Ask the Expert with Kelly Erickson

The best ways to lose fat in Mid-life through food choices and exercise

Elaine: I'm really excited to have Kelly Erickson joining me today. We're gonna be talking about nutrition and exercise in order to lose fat in midlife. 

Elaine: Kelly is a Florida-based personal trainer. She's a group fitness instructor and fat-loss coach. I've been following you for quite a while just learning all the tips about nutrition, exercise in midlife. So you said as a stay at home mom, a homeschooling mom, you found fitness. You moved into the industry as a career. And you've spent nearly two decades. 

Kelly: Holy moly, that sounds like a really long time.

Elaine: That is sort of a long time. Right?

Kelly: Yeah, you know, I actually...I shared a meme today that talked about 1970 was like 30 years ago, and 1990 was 10 years ago. In my mind, that's still... Yeah, so the fact that I've been doing this almost two decades. I'm like, yeah, I guess I have.

Elaine: Well, I've been teaching Pilates for 15 years, which I never thought I would be teaching Pilates for 15 years. It just as you age, it just goes faster and faster.

Kelly: For sure.

Interviewer: So you joined Fat Loss Lifestyle School as a as a team member two years ago, and you credit that sensible way of eating and exercising for allowing you to sail through menopause. So you are 55 years old.

Kelly: I am.

Elaine: You look fantastic. And you say you feel better than ever. So tell us a little bit of your backstory and how you changed your diet and exercise in midlife.

Kelly: Awesome. So I grew up. I started dieting with my mom when I was in elementary school. Sad, but true. And yeah, I remember doing like a crazy cabbage soup diet. Like, that's all you ate. And I mean, it was the most God awful, no seasoning, it was horrible. And my mom and her mom and her sister, you know, everyone around me was always either on a diet or on a, you know, just free for all with food. And it was constantly, you know, I need to go on a diet, I need to go on a diet. And so, you know, that was sort of how I followed suit. I found swimming when I was in high school. Before I found swimming, I lost 25 pounds in a very short amount of time because I ate one meal a day. And I nearly passed out a couple of times. And yeah, so that was stupid.

And then I found swimming and I'd always love to swim in our backyard pool. Growing up in Orlando, and in Florida, a lot of people have pools, and I joined the swim team and I was good at it. And that was kind of exciting because I'd always sort of felt like, the awkward, chubby kid. I was, like, the awkward smart kid, and that sort of...I let that define me. And I never found a sport on land that I felt comfortable doing, so I just felt like a dork. And then I got in the pool and I could swim. And we started lifting weights, and I remember oh my God sore, sore, sore, sore, that came that first time lifting weights. But I loved it. And I loved the empowerment that came from strength training, lifting weights and feeling strong physically translates to mental strength, I think and just this great feeling and empowerment. I mean, that's the best way to describe it.

So during high school, I swam year-round with a really high-level club team. I was probably one of the slower kids on the team. A lot of the people I swam with went on to swim in college. I could have at a small school, but I was always a gator and always wanted to go to University of Florida. And so I was not that caliber of a swimmer. They had a phenomenal team at the time. And I moved out of swimming and went to college. And with that, I moved out of doing anything fitness-wise. Back in the early '80s, when I was swimming, nobody really talked to you about fitness nutrition. So I basically lived on spaghetti and bread and butter and Parmesan cheese. And yeah, so when you're swimming that many hours, you can get away with it. But when I got to college, I didn't know how to eat.

And so it went back to the freshman 15. And then I would work out kind of sporadically here and there in college, but nothing consistently. I got out of college, I got my first job and I joined a private little gym club called The Jungle Club, in Vero Beach, Florida when I got my first job. And that's when I found group fitness. And I was like, "Oh, this is fun," and back then we were wearing... I never had leg warmers for the record. That was I think when I started my passion for fitness apparel that has never gone away, like, I can never have enough in my closet. They had a little shop as you walked into the jungle club and every time I'd see, "Oh, the new stuff," and yeah, thong leotards. Thong leotards. Right?

Elaine: Yes, I was gonna say we're of that generation.

