What woman in her 50s wouldn’t love to have the figure she had at 20?
And it’s not just about looking good.
Last month, a study by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, revealed that women who throughout their lives stay within a stone and a half (9.5kg) of their weight at 20 are more likely to enjoy good health and to reach the age of 90.
Most of us gain an average of 1lb-2lb a year, though, so we’ll have exceeded that increase by the time we’re 40.
While the study found that maintaining a youthful weight increased women’s longevity, there seemed to be no such link for men.
While some may protest that this feeds into society’s obsession with women’s figures, it’s true we’d all be better off keeping a healthy weight. ‘It’s not social commentary, it’s science,’ says Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum.
So what does it take for a woman in her 50s to match her 20-year-old self? Five women tell Alice Smellie how they’ve cracked it…
I'm a chocoholic freak
Dennie Smith, 57, runs a dating agency. She is married to Graham, 56, a printer, and they have four grown-up children.
Dennie Smith, 57, sizzling in her 20s (right) and today (left) the dating expert still has the scales sitting at 8st 10lb - she says she never goes over nine stone
I never go over nine stone. If I reach 8st 13lb, I cut down on snacks for a few days or go for an extra dog walk. I’ve always been extremely controlled in the way I run my life and I treat my weight the same way.
Every meal and drink has its exact time. I have a cup of green tea and a piece of chocolate at the same time every morning and afternoon, and once a year (as we drive to Cornwall for the family holiday) I indulge in a McDonald’s.
Even during my four pregnancies I never gained more than 2st. After each birth, I ordered my friends and family not to give me chocolate gifts. I was back in my size 10 jeans within weeks.
I’m only human and I do allow myself the occasional splurge. Some days, I’ll eat a Cadbury’s Creme Egg.
But I know I don’t want to be overweight, so I make sure to balance it out.
I don’t eat leftovers — the thought of eating reheated food makes me feel nauseous — and I never picked at the children’s food when they were little.
I don’t go to the gym or anything like that, but I love walking the dog and did a long charity walk last year.
I rarely get ill, which I’m sure helps in maintaining my weight. And having the same figure as I did in my 20s means that, even 30 years on, I still feel like exactly the same person I was.
I take on a new sport every decade
Lucy Macnamara, 50, lives between a London flat and a cottage in Hampshire. She owns ethical clothing brand Aspiga.
Lucy Macnamara, 50, says she is far fitter now than she was in her 20s (right) and has taken on different sports every decade from polo to road cycling
Although I weigh the same as in my 20s, I’m far fitter. In each decade I take on a different form of exercise. In my 30s I played polo, and in my 40s I started road cycling.
Now that I’m 50, I’ve invested in personal training sessions, which I do a couple of times a week before work.
While some of my friends with children have abs far harder than mine, not having kids of my own means I have the time and inclination to invest in my sporting hobbies.
I love being outdoors — especially after being in the office all week — so at weekends, I ride my horses, do a yoga class, go for a run or a bike ride or go for a dog walk with my friends.
It’s not only about staying trim, though. It’s also great to indulge in the activities I love, and helps me destress after a busy week.
My business means I travel to trade shows and suppliers all over the world, but I don’t let up just because I’m away from home. Running around a foreign city is a wonderful way to see the sights.
With all those flights to Miami, New York, Kenya and Paris, it would be only too easy to sit back and relax with a G&T — or three.
But, in fact, I was never much of a drinker in my youth and I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol in five years now. I made the decision after finding that wine was giving me migraines, and I’ve definitely noticed the difference it’s made to my weight.
It’s a while yet until my next decade, but I’m sure I’ll take on a new challenge then, too. When I retire, I want to take up dressage, golf and regular tennis.
I bounced back after chemo
Sue Witham, 58, lives in Cornwall. She’s married to Charles and they have two grown-up children.
Sue Witham, 58, weighed just 8st 11lb back then (right) and weighs the same today (left) - despite having two children and bouncing back after piling on pounds during illness
I had a 22in waist in my early 20s and never really had to diet until, at 47, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I had to undergo months of treatment and, for many reasons (the chemo drugs, tiredness, other people kindly doing everything for me), the weight piled on.
After I was given the all-clear, I wanted to feel my body was my own again. My husband and I went on the 5:2 diet together and I started doing Pilates. It worked a treat.
I beat the menopause muffin-top
Michelle Green, 52, lives in High Wycombe with her husband Michael, 54, a businessman. They have two grown-up children and she has her own blog, fiftyandfab.co.uk.
Michelle Green, 52, says she had always been 'effortlessly slim' before she began having to work harder to keep the pounds off in her 40s
My whole family are petite, but we all enjoy our food. I’ve always been effortlessly slim, so it was very annoying when I reached my late 40s and noticed weight creeping on around my middle.
That’s where I’ve always gained it — even in my 20s — but there was something far more persistent about this little roll of flab. I gained a stone. It was really annoying because, apart from during pregnancy, I’d never got that close to 10 stone before. I felt uncomfortable in my clothes.
When you’re small, people think you’re moaning, but my argument is that it’s relative. At my height, even a few pounds shows, and to me it’s a lot.
At the same time, I noticed that I was having mood swings, brain fog, night sweats and hot flushes — all signs that the menopause had come knocking.
In retrospect, I think I ought to have seen a doctor more quickly. In the event, it was two years before I headed to the GP for some blood tests, and in 2017 I went on HRT.
It took a bit of time to get the dose right, but in the past few months I’ve finally got back to feeling myself again. In the meantime, it took about four to six months of extra exercise and considered eating to get my weight down again.
Now, I make sure I keep a careful eye on my portion sizes. I eat healthily and cook everything from scratch.
I’m by no means obsessed, though, and if I want a chocolate brownie, I’ll have one — I just won’t have four!
As a result, I feel — and look — fantastic. I’m happy with my weight, and see no reason to gain any more.
Flamenco dancing gives me a buzz
Karen Ruimy, 53, is a flamenco dancer and author. She lives in London with her husband, Ely Michel, 54, a businessman, and their three children.
Karen Ruimy, 53, said her weight began fluctuating after she had children so she started dancing professionally aged 35
To stay fit and fab, you need to take care of mind, body and soul. I feel happier than I did in my 20s and I’m fitter, too.
At 25, I had a high-powered job in finance and felt insecure, which showed in my attitude to food. I ate the wrong things or deprived myself.
My weight fluctuated when I had kids. But aged 35 I started dancing professionally. Flamenco works out the entire body and releases endorphins. If you’re happy you crave healthier food.
Every afternoon I give myself a little break. It’s not a siesta, exactly, but it’s time spent meditating or walking.
I don’t answer emails or my phone. It means I’m not irritable later, which would see me reach for sugary foods.