It’s (mostly) what you eat

Trying to lose weight? That seems to be the permanent state for many of us.There’s no instant cure, and it’s mostly what you eat. A sad statement, but true. Losing weight is hard. Really hard. Especially as we get older. And it seems to be even harder for us women. So many of my friends are struggling to lose the extra pounds the pandemic caused them to pack on. And it’s harder after menopause to maintain our current weight without gaining any.

Losing weight after menopause is not impossible

Yes, it’s hard. But it’s not impossible. Yes, hormonal changes tend to increase our appetite and change the way our bodies store fat. Unfortunately, it’s around our middles. And after menopause our activity levels tend to decrease which leads to loss of muscle mass. 

But we can change that. It is not a foregone conclusion that you can’t lose weight after menopause. 

The same methods that worked before menopause to lose weight work after. It just takes more discipline and thought on our part to make them work.

So, what’s the plan?

In order for you to lose weight, the formula is very simple. You have to burn more calories than you consume. Simple, right? It’s mostly what you eat: specifically it matters how much you eat. No matter what you read anywhere else, the combinations don’t matter. Where your food comes from doesn’t matter. What matters are the numbers.

After that it’s a head game. 

It's mostly what you eat: you can eat a lot of salad or a little ice cream for the same calories.
You can eat a lot of salad or a little ice cream for the same calorie count.

Your body will trick you to eat more. A calorie of ice cream looks a lot different than a calorie of kale. Your mind wants more ice cream. Or cheese puffs. Sometimes it’s really hard to say no to that. And that’s the hard part. It’s hard sticking to the plan when the numbers on the scale don’t move.

For long-term success, it works best to lose weight at a slower rate. If you slash your calorie intake, you’re going to be hungry. Your body will tell you that it’s starving. And even if you lose a ton of weight quickly, you’ll gain most if not all – or even more – of it back within six months. Plus, you won’t be taking in the quality nutrients you need to maintain your muscle and bone mass.

To maintain our weight, experts say that most women need about 1,400 to 1,800 calories a day to maintain their weight. Taller women and those who weigh more to start are at the higher end of the range and those of us (like me) who are smaller need less. That has never seemed fair to me, being “height-challenged.” But, anyway …

So it stands to reason that eating less than 1,400 calories a day will put you on the road to weight loss. Experts say that cutting 200 – 300 calories a day makes sense for weight-loss of about a pound a week. Four pounds a month sounds pretty good for a sustained weight-loss plan. 

And this is a plan that you can stick to. You’ll be able to take in the nutrients your body needs and lose the weight that you need to.

But, wait. You always write about exercise being important

Yes, yes I do always write about exercise. Exercise lets me burn even more calories so that I can eat more. And exercise has other benefits beyond weight-loss that I’ve written about.

But today it’s about the head games your body plays with your diet.

Those hormones that I referred to at the top of this article will trick you into snacking. They’ll trick you into eating more mashed potatoes. And those extra calories will go to your belly.

So you have to play more serious head games with yourself to stay on the straight and narrow path. 

No, you don’t want that cookie. Water sounds delightful. I’ll take a walk instead of eating that pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer. In the coming weeks I’ll talk more about my tips and tricks for sticking with the plan. 

For now, please know that it’s not impossible. It’s just hard. But you’re fierce and able to do it.

How to truly focus

Exercise is another area where it helps to know how to truly focus. Focus on the muscles the exercise is targeting and on your form.
To get the most out of an exercise, you must truly focus on the muscles you’re targeting and your form.

I write about focus about once a month. But I don’t think I’ve written about how to truly focus. Focus is an integral part of getting anything done. To single-mindedly work on a task to completion. To work only on that task and not grasp at shiny objects for as long as it takes to complete that task.  For some tasks your focus can be narrowed to just seconds. But for others, if a task requires many steps, your focus must last and last…

For example, if I’m writing a blog post (like this one!) I must gather my thoughts, decide on how I want to approach a topic, form an outline with the progression of thoughts, actually write the article and make sure it’s in some semblance of grammatically correct English. Writing an article can take up to an hour, which is a long time to focus.

These days, it’s increasingly difficult to focus. Our phones are always nearby – the most attractive productivity-busters around. The news is always on and it’s hardly ever good. Noise is everywhere. 

So, how can we get things done?

  1. Decide what you want to get done
  2. Break it down into manageable chunks
  3. Remove distractions
  4. Clear your mind
  5. Do it.
  6. Reward!

Decide what you want to get done

For example – me writing that article. Or, it could be cleaning out a closet. Making dinner. Decide on the task.

Break it down

Some tasks don’t really require dividing up. Like making dinner. 

Others will lend themselves to tackling in pieces. Like writing that article: Decide on a topic; Create an outline; Write notes on outline items; Write the article – section by section; Proofread and edit; Publish.

Or organizing a closet: Divide up that closet and go at it one section at a time. 

Remove Distractions

This can be wrenching for some people because it requires turning off notifications and not looking at your phone. If that’s hard for you, turn off your phone. If you can’t do that, put it in a different room while you get your task done.

