Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fitness Truths I've Learned - Part 1


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If dieting most of one's life qualifies one as an expert on the subject, well then, call me an expert!  My adventure in self loathing started in eighth grade when I went on my first DIET.  Adding up 1200 calories a day was advanced math for me.  I learned to love Tab (remember THAT low calorie bug spray called a drink?) and to hate my hips.  It was a love and hate that grew....or maybe I grew to love to hate things about my body.  My legs were NEVER thin enough, my weight could NEVER go down enough (did I mention that I only weighed 107 pounds as a freshman in HS and STILL thought I was too big), and when I did the daily comparisons to EVERY other female I knew, I NEVER felt I measured up to their good looks or figures.

You'd think that this frame of mind would be a bad habit that I'd outgrow like nailbiting or nose picking (don't scrunch up your face like that, you KNOW you were a nose picker at one time just like the rest of us!!).  But, instead of outgrowing this mental self mutilation, I seemed to cultivate it.  The heavier and unattractiver (word creating here) I believed I was, the more I ate.  Which, not so ironically just made me heavier!  When I joined the Army, I started doing real physical activity for the first time in my life.  It was difficult for the first couple of  years, but I persevered and actually started really enjoying exercise and especially running.  But it was still not enough.  In my mind, I still wasn't thin enough.  I decided to go on Slimfast to see if I could reach my goal of getting below 125 lbs.  I decided to try Slimfast.  I drank a Slimfast for breakfast, lunch and had a Lean Cuisine and bagel for dinner. On top of that, I upped my workouts:  PT 3 times a week and taught or took aerobics a few times a week.  I was devoted to the regime for 2 weeks!   I got down to 117 lbs in my entire uniform (boots included).  Surely, I was  now content.  Guess again!

"Well!", my mind raced, "If I can get to 117, I bet I could get to 115!"  And with that....... Welcome Serene to Never Enough Airlines!  Please be seated and keep your seatbelt fastened.  Water and a refreshment selection of frustration, self condemnation and digital scales will be served when we reach cruising altitude."  If I could get into a 7, how about a 5?!  It just wouldn't stop!  I COULDN'T STOP!

I'll skip enumerating the next couple of decades.  Suffice it to say that with the birth of my four kids and all the changes that brought to my physical appearance AND hormones, I was building some serious frequent flyer miles on Never Enough Air!  Unfortunately, they're only useable on select destinations such as "Your-still-fatsburg" and "Why-don't-your-legs-look-like-hersville" and the ever entertaining vacation destination "Tomorrow-I'm-REALLY-getting-serious-about-my-diet City".  Again, enter one diet after another and all the while I'm working at either Jenny Craig, Nutri System or Inches Away.  Nothing like being around even MORE women who are frustrated with how they look to encourage me to push through my dissatisfaction to severe angst! 

Finally, with the illness and death of my mother 5 1/2 years ago, I woke up a bit out of my self flagellation fog.  Here I was hand wringing over every morsel I put in my mouth and my sweet, YOUNG (56 years)mother was so ill and weak she looked like a concentration camp survivor.  It was painful to see and it put my whole self involved weight obsession into perspective.  She can't even eat, can't even keep food down and I'm worried about how many calories are in something!  Can't you just see how ludicrous that is?!  I could! And so finally I just said, "ENOUGH!"  Over the next couple of years, there were some stressful events that happened in my life and I turned to exercise to turn OFF my metaphorically RUN or EXHAUST the hurt out of me.  Working out was therapy.  Therapy I very much needed.  Over the past few years, that ol' dragon of "not good enough" still wants to rear it's head every now and then.  Just when I think I've finally reached a point where I'm comfortable with my body and I don't have to be thinner, smaller or anything other than me, something will trigger that "Maybe I need to diet" button and I'll have to talk myself off the ledge. 

Today, I'm in overall better shape than I've probably ever been.  I eat healthy 80 - 85% time and slowly learning how to make that 90 - 95% of the time.  As I write this, I know I'm qualified to share some things I've learned about fitness through my own personal experience AND working in the diet and fitness industry off and on for 20+ years.  They're simple things.  It's not rocket science after all, and much of it is just common sense.  But what I've found is that how we view our bodies is not a cerebral reaction but rather a very emotional one.  It's time, no it's actually PAST time to stop viewing our bodies as our personal nemeses.  My body is not my enemy.  It's the container that houses the very essence of who and what I am in my physical form.  There IS a way to take care of it that has NOTHING to do with whipping it into shape or forcing it to behave a certain way.  Hopefully with this series, you and your body can become friends!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Foster Care for Obese Kids?