Kelly: Yeah, yeah. So I loved group fitness, and I continued to kind of yo-yo diet there and exercise and tried to maintain weight. As I had kids, my first daughter, I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight pretty quickly. But my clothes did not fit the same. And I was almost 30 when I had my oldest who's 25 now. And then my husband he got out of the Air Force. He was a fighter pilot. He was waiting to start work for a commercial airline. He started cooking and back then Emeril Lagasse, I don't know if anybody remembers. Emeril Lagasse had Emeril live, we would watch it regularly, and watch what he cooked. And then we would go on the computer, download the recipes, my husband would go to the grocery store and make that stuff. And it was like having Emeril in my house. And I'd come home from work. We both put on and I'm not kidding 25 pounds that year.

Elaine: I believe it.

Kelly: And then I got pregnant with my second child who's 21 now and shortly thereafter, I was pregnant with my third. So our last two were pretty close together, four years between the girls and then a year and a half between my middle one and my son. So there I was. I found myself really uncomfortable, really unhappy in my skin. I mean, I wasn't happy with how I looked. But I think what was even more, I felt lethargic. My joints hurt. When I would get down on the floor to play with the kids, it hurt to get up, and I'm thinking, "Oh my God. Why is it...? I'm in my '30s. How's it gonna be when I'm in my '50s or '60s?" And that was alarming. That was alarming. And I know a lot of women find themselves in that same boat. But I didn't know what to do about it. So for a while, I started working out and I was able to work off some of the weight just through exercise. What I now know is that I probably was working off not just body fat but also muscle. Because I wasn't lifting a lot. I was doing tons of cardio.

And then I found Fat Loss Lifestyle School, really in its early, early stages. Back then it was Fat Loss Cooking School and Fat Loss Foodies and I found Leslie Ann Quillen who is the founder. And everything just made so much sense. And it was so simple. And I was a little bit pissed off about, why is nobody telling people this isn't...? You know, everybody is fed these lies about you can't eat after a certain time. And you've got to eat less, and all these crazy rules, don't eat until this and fast and this and that. And I'm like, "What do you believe there's so much noise out there?" And when I listened to Leslie Ann and I listened to that message, I'm like, "This is simple, it's straightforward, and for me, it was life-changing." I've now maintained my weight within a few pounds for eight, nine years. And I'm actually working out less. And I eat more. I mean, my husband even laughs we just came back. We were in Mexico at an all-inclusive last week, and I don't really drink much, but I get my money's worth in food.

Elaine: There you go. So tell us, did you find food and exercise really helped you with the symptoms of menopause?

Kelly: Menopause, like, so the worst part, I think, is for most women. Initially, it's just the sporadic period or in my case, it was just constantly spotting. For some women, it's other things. And so how you eat doesn't really solve that. But the other symptoms of menopause when I'm eating right, I don't have hot flashes, and I did not have hot flashes. And I see that time and time again, with women who are in Fat Loss Lifestyle School. They're like, "Oh, my gosh, my hot flashes are gone. And I'm sleeping better." When I'm eating right when I'm exercising not a ton. And that's... I think a lot of women hit menopause and you start to see the belly fat come on, and you start to feel worse. And so women start to say, we're gonna double down, I'm gonna eat less, and I'm gonna exercise more. And that actually makes it all worse. And then you start with the over-exercise, and you are sleeping worse. And menopause already is causing some challenges with sleep. So getting all that kind of in line and under control makes for the other symptoms are far less noticeable. So I mean, I just kind of went through it. It was like, okay, so I guess I'm through menopause because I haven't had a period in a couple of years and I feel good.

Elaine: Well, when you get your food under control, and you're not drinking a ton of alcohol, then your blood sugar is in line, the inflammation is less, your liver is happier. And you get to sail through some of the symptoms. So tell us the difference. Because as a Pilates instructor, I get clients that are like I want to lose fill-in-the-blank pounds, I want to lose five pounds, I want to lose whatever. And I always say. "And what's going to happen when you lose X pounds versus losing fat?" So tell us the difference between weight loss and fat loss.

