Like a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, we women of a certain age can have, well, layers.

Group Ball Ballet vintage photo
Credit: Firth/Stringer/Getty Images

It's impossible to imagine a place with more culinary temptations than the South. (France, Italy, and Greece are likely our closest competition.) We know we should grill our fish—but sometimes we slip and fry it. (Ditto shrimp, chicken, turkey, pork chops—and, in Mississippi, Snickers bars.) We wish we didn't know that everything tastes better with bacon . . . but we do know. If we could unlearn how to make pecan pie—oh, who are we kidding—a slice of that stuff is worth two days on the treadmill.

Yes, I try to eat healthy—except on vacation, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday, my husband's birthday, and Fried Chicken Day at my favorite meat 'n three. Also, all bets are off if I'm anywhere near New Orleans or Charleston. Or Mama 'n 'em.

So it has come down to exercise. And my workouts have evolved, over the years. Maybe not in a good way.

Fitness Routine, 1980s:

  1. Put on gym shorts and T-shirt (both of them SMALLS, both of them comfortably loose). Drive to Auburn University's old Student Activities Building for a free, Jane Fonda-inspired aerobics class.
  2. Join 50 or 60 other girls in executing the kind of stretches (y'all really bounce it!) that the orthopedic community now frowns upon.
  3. Make it through 20 minutes of a 45-minute routine and then sneak out to a local smoke house to beat the supper rush. (I'll take a barbecue sandwich with inside meat—chopped—and a side of fries.) (See the South's Best BBQ Joints)

Fitness Routine, 90s

  1. Put on coordinating tights and leotard in a cheery shade of Caribbean blue. Be glad that these garments have "a little give in them." (That's Mama-speak for "stretch.") Catch glimpse of Caribbean-blue reflection in gym mirror; scream aloud in horror.
  2. Drive to a reasonably priced Birmingham fitness club for step aerobics. Long for the days when at least one Skynyrd track could be counted on.
  3. Somehow complete all the moves when instructor is looking; cheat as much as possible when she looks away.
  4. Better have a barbecue salad for supper; let's skip the bread and fries. Ranch dressing on the side. (See Our Best Salad Recipes)

Fitness Routine, Late 2000's

  1. Take a preemptive dose of Advil. Apply Bengay to sore shoulder. Look for knee brace.
  2. Put on gym capris and give thanks for the invention of the tunic T-shirt. Drive to upscale fitness club, joined not for its well-rounded offerings, but because it smells nice and looks more like a luxury hotel than a place filled with things to be lifted, pulled, and stepped upon.
  3. Treadmill 20 minutes. Hot tub 30 minutes.
  4. Have whatever hubby cooked for supper; tell yourself it's healthy because he grilled it. (He served it with sliced potatoes fried in bacon, but he grilled that main dish, so there.) Donate bathroom scale to church yard sale.