“We both really need to get out of the house more,” my sister tells me. We are both haunted by the example of our parents, whose worlds became smaller and smaller as they aged. It’s too bad Linda and I live 350 miles away from each other, because she’s the easiest person to hang out with.
And I finally bit the bullet and found a primary care physician near my house. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for the last four years (since I recovered from my hysterectomy, which means it has been that long since I’ve had a checkup).
I don’t like doctors. My late mother was something of a hypochondriac, and I went the other way. My philosophy is that if you never see a doctor, they’ll never find anything wrong with you.
Of course, that doctrine is dumb when you get to be my age. So I made an appointment and managed not to cancel it.
The Dreaded Scale and Other Medical Indignities
Prior to arriving at the clinic, I filled out a whole bunch of questionnaires. There was a freeform space where I could tell them anything I wanted. I told them I did not want to be lectured about my weight, that I’m aware it’s unhealthy, and I’m trying to get it under control.
Doctors never read that stuff.
The first thing that always happens at a medical office is they make you get on a scale. Some office staff are understanding when I tell them I DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE NUMBER (it’s always worse than my scale at home because at home I weigh myself first thing in the morning, before I’ve eaten. And at the doctor’s office, I’m wearing clothes -which we all know puts on an extra five pounds).
The second thing they do is take your blood pressure. Mine isn’t all that bad, but it could be better. I tell them it will improve after I lose the weight I don’t want to talk about.
I liked the doctor. She’s about my age and easy to talk to – even though she ignored what I wrote on the form and proceeded to point out my less-than-wonderful BMI.
“You should try Weight Watchers,” she says.
I’m on Weight Watchers, I tell her. I’ve been doing the digital WW program for three years. I initially lost 30 pounds, but then strayed from the program. I keep trying to get back on track, but my heart isn’t in it. Plus, it’s just impossible after Thanksgiving…
“You should go to meetings,” she says. It turns out, she’s a Lifetime member. “You’ll be more successful. If you find the right meeting.”
I’ve done the meetings before. My first time on the program, I was 18 and 130 pounds (which is my goal weight now) and my mom (who was a size 0) convinced me to try it. That was my first experience with weighing every little thing I ate and writing it all down, and I hated it.
But I especially hated sitting through the meetings: getting weighed in, listening to the leader give the weekly lecture, and trying to get us all to connect with one another. I was 18 years old. I didn’t want to connect with all those middle-aged fat women.
And Weight Watchers was slooow. It took me months to lose just five pounds. I eventually quit and lost weight on my own. And for the most part, I kept it under control for my 20’s and into my 30’s.
Middle Age Blues
And then came the inevitable metabolic slowdown, which wasn’t helped by having a baby one month before my 40th birthday. I’ve been yo-yo’ing every since. And so when I re-joined Weight Watchers, I actually was one of those middle-aged women. And I still hated it.
“We’re not joiners,” Linda reminded me. She’s right. I don’t know if that’s just our nature or the way we were raised, but our parents didn’t belong to any organizations, and I’ve never been comfortable with them, either.
And yet: The digital-only WW plan has not been working for me for a long time now, and it’s kind of crazy to keep trying something with no results. Also, it would be nice to be able to tell that doctor I gave it a try (even if I still get no results).
The marketing department at WW seemed to be reading my mind. Last week, they sent an email touting holiday “open houses,” where you could come in and just see how the meetings work these days. So on Monday, I drove out to one of these and gave it a try.
You still have to weigh in. You still have to listen to a leader give a lecture. You still have to track everything you eat, but there’s an app for that now (which I already had on my phone) and there’s a lot less weighing.
And you’re still encouraged to connect with the rest of the group, but now I feel like I have something in common with them. And it’s kind of nice to be among people who understand that the struggle is real.
Especially in December. If I can make it through the next three weeks without gaining weight, I’ll feel like it’s a success.
*Disclosure: Link to the Weight Watchers program is a referral link. If someone clicks on it and signs up for the program and sticks with it, I will get a free month tacked on to my program.
