Author: Kim Schlag
Kim Schlag is a rarity in the fitness world: a straight shooter with a history of real, transformative results for her clients’ bodies (and her own). Facing menopause at 42 and looking back at a personal history of fad workouts and yo-yo dieting, she educated herself and developed a fitness system she now shares with her clients and on her popular social feeds. Inspired by a male gym buddy, she let go of the endless cardio, picked up some weights, and watched her body tighten and tone while her strength and confidence soared. Now she shares her wisdom with women who are struggling with their midlife menopause bodies because she wants them to know one thing: change is possible. Read on to hear about developing a healthier food habits, her favorite fitness go-tos, and much more.
So many women in menopause think it's too late to have a healthy relationship with food or get in shape. You say that’s not true. Why do you think women over 40 feel they can't lose weight?
I was one of those women. I am not naturally thin, so I struggled with my weight. And when I say “struggled with my weight,” that was in my twenties. I was always one of those people who wanted to lose five pounds, even though I didn't have a lot to lose. By the time I had three children and was in my late thirties, I was struggling with obesity. I was no longer just a couple pounds up anymore. And you name a diet, I did it...sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully. It wasn't until my early forties that I really got a handle on proper nutrition and training—and eventually transitioned into helping other people get a handle, too. So I come from a place of knowing this personally, as well as through experience with clients.
There are several reasons women struggle to believe they can lose weight in menopause. One, it's the story we're told, right? This is the narrative: "It's all downhill from here; your best years are behind you." It's gotten hardwired in our brains. A second big piece is that we've simply had experiences over and over where we struggled to lose weight, leading us to think, "It's probably not even possible." When a person starts to believe something is out of their control, they can't lose weight. It also becomes about other things: It's my hormones. It's my age. It's easy to attribute the inability to lose weight to a “cause” when losing weight is inherently difficult to do. The reason it goes slowly isn’t your hormones or your age; it’s the fact that you've got to be on your nutrition every day, day in and day out. That’s the big issue to me. There are plenty of women who lose weight during perimenopause and menopause. I did it. My clients do it. People do it all the time.
“If there is a magic bullet for changing your body and being healthier, it is strength training.”
What are the three best ways to start exercising—to get over the hurdle and the excuses?
You've simply got to start. I'm not a big proponent of the idea that what people need is "motivation." Motivation is way overrated. It's great, but it is often fleeting. Yet when you feel that motivation, run with it. Do something. And the thing I would have you do is start creating habits. I'm not saying you might not be motivated some of the time. But I'm telling you, you won't be motivated all of the time. So, when you're having that burst of motivation, use it to create good habits, specifically around exercise. Start small. Like, stupidly small. Pick something so tiny that you don't need to rely on motivation to do it. Just like you didn't rely on motivation this morning to brush your teeth, right?
What does small mean? Something small for you may be seismic for someone else...
I want women to look at it like this: If you make this change, on a scale of one to 10 (with 10 being, “It's no problem, I'm going to do it,” and one being, “It's not happening”), we want you at an eight, nine, or a 10. And if it's not, that's not the habit for you.
Here are a few I suggest: Start a daily walking practice. After every meal, walk five to 10 minutes. If 10 feels too long, start with five. If five feels too long, start with two. Use that scale, make sure you're at an eight, or nine or a 10, as far as how easy it feels to you to be walking this amount of time after every meal. Get a step tracker and don't pay attention to the calories, just pay attention to what your steps are. Track your steps without changing a thing for a whole week. See where you're at. Then add on 500 to a thousand steps daily and go from there. Once that feels easy, go up again. You should aim for at least 7,500 steps a day. That's a good place to be.
Another option is strength training. If there is a magic bullet for changing your body and being healthier in menopause, it is strength training. If you don't even know where to start, hire a personal trainer in-person for just one or two sessions. You don't have to commit to this person for a lifetime or some crazy long package, just one or two sessions, and specifically ask them to teach you basic moves, like a proper squat, push-up, a row, hip hinge, a deadlift, and a lunge. Have them show you those basic moves correctly and practice them. And if you don't have the budget, you can go to my YouTube channel or Instagram for tutorials that teach you those basic moves. Pick one, such as learning how to squat properly. You don't have to start with any weight. Just get good at the move until you feel comfortable, then add weight.
