Hey – we may as well have fun as we go sliding into old age, right?

Posts tagged ‘exercise’

Where Did My Brain Go?

As long as I’m on the subject of hormones…  I find the second-most irritating symptom of menopause (after the raging emotions) to be the loss of mental function in general.  This is more than being absent-minded – I’ve been absent-minded all my life. 

But lately, it’s like I just go into a “brain-fog” with no warning.  I’ll be driving home from work and suddenly realize that I don’t remember getting off the highway exit, and yet here I am, driving down the side street to my home.  Apparently I drove it safely and legally, as I heard no honking horns or blaring sirens.  But I don’t remember doing it.  It’s not that I was thinking about something else – I wasn’t thinking at all. 

I’ve been in conversations recently, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’ve “tuned out” and I have no idea what I’ve missed.  I’ve become good at using my “interested” face and appearing to be listening – nodding, smiling, jotting a few notes.  But I didn’t hear an entire block of speaking.  Well, I heard it, since my hearing isn’t gone, but I didn’t process it.  Again, it’s not that I’m daydreaming, which I’ve always been very good at – my mind is just blank. 

It’s pretty creepy, actually, to realize you’re losing time (without the assistance of alcohol!).

And even when I’m not losing time, there are moments when I just can’t kick my brain into gear.  I’ll pick up a new bag of (low-fat) chips, start to pull it open, and then just stop.  What was I doing again?  Do I need the scissors?  No, I just have pull it open – and still my hands aren’t moving.  What the hell?  Do I want these chips?  Is there something else I’d rather have?  Is it too close to dinner?  Oh, for crying out loud – open the damn bag!

And choosing clothes for work?  There are days when it’s agony, because I can’t make a freakin’ decision.  Do I want the black pinstripe pants?  Did I wear black pants yesterday?  What shirt should I wear?  Does that pattern go with the pinstripe?  Will it be warm enough?  Maybe not…  But this brown sweater would do.  But then I have to pick different pants.  Do these need to be ironed?  What shoes would I wear?  Do I have trouser socks that match?  No, no – I already had my black shoes pulled out to wear.  I should wear the pinstripes.  Maybe add a jacket over a short-sleeved shirt?  But which jacket?  Does this match??  A-r-r-g-g-h-h!  By now, I’m late for work. 

Never good with names, I now meet people and forget their names within seconds of meeting them.  Even when I’m trying to remember – even when I made up a word-association to remember.  Or I mix up the word associations in an embarrassing way.  For example, I use word association to remember the name of a consultant our company is working with.  He’s tall, good-looking and conservative, and his first name is Don.  So I’ve associated him with Don Draper of Mad Men, and it helps me remember his first name.  But twice recently I’ve referred to him as “Don Draper” to colleagues, who then look at me as if I’ve lost my mind.  And perhaps I have.

So I did a little research, and sure enough, one of the symptoms of menopause is “foggy thinking”, absent-mindedness, short-term memory loss, lack of cognitive ability, etc., etc., etc.  Something to do with hormones (of course), and probably stress.  It can be a vicious cycle, actually.  Get frustrated at the brain-fog, stress out, which makes the brain function more poorly, which cause more stress, which makes the brain function even more poorly, and pretty soon, you’re driving home without remembering the trip, and wearing blue socks with black shoes. 

It’s not all the time – it comes and goes.  Some days, even weeks, I’m perfectly fine (or at least as good as I was before menopause arrived).   And then one day, or string of days, I’m just out of it.  I have to struggle to maintain any kind of focus and momentum.  It’s scary.

The good news is that it’s temporary – once menopause goes along its merry way and finishes with me, my cognitive ability should improve again.  How long will that take?  One article tossed around 3 – 12 years…..  3 – 12 YEARS??????  Oh, come on!!  I have a life to lead in the meantime. 

