'Work Hard, Rest Later' Was My Work Mantra. But My Personal Chemistry Changed.
“Hey Killer B’s! It’s Pahla B’s Weight Loss for Women over 50 Series, Day 19!”
My dear friend and former next door neighbor, we’ll call her Wanda, had told me about Pahla B. We were on a post-lockdown walk in my old neighborhood. She was the official first hug outside of my immediate household. Wanda is a Swiss army knife of information. Bring up a problem or situation, and she’ll have a site for that, or a contact to call. She had just provided me with a virtual conference for families managing Covid anxiety and a link to a product on Amazon that enabled girls and women to pee outdoors without pissing on themselves; we were onto my next issue: Not feeling like myself.
Now, to be fair, I don’t know a soul who can say that over the past 15 months they’ve felt great—even those who learned to make bread and took up meditation. Being cooped up takes a toll on people. For me, I found that, despite my near-daily walks, Air-Dyne workouts, and monotonous lifestyle, I still felt heavy and tired and had consistent brain fog. And while I refused to justify my suspicions with a scale, I estimated I had gained about five pounds.
“Sounds like hormones,” Wanda said.
“Don’t even say it.”
“The M word.”
“I was thinking more the ‘P’ word…Peri-menopause.”
That was fair.
Being Wanda, she then pointed me to a resource: “Have you heard of Pahla B?”
As Wanda started to describe this fitness guru on YouTube specializing in women over 50 my brain struggled not to shut her down. For one thing, I’m not over 50 (I just turned 49 on Wednesday, natch)—well out of her target market. And Wanda mentioned numerous times the word “moderation”.
“…Just about 20 minute sessions you can fit easily into your day…”
“…Sometimes I hardly sweat, but it’s great…”
“…She talks to you the whole time; it’s like you’re having a chat with a girlfriend…”
For the record: I don’t do moderation. I am an immoderate person. I work myself. Or at least that’s been my ethos and subliminal operating procedure for success all these years: Work hard, rest later.
For 10 years, while building a company I religiously stayed in motion. After all, being a woman I needed to prove I could achieve my goals, despite being pregnant during a fundraise, despite fundraising when female founders who raised capital were fewer in number than they are even now. And, later, after I exited my startup and started advising and consulting I had to find ways of adding intensity to my load in order to not fall over from boredom (or irrelevancy, perhaps). And later, when I went back into operating roles with much younger individuals I had to hold my tongue when hearing complaints about having to wake up early, or work late, or do something new and uncomfortable. And when I was in a brutal corporate culture I was one part completely comfortable with the deadlines, demands, and underestimating attitudes, and one part shocked that pulling all-nighters, hitting deadlines, and responding to IMs after 10 pm would not move me any closer to occupational nirvana. If anything, it left me for dead on the side of the road, barely able to breathe.
My philosophy had simply been: Add more weight. Run an additional mile. Feel the burn. Show you can hack it. And yet my personal chemistry was changing. I wasn’t going anywhere anymore. I was running in place and inadvertently running myself into a rut.
Wanda then explained how our body chemistry was such that even if we did super-intense workouts we were doing more harm than good, due to low-to-no supply of estrogen, which helps restore the body. This struck me as a bit of bullshit. One more thing we women tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better about dialing it back. Slowing things down.
Then Wanda said the money quote that got me back in:
“I’ve lost eight pounds doing her workouts.”
Now the proposition of trying Pahla B was like investing in crypto: Stupid NOT to try. Money made, weight lost, doing almost nothing.
The first order of business was finding the space. I have a big open living room, but it had become a classroom, music studio, play pit and laundry room during the pandemic. As such I was doing yoga classes in my office, wedging my head between an office chair and a bookshelf during Shavasana. But restrictions were lifting in Northern California, and my kids were going to summer camp. I would have the living room all to myself. I watched some of Pahla’s non-workout videos and listened to her podcasts.
The first thing I noticed about Pahla: She was a talker. Like nonstop. Sometimes she talked so much she forgot what side she was working on. Often, during core exercises she lost her balance, or grunted, or exclaimed, “I’m bad at these.” She often giggled when she made a mistake, or said, “Oh well, we’re done with those anyway.” She wore eyeglasses and worked out barefoot. Her cat often slept on the couch behind her or ran across her feet as she worked out. She promised never to require jumping or lowering to the ground to do exercises. she ended every session with a cooldown that involved slowly extending your arms out like an albatross and then wrapping them around your body in a shoulder-blade stretching self-hug.
Despite all this lack of struggle, she looked fit, strong, and happy.
The first workout was walking in place for 20 minutes. In future sessions she added light cardio, core work, and light hand weights, insisting that her viewers go faster or slower than she did or even skip an exercise altogether, if doing so was our moderate.
Often I went faster, or kicked my legs up higher than Pahla did, because I could. I had to buy the moderate hand weights she recommended on Amazon because the ones I had been using since my 20s were too heavy. But I never “cheated” by following up the workouts with more grueling activities. To do so, she insisted, was counteractive, stressful to the body, and sending it the wrong signal to start hoarding fat. The point was to not take things to the max. The first few workouts I presumed were throwaway sessions, designed to be easy and keep me coming back. But, Pahla insisted numerous times in each session we’d never work more than we were working now.
The work involved for women like me, who struggled with moderation, was to accept doing less as the pathway to our goal.
After a week I started to crave the daily workout like I craved weekends. Sweaty or not, I ended each session satisfied with myself.
About two weeks into the workouts, my husband came home from a cycling trip and found me on a particularly moderate edition of Pahla B’s 31-Day Weight Loss Program for Women Over 50, walking in place.
“What are you doing?”
I didn’t need to answer; Pahla was midway into one of her workout lectures, explaining how women over 50 need to work their bodies differently as they age.
He reacted: “You’re not over 50!”
“You’re missing the point,” I said, not panting, walking in place. “I’m changing … just trying this out.”
“You’re not even sweating … Look, if you need a workout, I’ll pull one together for you. Something that will actually get you some results.”
This, from a man who says he’s had a “good day” cycling when he almost blacks out and is frothing at the mouth.
I felt a need to defend my new workout program: “We used weights yesterday! … I’ve lost three pounds!”
But it really wasn’t about the weight loss: I was also sleeping better, feeling better. I marveled at how well my body moved through the exercises; how well it responded, how flexible it was.
This engine of a body, despite how it had often disappointed me, fell short of the goals I set for myself, refused to get me where I thought I wanted to go. She was miraculous.
It made me wonder about the countless trips to the airport at 4 am, countless Monday mornings when I’ve shushed her whispering, is this what you want?
I thought I could talk her out of it; perhaps even shame her into a 40-year career bootcamp. Tell her what it was she really wanted if she just worked hard enough. But she already knew.
“You see?” she laughed, “We’re already here.”