At some point I will do a post about “the wall” and how to avoid slamming into it at full speed before your time, but for now, I’ll talk about a major way to improve how you look, feel, and age–being fit.
In the age of body-positivity and you-go-girlism, being healthy is usually portrayed for women as drinking green smoothies, yoga, and “self-care,” with an Instagram or Pinterest low-impact workout routine thrown in occasionally for good measure. Those still focused on women’s health tend to focus just on cardio, burning fat and eating fat-free or pushing trendy vegan diets. Women receive so much conflicting advice, not realizing that for the most part, being an attractive woman means not being fat and not being unhealthily underweight.
This is coming from someone who comes from a family of overweight people with health problems (from hypothyroidism to diabetes to high blood pressure–you name it, they’ve got it) and is the only one who isn’t overweight at a BMI of 20. But for those of you saying I “got the good genetics,” I’ll counter that by admitting I was a very chubby preteen, on track to be as heavy as the rest of my family by high school/college until I started playing sports and learned more about nutrition on my own. I’m glad to say that I made it through college without gaining the freshmen 15 or any extra weight after that, and I still fit into my high school jeans–though, this shouldn’t be an achievement for someone only in their early 20’s, but here we are.
But, weight loss and maintaining your weight doesn’t have to be difficult. It mostly comes down to CICO (calories in, calories out). Exercise can help you burn more calories so that you can eat more, increase your endurance, and build muscle if you are trying to gain weight or change your body shape. I’ll go more in depth with that below.
If you’re trying to lose weight, tracking calories is probably the easiest way to keep yourself on track. There are many online calculators available in which you can put in your height, weight, and activity level, and get the amount of calories you should be eating to eat below your TDEE (how much you burn) and meet your weekly goals. It is highly recommended by health professionals that you remain above 1200 calories per day, as eating too little will do more harm in the long run than good.
(Side note: If you’re underweight trying to gain, an online calculator can help you figure out how much you should be eating and your macros–your carbs, protein, fats split–to try to gain a healthy amount of muscle and fat.)
Of course, you can’t outrun a bad diet, even if you are eating the right amount for your goals, so focus on eating lots of greens and lots of protein. Personally, I follow a low-carb pseudo-primal diet, but that isn’t necessary for someone trying to lose or gain weight. It’s just the diet I prefer that keeps me feeling at the top of my game. As long as you’re cooking most of your meals, avoiding processed and fast foods, and eating plenty of protein and vegetables you’re doing better than the majority of people out there.
As for exercise, finding a workout routine you can enjoy or at least stick with is key. Running, biking, joining a local community softball/ultimate frisbee/volleyball team, high-intensity fitness classes, etc. are all good choices. For those who prefer working out alone/in a gym, researching programs based on your fitness and aesthetic goals is key.
Personally, I work out 4-5 days per week, focusing on lifting heavy with some cardio mixed in. I’m not working out to build too much muscle or look like a man (I’d much rather keep my natural hourglass shape), but building a strong foundation with a good bit of lean muscle gives me the “toned” look that many women’s magazines advertise. Having a strong foundation will also make it easier for me to keep fit later in life, looking good for my husband for years to come.
If you’re interested in building muscle and/or gaining strength, ignore 99% of fitness advice aimed at women. Lifting tiny weights and focusing on cardio won’t cut it. If you’ve never lifted before, Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength is a good place to start, as is Thinner, Leaner, Stronger, a book aimed specifically at women.
Getting in shape and staying in shape doesn’t have to be hard. A few hours per week of exercise and practicing your culinary skills can make a world of difference in how you look and feel.