are you interesting and interested?

Do you do things that are of worth? Are you connected to your community in your daily life?

Are you a good friend? Do you have interests, subjects that you pursue with enjoyment and dedication? Do you think: "I want to get this right, it's important"?

If you can answer "yes" to the above you will either live a better life and, as a side effect, lose weight (both by being active and by not relying on food for your comfort) — or, more likely, you'll find that you couldn't care less about being a little overweight.

If you cannot answer "yes" to the above then losing weight won't help.

So: Take steps to become involved, interesting, dedicated, valuable. Volunteer; talk and listen; create projects that are worthwhile; pursue beauty; play and create. The rest is nothing.
posted by argybarg at 11:49 AM on July 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

For rethinking your attitude about food, read Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. It's not a diet book per se, but it's entertaining as well as enlightening and has some useful suggestions for slow but steady weight loss. (Seriously, there's a whole lot of little things you can do that will really add up!)

If you want faster results, you'll probably have to feel hungry for a few hours a day, every day, for a while. I wanted to lose a little weight recently and found that I just couldn't deal with feeling hungry during working hours - I couldn't concentrate, felt cranky, etc. But feeling hungry in the evening worked fine for me - I wasn't doing much anyway and it didn't stop me from falling asleep. So maybe you could reschedule your eating so that your "hungry time" occurs when you can handle it best.

Shopping for clothing: it's always been unpleasant for me. I'm short and don't have curves in the right places, so retail clothing stores make me feel like a freak - nothing fits, nothing flatters, and the atmosphere is often subtly disparaging ("It's not the clothes, it's you.") My solution is to shop at thrift stores. Nobody gives me any attitude, and the stuff is so cheap that if I buy something that isn't totally gorgeous I don't feel cheated or resentful. Minimal financial investment leads to low emotional investment in my wardrobe, and it's quite liberating to think "Well, I may not turn any heads in this outfit, but then again I'm wearing a total of twelve bucks here ..."

Motivation: you don't have friends who are role models for you, but could you be a role model for them? (I'm guessing some of them also have weight problems.) If you know they're looking to you for a good example, it's easier to stick with your own program. Maybe not "easier", exactly, but you'll definitely keep the pressure on yourself to not fall off the wagon.

You didn't ask about cooking, but here's a suggestion anyway: it's hard to get motivated to cook for yourself, so maybe think about cooking for friends occasionally. I like to cook, and even I get fed up with it a lot. However, if I approach it as "auditioning" recipes and building up a repertoire of dishes to make for friends (or husband), it becomes more interesting. Again, there's an element of social engineering here - by involving other people it's easier to do something for yourself. You don't have to throw fancy dinner parties; a casual supper or brunch is often more fun.

So, in answer to your overall question about motivation, I'd say that social engineering is a powerful tool you could use. Think about making yourself accountable to other people for some of your health and fitness goals, and good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 11:58 AM on July 5, 2009

Learn to sew, too. It's an uncommon skill these days and it will give you a hell of a lot of power over your own "look" (just don't tell people that you can, or you'll get endless requests for favours from people who don't realise the amount of time it can involve).
posted by Lolie at 12:06 PM on July 5, 2009

Chunky, overweight, 62 year-old waving Hi! I just bought the 6week body makeover thingie because it's the only thing I've found that fits the way and foods I like to eat and gives me a lower level of exercise since this bod can't do squats any more. And, I'm grumpy and disorganized. I gained weight while being constantly hungry trying Weight Watchers. I can't eat prepackaged diet food as I'm allergic to preservatives and get hot flashes from MSG. So, I chose what seems to fit me best and something that organizes me. I was 110 lbs on 5'8" from 16 to mid 40s when I got sick, couldn't work out and started taking meds that put weight on (steroids, antidepressants.) When I did belong to a gym, I found the female only ones to my liking as they are full of overweight women, the weights and machines are calibrated to a woman's strength level, and there are no men around stinking up the place and hogging the equipment. There are on-line groups like diet buddy, most of which are US based and don't take Cdn memberships, but, if you're in the US, you might want to look at them as they give you a support group. And, yes, plus sized clothes are designed by a woman hating sadist. I sew, and it ticks me off no end to see clothes which are sized up for a mythical being with shoulders and arm lengths that a 6'4" Greek god might fit into, but no one else, let alone your average female frame.

