It’s a bit of a different post today. Since the Telegraph article I’ve had quite a few women get in touch to ask me how I manage to feel confident at this age when it’s so easy to feel that everything’s in decline. As regular readers know, back in 2014 I’d lost all of my confidence and so I deliberately decided to work on it. At the time I called it ‘getting my groove back’ and although that sounds cheesy, having a mantra like that has helped me to keep my focus over the last few years. I’m always quite strategic about anything I do so I’m going to go over the method that I used to pretty much rebuild myself in terms of self esteem. So today’s all about getting your confidence back after 50 and because all of the questions that have come in have been about the physical side of things (weight, appearance etc) I’m going to focus on that but it’s important to remember that emotional factors are important too so I’ll touch on those at the end.
Getting your confidence back after 50
Bear this in mind before you start reading
I’m so often asked by midlife women, ‘how can I feel better about myself,’ and I notice that they get quite cross when I don’t have a quick answer that will solve everything with a vitamin pill or a face cream. The thing is that if you’re feeling despondent as I was, it’s going to take time. You have to accept that it’s going to be a project and you have to want it enough to accept that progress will be slow and gradual – and that you’ll have to put some considerable effort in. It’s now eight years since I started and I’d say I’ve felt a lot happier in myself for the last four of them but I still keep plodding away at it.
You need to address everything and work out what a confident version of you would look like before you begin. What we’re aiming for is ‘bien dans ma peau’ and to feel that, you need to meet your body’s physical needs, your mind’s emotional needs and then move on to the more superficial side of looking at your style. For me back in 2014, the vision of my future confident self was slimmer, stronger and sportier with a wardrobe of clothes that reflected my personality. At that time the clothes I wanted to wear were all about pared down chic. As I’ve grown in confidence they’ve become much brighter and bolder but this post isn’t about style, it’s about everything that leads up to the point when you’re ready to change your wardrobe.
So start off by thinking about what the more confident version of you would look like. If you caught sight of yourself in a mirror as you walked into a room, what would you like to see? For you it might not be slimmer and sportier and that’s fine, that’s just my version of me. You need to do what feels right for you. Here I’m simply going to talk you through how I got to a place where I felt happier in myself. The steps might work for you but if you have a different vision they might not – the only thing you might need to adjust is your mindset and if so, just skip to point seven.
If you’re feeling like a complete overhaul though, the important thing is to tackle one element at a time. You only have so much headspace and if you try to do everything in one go, it’s unlikely that you’ll achieve any of the changes you want to make. I’ll reiterate that it takes time – if you start now and go gently, you can probably see a completely new version of you in time for Christmas 2023. Sometimes knowing that it isn’t going to be a quick fix takes the pressure off because healthy change is always gradual but at times that can feel frustrating.
So I’ll talk you through how I did it but please bear in mind that I’m not a lifecoach or a dietician or a PT. Just read what I did and if it makes sense, think about building an approach that will work for you and your body – and get help from relevant experts if you need support.
1. Eating (not dieting!)
[Note – anyone with disordered eating please skip this – although I manage my weight healthily I’m quite disciplined]
For me, back in 2013, the first step was addressing my weight. I remember being away with Mr MC and the boys in a beautiful cottage on the Pembrokeshire coast when I looked down in horror and saw that my Boden skinny jeans had rubbed through at the inner thigh. It made me take a long, cold look in the mirror – and somehow being in a rented cottage helped me to see myself more objectively.
Until I had my first baby, I’d always been skinny and able to eat whatever I wanted but after that, my metabolism seemed to change. After the first two pregnancies I worked hard to address it but third time around I just didn’t have the time or inclination to focus on myself so I let it all slide – and by the time I looked at myself in that mirror in Wales, my third baby was ten years old!
There’s a history of diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol at a young age across my family and I knew that if I didn’t make changes I’d soon be heading that way too. I was also sick of ordering new clothes hoping that they’d make me look better than I felt and then returning them because they didn’t. In a moment of cold clarity, I realised that the solution lay with me and that only I could do something about it.
I think everybody has a size in their head that they’re comfortable to settle at. Part of me would love to be the size 8-10 that I used to be but I know that would take extreme self-sacrifice for the rest of my life; I’d have to watch whatever I ate or drank constantly. So my happy size is a 12, it gives me enough play and I’ve stayed here since taking action in 2013.
How did I do it? I joined Slimming World and I hated it but it worked. I went to meetings rather than doing it online; I began in May and by Christmas I’d slowly lost the weight I needed to. The accountability of the weekly weigh-in worked for me and I liked the flexibility of the eating plan that was easy to work into family menus. You often see my weight go up and down on here – like everyone I tend to be heavier in January and September after Christmas and our family holiday where I completely relax and enjoy myself for two weeks. It still startles me just how easily I can put on half a stone though.