My husband thinks I’m just careless and should “try harder”, my co-workers wonder what’s happening, my boss thinks I’m not paying attention, my friends and family think I’m losing it and wonder why I let weeks go by without calling or emailing.  How do I tell them I sometimes have trouble remembering just how much time has gone by.  Did I call my mom yesterday?  Or was it last Friday?  Did I talk to her at all this week?  Maybe…but maybe not.   Damn it.

So how do I get better (other than waiting YEARS for menopause to pass me by)?  Most articles agree that three things can help – moderate exercise (oh crap, I hate exercise), a diet that includes many small meals during the day to keep the brain “fed”, and easing up on the stress load. 

Okay – so today I threw new batteries in the Wii and will try to get back on board with morning workouts.  My diet’s been better lately, but can certainly still improve.  And I’m trying to lose the same 20 pounds I’ve been trying to lose for more than a year (down 4 in two weeks), so I’m trying to limit snacking, which now may not be helping my brain.  And stress.  Ah, stress.  Let’s see – major system conversion going on at work, just finished a traumatic and exhausting move, trying to lose that damn 20 pounds that have settled into a happy “meno-pot” in my belly which makes all my clothes uncomfortable, and can’t remember anything.  What stress???  I guess I can get some “down-time” in there somewhere, between work, marriage and church activities.  Maybe get up between 3 and 4 AM to do some journaling?  Try to squeeze a yoga class into my hectic schedule?  A little more prayer? 

Somehow, I have to figure out how to get through these brain-fog spells without losing my job, my marriage, my friends and my sanity.  So I guess I’d better find the time to relax, eat better and exercise.  If I can only remember to do it….and why….and…what was I saying again??

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Gravity Continues Its Pull…

I think gravity may be our biggest foe as we age, particularly for women.  The pull of this dastardly planetary force wears on us, and relentlessly drags our physical features into a downward angle.

I can blame myself for the extra pounds I carry, even though I still harbor some resentment to my menopausally decreased metabolism. And I know it’s my fault that I’m not in better shape (who has time?!).  But what do I do about the sagging, drooping, jiggling and flapping caused by our arch enemy – gravity?

It started with my chin(s).  Where the skin used to be taut under my chinline, it now sags and wrinkles and folds.  In fact, I feel like my whole face is somehow sliding downward into my neck.  How else do you explain where all that extra skin came from?  Why else would I feel the downward pull on my cheeks that leaves me looking like I’m perpetually frowning?  A co-worker stopped me a few weeks ago and laughingly said “I can always tell when you’re having a bad day!”  That wouldn’t have bothered me that much except for one thing – I wasn’t having a bad day.  I examined myself in the ladies room mirror a few minutes later and realized sadly that my apple cheeks were looking more like the loose bags that apples are sold in.  Apparently my skin was no longer able to hold my face up over my cheekbones, and I was developing a “hound dog” look.  Come to think of it, maybe that same phenomenon is happening to my “other cheeks”, too, as my derriere starts sliding down into my thighs…

Since that day, I’ve been making a conscious effort to pull my cheeks up (the ones on my face) and lift the corners of my mouth a little bit all the time.  Not into a fake, scary smile, but just enough to work those lazy muscles, and to keep folks from stepping back in fear of a non-existent bad mood.  My hope is that I can coax my facial muscles into accepting this “half-grin” as the new normal, staving off the pull of gravity.  But I suspect gravity will win eventually.

If I were given a choice of any free cosmetic surgical procedure I wanted, I think it would be the so-called “lifestyle lift”, where the extra skin that gravity has collected under my chin is pulled up into my hairline, giving me a single chin again and a markedly more youthful appearance.  I don’t know if I’d go through with it, but it would be tempting.

Hmmm.  I may have lied just now….  I don’t know if gravity’s pull really started with my chins or if it was my breasts.  Surely they’ve been fighting gravity for a long while now, and they’re losing.  If it weren’t for a good bra, the “girls” would be closer to my waistline than my neckline.  But at least I can stuff them into that bra and keep the gravity-defying illusion alive as long as I’m clothed.  But lying in bed on my back?  Yeah, well, let’s just say that my back  is clearly where the girls are trying to sneak off to.

