I’ll be completely honest with you – my mojo is still lounging on a sofa somewhere in December 2023, refusing to join me in the stark grey light of January. I feel like I’ve had a classic new year’s week where everything’s been a struggle – the world of retail feels like a moonscape at the moment – barren, cold and definitely low on oxygen. There’s nothing fun coming up in my diary, it’s cold and dark and everyone I talk to seems to be feeling gloomy. That in itself make me makes me feel both better and worse but with the notion that a lot of us are in the same boat, I looked back to my own advice and found a piece I wrote a few years ago about rebuilding your confidence in midlife. I’m taking the core thoughts from it and giving it an update to bring it into 2024. So let’s work together on the quest for midlife mojo.

Where to begin? Well rather than doing a quick list of midlife mojo mood boosters I’m going to look at how to give yourself more of an overhaul. I’m speaking from experience because it’s something I did a while ago so I’m going to start all that way back in 2014 when I was in a very different place. I’d lost all of my confidence, I was feeling far worse than I am now which I think is just January malaise in the face of what I suspect is going to be a challenging year. Ten years ago though I’d reached a point where I needed to change so many things that I decided to go into project mode. I labelled it ‘getting my groove back’ and giving it a title helped me to keep my focus on the big picture and what I wanted to achieve.

So this post is about rebuilding yourself from the bottom up and it strikes me that it’s quite a useful way of looking at things at this time of year. When you’re feeling out of kilter it can take a while to get yourself back on track but if you make a start, you’ll soon find yourself getting your mojo back in January. This is a very practical guide to feeling good about your outer self because that’s what I’m most often asked for. I’m not saying that happiness is purely based on appearance but I do think that there’s value at this time of year in looking after your physical self. Of course it’s important to remember that emotional factors are important too so I’ll perhaps move on to those next week.

The quest for midlife mojo

There’s no quick fix

So let’s get going but bear in mind that feeling good in yourself is about a number of different factors. There’s no pill or moisturiser that will give you a magic makeover and if you want to spend the rest of your life on good form, it’s going to take time to establish a few good habits but they will pay off. 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.

Where to begin

Before you begin, spend some time thinking about how you want to feel and what it will look like. I think the best outcome for most of us in midlife is ‘bien dans ma peau,’ quite literally feeling good in our skin. For that, we need to address our body’s physical needs, our mind’s emotional needs and only then move on to style. For me back in 2014, I wanted to look and feel slimmer, stronger and sportier and for my clothes to reflect that. My future wardrobe plan was to focus on simple pared down chic. As I’ve continued ageing I’ve realised that to remain visible, I need to add clothes with more oomph but that’s another post. Today is about everything that leads up to the point when you’re ready to change your wardrobe.

Start off by thinking about how the more confident version of you looks. If you were looking in the mirror, what would be reflected back? Be realistic – we can’t roll back years or change leg length or anything like that – we need to work with what we have. You might not share the vision I had of looking slimmer and sportier and that’s fine, that’s just my version of me. You need to do what feels right for you. But spend enough time thinking about it until you can see a clear picture of yourself in your mind, right down to the outfit you’re wearing.

Now I’m going to talk through how I got from that picture to something close to the reality where I felt happier in myself. The process might work for you but if you have a different vision or circumstances they might not. You may already be happy with your physical self. In that case the best way of getting your mojo back is by adjusting your mindset but that’s not what I’m talking about today.

If you’re feeling in the mood to make big changes, it’s important to tackle one thing at a time. If you try to do everything in one go you’ll blow a fuse and give up. It takes time – if you start now and go gently, you’ll probably be able to see a completely new version of you by this time next year. Sometimes knowing that it isn’t going to be a quick fix takes the pressure off and it’s the healthiest and most sustainable way of making a change that will be lifelong.

So I’ll talk you through how I approached ‘project getting your groove back’ but I must add that it’s a personal method – I’m not a doctor, PT, dietician or lifecoach. This is just how I managed to recover the ‘me’ that was hidden beneath years of mothering, nursing ill parents, setting up a business and not dealing with grief. Read what I did and if it makes sense, adapt it to your lifestyle – and do get help from relevant experts if you need support.

1. Balancing food and life

[Note – anyone with disordered eating please skip this – although I manage my weight healthily I’m quite disciplined]

For me, I realised all the way back in 2013 that I needed to start my reinvention by addressing my weight. There’s always one day when you’re forced to see yourself objectively isn’t there? We were away with the boys in a cottage in Wales when I looked down in horror and saw that my jeans had rubbed through at the inner thigh. Somehow being in a different place helped me to be more objective – I took a long, hard look in the mirror and knew it was time to do something about my increasing weight gain.

I’d always been skinny until the eldest was born, able to eat whatever I wanted but post pregnancy my metabolism seemed to have changed. I worked hard to lose the baby weight after my first two pregnancies but third time around I just didn’t have the time or energy 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!

