How Not To Let Yourself Go (Especially If You're Over 40)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"It'll never happen to me," I used to say when I was younger. "I'll never let myself go."

But then I was laid off in August last year and guess what? I did kind of start to let myself go, at least on some days. And let me tell you, it can be a dangerous slippery slope.

Getting up later then usual and lounging in my PJs on my laptop until 10:30 AM on most mornings became the norm.

I went quite a few days without wearing makeup, especially if I wasn't planning on leaving the house that day (who was going to see me? Before you answer "the UPS man" I can assure you we don't order much online and there really have not been many through the years that I would consider attractive.)

I normally wash my hair every other day, but sometimes I let that go an extra day because I was simply too lazy to deal with detangling and drying it. I took to throwing on an old rag of a top and jeans. With no employer to go to and nowhere I needed to be, there seemed no point in making myself look presentable.

Worst of all, I slacked off with my exercising routine...and ended up gaining 12 pounds.

And the saddest part is, I had no real excuse for it. I'm not a mom and I'm not holding down a job outside of the house. I'm also not depressed, so I have no explanation for it other than sheer laziness.

Why bother getting all dolled up if no one's going to see me? Well, the thing is...I see me. Every day.  And after too many days of doing this, I realized that Billy Crystal as Fernando Lamas was right: "Darling, it's more important to look good than to feel good." Or as I like to say, when you look good, the feeling good part follows.

When I look at candid photos of folks over 40 that were taken back in the day, or even family snapshots of grandparents and other older relatives, it seems that in general most people from earlier generations did a better job at not letting themselves go compared to today. Some of them even looked downright glamorous right into their septuagenarian years. That doesn't necessarily mean that they aged better, but they definitely made a greater effort to look presentable, especially when going out in public: neat clothes, groomed hair, and a little bit of makeup were the norm.

I realize this isn't exactly a "retro" post but something I've thinking about lately, especially as I'm now in my 40s -- the decade when a lot of folks seem to let themselves go, due to changing metabolism, hormones, age, etc. (Although, to be fair, there are people in their thirties and younger that let themselves go, too.) Now that I'm back on track and have broken some habits, here's what I would advise to help prevent others from sliding down that slippery mid-life slope into Slobville...

Keep Your Weight Down

Easier said than done, especially during the winter months, and I've learned the hard way that my metabolism isn't the super fast one I had in my twenties. There's no way for me to put this delicately, so I'll just say it: I think people in general look AWFUL once they start gaining weight, and when you're older and you gain weight, it really makes you look like crap.

Something I always did no matter where I worked was I would take a walk during my lunch break if the weather was good, so when my part of the country went through a warm snap recently I laced up my Reeboks and did an hour-long walk around the neighborhood. (I also started to get back into running before our region turned sharply colder.) After the blizzard hits that they're predicting for Tuesday, I plan on going cross country skiing again. Lastly I've been making the effort to do a regular workout (mix of aerobics and weights) a few times a week.

Do physical activities that you enjoy doing, such as bicycling, swimming, dancing, hiking, or rollerblading/rollerskating. The older I get, the more I realize the importance of rediscovering or keeping up with activities I loved doing as a kid. For me, it's a lot of bicycle riding and I'm also planning on taking a paddle boarding lesson this summer.

I've also blogged about this before, but I've really cut my sugar consumption in recent years. I'm convinced more than ever that sugar is as addictive as drugs; it lights up our brains in the same way and once people get used to gulping down extra large sugary drinks all day long or putting away a box of cookies in a day it gets more difficult to stop. I put a teaspoon in my morning coffee and drink mostly water at every meal (except for a half glass of soda or bottled iced tea a couple of times a week) and I save a small dessert for after dinner. (I recently got hooked on Yasso frozen yogurt bars; those things taste like dense ice cream and average between 90-100 calories a pop!) Occasionally I'll have a piece of dark chocolate in the afternoon as a pick-me-up, or some gummy bears. And that's it. I never eat anything sweet for breakfast, unless it's a small spoonful of maple syrup on pancakes or French toast.

Keep in mind that the American food industry has packed a ton of its products with hidden sugar, like most yogurt brands (as in regular flavored yogurt.) I tend to buy the plain unsweetened yogurt and then mix in a little honey and whatever I like so I don't end up eating something with 18 grams of sugar in it.

Keep To A Regular Morning Schedule If You Can, Even On the Weekends

Instead of schlepping around in a bathrobe until it's nearly lunchtime, I've made the effort to wash up and get dressed by 9 AM most mornings. I try not to do too much on the laptop until I'm "ready to work" so to speak because I know I'll just sit there and answer emails and start doing work.