So my advice:
- find a support group and a diet/eating plan that suits how you eat, including letting you go to dinner with friends
- find a dressmaker or someone to do alterations if you can
- know that you're not alone.

And, nthing the Strong Women stay Young. I worked out with weights for years, long before it was fashionable. This book is sensible and starts by presuming that you know nothing about how to use weights or resistance training and teaches how to do so safely, even if you have the odd non functioning joint. I used to use the Zane way to a Beautiful Body which had him and wife, both of whom had won prizes for body building, as his wife was in wonderful shape but not the kind of overbuilt lady body builder that's in fashion now. About half the book is for women only.
posted by x46 at 12:09 PM on July 5, 2009


I am very tired all the time and have battled depression forever.

Please have your thyroid levels checked. Not just TSH. Have Free T3 and Free T4 also tested at the least. Being resistant to anti-depressants is also a common symptom of hypothyroidism. Make sure to get a copy of your test results with lab ranges, and don't settle for being low or even low-mid-range.
posted by vers at 12:19 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get enough sleep.

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Have you been to any of the classes your gym offers? Chances are there are some you may like. Before you dismiss a class you have tried as unsuitable go a few times - sometimes it takes time to get used to an instructor etc.

As the staff at your gym what time they are less busy and go at those times?

Exercise doesn't have to mean going to a gym - if you went for an energetic walk every day that would probably start you off nicely. My cousin lost about half the weight you want to lose just by getting a dog and taking if for a long walk every day.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:38 PM on July 5, 2009

From Ms. Vegetable:

I applaud you for recognizing your symptoms and wanting to do something about them! Frequently, admitting you have depression and seeking treatment (medicinal, therapeutic, alternative, etc.) is a VERY hard step.

For the gym question, I highly recommend a water fitness class. I've been to ones in several different gyms (and states) and find them to be very welcoming and adaptable to all fitness levels. (You don't even have to get your hair wet, which is a big deal for my mother.)

I'd also recommend finding a nutritionist to help you as your metabolism changes. Sometimes it really takes an outside individual to help you see the light.

Good luck!
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:40 PM on July 5, 2009

I've gotten both my chunky parents to lose significant weight. This is not to imply I am that great of a control freak that I force them to do jumping jacks every morning or something. I simply pass on health food books to them and give them healthy-habit building gifts. I've gotten good enough at it that my parents have told their chunky middle age friends and I've dispensed advice to them too. So here are the gifts I give everyone, which you can get for yourself (I get them for myself :) ). Treating yourself is important too!:

1. Healthy cooking classes! If I knew where you lived I could possibly hook you up, but the school I buy the classes from specializes in using local fresh produce and other healthy ingredients. Give yourself the gift of one or more of these classes.

2. Subscription to a CSA from local harvest from a farm near you. Keeps your fridge loaded with fruits and veggies from local farm.

3. Health books: my diet of choice is paleolithic/neanderthin, which is all fruits, veggies, and meat. No sugar, grains, starches, dairy...but you have to find a diet that works for you. My dad follows this diet now and has lost a lot of weight so far (30 lbs so far on just a few months on the diet and he is a little lax about to be honest...he eats oatmeal for breakfast), as I have I. My mom does it, but eats some rice. My books of choice are Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain, Nourishing Traditions, Primal Body Primal Mind, Neanderthin...it's more a liftstyle than just a diet to lose weight and I continue to follow it because it eliminated my other health problems besides carrying around extra weight. It's also easy to eat out on the paleo diet, you just have to learn how to order more salads or regular entrees minus the carb portions.

I would also recommend supplementing omega-3, since that can help with depression.

4. Session with a good personal trainer. I got one for both my parents. Gave them good ideas for workouts that work for them. I also got my mom and I a yoga class card, since yoga is great for dealing with stress and there are many classes now that cater to people who are older and not models.

Another thing I would suggest is considering non-gym exercise. I hate going to the gym and I know lots of others who do too. I walk outside, bike to the grocery store, do crossfit workouts inside, volunteer with a prairie restoration crew cutting trees and habitat for humanity. I personally find these things less stressful and more natural than the gym!

