An Honest Mid-Life Reality Check

Don Willmott
Don Willmott
An Honest Mid-Life Reality Check

Around the time I turned 50, I noticed my weight creeping dangerously close to the 200-pound mark and thought to myself, “No. Absolutely not. It must not happen.” But what to do? My mind wasn’t ready to become “that old guy,” but my body seemed to be heading there anyway. I was developing the kind of lower-back pain that made it annoying to roll over in bed. I had started snoring. I could no longer squeeze into my one good suit.

The irony was that I went to the gym almost every day, if only to walk very briskly on the treadmill for 30 minutes and attend two or three spinning classes per week. Nevertheless, I had gained 20 pounds over 10 years and had arrived at the age where my body was slowly losing its ability to bounce back from abuse.

And so I bit the bullet and signed on with an excellent personal trainer who dropped some serious knowledge on me…and then made me pick it up off the floor and lift it over my head 20 times. I paid quite a bit to learn all that I learned, but I’ll share some basics for free. They worked wonders for me, and within a year I dropped 30 pounds, eliminated my back pain, stopped snoring, and found myself way too slim for my pants.

Here are some of those hard truths I picked up along the way.

Diet or exercise? You can’t just choose one. Sorry, but it’s true. My mistake was ignoring my diet for 20 years, choosing only to crash diet to prepare for special occasions — a ridiculous way to live. It takes time and effort to build and maintain a daily rhythm that embraces both dietary caution and meaningful exercise, but you must if you want to get fit and then stay that way, at any age.

More protein, fewer carbs and fats. My trainer was really keen on protein, especially to build muscle in concert with heavy workouts. While I warned him not to try to upsell me on protein shakes, I eventually found my way to them myself, happy to start the day with 20+ grams of protein at a cost of just 100 calories or so. They can be pricey, so I look for discounts online or sales at stores such as Whole Foods.

Cardio alone won’t cut it. When I told my trainer about my treadmill walks, he just chuckled and said, “So how’s that been working for you?” Even if you do the more intense kinds of cardio — stair mill, rowing machine, climbing simulator — at some point you’re going to have to hit the weights if you really want to transform your body. I wish there was some way around it. Believe me, I tried to find the shortcut.

There are no days off. When I told my trainer I wouldn’t fill out my weekly food diary while I was on vacation, he demanded that I send it to him every single day I was away. It was his way of making me understand that once you commit to a new way of living, there are no breaks, no cake and pie amnesty days. Last year I went to the gym and worked out like a lunatic on Christmas morning just to make that point to myself.

Honesty is the best policy. Keeping a food diary, stepping on the scale, trying on pants…they were all good ways to confront the lies I realized I was constantly telling myself. Try a food diary and see if you lie. I bet you will. I even lied to my trainer about my eating and workouts until I realized I was only sabotaging myself. Learning to be brutally honest with myself — and then to forgive myself and move on — was a real psychological turnaround. I also put a full-length mirror in my bathroom for an extra dose of reality. It works!

Photo: iStock