There was a time when Sunday night dinner for my husband and me could consist of bread, wine, and a selection of lovely cheeses. We had our favorites: brie, Humboldt Fog, an imported cheddar called Red Dragon, and maybe a fruited Wensleydale (this was around the time we were watching a lot of Wallace and Gromit with our toddler, so our choices may have been influenced a little bit).
It was an easy, casual meal that we both used to enjoy. And it’s one of those things I don’t do any more, which is a shame – because I like cheese.
I really, really, really like it.
The Problem with Cheese
I was reminded of this the other day, as I passed the cheese selection at a local supermarket known for such things. I no longer have to deal with a youngster who would hold her breath and complain about the smell of the stinkiest cheeses (she’s grown and flown). But these days, I’m more interested in finding foods rated 0 points on Weight Watchers.
I glanced wistfully at a beautifully prepared cheese plate that was the perfect size for an empty-nest couple: A small wedge of Brie, a log of goat cheese, six slices each of Manchego and something that could be a white cheddar. Plus a couple of sprigs of red grapes and handful of assorted dried fruit. A pound in all, which I concluded was WW eleventy-million points.
It actually adds up to about 30 points, which is 7 points more than my allotment for the entire day. And that’s before you add in the crusty bread (2 points per slice) or crackers (2 points for four of them). Or wine (4 points for a 5-oz glass), because why would I have all that cheese without a nice glass of Cabernet?
I wanted that cheese plate. I wanted it bad. And since I’m really good at finding ways to justify getting the things I want, I did a little research on the health benefits of cheese. And you know what? I found some!
Nutritional Makeup of Cheese
My mistake as a cheese lover is that after years of trying different forms of low-carb regimens, I circled back WW, which is the grandma of balanced diet plans. If I had chosen a ketogenic diet, I’d be able to eat a lot more cheese (but not the crusty French bread and probably not the wine).
Cheese is OK on a low-carb diet because it carries a power pack of protein: there’s a whopping 6.5 grams per ounce of cheddar – and hard cheeses like Parmesan contain even more protein, and even probiotic benefits.
Goat and sheep cheeses are higher in protein, lower in calories, and more tolerated by people who are sensitive to dairy products (so right there is my justification for eating a little more of that Humboldt Fog and Manchego).
Alas, if your diet is a more traditional, calorie-focused regime, you’ll note that ounce of cheddar translates to 115 calories. And 85 of those are saturated fat.
Here’s where the discussion of healthy foods gets dicey. For years, we have believed that consuming foods low in saturated fat translated into better weight management and cardiovascular health.
Advocate Trinity Hospital dietitian Dotty Berzy definitely subscribes to this theory. “If you like cheese, feta, mozzarella and Swiss are the most heart healthy,’’ she says.
Is necessary to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves.
It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
“For long-term health, some fats are better than others. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad ones include industrial-made trans fats. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle,” they say.
Generally speaking, the good mono- and polyunsaturated fats come from food sources (think avocados, and olive oils). Animal products like cheese contain saturated fats.
” A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol, and tip the balance toward more harmful LDL cholesterol, which prompts blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body. For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day,” says Harvard Medical.
Other studies indicate that eating some cheeses can positively affect the gut bacteria in your microbiome, introducing beneficial compounds like butyrate and spermidine (which hve both metabolism-boosting and anti-cancer effects).
That doesn’t mean I’ll be buying that cheese platter to enjoy on a weekly basis. But the next time my sister wonders if she should serve one at a holiday gathering (hint, hint!), I’ll tell her to go ahead – without guilt.
In late middle age, I’ve come to a realization: Playdates are not just for children.
From the day my daughter was born, I lived my life according to her needs: Up by 7:00, race to daycare/school, get a few hours of work in or grab a coffee with the other moms, back for pick-up in the afternoon, then on to after school activities/shopping/meal prep. Day after day after day.
It was predictable. And comfortable. And it all changed four years ago: She went off to college – and I lost my moorings.
