This interview is part of the Real Talk Real Women interview series, where we bring you the life-changing, heart-warming and inspirational stories behind the most successful women in health and fitness. Make sure to follow us on Instagram for the latest interviews! For this installment, we are joined by Karen Pilote.
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself, what are you all about and how did you get involved in health and fitness?
I'm a woman in my mid-fifties who's looking back and looking forward. I was a wife, still a mother, soon to be grandmother, and my first calling was a hairstylist. I love everything aesthetically pleasing.
I first became interested in fitness because of beauty; I wanted a beautiful body – but now, now I want beautiful health, beautiful aging, and the ability to move with ease, grace, agility and youthfulness – and I want to support others on that journey as well.
At some point, health and fitness became more than just a personal aspiration, but something I found I could share with others. I've been involved in the fitness industry for 30 years; first, as a participant and then aerobic instructor. Then as a personal trainer and gym owner.
I presently work as an online coach with Get Fit Over 40. I was in my forties when I began to seriously focus on fitness as part of my overall wellbeing. I found myself seeking support from people who weren’t always experiencing the same challenges and changes that I was. That’s when I first came up with the idea of “Get Fit Over 40”.
My company is by no means limited to those over 40, but I felt that there was such a focus on youth and fitness, that it was hard to find a group that was realistically acknowledging the real lives most people have who don’t make fitness their profession. This realization gave me purpose and helped me discover more about myself in the process. I'm a creative. I’m an artist. I use these talents to communicate and connect with others.
There's not one formula to create fitness, health, vitality, wholeness. There's not one way to consistently relate to yourself if you hope to grow and learn and change.... nor is there one definitive way to relate to and help another woman (person)... it takes a lot of intuition, empathy, and vision, to change a physique, to connect to another woman on a level that matters, to flow with your own moods and their moods as well.
Most importantly, by focusing on being a mentor and coach, I’ve expanded my own knowledge, and I’ve tried a lot of techniques for nutrition and exercise, and I know I can use that to help others. I think most importantly, I’m a REAL woman, not a media personality or a brand. My clients see my good days, but they also see my bad ones, and this realism I hope helps them relate to me, just like I relate to them. I "get" their lives, their challenges, their hopes, and their need to feel they are relevant, heard, understood.
My goal is to offer reassurance to others, teaching them that they can change their circumstance and embrace their own journey. I want women to fully realize that life is the point. Weight loss and gain over the years usually coincides with life phases that are good, natural and normal. Life events like marriage, childbirth, motherhood, menopause are milestones to be celebrated, and our amazing bodies can change (healthily) to accommodate, protect, teach us if we are available to listen to our own needs.
Get Fit Over 40 has a physical space, where I work directly with clients out of a gym in Ontario, Canada, but I have an even bigger presence online. I have created my own fitness and meal plan available online. I’ve also recently discovered the Precision Fitness Program. This worked great for me, and now I’m able to remotely provide clients this fantastic program that really focuses on behavior and emotional changes to create personal success.
I want to help others feel good about themselves, because I feel that way, and I'm not different from others. I want to feel good about myself, and I know that doing the physical leads to better emotional feelings, worthiness, self-esteem. I recognize it can be a constant battle, our lives and emotions can be unpredictable, but with a mission to get fit and feel good, those activities can be a healthy outlet in times of emotional stress and confusion.
Fitness is a safe place to go and feel control over oneself – a place where you can do something tangible about your circumstance instead of wallowing, worrying, feeling hopeless and sinking lower into an emotional cesspool. (I personally can't imagine where I'd be if I didn't have my fitness identity/ friend/counselor). So I’m here to share my story, and help others find that area of positivity and control. I'm about all of this for me personally, and I'm all about sharing it with other women who are interested. I don't need to change the world - and not everybody needs to see it my way, but I want to discover beautiful aging with others that want to age beautifully too.
What do you feel has changed the most over the years when it comes to the way we look at health and fitness?
I believe the internet has really changed the way we look at health and fitness - the amount of information is helpful, but often the quality of information is detrimental. Unguided, it can open up a channel that breeds fear about our ability to thrive, the quality of our food, the (in)ability to change, and almost makes women feel as if they need to change. However, it’s also a place that brings women together, by offering credible informative information and programs and providing social interaction that brings like-minded people together for support and successful evolution.
Another big change, in the context of an older woman like myself, is our perspective and reasons for focusing on health. I personally have evolved to look at health and fitness as a means to age well, keep mentally engaged (no crosswords needed here!) and socially active, stay reasonably strong and attractive, and improve my quality of life. The industry focus may not have changed so much, but I feel the change in women like myself. They are seeking health, balance and self-acceptance (although appearance is still important).