But the newest affront from gravity made me gasp in amazement this weekend.  I was looking at a digital picture that had been taken of me with a group of friends a few weeks ago.  In the photo, I was smiling nicely, my chins didn’t seem too pronounced, and the sleeveless top I was wearing was a good color and style choice for me.  I decided that if I cropped the image, it would make a nice Facebook profile picture.  So I cropped a tiny square and was adjusting that window over my upper body in the photo, when I noticed something alarming.  There was something terribly wrong with my upper arm!  Was that dirt?  No.  A bizarre shadow effect from facing the sun?  No.  Was the satin fabric of my blouse reflecting a pattern onto my skin?  No.  I zoomed in for a closer look.  Oh. My. God.

Gravity's pull appears on my upper arms. Yuk.

 

It was the flacid skin of my underarm, sagging in defeat to gravity’s calling.  Crepe-like, folded in tiny lines being pulled downward, looking like elephant skin.  On my arms.  My ARMSMY arms.  My 53-year-old arms!  It looked as though I’d pulled a big leg of baggy pantyhose up over my arm and let it hang there.  A—r—g—h!!!

So this is how it’s going to be.  My skin will not only lose elasticity in my face (at least the cosmetic ads warned me about that one), but it will lose elasticity everywhere, drooping ceaselessly towards the Earth.  If I were in a more macabre mood, I’d probably see some correlation to death in there, returning to the primordial soup from whence we came…..

Are there ways to fight gravity?  We can’t always wear long sleeves, after all.  To a point, yes, it can be fought.  Exercise (God, how I hate that word) can make a big impact.  Tight muscles tend to generate tight skin.  And those scary sagging upper arms can definitely benefit from the simplest of workouts – curls and lifts with free weights.  That means it’s time to dust the barbells off (again) and start using them (again) and vow to stick with it this time (again).

Hey – I didn’t come to be Sliding Into Old feet first and laughing by being a patsy.  Gravity is pulling on me, sure, but dammit, I can fight back in this tug-of-war!  Can I defeat an entire planet full of gravitational pull?  No, I’ll admit I can’t.  But I can sure as hell try.  I don’t ever want to see those flabby old-lady wrinkles on my arms again in a photograph, at least not until I’m eighty.

Maybe long sleeves aren’t such a bad idea after all……….

Losing My Mind, and My Keys, and My Cell Phone, and…

A NORMAL DAY

This was the path I took one typical June Sunday afternoon.  After enjoying a beer (hey – it was only 55 calories!), I stood to take the empty bottle out to the garage to the bin for returnables.  As I stood, I remembered that I needed to iron clothes for work on Monday.  I carried the beer bottle into the bedroom and set it down (just for a minute).  I set up the ironing board, and got the iron from the walk-in closet.  While in the closet, I stopped to organize some of my shoes.  Back in the bedroom, I noticed the steam iron was low on water.  So I headed to the kitchen for the little measuring pitcher I use for the iron.  While there, I remembered the dishes in the dishwasher were clean, so I started unloading it.  The coffee pot was sitting right there, so I got that set up for the next morning.   I grabbed the empty beer bottle from the counter and took it out to the garage.  While in the garage, I grabbed a fresh roll of paper towels for the kitchen.  When I finally got back to the bedroom, I had the iron in my hand before I realized that I’d never gotten the water for it.  On my way back to the kitchen, I figured I may as well fire up the computer as I was walking by.  I got to the kitchen, and stood there for a few seconds before I remembered what I was there for – water for the iron.  I filled the pitcher, went back to the bedroom, filled the iron, then decided I should pull the bedspread off the bed and fold it up.  Once that was done, I ironed pants and a shirt for Monday.  After hanging them up and turning off the iron, I closed the blinds in the bedroom and headed out to the computer.  About 20 minutes later, I needed to use the master bathroom.  Walking back through the bedroom, I noticed something shiny on the nightstand.  It was my empty beer bottle (the one I’d removed from the kitchen was my husband’s).  The item I originally wanted to put into the returnable bin hadn’t made it past my first pit stop.  I’d never completed my original mission, although I finished a number of unrelated odd jobs in the meantime. 