Kelly: If you lose weight, you don't know if you're losing muscle mass, you don't know if you're losing fat, and with fat loss, it is a slower process. And I think that is where the challenge comes for a lot of women because we want it right now. We want Amazon to deliver and fat loss is not Amazon. It is a much slower process. But it ensures that you are keeping the muscle mass, and I heard Jade Teta who he authored a book that that I read along when I started Fat Loss Lifestyle School called "The Metabolic Effect Diet." Fat Loss Lifestyle School is sort of along the same lines and based on that. He likens it to taking a piece of fruit, and most people if they are apple-shaped, they want to shrink and be a smaller firm apple they do not want to be a smaller mushy apple. And when you talk to most women and you get down and peel off some of the layers, what you typically find is they do want fat loss. Because most women don't want to be smaller but everything... and we're battling that anyway, right? In menopause we're already battling things starting to droop and sag and hang and not be as taut as they once were.

So that is key, is keeping that muscle mass, our body is losing it naturally. We as women, we start losing muscle in our late '20s. And I vividly remember in my '20s, I could drop five pounds in a week, if I just cut my eating. And then I remember as I approached 30, we went to a wedding in New Orleans, and I put on five pounds in a weekend, because you can do that in New Orleans. And I remember trying to lose it. And I was like, "It's not coming off." And I think part of that was the muscle mass wasn't there that I had when I was in my early '20s. And that keeps going as we get older. So you could do everything the same, eating-wise, exercise-wise, and still get mushier and softer, and fatter as you age. So you do have to combat that and keep the muscle on your frame. And that keeps you strong, it keeps you healthier in so many ways. But it also assists with fat loss.

Elaine: Absolutely. And I always say to people plan for retirement with money in the bank and muscle in the bank.

Kelly: Absolutely. Yes.

Elaine: I started lifting weights consistently when I was 35 years old. It's hands down the best thing I have done in terms of the aging process. So we don't want to be scared of lifting weights. So I love that you coach women on lifestyle changes rather than a restrictive diet. I know Gen X, we grew up with, I mean, all these crazy diets, remember all the fat-free food?

Kelly: Oh yeah, fat-free SnackWell's. Eat the whole box.

Elaine: SnackWell's, I lived on SnackWell's which they just replaced the fat with sugar. I mean, I went through a lot of very restrictive dieting, and not eating, and all kinds of crazy stuff. So there's so many... There's crazy information now, right? With very restrictive diets, I won't name them. How is Fat Loss Lifestyle School different than a diet? Can you just give us a snapshot of what you're teaching?

Kelly: I think one of the biggest things is it has no end, there's no deadline, and there's no finish line. And we are teaching women how to eat and teaching them to listen to their own bodies. So we start our clients with a basic outline, we call it a template of how much to have on your plate as far as the macronutrients, your proteins, your carbs, and your fats. And then we coach them, and that's where we have coaching and coaching groups where it's not just, "Here's what you eat." And you look at it and go, "But I don't like Brussels sprouts, and I don't like eggs." And it's not that.

So there are things to choose from our clients build their own meals, and then they listen to their bodies. For one woman, four ounces of protein at a meal might be plenty, for another woman, maybe they need six ounces of protein, but they learn to listen to those signals. How is your hunger? How is your energy? Are you having cravings? And if you have any of that, then we teach them what to do to correct it for the next meal. And it's really cool to watch. We are in the fourth week of our four weeks with them. And it's great to hear, you know, they're like, "Well, I had cravings yesterday, but I know why. I did this, this, and this, and this is why..."

So there's no other program I know of where you're taught to do that. Basically, you're just taught to count points or count macros. And also with a lot of it, it's just like all things are equal. So if you've got so many points or macros, it doesn't matter what you eat, just fill those numbers fill those slots where we know that a certain amount of protein has a certain effect on your hunger, your energy, your cravings. Same goes for vegetables and fats. And it is finding the formula and personalizing it for yourself and it changes and that's why it's so key. Some days you may need something different but you know how to adjust.

Elaine: Right. So it's really a program to empower women rather than, like, restrictive. Where so as women used to these restrictive diets and these punishing diets, and I can't do this, that. I love that mentality. So...