Keep Up the Grooming Habits

I put makeup on most days, even if it's not my usual "full face" because it makes me feel good. Sometimes a little foundation, mascara and nude colored lipstick or gloss is all you need to feel pulled together. I also keep my fingernails trimmed and filed, and massage hand cream into them every day.

Wash and style your hair (and get it trimmed or try out a new hairstyle.) I also think it's a good idea to upkeep the grooming of areas most people won't see during the winter (get your mind out of the gutter! I'm talking about shaving your legs and pits, if you're a woman, and making sure your feet and toenails look presentable. But hey, it doesn't hurt to upkeep the private areas that get grooming, wink wink.) Sure, if you're single, no one will know but you -- but it will make you feel great.

Another thing -- I make sure the roots of my hair don't grow in too much before I color them.

Save The Old and Baggy Clothing for Dirty Household Jobs

Personally, I don't feel like myself if I'm wearing clothes that aren't flattering on me. So last year I splurged on a few pairs of dark new jeans that fit me well, and several stretchy and form fitting long tees from Eddie Bauer that are great for layering, and I've pretty much stuck with these staples throughout the winter.

Also, don't underestimate the power of simple jewelry or a nice scarf to pull an outfit together.

Ultimately, I think keeping yourself pulled together is a choice. You can either choose to let yourself go, or you can choose to make a little time to keep up the self care and keep yourself looking fabulous into your forties and beyond.


  1. Well, to the point of retro, we're retro are we not? It's very difficult to keep off the weight past 40, your metabolism drops like a rock and by this time the jobs are usually managerial sit down types. It's great advice even if not exactly Retro subject matter.

  2. Oh my dear Pam, you just opened up my can of worms! Everything that you wrote about used to be known as "common hygiene sense" before we Americans became obese, slovenly and poorly dressed, happening post 1980 or thereabouts, I would guess.
    Now, even though I am a Millennial (though I don't identify with them and their asinine attitudes) I am tired to death of seeing so much ugliness these days everywhere: Obese slobs, hideous tattooing, ignorant and stupid behavior, etc. Goddamn, it's quite depressing. I enjoy watching old films from the 30s to the 50s, just to see how "dressy" people were on an everyday basis, and what counted for fashion and sophistication in those times. By comparison, America now resembles a second or even third world country in its fashion debased culture.
    Americans have been conditioned for many decades to think that it is o.k. to "let yourself go," and to let it all hang out, no matter how obscene, because we are living in a society where at least TWO THIRDS of the people are either obese or overweight. Sadly, I let myself go physically over the last four years, gaining over fifty pounds. I now have diabetes, even though I didn't eat much fast foods. It doesn't help that television advertises junk junk junk and that sugar is added to EVERYTHING, even whole wheat bread. This country just doesn't get how to eat right. We don't starve in America, but the fast food industry poisons us with high fructose, plus salt, sugar and fat. This is the Junk Food Nation of the World. It's disgusting that places like McDonald's or Jack In the Box keep coming out with more unhealthy food all the time, just so they can keep getting business. People look like pigs because they eat like them. Period. I mean, come on: I'm six feet one and weigh about 255, yet I often look good when contrasted with many people out there waddling around. What is normal anymore? It's getting harder and harder to tell.

  3. There's something else that will kill people's looks in a hurry and accelerate the "letting yourself go" process and I cannot believe I failed to mention it: alcohol. I have seen a lot of older women in Meetup that are divorced, bitter, and menopausal making it a regular occurrence to go out drinking every weekend. I was connected to one woman on Facebook who pounded back four Grey Goose martinis in one evening (as did each of her three friends for a total of 12 martinis on the tab) and she actually took a photo of the bill and shared it on Facebook, as if it were something she was proud of accomplishing. Nothing like those kind of intoxicating empty calories to pack on the pounds and make your skin sag. That is just a few reasons why I have a one drink limit.

    1. Yes, putting away too much alcohol is definitely not good in the long run, even if in the short run it doesn't seem to be that bad. It can rob the body of necessary vitamins and nutrients that are essential for healthy brain function.
      My grandmother drank several martinis every night for most of her adult life. She is almost 89 now, has "wet brain" dementia and is in a nursing home. And even though she never had heart problems (probably because of the vodka and genetics) she has been robbed of her mind due alcoholism, and from smoking cigarettes for 70 years (she still smokes). It is both amazing and appalling that she is still alive (if I can call it that).
      I would rather only live to be 60 than end up wasting away mentally and physically from dementia at age 85. Besides, what the hell is the point of living to be 80 or 100 if there is no quality of life for the person, and they end up in an infantile condition having their diapers changed?


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