For the rest of the year I try to stick to an 80:20 balance so I tend to eat very mindfully from Monday to Friday and then breathe out a bit at the weekend. So on an ’80’ day I’ll stick to 1400 calories and I monitor them on the Nutracheck Calorie Counter App. The only macro I manage is protein and I make sure I hit at least 100 grams a day to sustain muscle growth from the strength training I do. We cook meals from Gousto most nights during the week and they’re usually fish or seafood based which helps to keep the calorie count low and the protein high. It also manages portion sizes and gives us zero food waste.
I have a 16 hour fasting window between 8pm and 12pm which means that I can have two good meals a day. I don’t drink alcohol at home, just on social occasions and I try really hard to stay away from cakes, chocolate and other sweet things – but sugar is my nemesis. I generally manage to keep cravings away by having a small 35g bar of Green & Blacks dark chocolate every night after dinner. And if I stick to it, that way of eating tends to work. If we have a particularly big weekend ahead I’ll just lower my weekday calories to 1200 which isn’t fun but it means I can save an extra 1000 for the weekend.
As I said in the title of this section, it’s a case of thinking about eating not dieting at this stage of life. Diets are temporary and it’s easy to screw up your metabolism so that when you stop, you end up even heavier than you were. The best thing is to work out a way of eating that you can stick to for life. Our approach has become a way of life for us; it’s all about balance and because we know that we’ll be breaking out for a day or two quite often, it doesn’t feel hard.
Once you’re on track with an eating plan, I’d say the next step is addressing your hormones. I’m not going to suggest you do both things at the same time because you need to have a certain level of awareness of how your body feels to know what’s working. It’s best to get through any cravings and discomfort that might come as you adjust to a new way of eating first then move on to HRT. You may even find that HRT makes the eating method easier because when your hormones are balanced, your cravings subside.
I’m not a doctor so I can’t give you advice on HRT, I can only echo what a lot of other people are saying and that is that it isn’t well managed in most NHS settings. I wish I’d gone privately a couple of years before I did because it’s made such a difference to my life. My GP’s surgery simply gave me a prescription for a low dose of oestrogen in tablet form and left me to get on with it for over three years without any kind of review. When I finally made the investment and booked an appointment with Newson Health it turned everything around (and I’m not saying they’re the best, there are lots of other private providers).
When I talked them through how I was feeling, they instantly joined all of the dots. They doubled my oestrogen and moved me onto much safer patches, added progesterone and gave me further topical oestrogen to deal with the constant UTIs which were my biggest perimenopausal problem. It was great and I could actually feel the changes within a couple of days. The difference was like the way you feel after a great night’s sleep versus waking up after a bad one with a hangover on top.
The golden ticket though was a prescription for female testosterone – Androfeme. Your doctor will want to be confident that your oestrogen is correctly balanced before prescribing it because otherwise, your body will simply convert the testosterone into oestrogen to top its levels up and it’s pricey so you don’t want that. It took about six months to work fully but when it did, it was like somebody switching the lights on. It brings back your sharp cognitive function, it helps with regaining lost muscle and it’s like a fuel injection for your libido. It basically puts the spring back in your step and the twinkle in your eye – or as Mr MC said, “it’s put the music and the mischief back into you.” Occasionally the NHS will prescribe male testosterone to be used in small doses as part of an HRT package but you can currently only get the female version (Androfeme) privately. I now have the rest of my HRT dispensed on an NHS prescription but I still go back to Newson for Androfeme – and my goodness it’s worth every penny.
HRT has made a huge difference to me and all of my friends apart from one who had an adverse reaction to it. I do think it’s worth going privately if you can because that way you’ll have detailed annual reviews with blood tests to ensure that everything’s balanced and you’re taking the right amount.
So with your eating in order and your hormones running nicely you should find that you have more energy which brings us to exercise. Don’t groan – once you get past the first six weeks of a new regime you’ll feel fantastic. Like mindful eating, it’s something that really needs to become a consistent habit so you need to find something you’ll enjoy. Once you do, it will help to stave off those preventable ageing illnesses and the endorphins that come at the end of a session give you a bigger high than any glass of wine.
For me, the answer has been a combination of cardio so that I’m not puffing if I have to run up the stairs and strength which gives structure to your body and also helps with weight management. I’ve always been a gym goer but I used to drift around spending a lot of time chatting when I was supposed to be exercising. That all changed two and a half years ago when we joined our gym’s academy which gives us three small, intense classes a week run by three highly qualified trainers who really focus on your progress. I now do two strength sessions and one circuits class a week. Results are monitored by ten-weekly, 360 degree body scans and progress has been slow but steady as my muscle has stopped deteriorating and started to build.
