Last weekend I spent the day in the company of an old friend of mine. We hadn’t seen each other for, oooh, at least a year, so the chat, the laughter (and the chilled Chardonnay) were all flowing nicely.

She’s just turned 50, so much of our talk was along the lines, “Where did that go?”, and, “Who’d have thought…”, and, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”? Then, as she downed her fourth glass, we hit a rock. We landed on the sticky subject of her weight-gain which then spiralled into a heartfelt discussion about diets, exercise, self-esteem, lethargy, marriage, men, the menopause… you name it, the whole nine yards.

“I hate myself”, she said. “Look at me, Annie. What’s happened? Years ago I could at least run for the train and not pass out. I knew the importance of green veg and I drank water. I slid into a size 14 (easily), I wore lipstick every day and I rocked. I strutted my stuff up and down the office and I knew how to fight my corner and say no. I enjoyed life. Now all of that has gone. I’m a size 18… on a good day… and I wobble when I walk, let alone run. My trousers dig in, my thighs chafe, my feet are always swollen. I buy outsize clothes and I eat outsize meals but I haven’t been hungry since 2004. I’ve starved, I’ve stuffed, I’ve done hot yoga, cold pilates, boxing, zumba, rumba, nordic walking, couch to 5k (never made it off the couch) and New York ballet. I’ve eaten cabbage, drunk juices, done Slimmer You, Weight World, nibbled bars, shaken shakes, gone gluten-free, sugar-free, low carb, high carb and, bar amputation, I don’t know what’s next. Whatever the recipe is for making a middle-aged woman feel better, it must be well hidden or cost a bloody fortune”.

I was crying with laughter by this stage. However, underneath her wry smile was my lovely friend begging to peel back the years (and the layers) to find her old self again.

“I’ll keep it short and it’s not complicated. I’m going to say two words. Muscle and food.”

“Why do you ALWAYS have to bring everything back to food and dieting..?” she snapped. (We go way back so I brushed it off).

“Because it has everything to do with how our bodies and minds function. And who said anything about dieting?”

I carried on, ignoring her rolling eyes.

“You want change. But it feels insurmountable, the amount of change you have make. If you can choke back some pride, then acting on those two words (muscle and food) will make you feel better, more in control… physically, mentally and emotionally.”

“Oh spare me the spiritual clap-trap and get on with it.” (I could feel already that I was touching raw nerves).

“Let’s talk about muscle…”

“I don’t want to be muscley, oh Heavens, no… Aren’t I supposed to do cardio work to lose weight… you know… jogging and all that sort of stuff?”

“No. We need to make our bodies work for us, which means getting strong. That doesn’t mean big. It just means you will have strength. Which in most people’s eyes means ‘toned’. In actual fact, what that muscle is doing is not only giving your thighs, arms, whatever, some definition, it is also burning calories for you whilst you’re sitting doing nothing and whilst you’re asleep.”

She was suddenly interested.

“Ok, carry on…”

“So… [I had to prod her… her gaze had started to wander towards the bar]… when you start training your muscles (squats, lunges, stuff you’ll hate but grow to love), they will become firm and perky (but not big). They will adapt. And when they adapt they will burn more energy (calories) to keep them in their new perky state. That means, when you’re on the sofa and on season three of your fave Netflix boxset, your body will be burning more fat. Forget the jogging for the moment, start using your muscle. It’s much more pleasant than flogging round the park. Don’t be frightened of the word muscle. Embrace it.”

“So if I do some, say, of those squat things, I can still eat chocolate hob nobs and drink gin with gay abandon?”

I had clearly made it sound too easy.

“That’s another of the sub-changes we must all make. Food.

“Oh, here we go I knew there’d be a glitch…” …she had a look which said ‘See, told you it wouldn’t be for me’. I ignored it.

“What you put into your body makes you feel well or terrible. It’s up to you. Currently you feel terrible. Processed sugary food, alcohol and no exercise means you will stay as you are. There will be no changes. Modifications to our movement patterns and our diet means CHANGE will happen.”

“Yes, but I’m 50. I’m stuck with this, aren’t I? Aren’t we all stuck with it, once we get over 45? Don’t we just give in, put up and shut up?

“It is never too late. Never. You have decades left in that body of yours. I’ve seen people in their early fifties, sixties even, modify their diet, improve their health, their strength, their clothes size, even come off diabetes medication, and still enjoy throwing caution to the wind and eating what they like at weekends.”

I could feel my voice getting louder and I needed to tread carefully. She was on the verge of being hooked…. could I reel her in?

“So if I embrace the word muscle, can we also embrace some more Chardonnay?”

“Today yes. But tomorrow you do this… a workout with some dumbbells which will challenge your muscles perfectly.”

With one eye on the waiter, she said with commitment in her eyes…

“Promise.”

So if you feel all is lost, it most certainly isn’t. Get some dumbbells, some water and some of that commitment. Stop being afraid of muscle. Make it work for you.

Watch the workout below. All strength and resistance work to challenge… and delight. :0)

Thank you for reading. Annie x

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