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Skinny ladies also need advice.

Hi Diana,

I really appreciate your column in The Lady which I look forward to every week, but you mostly give advice to overweight ladies. Please don’t forget us ectomorph’s or slimmer ladies. And could you give some advice on to clothes to flatter my slim figure.

Jennifer Bate (Dorking, Surrey.)

Dear Jennifer

When you’re underweight you tend to feel full faster, so eat frequently and focus on healthy foods to gain weight. Good nutrition is paramount. Gaining weight by eating chips, sweets or cakes and other high- calorie junk foods full of saturated fat and sugar, or with fizzy drinks is bad. These foods increase your body fat instead of your lean body mass.   Alternatively, eat foods high in calories and nutrients such as nuts, peanuts, seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, avocados, hummus and oils, all great sources of healthy plant fats. Animal fats provide nutrients and calories but they also contain saturated fats which can increase bad cholesterol.

When choosing what to wear its easy to flatter your slim frame by choosing clothes with horizontal lines to make you appear wider and create an illusion of curves. Avoid tight clothes and wear clothes with volume such as pleated skirts, maxi dresses, harem pants, or dolman sleeves instead. Layering and piling on several pieces of clothing of varying length can create the appearance of piling on the pounds. Wear ruffles, wide legged pants and draw attention to your fuller shape by choosing happy clothes in bright and light colours.  Dark colours have a slimming effect. 

Tension neck and shoulders

Tension and stress can lead to serious physical problems which left untreated could become a more permanent complaint.  Our muscles become tight and heart rate can increase, resulting in sweaty skin and dilated eye pupils Tension shows itself in a range of signs and symptoms, very often around the neck, the upper back and across the muscles of the chest.  Some stressed people may experience chest pain and tension headaches often caused by hyperventilation, over-exertion plus bad posture. Left untreated these conditions can lead to poor performance, both physically and mentally, and may have serious long-term effects on wellbeing.   Natural stressing is an instinctive reaction called FIGHT OR FLIGHT when the body tenses up preparing itself to be ready for instant action to protect itself from danger.

Stress channelled in a positive way is what top athletes and performers use to enhance their performance. With their healthy attitude, stress for them is exciting, life-enhancing and enables them to achieve their goals.  But we ordinary folk need to recognise and avoid stress and keep it under control if we are to enjoy life to the full. Many of us waste time and effort allowing ourselves to become worried and tense which puts our bodies into a state of turmoil. We need to relax and chill out in order to combat stressful situations.

How do we recognise stress, and how can we deal with it?  Some situations, such as a delayed train or plane, or being stuck in a traffic jam are beyond our control, and we are unable to escape from the tension it causes us.   Working long hours and taking work home indicate that we may be working too hard. Cancelling a holiday because of the job are sure signs of a workaholic under stress.  Some of us feel we have too much to do, with unrealistic demands made of us, or with impossible deadlines to meet (sounds like me).   Perhaps we’re unhappy or unfulfilled in work, or we don’t enjoy the company of our workmates.  Personal relationships at work or at home can be difficult to cope with, but simply bottling up grievances will cause us to stress. Whilst these circumstances persist it can be difficult to rid ourselves of pent up emotions.  There may be an increase in blood pressure and stress levels caused by the frequent surges of stress hormones.  Worry can cause stress, but as we know, worry is energy wasted. My mother taught me “Worry is the interest you pay on trouble before it comes”.  Wise words indeed.


Simply counting to 10 before responding to a stressful situation is often all that’s required. Take time out and learn to relax with breathing techniques you can carry out anywhere. Breathe deeply through your nose for a count of 5 into your abdomen, relax your shoulders, expand your chest and remember your posture! Breathe out slowly through your mouth for a count of 5


Get away from it all and clear your head by taking a brisk walk. Sometimes a change of scenery and some fresh air can help you forget the stress that’s been troubling you.  But remember your breathing!


If you have a problem speaking to a friend or a colleague may help put problems into perspective and lighten your load.  If you can, laugh with them,  distract yourself by talking to upbeat people, share a joke with them, or read something  funny that makes you laugh.  Laughing long and loud can produce ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain and will help relieve the symptoms of stress.


