Impressions from the Public Health Collaboration’s Annual Conference at the Royal College of General Practitioners in London on 19 and 20 May.
Is that how you feel? I speak to so many women around that age – not least because I am one of them – and am surprised and saddened by how many of us feel that way, have accepted it as a normal consequence of ageing and have given up. After all: Everyone else says the same.
Many of us have battled with their weight for our entire lives. We grew up surrounded by magazines that showed us what a woman should look like. A quick comparison between what we saw in the mirror and what was depicted in the magazine confirmed that we certainly didn’t fit the ideal. So we went on a diet. I was probably on my first one at around age 14. Looking back at the photographs now, I can’t really see what the problem was: OK, I wasn’t a stick insect, but I certainly wasn’t as fat as I thought I was (and as I was going to become!) by any stretch of the imagination.
I wish I had known then what I know now: That going on diets is just a downward spiral – or upward, in terms of weight. Diets don’t work and serve only to make us feel miserable. After all, we keep failing at them. We eat less, move more, are starving all the time … and then fall off the wagon. Before we know it the weight we just lost is back and then some.
And then the exercise … We work all day and are lucky if we get away with 9-5 only, we’re commuting for 3-4 hours a day, braving London transport, do household chores when we get home and are still replying to work emails when we’re finally on the couch. Those of us who don’t work in London may be even worse off, stuck in traffic on the Southend Arterial Road twice a day, inching forward in the summer sun and losing the will to live. We pass the time by making mental lists of all the things we have to do when we get there. If we ever get there. We’re stressed, we’re tired, and hungry all the time. Where are we supposed to find the time and energy to exercise? Which is not even fun! Unwinding with a glass of wine and some chocolate in front of the telly sounds much more like it, and there’s barely even time for that.
Many of us around 50 are facing major life changes: The kids have left the nest, instead our parents are getting older and demand more of our time, maybe even need our care. There is a house to maintain, food shopping to be done, a social life to keep up with and a job to hold down for our contribution to the household income. The days never seem to be long enough.
And then that age … 50! Even that number alone! We’re officially middle-aged. It’s downhill from here. Yes, ok, there seem to be some of those annoying ‘healthy’ types who never seem to age, still run marathons with ease, keep their youthful figures, golden tresses and wrinkle-free faces apparently effortlessly. But that’s not us. We’ve acquired a spare tire around the middle, crow’s feet around our eyes, and no sooner do we get our roots dyed and they show again. The last thing we need are hot flushes and night sweats to rob us of that desperately needed beauty sleep, but, hey, things weren’t bad enough already, so why not add that to our misery and remind us that we’re now officially old. Thanks a bunch!
So what’s the answer? Is there even one? After all most of the women we know are in the same boat, going through similar things. It must be normal to be stressed, fat, tired and depressed at 50. Right?
Well, no. It depends on how to define normal: Is it how the majority of people feel? Then yes, it’s ‘normal’. Is it inevitable to feel like that at 50? I think not.
Given my profession, you’ll already know that food is going to come in here somewhere. And it is! You cannot underestimate the power of food. After all, everything that happens in our bodies is chemistry, and that requires chemicals, which in the food world are called nutrients: fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients. That’s what you need for your body to work properly and it is fully capable of doing that even at 50 (and beyond).
You wouldn’t put diesel into a petrol car and expect the engine to run on that. And that’s just a machine. How is the human body – an intricate biological organism – supposed to function on artificial 'foods', laden with sugar, damaged fats, flavourings, thickeners, emulsifiers, preservatives, herbicides, pesticides, plasticisers, colourings and other questionable additives?
It won’t, and you already know that a) from experience and b) because you’re not stupid, but it’s near impossible to get away from the stuff! Fake foods are made for us to love them. The food industry spends billions on research to find that ‘bliss point’, that perfect combination of fat and sugar, that melt-in-the-mouth feeling, that will trigger our brain chemistry to release endorphins that will make us happy and keep coming back for more. It’s not you, it’s not a lack of willpower, it’s chemistry.