Obviously it can be a fun thing to do with a friend but I’ve had much bigger results since Mr MC and I started going together two years ago. It adds an extra dimension to our relationship because it gives us a shared goal to talk about and we also have a bit of friendly competition to see who’s made the most progress when it comes to our body scans. I’m not running as much as I did over lockdown but now that my body has become accustomed to the training I do, if I feel the weight coming on I add a ten minute run after each session and that sorts it out in the space of about three weeks.
You have to find something you’ll enjoy but I don’t think many things will give you the same results as learning to lift heavy weights. It doesn’t just tone your body and increase your bone density. The big impact for me is that it makes you feel more powerful and there’s something very reassuring about seeing your body building muscle at a time when it’s been going downhill.
I’ve talked about getting a good haircut lots of times because it’s one of the most important elements of your look – it makes more impact than any outfit ever could. I’ll say as always that if you’re looking for a makeover it’s worth investing in a trip to London and a restyling appointment with a really good hairdresser. I will always recommend Premlee and I know quite a few of you have been to see him now. He seems to be able to find a solution for everyone, regardless of their hair type, I haven’t heard from anyone who hasn’t been utterly delighted.
If you’d like more pointers on getting a signature haircut, here’s a post I wrote earlier.
Teeth are something I’m often asked about but I don’t think I’ve written about them. Other than a facelift they’re probably the last thing you can do to give things a bit of a lift – well unless you want to go down the injectables route but I’ll leave that one up to you. I’m lucky in that my teeth have always been relatively straight, there’s one that’s a bit wonky but it isn’t very obvious.
Tooth problems were the other of my main perimenopausal issues though. The ones at the back started cracking and so I had to have three of them capped. I had no idea that the drop in oestrogen could cause such a problem with your teeth and gums and it’s another thing that’s cleared up with HRT.
I do find it hard to keep them white, sometimes they look translucent and at other times they can look quite grey. Every two or three months I use Zoom Nite White in trays that my dentist made for me. It works really well but I find I need a high percentage of bleach and I worry about the enamel so I don’t use it any more often than that.
At this point you should be physically ‘bien dans ta peau’ and so it’s worth assessing your style. Mine has changed through the course of writing this blog and I think it will keep on evolving but that’s all part of the fun, there’s nothing better than finding a great new look. If you’re new to Midlifechic, here’s a little style course that I did a while ago that will hopefully help you to work out what to do with your wardrobe in time for new season.
7. Being ‘You’
The points I’ve made today have all been about outward appearances because that’s what every single question that’s come in has been about. However even if you get to the point of having a perfect body and a perfect wardrobe, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically feel confident because inside you’ll still be you. And I think one of the challenges when we hit midlife can be knowing who you really are.
Until this point, our identity has usually been defined by some sort of role; either a job title… mother… daughter… maybe a few different things but now they start to drop off. And that can also be the glory of midlife because you can finally just be who you really are, you don’t need an alias to hide behind and I think that’s when your confidence starts to bloom.
“true happiness comes down to three components; control, contentment and alignment. The first is about feeling you have control and agency over your own life, contentment is about being at peace with yourself and the decisions you’ve made. Alignment is when your inner values and your external actions match – when the person you want to be inside, and the person you are actually being out there in the world, are the same.”
For me, it’s alignment that is the final jigsaw piece in terms of confidence. It’s why I never like terms such as ‘fake it till you make it’ or ‘imposter syndrome.’ To me they’re both evidence of the fact that so many people put on a front instead of just being confident that they are who they are. I was interested to read that Dr Chatterjee suggests that if you’re struggling with this, you should spend some time on working out what your inner values are because I’ve always had mine written down. I refer to them whenever I’m about to do anything new to check they’re in line.
My values are:
Whenever I feel my inner confidence dropping I can almost always track it back to not being true to one of those; for example when I take on a client whose business I don’t quite believe in – that affects quite a few of them. If you’re always true to who you are inside and what you stand for you can face anyone and that, more than any external factor, will give you confidence right through to your core. Titles… awards… logos… no form of outer validation really matters. You don’t have to be something, you just have to be someone.
And I think that’s enough for today, I really hope it’s helped to answer your questions about getting your confidence back after 50. I can only tell you how it worked for me though, you have to do it your way. In the end, confidence is a state of mind and anyone can look confident if they pull their shoulders back, hold their head up and smile.
I’ve posted early – do you remember my post a few weeks ago about choosing a mum of the groom outfit with my friend Nicky? Well it’s the wedding this afternoon. The 21 year-old bride and groom have planned and paid for it all by themselves even though they’re both still uni students so it’s going to be a very different one and we can’t wait to see what they’ve planned. I’ll tell you all about it next week – have a brilliant weekend.
Disclosure: ‘Getting your confidence back after 50’ is not a sponsored post
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