If you spend long hours stressed and hunched over your computer, consider buying an upright computer desk which I did recently.  It will help improve your posture and encourage you to move about more.  Even a few minutes spent making a cup of tea can help you to take your mind off  your problems. Herbal tea is best, try peppermint tea to calm or chamomile tea to help you relax.

Healthy midlife

Talk with girlfriends approaching midlife and inevitably “Midlife Crisis” is mentioned!  Many women still think midlife and menopause signals decline; weight gain and loss of fitness but it needn’t be a time of despondency if we understand the ageing process.  For those women in their 40’s and 50’s this should be a time to adopt a positive attitude and aim to be fit, to look good and to feel great. We can’t turn back the clock, so let’s begin to focus on working alongside nature to prevent or postpone disease.  It’s this that enables a woman in midlife to move forward and enjoy maturity.

Stop and think

Let’s take stock…how is your general health and how do you envisage your future?  Many women will find they’ve concentrated their efforts on looking after the health of their partners and children, often to the detriment of themselves. Now is the time to be selfish… owe it to yourself, your family and friends to maintain your fitness in order to prevent future health problems, which could affect not only you, but possibly those left to care for you.

Health checks

Could it be time to talk to your Doctor to arrange a health check, especially if you’re concerned about, but have ignored, a particular problem? Finding out facts could help manage conditions such as blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, all possible to control if diagnosed early.


Certain health problems are caused by the fast pace of modern life and resulting stress. Some women experience powerful emotional upheavals, others minor problems, whilst some have complex stressful situations to cope with.  Problems due to unresolved personal relationships or dissatisfaction with lost job opportunities fear of the future or growing older in what they perceive to be an ageist society. Tackle the cause of stress, talk over worries and concerns with someone other than immediate family or friends. A problem shared really can be a problem halved, and talking to a stranger can help shed light on inner feelings held back when talking to loved ones.


Sleep is important but can be impeded by stress and worry, so learn to relax, rest and restore your body.  I paint pictures to relax, other friends switch off listening to music and some feel at peace in the garden or through meditation.  Give yourself some personal time and space to switch off and find a way to restore some harmony to your body, mind and spirit.





What we eat and drink is important for our health and should consist of a variety of foods from 5 categories.

  • Carbohydrates…starchy foods such as pasta, rice, oats, potatoes, cereals, bread, bananas
  • Proteins…meat and fish.
  • Milk and dairy products.
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fats and sugars

Ensure your diet is varied, nutritious and well balanced. Try to include oily fish, fibrous foods, fresh fruits and vegetables all of which contain essential nutrients and vitamins.  Cut down on salt, sugar and saturated fats, excess can cause health problems.


If you are concerned your diet lacks certain vitamins or minerals consider taking supplements, your GP or local pharmacist can advise you.  Increasing energy expenditure by keeping active will help you lose weight, and being fit will improve your stamina, suppleness, strength, skill and shape. An increase in years should not be an excuse for an increase in your waistline!


Menopause causes dramatic changes in a woman’s hormonal level increasing the possibility of osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones making them fragile and at risk of breaking. It develops slowly over years and is often diagnosed when a minor fall or impact causes a bone to fracture.  Prevention is better than cure and for many post menopausal women taking a daily supplement of calcium plus Vitamin D helps maintain bone strength.  Weight bearing activities, such as simple BRISK walking is essential to encourage strong bones and help eliminate the risk of falling.


Women need to be aware of breast and ovarian cancers and during midlife should take up the offer of NHS screening programmes. Many cancers discovered early can be treated successfully, as I know having been diagnosed with breast cancer in my mid forties. Today I’m fighting fit.


If you’ve already a previously diagnosed health problem take a moment to re-access how you are coping, maybe enquire and ask about more assistance to help you go forward.

Body changes

Inevitably with an increase in years there will be bodily changes including a natural thinning of bones, plus some discomfort in the joints, with arthritis, rheumatism and backache being painful reminders of the passing years for some.  With age muscles become weaker and less able to support us particularly if we don’t keep active.  Muscles begin to atrophy, and one’s posture and self-esteem can be adversely effected by poor muscle tone.


During midlife what stronger motivation do we need for taking that daily brisk walk, for at least half an hour, and doing a few simple exercises in order to keep us walking tall!