This is not one of those posts where I’m complaining about my suddenly empty nest. I’m proud of the fact that I raised a young adult who is taking care of herself, and we’ve found a nice balance. My husband and I find plenty to do together on weekends. We’re all good.
But I have had to figure out some new personal weekday rhythms.
With no reason to get up early, I often sleep in. Since I work at home, I don’t need to leave the house — so there are weeks when I go Monday through Friday without stepping outside to do more than get the mail or take out the trash. I have been known to do my grocery shopping online… because I can. If it weren’t for Facebook and Twitter and email, there are days when I’d have no interactions with the outside world at all.
By “Playdates” I Mean “Meeting for Coffee.” Or Cocktails.
So I now start each week combing my contacts and reaching out to local friends who might be amenable to meeting me for lunch or coffee or cocktails or dinner IRL.
And it occurs to me that this is a skill I developed 20 years ago, when I was anxious to set up playdates for my only child, so she wouldn’t grow up lonely and anti-social.
Only this time, the playdates are for ME. And they are absolutely necessary.
I’ve talked about this with a few of these friends, who are amused by the playdate analogy.
“But you and your husband are always going out and doing interesting things,” they tell me. They know this because I post the photos to Instagram and Facebook. But those activities take place on the weekend… and besides, we all know that we curate our social media feeds so that we only share the interesting stuff. If I posted what my life is really like, it would look something like this:
I could go on, but you get the picture. The highlight of the day comes at the end, when I realize my cat didn’t leave me any hairballs to clean.
My “playdates” on social media may look like just a picture of a coffee cup or martini glass, but they have given me laughter… connection… and sanity. And so I’m off to schedule a few more.
I won’t bore myself researching how many thousands, or millions, of people have diabetes, are overweight, have stress and anxiety, and other unhealthy diseases or conditions that are often avoidable by healthy living. I am becoming one of them.
It seems that while we have written so many words about healthy living and viewed hours and hours of more information about the topic, we are generally not a healthy society.
I’m in my 50’s and this is going to change for me now.
I have little discipline. Somehow I’m not even heavier and an alcoholic. I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like and I do believe that champagne is the one beverage that is appropriate to consume any of the 24 hours in a day, 365 days a year. But I’ve gained a fair amount of weight since menopause and developed high blood pressure (which is improving).
I don’t play sports and I don’t enjoy gyms. I already have a dog, but don’t really enjoy walking him either (bad mom).
Yesterday was my 1st Day. I’m brought in my breakfast and lunch, to work and walked during lunch. I ate a modest dinner, early in the evening. Today I pretty much repeated the same routine. I’ll have to figure out a lot more if I’m going to be serious about all of this, but it’s a start.
In two days, I will be driving down to Los Angeles to attend BlogHer with my sister and youngest daughter. I’m really looking forward to it. During the drive, my dad will be joining me for the road trip and I’ll be dropping him off in Ojai to visit his old school buddy. I think they are friends from junior high. He’s so excited. But I’m a little concerned about the eating and drinking. There is a lot of it at this conference. Get a few thousand women together and they like to have fun.
I’ll have to be careful and balance it between my deep belief in making memories being so important to our happiness and the idea that I gotta get my shit together. I can make memories without all the calories and alcohol. Truth is, I’ll probably have more memories! Wish me luck.
The morning started with big intentions that ended with little results. Lack of motivation, some depression, same old same old. Saying it was a triple bad day is an exaggeration, but it felt that way.
That’s it. I’m done. I’m on my 50s and something has to change. I need to:
Learn how to tap into my creative side (if I have any left)
Boy, that all sounds overwhelming. “Get healthy” is a huge topic (I don’t know if I can use that word anymore.)
I have been pretty healthy, but I can’t help notice subtle changes in the way I move, my stamina, strength and balance. I don’t mind aging (not like I have a lot of choices) and really don’t feel as old as I am. But I know I’ll feel like a new person if I reboot, It’s time to:
A couple of months ago, I celebrated my 60th birthday.
[To answer the question everyone has been asking me:] No, it doesn’t feel any different than 59.
