The prospect of holidays just around the corner brings with it inevitable concerns about the ever-expanding mid-life waist, and unwelcome bulges and rolls. But it doesn’t have to.
In fact, there’s a palpable aspirational shift among women of a certain age. Alongside a sense of acceptance and self-respect, there’s a growing move to aim for ‘strong’ rather than ‘skinny’, backed by a desire to shore up health through menopause and beyond, and a merciful abandonment of those waif-like ideals that once plagued us.
With public figures such as 51-year-old Davina McCall and Andrea McLean, 49, revealing impressive washboard stomachs, it makes you think — could a perfectly flat tummy be within reach for the rest of us, too? Now a new book by a mid-life woman, who went through her own remarkable transformation, spills the secret.
In her late 30s, Natalie Jill found herself emerging from divorce after an unhappy marriage, with a new baby and 4 st overweight.
In her late 30s, Natalie Jill (pictured now) found herself emerging from divorce after an unhappy marriage, with a new baby and 4 st overweight
‘I felt too old, too broke, too overweight and too depressed to do anything’ she says. ‘My thighs were rubbing together, I had a thick neck, hormone fluctuations and I was depressed, hungry, grumpy and plagued by cravings.’
She knew something had to change. So she started incorporating more natural, unprocessed foods into her diet, adding a 15 to 20-minute workout into her day and charting her progress on social media.
Over a period of four months, the weight fell off and, as her following grew, she was inspired to quit her job in sales and to train in exercise and nutrition instead.
Natalie didn’t just drop a dress size, she managed to sculpt and hone her body so effectively she became a fitness model at the age of 39, with abs so impressively defined she was featured on the cover of several magazines.
Now, 47, and, she says, definitely perimenopausal, Natalie is enjoying the peak of health and success. Her fitness videos enjoy a social media following of millions.
She knew something had to change. So she started incorporating more natural, unprocessed foods into her diet, adding a 15 to 20-minute workout into her day
Having found her own calling relatively late, Natalie is adamant mid-life and menopause should never be a barrier to reinventing yourself and re-sculpting your body.
Here in an exclusive extract from her new book, Ageing In Reverse, she reveals the simple eating plan that transformed her life and her midriff, and which she believes will keep any woman healthy, sexy and fit through the hormonal roller-coaster that is the menopause …
As you get older it’s so easy to feel as though everything is a challenge. But I am proof there’s no good reason to let age or changing hormones stop you.
Whether you’re 45, 55, 65 or older, you can change your appearance and feel great about yourself. You just have to stop believing it’s not possible, then simply change your diet and follow my exercise plan.
This plan will give you the tools you need to start reversing the ageing process so you can be your best, youngest-looking and youngest-feeling self.
I accept this is not an easy time of life. Erratic mid-life hormones can have myriad effects on your mood, sex drive, energy, anxiety levels and waistline.
Here in an exclusive extract from her new book, Ageing In Reverse, she reveals the simple eating plan that transformed her life and her midriff
Studies show the female hormone oestrogen plays a central role in moderating our weight, our metabolism, our appetite and the way we store fat.
During menopause, the body’s metabolism naturally slows down, too, because older bodies use less energy and require fewer calories and this will lead to weight gain if you continue eating the same amount of food.
Dropping oestrogen and progesterone levels will also change the way fat is metabolised and stored, increasing the rate of fat storage and decreasing your ability to burn fat.
Don’t use the T word
Negative self-talk can block success, so banish the word ‘too’.
Too set in your ways? Too out of shape?
Any time you put too in front of a concept, you put a cap on your dreams.
Don’t let ‘I’m too old; too busy; or too fat and lazy’ stop you doing anything.
This also shifts fat build-up from the thighs and hips into the abdominal area. That’s a tough revelation if you’re keen to brave a bikini this summer, but, more importantly, it has implications for your health and longevity, making you more susceptible to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health complications.
Oestrogen would normally help to control levels of compounds that stimulate appetite, but when levels drop, your appetite can rise, which can lead to overeating. This is the last thing you need when your metabolism is slowing down.
So the answer to reversing your metabolic ageing process is first to reset your thinking: stop thinking of food as comfort or indulgence. The right foods can be the most powerful tool for easing away mood swings, sugar cravings and bloat, for managing your weight, reversing the ageing process. And, yes, getting those mid-life abs.
YOUR NEW RULES
Stick to these rules for ten days or until you’ve reached your health and fat-loss goals or stick to them for ever, as I do.
Your mind should be clearer, your waistband looser, and your cravings should diminish.
After ten days you will feel focused, any bloating will have gone, your moods will be stable and your energy levels increased. Most people lose 5lb in the first week, then 2lb every week after that
Having found her own calling relatively late, Natalie is adamant mid-life and menopause should never be a barrier to reinventing yourself and re-sculpting your body
EAT TO FEEL GOOD
Processed foods such as crisps and biscuits send your taste buds crazy, making it impossible to stop eating them, so the most important first step is to avoid all highly processed food. This is crucial in mid-life when processed foods can be toxic, not just because of calories, but because of how your body breaks down these foods.
Making an unprocessed diet your base is the most effective way of maintaining your health, fighting disease, losing fat and staying slim.Ditch the frozen dinners with ingredients you can’t pronounce, including sugar and unhealthy oils, and go for foods in their most natural state: nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish.
UP YOUR PROTEIN
Counting calories can be time-consuming and counter-productive, so I prefer to concentrate on maintaining a healthy balance of protein, fats and the right carbohydrates.
From flab to abs in ten easy moves
This should take around ten minutes a day, including warm up and cool down.
1 Plank hold — get in a plank position with your body in one straight line, balancing on your toes and either your hands or your forearms, hold your tummy in tight for 60 seconds (beginners can tap a knee down to make this easier).
2 Walking plank — holding the plank position, ‘walk’ your weight from hand to forearm (one at a time) and back for 60 seconds.
3 Knee to opposite elbow — holding a straight arm plank, bring one knee to opposite elbow, returning to plank and switching to the other knee. Repeat for 60 seconds.
4 Walk out push up — stand with feet hip-width apart, bend over with arms out straight and walk your hands to a plank position, do a push-up, then walk your hands back and stand. Repeat for 60 seconds.
5 Side plank — take a plank position (on your hands or forearms), then lift your right arm high and roll on to the edge of your left foot to find a side plank. Keeping both legs straight and core tight, lift right leg. Hold for 30 seconds then switch sides.
6 Elbow to knee — still in the side plank position, this time bring your right elbow to right knee, then straighten repeatedly for 30 seconds before switching sides.
7 Downward dog to plank — start in a downward dog position with hands and feet flat on the floor, and bring one knee to opposite elbow, holding your body in a one-legged plank, before returning to downward dog and switching legs. Repeat for 60 seconds.
8 Shimmy — lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat and hands by your sides. Lift head and shoulders and ‘shimmy’ stretching one hand down towards your feet, then the other hand. Alternate arms for 60 seconds.
9 Pike — in a downward dog position, tip-toe your feet as close to your hands as possible, squeeze, then tip-toe back, repeating for 60 seconds.
10 Inverted walking — lie flat on your back with your legs straight and arms on the ground above your head, then bring one arm up to meet the opposite leg and switch sides, repeating for 60 seconds. If you have less than 20lb to lose, you should notice your abs starting to appear after six weeks.
Consult a doctor before starting a new exercise regime
These three are the building blocks for your perfect meal and your route to fat loss and fitness. Protein is particularly important in mid-life because it helps to build lean muscle, which keeps your metabolism functioning at its best. This is essential for weight loss and management, and is just what we need to stabilise hormones.
Most women start to eat less protein at mid-life, reserving meat or eggs for the evening meal, but you should, instead, eat a fist- sized portion of protein (fish, meat, eggs) with every meal — including breakfast.
FAT IS YOUR FRIEND
We need fat to live, and low-fat diets are doomed to fail. Fat helps us feel full and stay full and gives us energy. So choose healthy fats from avocado, olive oil, and a tablespoon of nuts and seeds.