Knowing that is power. If you know what to do, you can take the reigns back and can get your health – and with it your life – back on track.
I didn’t mind turning 50, because … what’s the alternative? My father died from a heart attack when I was 4. He was only 39. When I was approaching 50 I was determined to celebrate my age, because I knew that he would have loved to turn 50. Getting older is nothing to complain about. It’s great!
And you know what? I’ve never felt better! And if I could achieve that, so can you!
Here’s me at 36 (left) and now. Need I say more?
After the indulgences of Christmas, the New Year is a time when we are looking forward to a fresh start, a time to reinvent ourselves and to become the 'New Me'. The most popular New Year's resolution is 'losing weight', and to this end, most people decide to go on a diet. For the majority of us, however, that won't last very long. We just haven't got the willpower. But wait: What if willpower doesn't come into it? Read on to understand why diets don't work and what New Year's resolution is worth making.
When we put food in our mouths, most of us - if we worry about anything - worry about the calories in that food. Eating food is necessary to give us energy, and without it we’ll starve. It tastes nice, too, so it’s not a chore. We know that we’ll get enough protein as long as we eat meat and enough calcium as long as we consume dairy. Not much can go wrong after that, right? The tomato sauce on pizza or the lettuce on a burger, baked beans in the morning and a glass of orange juice … that’s three already of our five-a-day. Surely that’ll do?
Why would it be necessary to learn about nutrition? Grandma never knew and she managed just fine by … simply eating food. But that’s just it: Grandma just ate food, because that was all there was. She couldn’t have gone far wrong. Today, however, we are surrounded by “Frankenfoods” - products that are manufactured to look and feel like food, even taste good, but are entirely artificial and provide very few, if any, of the chemicals we need to thrive, but plenty of chemicals that are unwelcome, even toxic, and that our body then has to dispose of.
Nothing in your body works without chemicals: You cannot move a muscle, you cannot think a thought without chemicals. Your heart wouldn’t beat, your liver not detox, your stomach not digest without chemicals. You cannot experience love, fear, or joy without chemicals. You cannot make babies without chemicals. The chemicals, which do all that, have got to come from somewhere, and whilst the skin and the lungs are a way in, too, most of said chemicals - or nutrients - come from your food.
Protein - a substance not just found in meat, by the way, but also in dairy, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds (and in smaller amounts in fruit and veg as well) - builds muscles, tendons, bones and connective tissue. Fat is a crucial part of every single cell wall. Every. Single. Cell. Wall. Without fat, your skin goes dry and your joints go creaky. You’d struggle to concentrate and be brilliant and be happy, because the cells of the brain require even more fat than all the others and it needs lots of a particular kind: omega-3. And cholesterol. Omega-3 fats come (mainly) from fatty fish and nuts and seeds.
For our body to work we need hormones (made from fat) and enzymes (made from protein). Apart from fat and protein, we need thousands of different nutrients to make tissue and hormones and enzymes and to make things happen: minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients (plant nutrients). Calcium, by the way, is a mineral that doesn’t just come from dairy (there’s much more in sesame) and it’s not the only mineral either. Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be toxic, sometimes too much of one thing pushes another out of the way. Balance is what we’re looking for.
We need fibre, both of the soluble and the unsoluble kind. Fibre feeds 'good' bacteria in the gut, mops up toxins, surplus cholesterol and old hormones, bulks up the stool and helps it move along. Without fibre you may end up constipated, miserable and unhealthy. Where do you get fibre from? Wholegrains - that’s brown bread, brown pasta, brown rice and the like - and lots and lots and lots of vegetables.
So, this is the stuff we need. But do we supply it? We would not expect a petrol car to run on diesel. Why should your body run on junk? You don’t need a degree in nutritional science. You just need to eat food, the way Grandma did.
If you would like to switch to a healthier diet, but don't know where to start, why not book a Diet MOT with me and see me in clinic at The Body Matters in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex?