The Greatest Gift I Gave Myself

over 40 fitness weight lifting

If I could gift every woman six months of weight training sessions I would. There has been nothing that has made a bigger impact not just on my body, but my body image, my self-esteem, how I view my self, my purpose in the world, and other women.

I started my first diet the summer before 5th grade; essentially the same age my daughter is now. I went to Weight Watchers in the basement of a church in a neighboring town. I remember after two months there was another girl my age, prior to that it was all women over 30. Through my school years, I did several popular diets and adopted a few bad habits to try to control my weight. In college, I went between rocking belly shirts and low-slung jeans and starving myself because I thought I was disgusting. It was less than I felt I needed to lose weight and more that it seemed as though I should feel I need to lose weight. Society was telling me I was fat even though in my heart I didn’t mind my size.

When you’re told something often enough, you believe it.

After college, I restricted calories, used laxatives, purged, and tried many trendy diets. And all that happened was my self-esteemed plummeted and I got bigger. I’d go hard on a diet or a workout for a month, six weeks, and then next thing I’d be in the Taco Bell drive-through at midnight or eating cold pasta by the light of the open refrigerator.

When my daughter was born, I worked very hard to stop hating my body. I knew that my body issues could rub off on her. I tried, but I didn’t realize how my size and shape permeated so much of my life. Standing in front of a mirror adjusting a look before I head out or do an outfit shoot, muttering under my breath about something not fitting well or having a muffin top. Telling my husband not to buy something at the grocery store because I enjoy it too much. Scrolling through Instagram or watching TV and commenting on the bodies of other women, even if it's complimentary. Not wanting to go in the pool with her and watching from the sidelines in my shorts. Making a joke about chub rub that she hears.

I was never athletic, I just didn’t think I was good at it. I swam competitively in high school but I was never the star of the team and gave it up for boys and parties. I did stints with classes, a few weeks on the gym treadmill, but it didn’t stick with me. I didn’t think I could lift weights until a gym reached out to me after liking one of their photos on Instagram. If they didn’t slide into my DMs and invite me to come by and check them out I never would have had the guts. Well, that and quitting my job a couple of weeks prior and a bit high off of the scary life decision I had just made.

plus size over 40 fitness

In high school I had a boyfriend tell me I was built for weight lifting. He likely meant it as a compliment. And part of me took it as one. But I felt I wasn’t supposed to, I was supposed to be offended and embarrassed that my short solid body wasn’t tall and willowy. When I found a local gym on Instagram in December of 2017 and I thought about what that boyfriend said… and agreed.

A year later, I can say that boyfriend was right, and it was a compliment.

I am strong. I am capable. I can push through discomfort. I can push beyond my comfort zone. And through this process, I’ve been able to let go so many of the issues I’ve had with my body.

I always hated my lower belly. Even when I was a starving 20-year-old in a white bikini I was self-conscious of it. After having my daughter, I hated it even more. It was like a third breast, it was big and saggy and I felt disgusting. Since lifting weights, I have really strengthened my core. But I still have a lower belly. But now, my belly is a fact just like the scar from my arm surgeries. Of course, it’s there, I used to be over 200 pounds and I carried a baby in it when I didn’t have any muscle tone and was overweight. I didn’t do anything wrong, I am not bad or less than. I just find underwear that won’t roll under it, put a little powder under it when it’s hot out, and sometimes pick it up and move it out of the way when I’m with my husband.

I’d feel terrible when I’d try on a blouse or dress and it would strain over my upper arms. Ugh, my ham hocks, I resent them for not letting me wear cute clothes. Now, when my arms don’t fit into a garment it sort of makes me proud. I like to flex my bicep, just a little to strain the fabric before I put it back on the hanger or in the box to return. That brand just doesn’t appreciate me.

I’ve been looking for a swimsuit. I try them on in front of my full-length mirror and question the designers who make such awkward, ill-fitting suits. My body is a body, and not that radically strange of a body. If these suits don’t fit it’s not my fault.

There is no way I’d be thinking this way if I didn’t start lifting weights.

Monday night my daughter had a belt test for martial arts. She practices almost every night. She did so well she skipped a belt. She was so proud, she said, “I’m strong like you, Mommy!”

This journey hasn’t been about size or weight, which I think is the most important part. All my life it had been about size. I wanted to be small. I sacrificed my health, my strength, my sleep, even my relationships to be small. I’d get smaller, and I’d get angrier, sadder, more stressed out, more uncomfortable in my body. The only “perk” was maybe spending money on some new clothes that maybe I felt looked better because strangers on the internet told me I looked better even though I was angry, sad, stressed, and uncomfortable.

I think this is the first time since I was a little kid were I can recall where I wasn’t obsessed with my weight.

I think of how much time I’ve lost blaming my body. How much money I’ve spent. How many terrible things I have done to myself to try to be smaller.

Weight lifting may not be the solution for everyone, but it’s been life-changing for me. I don’t write a lot about it here because the comments always go to what do I eat, how much cardio do I do, how much have I lost, and any quick tips for others to lose weight and that’s not the point. The point is that the only reason we’re on this planet is because of our bodies. All of our bodies are different. Different shapes, different sizes, different capabilities, different ages, different needs. If we constantly hate our bodies and punish them we miss out on the life our bodies are providing us.

Weight lifting ended my lifelong back pain, improved my posture, helps me sleep better, changed my food cravings. My cholesterol and blood pressure went down and I haven’t had a migraine in a year. My skin looks amazing from sweating on a regular basis. But the coolest thing is that I feel connected to my body, a feeling I recall from early childhood but lost once I started thinking I was fat. I used to think that disassociation was the fat literally padding me. Having working muscles and every day being challenged to work them and focus on my body has reconnected me and made me feel whole.

You’re not too old, or too big to start. If a gym is rude to you, it’s not your problem it’s theirs. Find another one. Look at Yelp and ask neighbors to find a positive environment. Smaller gyms may be more inclusive. If you don’t have a lot of money or a private gym nearby, Planet Fitness is a great place to go where there’s no judgment and people hardly look at one another. You can start with their purple machines that make it easy to have the right posture and know what muscles you are targeting without a personal trainer. No one is keeping track of how much weight you’re using. It’s not for anyone but you. And you and your body deserve it.

Photo Details: Weightlifting Gloves | Goal Weight Strong AF Shirt | Printed Leggings | Personalized Phone Case | Nike Shirt | Tan Heeled Sandals | Black Camisole | Black Culottes | Silver Birkenstocks 

44 Comments

  1. Adriennehh
    July 19, 2019 / 5:57 am

    Congrats! Weight lifting is amazing and makes me feel strong too. I have never had body image issues, not sure why but even today at 63 and overweight, I still can look in the mirror and say ‘ hey, looking good!’ Just so you know, everything that is said about wearing clothes that fit and colors that flatter is true, these two things are so important. Last, heart health and being fit is more important than being skinny. That’s my motto I live by. I walk 6 days a week, swim a couple of days a week all year, weightlift 2-3 days a week and eat lots of fruits and vegetables and cut back on your meat portions. I do eat sweets and wings, but not daily or week. Does all of this take some time…yup! But so worth it!

  2. Linda B
    April 3, 2019 / 8:56 am

    Bravo!!!!! Thank you for sharing your journey. As usual, I am in awe of your honesty about your feelings and thoughts, and your life journey. You create such wonderful support for other women in this space. And this picture of building bodily strength and how it turns into inner strength, rings incredibly true.

    I am 61, and it took me until I was older than you to really begin to appreciate my body, and not judge it. I have found a balance of running, cycling, and eating healthy eating that makes me feel strong, and good in my body. I hope after I retire I can add strength and flexibility workouts of some kind–weights, pilates, yoga. We’ll see what works for me. I want to enjoy a ripe, old age if possible!

  3. Megan
    March 24, 2019 / 10:01 am

    Fabulous post! The way you feel about lifting is how I feel about running. When my thighs started touching when I was a teenager, it made me hate my legs. The girls in the magazines didn’t have touching thighs. Ever since I picked up running, I see so much strength in my legs, it doesn’t matter that they will always touch. That’s just how I’m built. I guess I’m just here to say that different athletic pursuits work for everyone (I don’t particularly love lifting myself, but running is my jam), so keep trying different ones until you find one you love.

  4. March 21, 2019 / 11:06 am

    I love this post so much! I’m 40 and have discovered weight lifting and cross training over the past few years. It has changed my relationship with my body and improved so many aspects of my life, from sleep to stress to how my clothes fit. It has NOT made me appreciably smaller but it has literally changed how I think about the size of my body. Thank you for sharing about your journey!

  5. Mary
    March 20, 2019 / 7:35 pm

    I LOVE this post. I am 52 and have had cancer 2 x. I used to be in amazing shape before my first cancer 8 years ago : biking , hiking , kayaking. I was also very thin ( size 2 ). After 7 years of treatment which included 4 of steroids and a second cancer diagnosis ( different from the first ) and then more surgeries , I could barely do laundry without having to rest. Then I decided to start lifting my free weights like the old days. I did one plank at first , some squats and 2 weights. I couldn’t do more. In about 6 weeks , I could lift my 18 year olds heavy wheelchair ( he broke a leg and foot ) in and out of the trunk and several loads of laundry was a breeze. I even lifted a tree (! ) and moved it after a tree toppled it and it was blocking our road ! I’m 3 months in now, with much heavier weights and bad ass and functional for the first time in almost a decade. I’m a size 8 with a ton of scars BUT I can help my son , do laundry and move a tree. I’m good ! You don’t need to join a gym and you don’t need to start big. I stared with 2 lb weights.

  6. Ann DD
    March 20, 2019 / 2:25 pm

    I’m a little late to the comments game here, but Alison, thank you so much for continuing to bring light to this topic!

    I’m a little older than you (48) and started doing CrossFit almost 3 years ago. I’ve never been focused on being thin but have been trying to remain consistent, something that’s been hard for me my whole adult life, and increainge my strength. I have a disability – an incomplete spine injury that occurred when I was not quite 2 years old – and this makes working out and remaining active SO MUCH HARDER! Not to mention what it does to body image and maintaining my physical capabilities.

    The CrossFit community, and specifically my home gym, have been so fantastic and welcoming and willing to adapt/modify workouts so that I can participate in “normal” classes. It’s no big deal that I’m there, nobody blinks an eye, and this is the first time in my life I’ve experienced this. This has so greatly improved my outlook right along with my health, so I keep pushing forward and thinking of things in terms of what I CAN do instead of the opposite.

    I wish I had been able to learn these lessons much earlier in my life, but I’m trying not to waste time focusing on what might have been… I’ve got too much work to do!!!

  7. sue scott
    March 19, 2019 / 10:52 pm

    Hurrah! Hurrah! Serious weightlifter here too. I love being strong, I love having biceps and a heavy deadlift capability. Almost 69. No plans to stop. Aaaand nobody really believes me except the other women at the gym. Sue

  8. sue
    March 19, 2019 / 10:51 pm

    Hurrah! Hurrah! Serious weightlifter here too. I love being strong, I love having biceps and a heavy deadlift capability. Almost 69. No plans to stop. Aaaand nobody really believes me except the other women at the gym. Sue

  9. Brenda
    March 19, 2019 / 9:32 pm

    Thank you for this post (and all the work you do on the blog) – I came to the blog looking for your recommendations on jeans because I just can’t find any that I think I look good in – I was always so thin and now I’ve gained a lot of weight. I am already looking forward to my first appointment at a new wellness centre/gym – LiveWell. So far, only in Canada but such a great idea. Anyway, thank you for the inspiration and the hope!

    • March 20, 2019 / 9:13 am

      Thanks Brenda! And I hope to do another jeans review soon!

  10. March 19, 2019 / 1:25 pm

    I love this post so much! Congratulations for finally being able to wade past all of the BS things that so many of us have told ourselves about our bodies (and, accordingly, done to our bodies) over the years. It’s taken me a long time to get to the place where you’re at, particularly with regard to the primary goal of fitness/exercise/healthy eating NOT being weight loss or “being skinny.” And like you, I accomplished that by pushing outside of my comfort zone in terms of fitness. I started attending a women’s boot camp last fall where we’re encouraged to lift heavy and get strong, rather than other gyms which want you to chase that perfect bikini body. I get comments all the time that I look like I’ve lost weight, but I’ve actually gained 3 pounds as a result of regular strength training (while still dropping more than 5% body fat and 2 pant sizes).

    I once belonged to a gym where the manager’s philosophy was that members could “do hard things in here [the gym] to be able to do hard things out there in the world.” Building physical strength can be so empowering to so many other parts of life, as you’re experiencing.

    Growing up with a mom who was always focused on losing weight via things like Weight Watchers and Slim Fast, I applaud the body positivity that you’re imparting on your daughter. You must be so proud that she wants to be strong like you 🙂

    • March 20, 2019 / 9:28 am

      Oh I love that motto from that gym, it’s so true. I find being physically stronger helps me be emotionally stronger.

  11. Sonia
    March 18, 2019 / 8:33 pm

    It works both ways, Allie. I was athletic in school and worked out all the time in my 20s and 30s. I loved aerobics, cycling, step, weight training. My motivation was the cool workout clothing. My goal was to get rid of my pooch that never disappeared even with a six pack tummy. I ate what I wanted and partied hard. Now, I’m older and overweight. Even though I still love the gym, I’m not in shape to do the same kinds of workouts. But, I will give it my best and go whenever I can. At my age though it’s not easy. You’re my new motivation and I vow to at least try again.

  12. Emily R
    March 18, 2019 / 5:14 pm

    Loved every word of this. Like you, I’ve struggled with weight/body image for most of my life, since I was a really young kid. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t thinking about how I looked, or if I was sucking in my stomach enough, or simply just disparaging my body in some way. Therapy has helped me work through a lot of that, but the most recent thing that helped? Joining a gym I absolutely love that focuses on both strength and cardio (after being 100% inspired by your own fitness journey!). Now, I feel stronger and have more endurance than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Am I skinny? No. Am I happy? YES.

    • March 20, 2019 / 1:08 pm

      Oh I love this Emily, and I am so glad you found a tool to feel great!

  13. Nebraskim
    March 18, 2019 / 4:58 pm

    I love this so so much. Congrats. Your story is similar to mine in that it took a while to find what clicked and when it did, you took off. I got serious about working out at age 30 (I’m now 63) and lost more than 60 pounds doing WW. And I’ve kept much of it off thanks to sticking (mostly) with the eating program and being dedicated to my workout. While I do cardio and light weight training about four times a week, what has been the game changer for me was joining a yoga studio in August 2018. I had dabbled before and hated it because I always felt too fat, too stiff, too too too. My friend wanted to do yoga, so I went with her. She dropped out. I stayed. I have gotten so much stronger, more limber, more lithe. I find I enjoy the meditation and contemplation. I think finding a plan that works for each of us individually is critical. Some folks love dance; others swimming. Me? I like to run and do yoga. I’m not a lean gaunt runner. But I am often surprised what my body can do. Rock on.

    • March 20, 2019 / 1:10 pm

      Love this! Yoga transformed my husband in so many ways. I did it far more before Emerson was born, I should incorporate more of it into my life now. Thank you for sharing your story!

  14. Tara
    March 18, 2019 / 3:43 pm

    This truly is a gift to yourself. Like so many of your am proud of you and inspired by you!

    • Tara
      March 18, 2019 / 3:52 pm

      Eeek–“Like so many of your readers I am proud of you and inspired by you!” Turns out multi-tasking isn’t such a great idea when submitting a comment.

      But seriously, Alison–you are one reason why I am trying to be better about working out. I’ve mostly been riding our exercise bike in our basement but need to get back to the weights. For those of you who might prefer to work out at home, you might want to look at FitnessBlender.com. They have a TON of free workout videos online (of all sorts, HIIT, bodyweight only/no equipment, stretching/yoga/Pilates) but they also have “programs” you can buy and the interface is an online calendar where you get a different workout of the day, sequenced in a thoughtful progression. I need to restart those as well! Thanks again for all you do!

      • March 20, 2019 / 1:11 pm

        Thanks so much for this tip about FitnessBlender!

  15. Julia
    March 18, 2019 / 2:46 pm

    I have been weight training off and on for about 6 years. I was going really consistently to my old gym and was on my way to a 300# squat, but then I changed jobs. My schedule change meant that I couldn’t get to my boutique gym with weird hours as often as I’d like. I just started back recently at a regional gym right up the street from me. They are open at 5am every morning and have a great locker room, so I can go before work. I’t been slow going, and I have been more sore than I remember being. I find it hard to trust myself that I’m doing enough or eating the right things. I just have to keep telling myself that consistency is key, and that I’m doing it for my mental health just as much as my physical health. Already, just after about a month going 1-3 times a week, my blood pressure is 10 points lower, and I’m sleeping better. The days that I go, I feel great at work all day. I love it when my giant glutes and thighs don’t fit into jeans 🙂

    • March 20, 2019 / 1:14 pm

      Oh that’s so awesome about your blood pressure, Julia! And YESSS about the glutes and thighs in jeans! That’s why I’m not mad Madewell doesn’t fit, my booty is just too STRONG!

  16. Linda
    March 18, 2019 / 1:40 pm

    I absolutely love your post! I’m 66 and started doing weight training on a regular basis after I retired, last year. I, too, feel so much more confident as well as strong. While I’d like to rake off a few pounds, I don’t obsess over them as much as I once did.

    Weight training has also helped me to think about what I put into my body as opposed to Smart Points or calories. Now I try to eat clean and healthy, allowing myself to have a piece of cake or chocolate if I want one.

  17. Kate R.
    March 18, 2019 / 12:47 pm

    Thanks for this. I just wanted you to know that an earlier piece inspired me to start working with a trainer too. It’s great to feel so much stronger! And it’s so not about the size.

  18. Sally
    March 18, 2019 / 11:57 am

    If any other readers are in the DC area, I recommend 202strong (locations in DC/Bethesda)! They are what got me into weight training and transformed me into someone who loves working out/weight training!

    • March 20, 2019 / 1:22 pm

      Thanks for this recommendation, Sally!

  19. Christine
    March 18, 2019 / 11:50 am

    You rock, and E’s comment made me tear up.

  20. Laurel
    March 18, 2019 / 11:50 am

    This is such a great read, Alison! You are an inspiration. I, too, have spent too many years obsessing about the parts of my body that I don’t like, and I’m finally accepting (at 65!) that this body has done yeoman’s work getting me through life and keeping me moving daily. After a week of hiking on vacation, I’ve decided I’m going to find a trainer and strengthen my core. I love the way I feel when I move more, and I know I need some accountability to do that.

    • March 20, 2019 / 1:25 pm

      Thanks Laurel, and yes to core strengthening! It has done so much for me, I think that has been the best part of this workout journey!

  21. Judy
    March 18, 2019 / 10:16 am

    Alison, what a wonderful, inspiring post. You are a very gifted writer. I am 70 years young and your post really got to me. It is wonderful to hear from someone who is happy in their own skin. What a great attitude. Thanks again for your inspiring message. Goodness knows we all need it now adays.
    BRAVO

    • Jennifer
      March 18, 2019 / 10:44 am

      What she said! 🙂

      • Susan
        March 18, 2019 / 11:07 am

        Agree! Thank you for the inspiration. You’re posts have made such a difference to me and I’m actually researching getting a private trainer since just joining a gym doesn’t work for me!

        • March 20, 2019 / 1:26 pm

          That’s awesome Susan, good luck!

  22. Linda D.
    March 18, 2019 / 10:10 am

    I started working with a personal trainer twice a week at the first of this year, and part of it is because I saw the results you were getting. I was going to a VERY popular HIIT gym, and it was fine, but it just wasn’t for me. I love my trainer, I love what I’m doing, I love that I’m getting stronger, and combining a lot of strength training with slow running is really working for me at the ripe old age of 57. Your body positivity is inspiring.

    • Stacie Scattergood
      March 18, 2019 / 11:53 am

      I love this so much.

    • March 20, 2019 / 1:29 pm

      Oh I am so happy to hear that you found a great trainer! Congrats Linda, what a gift for yourself!

  23. Greendoor
    March 18, 2019 / 9:53 am

    “I’m strong like you Mommy”….That has GOT to be the best compliment ever!

    I love your attitude in this post – such a great message. Looking good is more than about what we wear. It’s about how we view ourselves and engaging in those activities that make us feel our most beautiful.

    • March 20, 2019 / 1:30 pm

      So true. And yes, it did make me tear up a bit!

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