A remarkable story?  Hardly.  Outrageously funny?  Not so much.  But this type of scattered, fractured journey happens to me all the time.  Every. Single. Day. 

I can have keys in my hand one minute, and literally lose them the next.  I’ve become a master at retracing my steps – out of necessity.  When I reach for something and it’s not where it belongs, I automatically reverse my steps and check everywhere I’ve been.  When the logical places don’t pan out, I start looking in the stupid places.  Did I set the keys under the sink while looking for dishwashing liquid?  Did I drop them in the trash when I threw away that tissue?  Are they still in the door?  In the car?  It’s absolutely maddening.

THE WILD SEARCH

Just a few weeks ago, I lost my leather cell phone case, within no more than an hour of removing my Blackberry from it.  I’d already been looking for my favorite Red Sox ball cap, so now I was hunting for two items that seemingly vanished off the face of the earth while inside our home.  I brought my husband into the hunt, and we tore the place apart.  Logical places.  Silly places.  Under the bed.  Under the sofa.  Behind the cushions.  Dresser drawers.  Bookcases.  Suitcases.  Cars.  Basement.  I was seriously wondering if some mad man was breaking into our home and stealing stupid things just to drive me crazy.  After an hour, I suspended the search in frustration (and the firm belief that if you stop looking for something, you’ll usually find it).

Days went by, and I really wanted that ball cap (the cell phone case was replaceable if necessary).  Wondering if maybe I’d rolled the hat up and stuffed it in a jacket pocket (not something I normally do, but I was getting desperate), I started working my way through the coat closet.  On my fifth or sixth jacket…SUCCESS!  I found it!  Well, not exactly.  It wasn’t the ball cap I discovered in a pocket.  It was the missing cell phone case.  The hat was still nowhere to be found.  But the next day, the errant ball cap showed up.  At the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper, located as I went to do laundry.  Don’t ask.  Oh, okay, I’ll tell you – I’d set it on top of the washer, and apparently a vigorous spin cycle vibrated it off and into the hamper.

You know the dogs in the movie “UP!”?  Well, that’s me.  Deep in thought or conversation, and then, Look!  A squirrel! 

Think I’m exaggerating?  I’ve left this page twice since I started typing an hour ago.  Once to check my email and Facebook, and once to change the TV channel, grab a snack, and then look for the TV remote, which I’d left in the kitchen. 

I’ve always been a bit forgetful and addled (at least three different times in my life I’ve put the milk away in the pantry instead of the refrigerator), but lately it is getting out of control.  As the hormones start doing their 50’s dance, my brain cells are dysfunctioning  at an alarming rate.  Yeah, yeah, I should focus more.  I need to pay attention, write lists, concentrate, avoid distraction, etc., etc., etc.  As if I could remember to do all of that. 

WHY IT’S HAPPENING

A recent fact-filled article in Newsweek by Cynthia Cline (“This is Your Brain.  Aging.”) gave me at least some consolation.  It’s not just me.  We really do lose short term memory as we age.  Scientists have proven that the long, graceful neurons (okay, they didn’t use the word “graceful”…)  are lost as we age – as much as a 45% decrease in short-term memory and the ability to learn and remember new things.  The good news is that we continue to grow the short stubby neurons that control long-term memory.  Funny how everything that happens as we age involves the words short and fat.  That’s why I can remember the red dress I wore to my neighbor’s wedding when I was ten years old, but I can’t remember what I did with the TV remote five minutes ago.  It’s a medical thing.  It’s not my fault!  I wish that made me feel better, but the truth is, I’ll probably forget all about it by sometime next week….

And the worst part of the whole thing?  The remedy.  New studies suggest the best way to improve brain function is not the brain teaser games or crossword puzzles (although they certainly don’t hurt).  No, the best way to improve brain function is the same thing that improves all our other functions – good old-fashioned exercise.  EXERCISE!  Walking, running, working out – vigorous aerobic exercise stimulates the growth of new brain neurons.  No quiet reading and problem-solving for my mind.  No.  I need more exercise to improve my brain.  Terrific.