As I’ve said before, there’s a history of diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol at a young age in my family so I knew that if I didn’t sort my weight out I’d be heading for trouble. And I was fed up of ordering new clothes, hoping that they’d make me look better than I felt and then sending them back because they didn’t. It finally hit me that the solution lay with me and only with me – so only I could do something about it.

I think most people have a dream size in their head but by midlife, it’s more important to find one you can settle with. If I’m honest I’d love to be the size 8-10 that I used to be and of course I could do it – but I’d have to sacrifice all of the indulgence that so often accompanies the good times for the rest of my life. And I think it would be ageing too – at this stage in life you need a bit of padding on your face and body to avoid looking haggard. So I’ve settled with my happy size being a 12. It means that I can still relax and enjoy food and wine when I want to as long as I keep an eye on things the rest of the time and I’ve stayed (sometimes only just) at a 12 since taking action in 2013.

How did I do it? I joined Slimming World and it wasn’t fun but it worked. I chose meetings over than doing it online; I began in May and by Christmas I hit my target. The dread of stepping on those scales every week worked for me and the eating plan suited what were then family meals with teenage boys.

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 1450 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. Since I started Zoe last October I’ve cut down on meat, eating mostly fish or seafood based meals during the week and adding extra fibre from beans, lentils or whole grains which helps to keep the calorie count low and the protein high.

I stick to Zoe’s TRE (time restricted eating) so I only eat between 12pm and 8pm spread over two good meals a day. Unless we have friends round I don’t drink at home, only if we go out and I try really hard to stay away from cakes, chocolate and other sweet things – but sugar is always my downfall although Zoe is helping with that. And if I stick to it (if!), this way of eating tends to work. If we have a fun weekend ahead I’ll try to remember to reduce my weekday calories to 1200 which is grim but gives me an extra 1000 for the weekend.

However I don’t always stay on track and you visibly see my weight go up and down in my photos on here. Like most people I’m often heavier in January and September after Christmas and summer holidays where I completely relax and enjoy myself for two weeks. And you saw it go very wrong last year when we travelled a lot and I struggled to get things back on track in the autumn.

So there are times when it all goes out of the window – and so it should. In the end it’s a case of thinking about eating not dieting at this stage of life. Diets are temporary and they can easily mess up your metabolism so that when you inevitably stop, you end up even heavier than you were. It’s good to have a framework that you know suits your body and that you can stick to most of the time. But life’s about balance and for me the simple knowledge that I’ll quite often be leaving discipline behind for a few days helps me to stick to it the rest of the time.

2. Balancing hormones

The next good thing to think about is your hormones. I’m not going to suggest you address eating and hormones at the same time because you need to have a certain level of awareness of how your body feels to know what’s working. So get any cravings and discomfort that might come as you change your way of eating out of the way first, then move on to HRT – or vice versa. You may even find that HRT makes losing weight easier because as your hormones balance out more, your cravings might subside.

It’s important for me to stress that I’m not in any way qualified to give advice on HRT. I can only tell you about my own experience and feed back the things that you and other friends have shared over the years. A lot of people in the UK struggle to get good HRT advice from the NHS. There are a few brilliant practitioners who have sought out training and are setting up pioneering NHS services but not many. My experience continues to be a tense battle with a GP practice that is patronising and obstructive. I wish I’d gone privately a couple of years before I did because it’s hard to overstate the difference it made to my life.

After a few years of being reluctantly dispensed a low dose of oestrogen in tablet form by my GP, I booked a private appointment with Newson Health (there are lots of other private clinics though, I’m not giving medical recommendations here). When I explained how I was feeling, they instantly joined all of the dots, doubling the oestrogen in the form of a body identical gel. They added progesterone and further localised oestrogen to deal with the constant UTIs that I was struggling with.

UTIs are one of the earliest symptoms of GSM (genito-urinary syndrome of the menopause). Over 70% of women go on to develop GSM and it can lead to what used to be called ‘vaginal atrophy’ where the vulva and clitoris can fuse or even disappear. GSM is also one of the reasons that elderly women so often have leaky bladders and yet it can be helped by taking localised oestrogen. Even if you don’t want to take HRT, if you have any kind of GSM symptom at all such as UTIs or dryness, localised oestrogen is something you should look into – you can find out more about it here.

Getting back to HRT in general though, with a tailored prescription I felt much better within a couple of days. It was like the difference between the way you feel after a great night’s sleep versus waking up after a bad one with a hangover on top.