Kelly: One of the clients, her husband said to her after the first week, he's like, "I thought you were on a diet." She's like, "Well, it is, but it's not." He's like, "I've never seen you eat so much food," and she's shrinking. And that's the thing, it really is. I find that many, many, many of our clients are under-eating. And they are not eating enough, which creates stress, especially for menopausal women. Women are more affected by stress than men are typically, but menopausal women are even more so. So we teach our clients everything to reduce stress, walk every day, and then by eating more, your body knows that it's being fed. It's being fueled.

Elaine: Right, right, which I think again, so many of us have lived in sort of this. Patterns of eating that are very disordered.

Kelly: Yeah, yeah. And we normalize that, which is weird, right?

Elaine: Right. So I saw a post, I think that Leslie Ann put up. It's a pyramid of how to prioritize exercise, and why movement is so important. So I've worked in gyms for the past 15 years, I see a lot of women who they are just full-time on that elliptical machine. For like, an hour a day, there's one woman, I'm based in Los Angeles, she's on that machine twice a day, like, clocking in clocking out. So tell us, where do we prioritize what's sort of the hierarchy of exercise?

Kelly: So the biggest thing is daily walking. And a couple of reasons. One is the stress reduction, like I talked about before, but then also it's neat non-exercise activity thermogenesis. So it's additional movement in our day. Most of our lives anymore, is pretty sedentary. Most people are sitting for everything, driving, working, eating, you come home, you collapse in front of Netflix. So it's getting additional movement in, which burns calories, and it doesn't create stress in your body. So that movement is the basis of everything. And then the next priority is strength training, and lifting three times a week, and then doing some cardio. And cardio doesn't have to be an hour on the elliptical, it shouldn't be. It's better to do intense cardio for 30 minutes-ish, a couple times a week. And when I say intense, some women get scared by that. It's what feels intense to you. So where I might be able to do one level of intensity, what's hard for me might be easy for you, or vice versa. So it's finding that intense exercise for yourself.

And then some flexibility training, you know, yoga, Pilates, and that stretching that is so often neglected. And building that into the week as well. And that's the thing, I think the workouts don't have to be an hour. And lifting, I am in and out in 45 minutes. And the cardio, 30. You know, so it can be quick, it can be at home. It can be at a gym, at a Y. And it's whatever works the easiest for you scheduling wise, but the walks are like the non-negotiable. It's got to happen. It took me a while to really embrace the walk. And last year I had emergency surgery, and I was forced to walk, well, I wasn't forced to walk but that was all I could do. I was told not to do any exercise. My surgeon yelled at me, my husband ratted me out for lifting weights too soon. And yeah, I started walking and now I love it. I absolutely love it. I crave it.

Elaine: Yeah, well because I think being in nature is very healing and very soothing to your nervous system. A little bit of vitamin D on your skin is also fantastic. Does wonders for you. And it's great, right?

Kelly: Yeah. And in Florida, I post on my Instagram stories all the time, my walks, people freak out who don't live around here. But there are alligators, they're not just walking down the street, although sometimes they are. But there's a pond I walk past a lot of times and there's an alligator and I'm like, so excited when I see that alligator I'm like, "Oh, good. He's here, or she," and the birds and just all the different flora and fauna in the area. It really is. It's neat.

Elaine: Yeah, I went to Idaho for three weeks, I walked every day with a girlfriend for about an hour a day. I lost seven pounds just from doing that.

Kelly: Isn't that amazing?

Elaine: I mean, totally just from movement. So we've been talking a bit about weights, I am not afraid to lift heavy weights. So talk to us about that. I know a lot of women buy into this, like, "Oh, I shouldn't lift anything heavier than three pounds or five pounds," and I'm like, "Your purse weighs that, your bag of groceries weighs that." So talk to us about heavy weights.

Kelly: So you've got to challenge your muscles, you want to get them to the point of fatigue. Now, if three pounds and you do 12 reps with three pounds and you're struggling on the last couple reps, then that's an appropriate weight for that exercise for you. But once that becomes easy, you need to increase the weight to get the same benefit. And muscles, our bodies are incredibly adaptive. So our muscles adapt and the weight we're using now. If you're doing the same exercise, you should see it becoming easier. And that's when we bump up the weights.