That’s just perfect.  I’m already battling my body and exercising in my frustrated efforts to lose weight.  Now I have to do even more of it to keep my brain from getting any foggier than it already is.  So fine.  Tomorrow morning I’ll be back at it with the Wii and walking at lunch and Zumba in the evening.  Even if the pounds won’t leave, I can at least be adding something to my body that’s good for me, like some sexy brain neurons.

Now if I could just find the Wii remote.  I’m pretty sure it’s here next to the sofa.  Hey, is that the book I’ve been looking for?  I should sit down and finish reading that, right after I get a drink of water, and then I’ll look for the…wait, what was it I was looking for?   Look!  A squirrel!

Fighting With My Reflection

A month ago, I posted a blog on my frustration with fitting back into my Fat Jeans again.  At that point, I’d lost a whopping 1 ½ lbs, and was determined to keep going.  So, consider this my update in frustration.  I don’t know which irritates me more – the mirror or the scale.

I am doing serious battle with my body right now.  And that’s not like me.  My body and I have always gotten along pretty well.  I’ve always been pretty in tune with what my body was doing and feeling.  Every little change was noted and acknowledged.  After a serious bout of IBS in my twenties, I learned that I could control some health issues (especially stress-induced ones) with a few moments of deep breathing, a good night’s sleep, a few days of simple foods, and truly paying attention to what my body was telling me it needed.  We got each other.

I married a great cook, so it was only naturally that some pounds came on after a while.  I accused him of making me “fat and happy”.  I had moved from an active lifestyle of horseback riding and farming to a sedentary suburban life.  It wasn’t my body’s fault that I gained weight – it was mine.  And when I decided eight years ago that I could be stronger than the food in my life, I dropped the weight and kept it off.  I felt terrific.

But my body has now joined the dark side.  My metabolism changes every year, and not in a good way.  Pounds come on in bunches, for no good reason.  Ten pounds a few summers ago.  Five here, five there, and another three this past April.  My body feels heavy, especially around the middle, and my clothes are uncomfortable.  I’m not at all at peace with my body right now.  Even Zumba isn’t weaving its magic spell this year (oh, sure, it’s fun, as I wrote a few weeks ago), but my body is unimpressed at the moment.

My body has become the enemy.  Stubborn, pouting, grumpy, lumpy and lazy.  It’s become old and cranky.  I stare at it in the mirror, and I’m horrified.  Officially, I’m within my healthy weight range, BMI and all that jazz, but my body is turning into something unrecognizable.  For crying out loud, I’m only fifteen pounds over my target goal weight!  The mirror shows me the extra weight, along with things like my skin, once taut, but now crepey and loose – under my chin, on the back of my hands, on my stomach, in my cleavage. 

And speaking of cleavage…oh, never mind.  Let’s just say my breasts are following gravity toward my waistline at a rapid pace.  And when the hell did I grow boobs on my back?  Suddenly there are big rolls of skin on my back that show under t-shirts and sweaters.  And bathing suits?  Forget about it.  All that extra flesh is determined to burst out in the most unbecoming places.  Ignore all the hype about the Miraclesuits.  Sure, your body is held in very nicely everywhere the suit is, but wherever it isn’t – – – who are we trying to kid?

I’m trying, damn it!  I’m going to Zumba, I’m walking almost every day, I’m drinking Slim Fast shakes, I’m trying to watch what I eat (I know I’ve cut calories), I’m even drinking 55 calorie beer, for crying out loud!!  I bought Wii Fit, and I’ve been using it daily for a whole week.  And my body is still sitting at the same place it was a month ago.  Seriously???  Not an ounce lost??  In a month??  What kind of cruel trick is that?  I’m sitting here at the computer with my jeans (not the Fat Jeans) both unbuttoned and partially unzipped for comfort, and that really ticks me off.