When I talked about the brain fog I was battling with, leading to the loss of words and sometimes a general feeling of confusion, Newson prescribed a female form of testosterone – Androfeme. It took about six months to really kick in but when it did, I felt as though somebody had switched my lights back on. Your sharp cognitive function returns, it helps with building muscle and it’s like a turbo charge to your libido. As Mal said at the time, “it’s put the music and the mischief back into you.” The NHS sometimes prescribes male testosterone to be used in small doses but you can currently only get the female version (Androfeme) privately. I have most of my HRT dispensed on an NHS prescription but still go back to Newson for Androfeme – and it’s worth every penny.

HRT has improved the way I feel immeasurably. When the patches I’d been using stopped working for me last year it became clear pretty quickly – my mood dropped, I started to worry about stupid things, my bones ached and I felt like a shadow of myself. It doesn’t work for everyone but if you’re wondering about it I’d really suggest giving it a try.

3. Getting into an exercise habit

When your eating and your hormones are feeling balanced, you should find that you have more energy which brings us to exercise. I know, it feels like a January cliche but once you get through the first six weeks of a new routine, you’ll feel fantastic. As with food, it’s something that works best when it’s a consistent habit so you need to find something you’ll enjoy. When you do, it will help to ward off preventable ageing illnesses and there’s no high like an exercise high.

For me, the answer has been a combination of cardio so that I can still run upstairs and strength which helps with weight management and gives a bit of structure to my body. I’ve always been a gym goer but I started taking it much more seriously four years ago when I took out a premium membership, knowing that if I was paying for them, I’d go to the intensive classes. Since then I’ve been doing two strength sessions and one shred class a week. Results are monitored by regular 360 degree body scans and my progress goes up and down depending on whether we’re based at home and working hard or travelling and having fun – but it’s generally steady. My muscle has stopped deteriorating and there’s a quiet satisfaction in being able to lift much heavier weights than some of the much younger women can manage.

You can easily go to a strength class on your own, you’ll soon make friends but I’ve had better results since Mal started training with me. It adds a different dimension to our relationship because we have a shared goal to talk about and even though he lifts twice as heavy as me, we compete over who’s making the most progress which adds a bit of spark.

You need to find something you’ll enjoy – or at least not hate – but I don’t think many things will give you the same results as learning to lift heavy weights. It tones your body, increases your bone density and it makes you feel more powerful. Seeing your body recalibrating and building muscle at a time when it feels like everything else is going downhill gives you such a boost.

4. Hair is everything

I’ve talked about hair lots of times because it makes more impact than any outfit ever could. As always, I’ll say that if you’re looking for a makeover it’s worth making an investment in it. Book a trip to London and a restyling appointment with Premlee. 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 advice about finding a signature haircut, here’s a post all about it.

5. Getting ready to smile

Teeth are something I’m often asked about, they’re probably the biggest improvement you can make to your face unless you want to go down the surgery or tweakments route but I’ll leave that to you. Lots of people are investing in having their teeth straightened in midlife now but it isn’t something I can advise on – luckily my teeth have always been relatively straight, there’s one that’s a bit wonky but it isn’t too obvious.

Dental problems were the other of my main perimenopausal struggles though – the molars started cracking and I had to have three of them capped. At the time 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. By midlife it isn’t easy balancing keeping them white without doing too much damage. Sometimes mine look translucent and at other times they can look quite grey. Every two or three months I use Opalescence gel in trays that my dentist made for me. It whitens them 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.

6. Reappraising your style

And that’s enough for today. The last part of getting your mojo back in January is reassessing your style and making sure that what you wear reflects the way you want to be seen. My style has changed through the course of writing this blog and it will continue to evolve but that’s all part of the fun – there’s nothing more uplifting than finding a great new look. If you feel you need to reassess what you have, here’s the short style course that I did a while ago. It’s looking a bit dated now, I need to refresh it but it should give you a starting point for working out what to do with your wardrobe in time for the new season.

How to build a capsule wardrobe part 1

How to build a capsule wardrobe part 2

How to build a capsule wardrobe part 3

How to build a capsule wardrobe part 4

How to build a capsule wardrobe part 5

How to build a capsule wardrobe part 6

And so I’ll leave you to your weekend. My plans are to go to the gym and then spend a bit of time trying to get things in order at home in the hope that it will make next week feel better. This week has been filled with IT meltdowns, client contract renegotiations, helping the middle one apply for jobs (there isn’t much around) and strange phonecalls from mum-in-law in the middle of the night which suggest that she might be taking a downward turn again.

The quest for midlife mojo doesn’t always feel easy and January’s a difficult time for most people – it’s almost scary looking ahead at a year that hasn’t yet got going and wondering what it will bring. Maybe I’m more aware of it this year because retail’s in such a gloomy place. I was down in London this week and everyone seemed to be feeling in limbo so I hope that the momentum starts to build again soon… good momentum… for everyone. Now though is a good time to focus on controlling the things we can, making a plan so that we’re feeling great when the fun times roll along. And they will.

Disclosure: ‘The quest for midlife mojo’ is not a sponsored post


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