Good luck!
posted by melissam at 12:51 PM on July 5, 2009

I've recommended it a couple of times now on Metafilter, but I remain in love with Eating Well Serves Two, and I think it would work great for one person, too. The recipes are fast and easy, taste really good, are very healthy, use mostly fresh ingredients, and it includes lots of tips for how to buy ingredients in quantities you'll be able to use up. Everything I've made out of here has been great and it requires so little effort.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:08 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a 59 year old mom and grandma. A few years ago I gained about 25 pounds, thanks in large part to jobs that included huge meals, some of which I cooked. I started walking every morning for an hour, the weight all went away over the course of a couple of years. It helps that I've spent the last few years in warm climates, if I still lived somewhere where the temps drop below 0 (Farhenheit) in the winter it would have been harder. Walking also helps with depression, at least for me. I just get up an hour earlier than I used to and drag myself out to walk. I feel great, am super healthy.

Check the thyroid thing too.

Good luck!
posted by mareli at 1:33 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Weight watchers and walking turned my MIL from a chunky lady into this svelt woman who gave me all her fat clothes.
posted by b33j at 2:25 PM on July 5, 2009

My mother enjoyed joining running groups. They are more generally focused on athletic achievement than being 'body beautiful', and all sorts and sizes of people get involved.

You don't have to aspire to run a marathon! You can go along with the regular 'absolute beginners' sessions, who meet and walk/jog together at an easy pace. Eventually you might find yourself wanting to 'step up' to the next group and run, train for a 5k because your group-buddies are doing it ...

(... my Mum eventually ran quite a few marathons!)

The groups are good for getting and keeping you in contact with supportive, motivated, fitness (not gym-bunny) -minded people. From what you wrote, I think this will be the most helpful thing for you.

I don't know where you are, anonymous, but running is popular everywhere - if you are in the US you might look here for a club in your town. Note how often you see "all welcome" there! This really does mean you.
posted by Catch at 3:26 PM on July 5, 2009

My mother got quite good long term results with weight watchers and square dancing. For excercise I think it's import to hit on some physical activity you can get enthusiastic about.
posted by canoehead at 3:36 PM on July 5, 2009

I wrote this article that may give you a laugh at your foibles. I, too awoke one morning with an additional fat fold that has completely got me stunned, yet at our age, these thing just happen. I've decided to make waist extenders for my beautifully tailored pants until the doctor gets my hormones straight, or if I have to live with it, I will go elastic. It's part of who we are at our age, and even the women weightlifters I hang out with have the alien blob too. Just be sensible and stop the self-flagellation! You are a wonderful lady and deserve to enjoy your golden years without the self-defeating crap the media pushes on us all our lives!
posted by ~Sushma~ at 6:51 AM on July 6, 2009

Exercise is a great antidote to depression, overeating and weight gain. If you have friends who want to help, ask them to go for a brisk walk with you. 3 brisk walks a week will not solve all your troubles, but it's a good start. I tried Weight wathchers for a bit, and some of the group walked together, so maybe you could find co-workers to exercise with. Look for some exercise classes with music. Music gets me up and moving when I'm down in the doldrums. Once you've started moving, step up the pace by running, dancing, bicycling, etc.

Do you like to garden, sing, take pictures? Whatever you enjoy, try to do more if it outdoors in new settings. Fresh air & sunshine and stimulating your brain all help.

Get your thyroid checked. My thyroid levels were in the okay range, but my doctor started me on thyroid anyway. It made a huge, fantastic difference.

Food. Add salads to your diet, dressed lightly with real vinaigrette. Fat-free salad dressings are nasty, and you want to learn to appreciate the yumminess of salad greens without gobs of goop. Arugula, spinach, romaine, mixed greens, get a bag or 2, add shredded carrots, onion, water chestnut, celery, sprouts, mandarin oranges, green beans, tuna, hard boiled eggs, apple, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, herbs (not necessarily all at once) and get crunching. Start every meal with a vegetable-based soup, broth or glass of water to get your brain started on feeling full.

Is there a time of day that the gym is least-populated with skinny young hardbodies? Go then. You may feel intimidated, but at least you're trying, so give yourself a break. And, they're not noticing you. They're noticing the guy/girl they want to hit on. seriously.

Cut yourself some slack. My body has really slowed down due to health issues, and I have the same 25-30 extra pounds, depression, and aches & pains. Taking a little time every day to appreciate sunset, full moon, flowers, etc., really helps me cope.
posted by theora55 at 8:55 AM on July 6, 2009

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