I always tell people, if you are starting out and you have not lifted, hire a personal trainer, even if it's just for a few sessions to get you started because somebody else showing you how to do the exercises and ensuring that you're doing them properly is so important because injuries happen when people lift and their form is not good. So it's really key to find a good personal trainer, ask around, and hire them for a little bit. Spend the money, hire them, and then you will know the right things to do. And then if you want to work out on your own, you can move forward from there.

Elaine: Definitely, yeah, there's nothing worse in the gym than seeing bad posture with heavy weight added to it.

Kelly: We see, I'm sure you do too, some crazy things with people lifting and you just want to go over and go, "You're really not doing anything. Or you're not doing that right." But I don't. I resist.

Elaine: I'm always like, "Take a deep breath. Take a deep breath." Yes. So we had a couple of questions come in from someone who said, "How often do you eat a day and total calories?" Are you timing things out and counting calories? What would you say to that?

Kelly: I don't count calories. I'm guessing my calorie intake is 2200 a day-ish. And then four meals a day. And they are evenly spaced throughout the day. So I have my first meal within a couple hours of waking and then about four hours later, I'll have lunch, and then another meal that comes like mid-afternoon and then dinner.

Elaine: Okay. And then she had a question about cardio, "How long per week?" I'm wondering if she was asking, how long a period of time each time you do cardio? Is there any rhyme or reason to that?

Kelly: Yeah. So I'd say 30, maybe 45 minutes at the most and because you're trying to work at an intense level. And often it's interval training where if you're running and I'm not a big... I don't like running but I will run intervals or cycling, or any kind of thing, doing it at different intervals. Maybe it's 30 seconds hard and 30 seconds walking and 30 seconds hard, and you go through a few cycles like that and you really... 20, 30 minutes is enough if you're really going all out on the the work part. And for some people, if you're doing intervals like that. often it's 30 seconds on and then longer off to recover. You want to recover to the point that you can go 100% all out. And again, that's at your level and whatever is hard for you to do and then recover.

Elaine: Right. And I think so many women, I found this in teaching Pilates. They're so disconnected and disembodied, that it's time ladies to get back into your own body. What foods feel good, what amount feels good, what exercise feels good. There's no hard and fast rules here that Kelly and I could give you. So, you also had a post, busting the myth that if you lift weights, you'll get bulky. I hear this all the time. "I'll lift weights, I'm gonna get bulky. I'm gonna get bulky.'' I'll let you answer that.

Kelly: So one of my favorite things I ever heard someone say is that weights don't make you bulky, cupcakes do. And I mean, it just makes sense. If you think about it. If you grow a muscle, if there's a layer of fat on top of that, then you're gonna get bigger. But then hopefully, if you are losing fat too, the fat will shrink away and leave the lean muscle and then you get a more muscular appearance. And women need to understand that when you look at bodybuilders or fitness competitors, that is a full-time job for them. Their nutrition and their exercise. And those women are very, very lean, like, lean to the point that they don't maintain it even. They cycle. You know, they will go very, very lean for a show, and then they eat like crazy. So I think sometimes really, it's not a bulky appearance women are afraid of but more that cut appearance. And that's hard to get. It's really hard to get and it takes a lot to grow the muscles really, really, big years of training. So, you know, women should not be afraid of that.

Elaine: Right. There's a fitness model at my gym. I mean, this she's in the gym three, four, five hours. I mean, It's her like 20-hour a week job. And I also tell women muscle gives you shape under your clothing. I think muscles just been given a completely bad rap when it comes to women. It is not easy to put a lot of muscle on.

Kelly: It's not. No, it really... most women... I mean, there are some women who put it on a little bit more easily. But it's not typical.

Elaine: Yeah. So I would say, "Don't be afraid of getting bulky, you won't get bulky." So for a woman who's busy and overwhelmed with responsibilities, what is one small takeaway from today that they can start to do to feel better in their body? What do you suggest?