Yes, it’s hard. But it’s not forever. That’s why we break tasks down into manageable pieces. 

Now put the dogs in another room too, or in crates if you use them. Because you’ll be tempted to play with them. 

Clear your mind

For some tasks, this may not be necessary. If you’re trying to create, you will want to start with a clear mind. So close your eyes for a few seconds and think “nothing.” If that’s not possible, try a short Guided Meditation (like the Garden walk). Open your eyes and …

Do it

Get that task done. Or the section you’re working on. Remember that this is not a prolonged period of time that you’ll be without your Insta notifications or your playmate (dog). Just as long as it takes to get that section of your larger task done.

Also remember that the more you practice this sequence and remind yourself how to truly focus, the easier it will become.


Go play with your dog.

No one is going to do it for you.

You have your family and a circle of friends. Your teachers and mentors are, of course, invaluable. You’ve got lots of acquaintances. And there are the influencers you follow every day on Instagram, Facebook, and any other social media platform you subscribe to. No one is going to do it for you. And you know that there are loads of reasons to exercise – including improving your memory and reverse mental decline!

None of these people are going to exercise for you.

You have only yourself to rely upon.

You read everything you can about weight loss. Intermittent fasting. Mediterranean diet. Paleo. Vegetarian. Pescatarian. Low carb. Yes, they all work. But no one is going to do it for you. You actually have to do the work yourself.

The nitty gritty

Once you really decide that it’s up to you to get off the couch and exercise, you really have to do your homework and figure out exactly what you’re going to do. As many exercise pros as there are out there – that’s how many programs there are. Chances are a lot of them are really good. But you have to figure out exactly what you’re going to commit to.


No one is going to do it for you. Choose an exercise program you can live with and commit to.

Because it is a commitment. I can shout from the rooftops that exercise is absolutely necessary to avoid the most obvious signs of aging – weight gain, loss of muscle tone, loss of balance – you have to do the work. And no one is going to do it for you.

Yes, it’s work. I’m not going to sugar-coat it and tell you that it’s not work. Because I’d be lying. 

And you have to do it almost every day. I don’t exercise every day, so I can’t tell you to do something that I’m not willing to do. The CDC says that you need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity plus 2 days of total body strength work. That’s 30 minutes 5 days a week of moderate aerobics plus muscle strengthening work on 2 days. I do more vigorous aerobics and combine that with weight work 5 days a week. Most days I do 30 minutes. 

If you’re new, don’t go all-out. Work up to it. You don’t want to wake up the day after you exercise and not be able to move. That completely defeats the purpose!

Choose something you can live with – for a long time

Choose a program you can live with for a long time, because you’re going to be doing it for a long time. Remember – no one is going to do it for you, so you’re going to be listening to that music and that instructor’s voice (if you’re going with a group class – either live, streaming or DVD) most days for a long time.

That’s not to say that you have to live with your first choice forever. If, after you’ve given the program a couple of weeks and find that you really can’t stand it – by all means change it.

And, it is a good idea to change up your routine every once in a while. I rotate the types of workouts I do every couple of months. Both for variety and to give my muscles a chance to experience new growth.

So – be happy with your exercise choice. Because you have to live with it and do it.

Tone your abs even when you’re not using them

I’m kind of a fanatic about ab exercises. I make sure to include some every time I do a workout. The reason? I want to avoid back pain. Yes, you need to tone your abs to help your back. If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you never want to again. It’s teary-eyed painful. You can’t sit. You can’t lie down. You can’t walk. Stairs are impossible. You can’t bend down. You’re just in agony. All the time. And once you experience back pain like I have, you’ll do just about anything to not experience it ever again. So that means that I include abdominal exercises in workouts. I talked about this a couple of years ago, and I still focus on the core.

Some of what I do

Tone your abs even on a stability ball

I do crunches on the floor. Crunches on a stability ball. I plank and modify those planks. I do renegade rows – planks with weights. Side planks. Pilates and yoga. I do boat poses and V-sits. You name it, I do it.

The benefits of ab exercises

I’m not into getting a six-pack. I’m 65 – I don’t need to show it off. (And I’ve never liked beer, except at Wrigley Field.) BUT I do want to make sure my back is strong. I also want to improve my balance and my stability. If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I emphasize balance. We lose it as we age, which leads to falls, and that’s frightening. As we get older there are lots of things we lose and our sense of balance is one. But this is one we can actually do something about. Check out my free downloadable .pdf for your “Week of Balance.”

So, if you tone your abs you get benefits other than a strong core.

Other ways to tone your abs

But you don’t have to do actual abdominal exercises to tone your abs. 

Just pulling in your stomach is a start. Anytime, anywhere. Even sitting in your chair or lying in bed.  Think about it, and suck it in. You probably won’t see a difference if you only do this without doing any other ab exercise, but your stomach will get stronger.

You can also think about bracing your core – like feeling a vest tightening around your middle. This may take a bit of practice to engage the muscles, but keep at it. Be sure to breathe while you’re pulling in your stomach and bracing your core.

Happy toning! Remember – don’t tone your abs for your stomach – it’s for your back and all the rest of you.