CARE WITH CARBS
Make starchy vegetables and fruit your first choice for carbohydrates and don’t worry about eating lots of carrots and beetroot — they might be sweeter than other vegetables, but they’re packed with nutrients.
No one ever got fat by eating too many carrots.
Aim to eat no more than two fist-sized portions of potato and three portions of fruit per day.
You should try to eat them alongside fat or protein. This slows the absorption of the natural sugars and will avoid cravings later in the day.
PACK IN YOUR VEG
Vegetables are your health insurance and a ticket to fast fat loss, so eat as many as you can.
Vegetables are filled with fibre and are low in calories, they provide energy, improve your complexion, boost your mood and may even reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Chose a brightly coloured variety to maximise your intake of anti-inflammatory phyto-nutrients.
As they are so low in sugar (and high in nutrients), blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries can be enjoyed without limit.
SHUN ALL SUGARS
Aim to kick all forms of sugar and sweeteners out of your life — fruit should be your only source of sweetness.
This is never more important than at mid-life because sugar can irritate mood swings, cause bone loss and hot flushes and is a trigger for everything you don’t want when it comes to the menopause. It impacts how the body metabolises oestrogen, and oestrogen is the catalyst for weight gain.
Artificial sweeteners can be worse and studies show they throw hormonal issues into high gear.
Steer clear of dairy and grains as well as legumes such as peas, beans, peanuts and lentils. Because dairy is mucus-producing, it can contribute to or cause inflammation, and legumes, gluten and grains, including bread, can be difficult to digest, thereby contributing to inflammation and bloating.
Aim to kick all forms of sugar and sweeteners out of your life — fruit should be your only source of sweetness
For many, eliminating these ‘staples’ is key to shedding the extra pounds they thought had become permanent.
BE A PICKLING PRO
Add sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and cider vinegar to increase gut health and help you absorb nutrients.
Fermented foods are one of nature’s most powerful medicines, and recent research shows a compelling connection between gut health and overall health and even fat loss — particularly at mid-life.
When your gut is healthy, you absorb more nutrients from the foods you’re getting.
This is even more important during the menopause as a bacterial imbalance in the gut can interfere with how hormones behave.
Gut bacteria are influenced by hormones, particularly oestrogen, and there is evidence of a decline in the variety of healthy bacteria in the gut in menopausal women. Fermented foods are a great way to address this.
DRINK TO BE SLIM
Try drinking a glass of water before every meal. You’ll feel fuller more quickly and eat less. If you’re hungry between meals, drink water before snacking to keep your portions in check.
We need fat to live, and low-fat diets are doomed to fail. So choose healthy fats from avocado and a tablespoon of nuts and seeds
During menopause, the last thing you need is an influx of outside hormones when you’re struggling to manage your own, so choose organic foods when possible to reduce exposure to added hormones and preservatives.
GET ON THE MOVE
Despite everything the menopause may be trying to throw at you, the more you move, the less weight you’ll gain as your hormones change.
If you’re new to exercise, start with brisk walks and take every chance to move more. Then add in resistance (or strength) training.
Studies show that this can reduce your risk of dementia, improve memory and help to counteract mid-life brain fog.
Staying active can also help you sleep better, reducing fatigue and anxiety, improve self-esteem and even reduce hot flushes.
Adapted from Aging in Reverse by Natalie Jill (£20, Da Capo Books) © Natalie Jill. To order a copy for £16, P&P free, call 0844 571 0640. Offer valid until July 1, 2019.
A-LISTERS WHO CAN’T RESIST FLAUNTING THEIR ABS
Pool resources: Frequent sunshine holidays provide Amanda Holden, 48, with plenty of opportunities to showcase her enviable figure in designer bikinis
Water babe: Sharon Stone, 61, has barely changed since her heyday
Strike a pose: Yoga helps Halle Berry, 52, maintain her fabulous shape
Jenny from the beach: Ms Lopez, 49, works out regularly to stay toned
The Body beautiful: Elle Macpherson, 55, has kept her youthful physique
Earning her stripes: Davina McCall. 51, has made a fortune out of her fitness DVDs