“As far as exercise goes, strength training is going to give you a bigger bang for your buck. It's going to help you build muscle and change the shape of your body. And it's also going to increase your metabolism.”
How much weight do you recommend?
Ladies, we've got to stop using little three-pound weights. I know some trainers out there say you're going to get long, lean muscles. That's nonsense. Your muscles cannot change their length. They have an insertion and an origin. Tiny weights aren't going to make you longer and leaner. I'm five feet, three and a half inches. I'm not going to get longer. You need to challenge your muscles. So, get really good form on these basic moves and then increase the weight over time. Your workout goal should be to get stronger—not to get tired, get sweaty, get out of breath, or burn a certain amount of calories. It should be: “Can I do more with this same exercise? Can I lift heavier weights than last time?”
Could you share your five favorite weight-loss tips?
Weight loss doesn't have to be complicated. I'm a huge fan of learning how much you're eating and calorie tracking. For some people, it feels overwhelming. And so, no matter how we get you approaching weight loss, the key is going to be getting in a calorie deficit, whether you're tracking calories or not. So, take these five things and do them. You can start with just one and add the others, or start with several. It's going to reduce the total number of calories you eat.
1. Eat seated and plated. It's just what it sounds like. Anything you eat should be consumed while sitting at a table and it should be on a plate or in a bowl. This helps is because we do so much mindless eating. We eat while we're cooking dinner. In the car. While sitting on the sofa. This adds up. The key is a rule that cannot be crossed: "My food is eaten at a table, on a plate." It really helps. We're then not eating out of packages, boxes, and bags, which helps you keep to proper portion sizes.
2. Address your liquid calories. Are yours are in the form of alcohol, soda, juice, or coffee with lots of fat and sugar? Swap some out for zero-calorie drinks. I have a client who lost 30 pounds this way. She went from drinking 12 sodas a day—12! I asked, “Where do you feel comfortable starting?” She said, "Four." That was her goal, and she never hit four. She always had three. She's now down to one a week. It's had a huge impact on her life. Find a way to reduce liquid calories. Pick a number smaller than what you have now and start there.
3. More home-cooked meals, less eating out. I know it's painful; we all like to eat out. And you can successfully eat out and lose weight. But it can get tricky. There are so many hidden calories. That's how they make the food taste so good! It's all the extra oils and things they put in there. You have more control at home. If you're a person who eats most of your meals out, flip that balance. You don't need to eat all home-cooked meals, but if you are at 80 percent out and 20 percent at home, try to reduce that to 60/40, and eventually have more home-cooked meals, less meals out.
4. Flip the percentage of your diet to favor minimally processed food vs. highly processed food. Think about processed food on a scale. A can of beans is processed, right? But that's not what I'm getting at. I'm talking about the chips, donuts, and pastries. You can have some of those, but what we really want is for that to be about 10 to 20 percent of your overall food. The remaining 80 percent should be nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods. That's a big one. Again, you don't have to be tracking these things, just be conscious.
5. Take whatever amount of vegetables you have on your usual lunch or dinner plate plate and double it. And whatever amount of starch you have on there—be it rice, potatoes, pasta—halve it. Again, I'm not saying don't eat them. You do not need to cut out carbs completely. But halve your usual portion and replace it with vegetables or greens. Keep a piece of protein. This is a great formula for reducing overall calories.
Without a detox or cleanse, how can we reset after an indulgent weekend or holiday?
It's totally normal to be up after a holiday. And if you get that number in your head, one of two things often happens. The first reaction is “Screw it! This is never going to work,” or “I can’t eat today. I am going on a detox. I am going to fast and only consume green juice.” It doesn’t work because it sets you up for more overindulging the next weekend. Why? Because how long are you really going to do that detox stuff? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, maybe partly into Friday. But by Friday night, you get out the beer and chips out and go two bags deep. It’s better to set yourself up each day with moderate calories. This helps you maintain a steady weight and makes it less stressful when you overdo it a bit. It feels less daunting to know that I can have ice cream or a glass of wine any time. Just build it into your day. It loses its grip when you’re not waiting for Saturday and thinking: “It’s now or never!” So, set up yourself for success by waking up on a Monday and getting back to whatever habits you're practicing and not over-restricting.