Aerobic March to improve your cardio-vascular efficiency (heart and lungs)

Clear a space and put on some upbeat music.   Simply march on the spot for 1 minute lifting your feet up, rolling through the ball of your foot and keeping your weight over the big and second toe.   Now lift your knees higher and pump with your arms.  Being a weight bearing exercise this helps maintain strong bones.  March on around the room and/or garden for several minutes until you begin to puff.

Pelvic Tilt to strengthen abdominal muscles and increase spinal flexibility

Lie on back, knees bent, feet hip width apart with arms at your sides, palms down. Press neck and back flat into mat.  Exhale pull in abdominal muscles and peeling spine up one vertebra at a time lift your bottom upwards towards ceiling.  Hold your body still, inhale and raise arms up to your ears and beyond. Now exhale and carefully lower your spine and bottom down to mat. Inhale and return arms to your sides.  Repeat 5 times.

Exercising at home

One way to keep fit is to get up off your chair and keep moving! Be positive about your health, a negative attitude to life may cause health problems.  Physical activity is a good antidote to depression, makes your muscles and heart work better, and helps keep you physically independent. Whatever your age you can improve your fitness level, your stamina, suppleness, strength and your skill (co-ordination).


To stretch out the entire body: stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees soft nd bend forwards from the waist.  Now swing your arms down to the floor and behind you. Continue in a flowing movement to straighten your knees, and swing your arms forwards and high above your head. Breathe deeply, lift your rib cage, straighten up and stretch your entire body. Repeat 5 times. 


To improve the mobility of your upper back: stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Relax left knee and with right hand reach up and over your head as if climbing a rope. Now bring right arm down, reach up and stretch over with your left hand (relax right knee). Repeat alternate sides 5 times.


To strengthen your abdominal (tummy) muscles: lie with knees bent, feet flat on the floor shoulder-width apart (or hook under bed) and place hands on thighs. Pull in your tummy pushing waist down to floor and tilt your pelvis forward (maintain pelvis tilt position throughout exercise). Take deep breath in. Breathe out and curl your upper body and lift your head and shoulders up as far as comfortable, sliding hands towards knees. Keeping back curled breathe in.  Breathe out and slowly lower yourself back down.  (Don’t drop head backwards) Repeat 10 times.


To strengthen spine: turn over and lie on your tummy, arms at your sides. Now bend elbows and place hands on floor, palms down, under your shoulders, with chin on floor. Breathe in, and as you breathe out lift up your head, chest and arms, together in a straight line off the floor like a flying bird (keep looking down.) Breathe out and relax to the floor. A small but strong movement, so build up slowly. Repeat 5 times. Warning: This exercise is not suitable for those with osteoporosis.

Reduce the risk of stroke through exercise

Most of us should sit around less and move about more to benefit our health, because taking exercise plays a vital role in improving our overall well-being.  Just 30 minutes of activity five days a week can reduce by a quarter our risk of having a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA) and also conditions like coronary heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes. Aerobic or “cardio” exercise helps strengthen the heart and lungs, lowers blood pressure, prevents obesity and controls cholesterol and stress levels – all of which can reduce risk of stroke. Aerobic exercise is most beneficial, it’s rhythmic and repetitive movements use the large body muscles and work the heart and lungs. Aerobic exercises include walking, dancing and swimming.

It’s best not to exercise for a couple of hours after a heavy meal and exercise before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep.  But, get motivated, choose an exercise you enjoy depending on your interests, abilities and what is locally available. Maybe exercise at home; gardening is an excellent activity, and simple brisk walking uses every major muscle, plus having the bonus of being in the fresh air. Maybe you prefer to be indoors with others in a regular fitness class? Aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week, but you don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once, break it into smaller blocks of time throughout the day.

Your age, general health, and current level of activity will affect what you do but it’s never too late to start being more active. Prevent injuries by warming up before you begin – “walk vigorously” on the spot for 2 minutes, and cool down afterwards by “strolling” on the spot for a few minutes.  This allows the heart rate to slow down, and while your body’s still warm is an ideal time to stretch out your muscles.