But I am not giving up.  Like a marriage going through a rough patch, my body and I are just having a hard time right now.  We’ll work through it and work it out.  I stare at my reflection and try to understand (and try to love) what I’m seeing.  I’m not one of those silly women who flail away at the aging process in panic, trying so desperately to look twenty-five forever.  I know that some changes are inevitable as I age.  I generally like getting older.  I can handle my crow’s feet and a certain degree of sag here and there.  But enough is enough.  This creeping, crepey invasion of flabby flesh is going to stop.

It’s time for a little “tough love” with this body of mine.  We have to get back on the same page.  This month-long plateau is going to end.  I may have to pay the price in some hunger pangs and unopened bottles of wine, but I can do it.  A little extra sweat.  More fruit and veggies (I’m munching strawberries right now).  A lot more water (yup, got a glass of water in front of me).  The Wii every single morning.  A walk every single day …. well, maybe not every day… but close to it.  Zumba at least twice a week.  I’ll drag my petulant body along for a while until it gets with the program and decides to join me. 

I’m not looking to get a 36-24-36 Barbie doll figure.  I’m far more realistic than that.  I just want my reflection to show a healthy, at least moderately fit, body.  A body I can relate to again.  With a minimum of nasty surprises in the mirror as time goes by.  Stay tuned………………………………..

My Love/Hate Relationship with Zumba

In case you’re wondering what Zumba is, it’s exercise disguised as dancing.  Or dancing disguised as exercise.  Or torture disguised as fun.  It’s basically a way to sweat like crazy and cram what feels like days’ worth of exercise into an hour or so.  It all began in Columbia, South America, and has swept the U.S. in the past 8 or 9 years.

I had no intention of being dragged into the craze when it hit our area a few years ago.   Sadly out of shape, I still could not imagine myself dancing in a room full of people.  You see, I’m just not very coordinated.  I have a bad sense of timing, and a worse sense of direction.  Invariably, if my husband says “look at that car on your right!” I will immediately look to the left.  So much so that Hubby now just sighs and says “your other right, honey”.  So any kind of structured dancing, even though I dearly love music, is not my strong point.

But my friends were very persistent, and they seemed to be having fun, so eventually I found myself going to classes with them.  That was a year ago.  I hate it.  And I love it.  It’s complicated. But I won’t give it up.  Let me try to sort it out the primary issues for you.

1a.   SWEAT IS BAD –  You know that old saying that ladies don’t sweat, they perspire?  Well, not doing Zumba they don’t!  It’s definitely sweat that rolls off in buckets.  Your hair sweats in Zumba.  Just this morning, I went to brush my bangs off my face in class, and a shower of water sprayed out in front of me.  Surprised, I put my hand to my head and realized my hair was completely soaked with sweat.  That much sweat is disgusting.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s cold and unhealthy in the winter when you walk outdoors into below zero temperatures.  It requires washing of workout clothes, including my expensive athletic bra, after every single class.  Sweat is not pleasant.

1b.   SWEAT IS GOOD – Sweat is empowering.  Sweat tells you you’re really doing something.  Sweat tells you that your body is working – hard.  Sweat tells you that you’re building muscle and burning fat.  That’s a really good feeling.   Sweat is powerful.  Sweat is good for women.

2a.  MIRRORS ARE BAD – Most Zumba classrooms have at least one wall of mirrors.  They’re scary.  They show EVERYTHING to EVERYONE.  You see everything you’re doing wrong – every time I turn right instead of left, the mirror lets me know about it (as does the unsuspecting classmate to my right!).  The mirror also shows me how bad I look in workout clothes.  Just when I’m feelin’ the music and thinkin’ I’m really jammin’ to the song, I get a glance of myself in the mirror – lumpy, puffy, in pants that are too short, with a blotchy red face, and my mouth gaping open like a flounder, gasping for air.  So much for confidence – I look like I’m ready to drop!  Mirrors are not helpful.