But the women I work with are frustrated and done with hating themselves. They understand that the food they eat can make them feel good and it can make them feel bad. And they want to feel good. They are ready to do what it takes to make the changes, realistically. Shunning fad diets, woman are investing the time and money to ensure they succeed. It's such a great thing to witness!
One thing that stands out to me is the increasing number of women who suffer from body image and self-confidence issues - what’s your take on this?
Yes, so many women do suffer from these issues, it's sad really. I'm susceptible as well, influenced by media and other women....we all feel that. We look to see how everybody else is doing...that's natural. To gain confidence in this current world requires putting on blinders and following your own path. But there's not a path to follow, we are forging it.
The women over 40 who are thriving, are often doing it solo. There's not a big party at the gym for women over 40 unless you create it yourself or search for it earnestly. Poor body image and lack of self-confidence grows over time and it takes real effort to overcome our feelings of unworthiness and discover the special people we are. Good nutrition and a healthy active life can change the focus from what we perceive to be to what we can do.
Women are strong and mighty, they can do so much for others with ease yet hesitate to invest in themselves. At Get Fit Over 40 we have an amazing support system comprised of women from all walks of life and all levels of fitness. Some women want weight loss, some women want to feel better, and some are battling illness and age-related decline. We all have one thing in common and that's the desire to feel better and be happy.
If you could only give one piece of advice around confidence - what would it be?
Take the confidence you feel from the successful parts of your life into the areas that you feel insecure about. No one is confident about all things at all times. We're all groping around in the dark. We're all insecure about one thing or another. We're all learning, growing, seeking, sharing, failing, and trying again.
As women, our roles in life change often and we're caught sometimes, unexpectedly lost and kind of afraid. What to do now that I'm no longer a wife, needed as a mother, becoming an "older person", retired? All that and feeling frumpy and overweight, tired and often, in pain. It's all very confusing and emotional, and we go through insecure moments over and over if we're having a normal life experience.
Over the years of caring for others, we forget to care for ourselves. Weight gain, aches and pains, and poor health leave us feeling lousy just at the time when natural age-related decline begins and then our confidence spirals downward because we just don't feel good physically nor mentally. The thing is, we have the choice to change that, and it's not by reaching for a medication. Confidence is garnered through achievement and what better achievement is there than to pick oneself up, take control of your health and feel strong.
It’s one of the key reasons that I started Real Talk Real Women - to show real women like yourself versus the image of total perfection portrayed in the media. What’s the role of media in this equation?
The media is the good guy and the bad guy. We loathe it yet we feed it. We hate how women are portrayed yet secretly yearn to be that woman with the perfect body, the perfect life, the perfect kids, the perfect job....we buy into it even when we lash out at it, believing our negative attention will change things. It seldom does.
We've got to use the media to spur us on to better; better feelings, better expectations, better lives - whatever that means to us, personally. I was the young girl who looked at the stars, the models, the musicians and wanted to be them. I found my way to be the best version of me despite the overwhelming negative images out there.
I think you've got to embrace the media and make it work for you whatever that means.....I know there is a lot of really bad junk out there, but it's not in my focal view, it's not in my reality, so, therefore it can't affect me. Unless I let it. Unless I look for it. But I won't. Instead, I look for the good and the supportive. I expect the best and get very little of the nasty because it's just not on my radar.
We all get older - what’s your take on fighting versus embracing our natural aging process as women?
I'm still working on this myself, and I don't know if I'll ever be done. Our culture is changing, or maybe not? Perhaps our mothers went through this identity crisis as well. I just know that there are few role models out there for us; women who have their act together, are fit, well adjusted and totally confident.
It seems that we gravitate to the ones who perpetuate the negative; "misery loves company" and often, we're instinctively drawn to empathize, sympathize and identify with others who validate the negative aspects of aging, somehow making it ok to grow old poorly because that's "just the way it is." It's not. Embracing our natural aging process means, to me, seeking out healthy, positive role models that are currently doing, saying, being relevant in a world that's not so interested in us anymore. It's brave women that I seek, admire and emulate.
I know you’re a big believer in planning for success - how do you know how to put your plan together when it’s all new to you?
I've made it my life. It's taken many years to develop the habits that I have that support a healthy lifestyle. It's difficult for someone that has a job and family and other passions to embrace the learning process necessary to live an effortless lean lifestyle. You're an expert in your own occupation so it's difficult to immerse yourself in a healthy life and become an expert in that as well. That’s why it’s important to find and adhere to a program that's based on integrating healthy habits, slowly and progressively.
I've partnered with Precision Nutrition for this very reason. Dr. John Berardi developed this habits based program that guides participants daily through a series of lessons and habits the slowly integrate the components of a healthy life. When I first saw the program I recognized the steps I had taken over 20 years to evolve into a reasonably healthy lifestyle, and this program pulls it all together in one year of learning! I see it as a university degree in living well and the year that's required to finish it is minimal in comparison to the benefits you get.