For most people with high blood pressure exercise may help lower it. During exercise blood pressure naturally rises for a short time but returns to its usual level when you stop.  The quicker it returns to normal, the fitter you are. High blood pressure medication may be needed to lower it before you increase your activity levels.  So speak to your GP, particularly if you haven’t exercised for some time or are on medication, because some medication, such as beta-blockers slow your heart rate and sedatives can cause drowsiness.

Excessive body hair – especially face

Excessive hair growth in certain areas of the body is fairly common, but many women find it distressing to live with. Facial hair that is fine and light in colour, commonly on the upper lip, causes little problem but when hair is dark, coarse and excessive many find it can be embarrassing.  Hair that is thick and dark (known as hirsutism) is caused by an excess of male hormones called androgens the most well-known being testosterone. All women produce some testosterone but some have increased sensitivity to it. It’s not clear why this should be but after the menopause it can affect some older women sometimes causing a deep voice and excess facial and body hair growth. Hirsutism can be a long-term problem, growing in areas where men often have hair such as the face, neck, chest, tummy, lower back, buttocks and thighs.

There are a number of home hair removal methods that can help keep excess hair under control, such as plucking and waxing, but simply shaving the excess can cause unpleasant stubble in between shaves. Commercial products are readily available for waxing or bleaching either at home or at your local beauty salon.  Some creams act on enzymes in hair follicles providing a longer term solution.

Professional treatments include electrolysis, using electricity to remove hair permanently by destroying hair cells, but this can be painful and may change skin colour.  Professional treatment for hirsutism usually involves techniques to remove the excess hair and treatments to help slow its growth or stop it coming back.  Specialist hair removal treatments, such as laser hair removal uses powerful beams of light over several months to destroy unwanted, excess facial hair.

If hirsutism is your problem it may be advisable for you to talk to your GP who can look for any underlying cause, advise you about the treatments available or refer you to a specialist. After looking at the areas of excessive growth the GP will ask about symptoms, your medical history, what medication you are taking, and check hormone levels by doing a blood test. Your GP may prescribe eflornithine cream that can help slow down the growth of facial hair or oral contraceptives, including co-cyprindiol tablets that may help prevent excess hair growth. It may take a few months to notice the effects so it’s important to persist with treatments and in many cases, treatment will need to be continued indefinitely.

MENOPAUSE – Self Help Tips

One advantage of being older is not having to cope with menopausal problems such hot flashes, disturbed sleep and mood swings anymore!  But what can be done to manage symptoms if they’re bothering you?  Simple lifestyle changes can help, although some symptoms will go away on their own. Distressing hot flashes may be triggered by spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, stress, or hot environment.  So avoid when possible, dress in layers you can remove and take slow, deep breaths when you feel a flash starting.

Help sleeping problems by cutting out caffeine after lunchtime. Don’t smoke, avoid large meals  and stop working on your computer several hours before your bedtime.  Be more physically active in the daytime but not just before bedtime, because exercise isn’t conducive to sleep. Keep your bedtimes regular and avoid napping during the day.  Sleep in a dark, quiet, cool bedroom and use it for sleep and sex only. If you can’t get to sleep read until you’re tired. 

Getting a good night’s sleep and being physically active helps avoid mood swings, but if they really trouble you consider seeing a therapist or joining a support group. Talk to your doctor if you are depressed or are experiencing memory problems, like forgetfulness.  HRT can be effective in helping regulate hot flashes, mood swings and other menopausal symptoms.  HRT is not suitable for everyone, but your doctor may prescribe medications used for other conditions like epilepsy, depression, and high blood pressure, that may help with symptoms.  If you still have periods, low-dose oral contraceptives (birth control pills) may help.  If vaginal dryness is your problem a water-based, over-the-counter vaginal lubricant like K-Y Jelly can help make sex more comfortable.

Be aware that lower oestrogen levels brought about by the menopause lead to bone loss, and weak bones break easily. To keep your bones strong and to avoid osteoporosis (fragile bone disease) do weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, climbing stairs, or using weights. For bone health eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, or consider taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. After the menopause with changes in oestrogen levels plus ageing and possibly gaining weight or developing other health problems, there can be an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).  If possible have your cholesterol and blood pressure levels checked. Not smoking, getting regular exercise and following a healthy diet are paramount to keeping you healthy and active in your postmenopausal years.