Kelly: I honestly, I would say, start walking. And that sounds like, "Okay, I'm adding more." I would say, if they are working out a lot, cut back on that and in lieu of the walking. But walks can be broken up during the day, you can do 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there. It's pretty easy to fit that into your day. But just start walking, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk.

Elaine: I agree. And I like to do what I call walk and talk, rather than have lunch with a girlfriend, I'll say, "Let's go for a walk." And three, four, five miles later, you've had a wonderful conversation, you've got lots of sunshine, and you moved your body.

Kelly: Boy, how cool is that if people would start doing that instead of happy hours and lunches out. We've developed this whole culture around, going to happy hour too where you could go do a walk and talk. I'm not anti-drinking. There's nothing wrong with having an occasional cocktail. But there's a whole culture of mommy wine drinkers.

Elaine: Oh, I think we could have a whole conversation about that. And women in midlife reaching for the wine bottle as a way to soothe all the stress. And midlife can be stressful if you're managing kids at home. And, I don't have kids, but I have an aging mother. All of that. Midlife for women, the responsibilities can really start to pile on.

Kelly: We just talked about that. The other day, I was talking with someone who's got younger kids. And I said, "As stressful as the little kids' stuff is, when your kids get to be teenagers and adults, it's like so much more terrifying because their mistakes now could be life-altering." When they're little it's not that big a deal.

Elaine:. I'm just looking through the chat here. And we have a question. Sue is asking, she says she's dealing with getting thicker and wider. What do you suggest?

Kelly: It's getting the nutrition and the exercise aligned. And all the things that we've been talking about with more movement, strategic exercise, and then eating to get leaner. It's protein and produce is the big thing that we preach. And not cutting out food groups. We all still eat carbs, fruit, other starchy carbs. And we've treat meals every week. So nothing's ever off-limits. I mean, that's the beauty too, you decide what sounds really good, find the best source for it and enjoy the heck out of it. And it's awesome.

Elaine: Yeah, and I would say for sleep issues my doctor told me with perimenopause and menopause, if you're waking up in that like, 2 to 5 a.m. window. That is often cortisol issues. It can be liver issues. She said just make sure you eat a healthy carb with dinner, maybe that's some sweet potato. Ever since I started doing that I sleep through the night. No problem. So Kelly, how can people find you? How can they connect with you?

Kelly: So I'm on Instagram as Kappa Gator, K-A-P-P-A G-A-T-O-R. A little throwback to college.

Interviewer: That's what I figured, and how can they connect with you for Fat Loss Lifestyle School? When's your next program? If they're interested, how can they get more information?

Kelly: So they are welcome to message me on Instagram at Kappa Gator. And our next one will be January, the first of the year. So lots of time to check out my Instagram also the main Fat Loss Lifestyle School page. And learn more about what we do. And feel free to reach out and ask any questions.

Elaine: Yeah, I highly recommend, follow Kelly and also follow Fat Loss Lifestyle School. I've learned a ton from you guys. I love your approach. I think it's a completely... it's a lifestyle. Not a diet. And that's what I just love about it. I love your message. So thank you for joining me today.

Kelly: You are so welcome. Thank you for asking.

Elaine: Of course, even though it's the holidays, don't throw the towel in, still do your walks.

Kelly: Yeah, and I posted something the other day some tips for the holidays. And one of the big things I tell every woman if you want to get rid of some stress, think about one thing during the holidays that you loath. Something that you hate to do, and kick it to the curb if you can. I mean, I gave up doing Christmas cards 10 years ago because I'm like, "This is ridiculous. I'm spending all this time and money. I hate doing this." I quit doing it. That was life-changing. I was like, "Yes." So if it's baking, hire somebody else to make the baked goods. If you don't like to decorate, either don't decorate or hire somebody to come do it. You can't do it all.

Elaine: Exactly. You can't do it all and I think in midlife is when you start to get honest about, like, why am I doing this? And do I really want to do this?

Kelly: Yeah, for real. Yes.

Elainer: Yes, yes. Well, thank you, Kelly. Everyone, go follow her. And if you have questions, be sure to DM her. And I just really appreciate your time. Thank you.

Kelly: You're welcome. Thanks. And have a great night.

Elaine: Thanks you too. Bye, everyone.