2b.  MIRRORS ARE GOOD – There’s always the practical purpose of mirrors – they allow you to see what the instructor is doing, and they show you whether you are doing a move properly when you compare your moves to hers.  But there are other fun things about mirrors.   The mirror teaches us to avoid that gasping flounder look as we struggle for air, and to instead purse our lips like we’re just blowing off a little steam.  Lips together, mouth more closed than open – “whew”.  Trust me – it’s much more attractive than the gasping flounder look.  Mirrors can boost your Zumba confidence when you realize that many other people in the room are making even more mistakes than you are!  Or when you realize that everyone looks weird in workout clothes.  Mirrors show you that most women (and men) in class are really not concerned with how they look – they’re just throwing themselves into the dance moves the best they can.  You want to be fearless, like them.  Mirrors also show you when you finally get that complicated step right, and you’re smokin’ it, keeping up with every move the instructor is making.  Thank goodness for mirrors!

3a.  HIPS ARE GOOD – Moving and swinging your hips with the beat of Latin music is very seductive.  I’m not talking about being seductive to an audience.  It’s seductive to you.  I’m talking about the feeling of letting your hips sway to the rhythm of drums and Latin words.  Whether it’s a belly dance to a Shakira song; or a samba to the rhythm of an island beat; or an aggressively low hip swing to a naughty Notorious lyric, you feel the power of music.  You feel the power of your own body, moving with the music.  It’s a beautiful thing for your soul to feel that kind of synchronicity.  It makes you appreciate your body, rather than criticize it.  Whether you’re full of curves or skinny as a rail, feel the rhythm and MOVE.

3b.  HIP IS GOOD – Look closely – this isn’t a bad/good comparison as with the first two topics – it’s just two positive takes on “hip” and Zumba.  Moving your physical hips is good.  But so is BEING hip!  Some of you may have teenagers who keep you in the loop on the current entertainers, but Zumba saved me from a life of being one of those boring old people who say  “who’s that?”  “never heard of her!” when we watch the MTV Music Awards.  I know who Lady Gaga is, I dance to Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas.  I can do the “Beyonce bounce”.  I groove to Pit Bull, man!  In my real life, I listen to country music and oldies, but in Zumba, I am crankin’ it to lyrics I (probably blessedly) don’t always understand.  Some are in Hispanic, and some are being ground out in rap.  I am in a room with women (and men) smaller and larger than me, older and younger than me, and we are all yelling and cutting loose to a song that I’m pretty sure is talking about posing “like a pornography poster.”  Do I have fun being just a little naughty and working out to that infectious hip hop beat?  Oh, yeah!  Being hip makes young co-workers eyebrows raise when you stride past them humming “Let’s Dance”.   Being hip is cool.  Being hip keeps you young.  Zumba makes you hip.

As with any workout, it can be torturous while you’re doing it.  But the afterglow is well worth the effort, and the changes in my body, stamina and confidence keep me going back for one sweaty, torturous, exhausting, exhilarating class after another.  Hating it.  And loving it.

Uh-Oh…Back in the “Fat Jeans” Again!

We all have them – hidden deep in the closet or at the very bottom of a drawer.  We feel comforted just knowing they’re there.  We hold onto them for years, just in case.  They’re our secret, silent insurance policies.  They’re our Fat Jeans. 

We don’t want to use them, don’t want to need them.  But we keep them because we know the realities of life, with all its ups and downs, including those found on our bathroom scales. 

We tell ourselves we’re only saving them in case we have a “bloated” day or a tummy ache.  But we know the truth.  We know that we’re hedging our bets and playing it safe.  All that weight we fought so hard to lose and/or control is always waiting to come back and surprise us.  We have to be ready for it.  Thus, the Fat Jeans.

And guess what I was wearing last weekend?  Yup – after they spent years at the bottom of the jeans pile in the closet, I dug up the Fat Jeans.  I could justify it by saying my other comfortable jeans (a/k/a the “Borderline Fat Jeans”) were in the laundry.  But I couldn’t deny the truth – those Fat Jeans fit.  Damn.