You also talk about having the right support system in place on your journey - not everyone has that in their direct environment - what would you recommend them?
I would definitely recommend getting a coach, a trainer or a mentor. If you want your car fixed right you go to a mechanic. We're over 40 so time is important, getting the right help is going to speed up the process. You're going to benefit immediately and live better in the meantime. Most important - just start. Do the best you can with the information you have available and be open to new people and new environments. It's not going to come knocking on the door. Opportunity will only present itself when you are open to new people, environments, experiences.
You've got to take the chance, you've got to invest in yourself and you've got to walk the mile to meet the challenges; nurture the relationships and hang in there until it becomes your new normal. Social media is great but it can never replace living and breathing mentors who challenge you and push you to new levels. Those relationships might develop online, but I encourage people to find the coaches and mentors who are available and back up their social media presence with real availability and action. You might end up leaving some relationships behind but that's the deal....you grow and you progress and you form new alliances that support the new you.
Even with a plan and the right support system - it’s not always a walk in the park. Many women have to find balance between being a mother, wife, athlete, having a career and of course taking care of yourself too - how do you prioritize?
It all fits when you have the driving ambition to achieve your goals. Nobody suffers when a woman gets selfish enough to take care of herself, get healthy, eat better. If you think that your job, your children, or your home life will suffer because you take care of yourself (sorry) you're using that as an excuse. Plain and simple. In a plane they tell you to place your respirator on first in the case of emergency - then you can help your child.....it's the same with being fit. Take care of yourself. You'll be a good example to others as well.
Do you have any female role models that you look up to or are inspired by?
Cory Everson and Rachel McLish were amazing pioneers in the sport of bodybuilding and figure competitions; were role models for me when I first started in fitness. These women were pioneers in body recomposition in the early 80's and I admired them. I still do. They are aging beautifully because they have a good outlook on life and a balanced approach to health. But today I meet women every day in my gym who inspire me, not only because of their physical accomplishments and lifestyle overhauls, but because of their tenacity and fierce resolve to better their physical lives while balancing enormous workloads, home responsibilities, and personal growth work.
You’ve competed in figure competitions in your late 40s - what have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned in doing so?
Doing the Figure competitions was a game changer for me and my attitude towards aging and weight loss. I learned it is possible to change your body at the age of 45 and I continue to believe that. I was overweight at the time I decided to become involved in competing, menopause had hit me hard and business was all consuming. I slacked off my own training and became heavier, sadder and despondent.
I was at a point, like many others, when I thought I was at the mercy of nature; I thought my age, a slower metabolism and lack of time would make it impossible for me to come back from all that. I was so wrong. The only thing holding me back was my excuses. Once I focused on the goal of training to compete, nothing could stop me. Age was not a factor and neither was metabolism. I trained intelligently and lost 30 pounds in 3 months. I won numerous trophies and I felt more confidence than I had in my whole life.
I also learned that I don't need the approval of others/judges, I need to be happy. I’m proud to say that, even into my 50s I won figure competitions. Of course, that was my goal at that time and I worked at it like a job. That level of fitness is not going to be the realistic path for everyone. At the end of the day, I took away a lot more than trophies, and those are lessons about what makes sense for living a wholesome and fulfilling life every day. I learned fitness is about finesse, science, biology and math; there is a very real equation to achieve your physical goals. It's not about deprivation, dieting, and excessive cardio. Weight training, the right amount of cardio, and proper nutrition will improve your health and fitness, and it’s something that I can bring from the competition training to my clients.
Overall, fitness competitions gave me an incredible respect for the capacity of the human body and mind. I want women to realize that we are amazing beings, our bodies are brilliant works of art and we can mold them into whatever form we choose. I'd love for a woman to realize that her body is a miracle. It's capable of giving birth and it changes in amazing ways to do so. That same body is certainly capable of maintaining a healthy weight when treated properly. If we only believe that it is possible, get the right support and guidance and then act on those intentions consistently, we can create lasting change.
These days, I'm working out for me! Currently, I train with sport focused coaches at a performance center that caters to the athlete. Each day I see and feel my body grow stronger and become better able to handle the functionally targeted exercises. I'm always learning more about how food affects my body and I stick to pretty good nutritional habits that support my joints and my ability to withstand the challenges of the physical exercises.
While I continue to figure out the mysteries of aging, I'm excited about my future. Becoming a grandmother that will be active, healthy and happy is a new aspiration. I have confidence in living a life that I'm proud of and happy about. I'll continue to work with women online via Get Fit Over 40 Nutrition and Fitness Coaching with the intention of sharing and helping others to believe in themselves and a healthy, happy, and youthful life.
Where can people go to learn more about you online?
Stay tuned for the next interview of Real Talk Real Women!