One of the biggest things women notice in perimenopause and menopause is that midline pooch or clothes that don’t fit in the same way. We look the same in the mirror, but things have shifted around the middle.
I'm asked about this the most. Menopause belly is a real thing. You are not imagining it. This happens as our estrogen declines. The places in our bodies where we store our excess fat shifts from areas like the hips and thighs to our bellies. If you're thinking, “Where did this belly come from?” I was there too. When you have fat to lose in perimenopause and menopause, you are likely storing more of it in your belly than you'd like. The key is that we have to help you lose fat all over your body. That is done via those very unsexy words I mentioned earlier: “calorie deficit.” You need to get into a sustained calorie deficit. It’s important to know you can’t choose where you will lose fat. It might come off your belly last. There is no special belly fat loss protocol. People are going to tell you there is. They'll try and sell you all kinds of stuff. It is nonsense. With calorie deficit, strength training, and patience, over time, it will come off. Women lose belly fat in menopause all the time. I know it's frustrating. I know you don't like it. I promise it can go away.
"Menopause belly is a real thing. You are not imagining it."
What about metabolism? Does that shift during menopause, too? Does that affect what we need fuel-wise?
As we move into perimenopause and menopause, there is a small reduction in our metabolism. It is not as big as you think. Everybody thinks it's big and that we need to be eating less than 1200 calories. Also, it’s important to know, there are things you can actually do to increase your metabolism. First, it’s important to move. As we age, we don’t move as much because of what we are doing—sitting at our desks or in our cars, driving to work. Then we're sitting on the sofa. This is in contrast to the early part of our lives. We are no longer playing on the playground, participating in after-school sports, walking across the college campus, or even chasing busy toddlers. So there's this decrease in how much we move. That is a hugely impactful piece. We talked about having a step goal to help counteract it. That's one place to look.
The other thing that might not occur to us is how we start losing muscle mass beginning in our thirties. Every decade, we lose muscle mass of three to eight percent. So two great ways to increase your metabolism is to eat enough protein and to do strength training. As you're strength training and building muscle, it takes more energy to continue to build and maintain the muscle. And I'm not saying you need to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but putting muscle on can really help boost your metabolism.
Finally, most people don't realize how much they're actually eating. Spend some time writing down everything you eat, whether you're doing it in a tracker or just writing it down on a sheet of paper. Either way, you will likely be surprised. Even if you feel like you eat like a bird for most of the week, it adds up and you end up in maintenance, if not a surplus. In short, there's nothing special about menopause that is keeping you from losing weight. As I said, there is a slight reduction in your metabolism, but there are things you can do to counteract it and still lose weight.
Lastly, how can we have a healthy relationship with our scale?
If you're going to use a scale, separate your emotions from the number you see. You do this by learning how to use it properly. Here's what I suggest: Stop weighing in once a week. It is the worst way to use a scale. I did it back in my Weight Watchers days. I felt like: “OK, it's Wednesday, I'm going to weigh in Saturday so I better stop eating now.” And that number meant a lot to me. If it didn't show the number I wanted it, it was really stressful. So stop weighing in once a week. At a minimum, weigh yourself three times a week or, ideally, daily. And think of it as if you’re a scientist: If a scientist is trying to find something out, they're looking for a pattern. They want as much data as possible so they can see those patterns. So, weigh yourself daily, write the number down as you're stepping on that scale, and say to yourself: “This is just data. It is a single point in time.” This does not tell you whether or not you gained fat at that moment because the scale is not weighing your fat alone. It is weighing your fat, bones, stomach content, your poop. It weighs a lot. Write that number down, track it over time, and look for trends. If you use an app called Weight Gurus, you can type in those data points and it shows you a line. Over time, you want to see the line going down. What is not going to happen is every single point going down. It's going to go up and down, up and down. I want you to notice the things that make the scale spike for you. There are a lot. My scale is up after a heavy workout day. After eating Chinese takeout, the scale can go up three or four pounds (it’s all the salt). If you eat more carbs than usual, the scale will go up because that's how carbs work. They bring along with them around three grams of water. (It's not fat. It's literally water.) So, unless you're weighing in for a wrestling competition, it does not matter that you have three extra pounds of water. It will go away naturally. Start practicing not being emotional. Do not let the scale dictate what you eat that day or how you feel about your body.