Four years ago, they’d have been inches too big.  I got rid of all the other loose pants back then, but I tucked these black denim trousers into the closet – just in case.  I never forgot them.  I saw them constantly.  Even picked them up a few times and thought about sending them to a church rummage sale.  But I always put them back in their safe place. 

In a way, I think I enjoyed knowing that they used to fit and became much too big for me to wear.  They were my badge of honor – my proof that I really had lost well over 30 lbs.  Like on “The Biggest Loser”, when at the end of the show, the person sent home holds up a pair of enormous pants, then drops them to show off their new, slimmer figure.  My Fat Jeans were never that large, but they had the same effect for me.  I used to be that, but now I’m this.

A few years ago, all that vanished weight started creeping back onto my hips.  In fact, two summers ago, I gained ten pounds in a matter of weeks.  Didn’t change my diet.  Didn’t change my activity level.  Just got bigger.  Like magic! 

At first I freaked out.  Someone mentioned it being a “meno-pot”, and I had no clue what she meant.  So I started doing a little research.  Oh, joy – as if getting older wasn’t enough fun, it turns out women get fatter, too.  It’s all natural.  Approaching menopause means slower metabolisms, decreased hormones, increased hormones, blah, blah, blah.  And even better, the weight gathers around our waistline, giving us those charming little pot bellies.  Our own little meno-pots. 

WHY WE GAIN WEIGHT NOW

Apparently, our body doesn’t communicate well with itself.  Menopause makes estrogen levels drop, but instead of just accepting that, our bodies want to find estrogen elsewhere.  Fat cells produce estrogen, so our bodies start collecting jiggly little fat cells around our middles in order to get that estrogen.  Our bodies should just say ‘good riddance’ to estrogen and move on. 

Progesterone also drops.  Lower progesterone leads to water retention (no wonder my rings are feeling tight on my fingers).  Testosterone levels drop, too, and this is one of the few times in our lives when we want more testosterone around.  When it drops, so does our metabolism, and we don’t burn calories as easily as we used to.  And one of the hormones that actually increases now doesn’t help us at all – androgen levels rise, and androgen, for some reason, makes our weight collect in our mid-section. Yippee.

Insulin issues can also lead to menopausal weight gain, as well as stress.  I don’t know about you, but I have a little stress flowing through my life right now.  My first thought was that stress makes us gain weight because comfort foods like chocolate and beer make us feel better, so we indulge in them more.  That’s probably true, but stress also encourages our body to hold on to fat, in some misguided nod to our Stone Age days, when stress meant we might be heading into a famine, so our bodies start collecting fat cells (what’s so darn attractive about those fat cells, anyway?).

As I cruised all my favorite medical websites, I read two different messages about this mid-life weight gain.  Some articles said “don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault.”  True, and nice, but not helpful.  The others said “if you’re active and eat right, you can beat it.” Also true, and even helpful, but nothing that we really want to hear.

So I ignored those extra ten pounds, which, over the next year or so, became the extra fifteen pounds.  In the last couple of months, after I stopped exercising, it became the extra 20 pounds.  And, this past weekend… I wore my Fat Jeans and they fit.  Argh!

WHAT I’M GOING TO DO ABOUT IT

So back I go to Zumba (more on that love/hate relationship another time).  No more careless snacking in front of the TV.  Much smaller portions at meals.  It’s not misery, and it’s not rocket science – if you eat less and move more you’ll lose weight.  But it’s so hard to get back into that habit, and now it’s complicated by an aging body that’s fallen in love with fat cells!

But I am NOT in love with Fat Jeans, or feeling out of breath after tying my shoes, or sitting on the sofa like a lump every night.  That’s not how I want to go sliding into old, so I’ll suck it up and start behaving.  I’ll keep you all posted on how I’m doing every week or so.  I’m off to a respectable start – since Fat Jeans Saturday, I’ve dropped a pound and a half.  Bye-bye, fat cells!  Bye-bye, Fat Jeans!

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