But I definitely don’t feel as good as I did the last time I hit a milestone birthday.
At 50, I felt so good about myself that I purchased my first-ever European car, which I jokingly referred to as my mid-life crisis. Ten years later, I still have that car and it’s no longer a joke: Even minor repairs cost a small fortune and my sleek little automobile has peeling paint and a creaky transmission.
We have a lot in common.
Last month, we took a trip to New York with a friend who also was celebrating her 60th, my sister (who was celebrating her 57th) and her husband, my brother-in-law (also 60 that week). I had a great time, but I found myself struggling physically – a problem I that first became noticeable last year, when we traveled together to the UK and Italy.
The only exercise I truly enjoy is walking, so I was looking forward to walking around London, Rome, Florence and Venice. But my feet had other ideas.
You see, I used to care a lot about fashion – and I especially loved wearing pretty shoes. From the time I was 16 until my mid-30s, I wore 4″-heels to work five days a week. And then the pain started.
Or rather, the pains – because there’s more than one issue here: corns from wearing shoes with pointy toes. Callouses on my soles. The loss of padding on the bottom of the feet that occurs naturally with age. A weakness in my ankles that flares up if I dare to wear anything but flats.
I stopped buying pretty shoes a long time ago. In recent years, I started spending good money at places that specialize in shoes that are made for comfort, but even those cause me problems.
When my daughter was a baby, I noticed that kneeling a certain way hurt my knees. As the years have passed, the pain in my knees has become constant. I’m pretty sure it’s just arthritis. No, I have not seen a doctor for it yet (because I HATE doctors). But I did get a referral to a rheumatologist and will be making the call soon – because I don’t LIKE the way I feel.
It doesn’t help that I’m once again overweight. In fact, losing weight would likely solve some of the problems with my feet and my knees. I know I need to move more. Every night, I go to bed telling myself I’m going to get up early and put on workout clothes and get some exercise before I shower and start work… and every morning, the alarm goes off and I drag myself out of bed two hours later.
I’m working on that – mainly, by trying to get used to a CPAP machine my doctor swears will result in better slumber and infinitely better energy. So far, all it’s done is stop my apnea-induced snoring enough that my husband can sleep – so that’s something.
I think part of my problem lies in an inability to get to sleep in the first place, something I’ve struggled with since I was a kid and has become worse since I’ve had to deal with the joy of hot flashes. My husband seems to fall asleep the moment his head hits the pillow, while I toss and turn and think about all the things I should have done better and fret about all the things I need to face the following day. I am getting better about turning in earlier, but there are nights when my allergies kick in and I can’t breathe into the machine – and other nights when I simply cannot sleep. When that happens, I stop trying and move to the extra bedroom so I don’t wake my husband. After that, I wake up feeling sleepier than I do when I manage a full night on the machine – so I guess the CPAP is doing something.
“Of course, it’s doing something,” my doctor insists. “It’s preventing you from having a stroke or a heart attack.” These are not things I worried about when I was 40. But it’s at the top of my mind now at 60.
I could go on yet another diet. In fact, I do that nearly every single day – And by evening, I’m done. That’s if I’m lucky. You see, after 45 years of restricting what I eat in some form or another, I have trouble remembering what it is I’ve decided I’m going to forego THIS TIME. The truth is, after I went through the extremely low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb regimen that helped me shed 60 pounds nine years ago, my body doesn’t seem to respond to diets any longer. Believe me, I tried. But I think decades of on-again, off-again dieting have given me the same result that’s happened to all those Biggest Loser contestants who gained everything back.
And the truth is: I’m TIRED. I’m tired of feeling guilty every time I eat a piece of bread. I’m tired of being sober when everyone around me is enjoying a glass of wine. I’m tired of saying “no thank you” to dessert. I actually do prefer to eat a nice salad at lunch with just a teeny bit of dressing – but if I am craving a sandwich, by golly, I’m going to have one. Because I’m tired.
That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. I’m just trying to navigate the highway to hell – I mean, senior citizenship. As Auntie Mame said, “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” Especially if they’re on a diet.