Should the government intervene if your child is grossly overweight?  Interesting question.  Seems that there is  a piece in Wednesday's Journal of American Medical Association that suggests just that.  According to this article there are "roughly 2 million US children who are extremely obese".  This is sad but not shocking.  I mean, let's face it, it's become an American and European passtime to joke about how fat Americans are. 

It's certainly a bad state of affairs when DSS would have to step in and take control of a home situation that has spawned an obese child.  And from the numbers that they mention in this article, we're talking about a 400 lb 12 year old.  Read that again.....FOUR. HUNDRED. POUNDS.  That's alot of weight.  For a prepubescent kid who has enough angsts without extra weight, I can only imagine how devestating it is to carry around this much weight.  Physically, to be sure.  But also, MENTALLY & EMOTIONALLY.

How do you feel about government intervention on this?  Is it the parents' fault if a child is obese?

My thoughts are this:  The issue of obesity in adults and children is a CULTURE issue.  The American lifestyle is, let's face it, very sedentary and very fast food oriented.  Until we make a major shift in how we live our lives, foster care, fad diets and exercise DVDs are simply band aids.  Obesity is  a symptom of a larger issue (no pun intended!).  Even the kids that were cited successfully losing weight by being in foster care, lost weight through portion and quality control and physical activity.  It's not rocket science, but it certainly IS a change in the way we live our lives. 

As far as government getting involved, does it really have to go that far? 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Put down the diet soda and back away very slowly.....

I think, in fact, I really believe, I may be addicted to diet soda.  I tend to use way too many artificial sweeteners anyway.  Lemme count them up:

Coffee in am - 1-2 splendas
Coffee at work - 3 blue packets
Possible diet coke from sonic (route 44, of course!)
About 2 diet gingerales every evening
Evening coffee - 1-2 splendas

Man!!!  That's alot of artificial stuff!  I'm trying to eat healthier.  I've eaten vegetables that I NEVER thought I would eat and avoid processed food.  But look what I'm putting in my body!!!  I can't tell you how I CRAVE diet soda.  I can't stand regular soda, but I feel like sometimes I just HAVE to have a diet one.

Today, I came across this regarding a new study on diet sodas.   This is one part that really got my attention:

"Researchers at the Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio tracked 474 people, all 65 to 74 years old, for nearly a decade, measuring the subjects' height, weight, waist circumference, and diet soft drink intake every 3.6 years. The waists of those who drank diet soft drinks grew 70 percent more than those who avoided the artificially sweetened stuff; people who drank two or more servings a day had waist-circumference increases that were five times larger than non-diet-soda consumers."

I've noticed over the last few years that my waist has grown.  Now, I'm almost 45 so I know that some of this is a normal part of aging.  But now I'm thinking that some of that waist thickening may actually be attributed to my overuse of sweetener.  What's really interesting is that our bodies often treat sweeteners and sugar the same way....the sweet taste triggers the release of insulin which inhibits our ability to burn fat.  (source) 

If you read the article above, it even states that people who drink diet soda have a 41% increase in their chance of being overweight with every can of diet soda they drink.  Now, my first response is, "How can that be?  The calories aren't there."  After thinking about it, I think what happens is we either "treat" ourselves to other goodies because we've been so "good" with our diet drinks.  I've also noticed in myself that I eat more when I drink diet drinks.  I often feel like I don't even want a hamburger if I can't have a diet soda with it.  Diet soda seems to increase my appetite as opposed to when I drink water with a meal.  I mean, pizza and WATER!?  What fun is that?  But as I'm swigging my diet drink, I can almost eat double of what I eat when I drink water. 

Alright, so now I have this information; what do I do with it? 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is this really what we want to teach our kids?

We hear alot about childhood obesity.  Obviously it's an issue that needs to be addressed.  But what do we really consider obese?  In a culture that values extreme thin, can we really trust ourselves to look at our children and assess if they are truly overweight?  And if they are, what is the best way to address that situation?


First of all, what is really overweight for a child?  Personally, I loathe height/weight charts for ANYONE.  I don't believe we need a chart to tell us how we feel, if we're healthy, if we're thin enough or even heavy enough.  There's no template for the perfect body.  We're all different.  Sitting at Panera Bread Company this weekend, I found myself people watching and was hit by a silly notion.  The average person has two legs, two arms, a torso, two eyes, two ears, a nose a mouth, and two feet.  We basically all have the same parts.  And yet, there are so many variations that the sum of those parts can come up with.  You'd think that there would be a finite number of body types and that we would all have to fall into one category.  But amazingly, if you putt 100 women with a "pear shape" body type in a room; they'd all look different.  They may have similar body types, but they would look noticeably different from each other. 

So, being that we're all so different; how can we possibly think that a chart (however scientifically formulated) could tell us what our body is supposed to look like or weigh?  NOW, throw a child into that.  A child who is still growing, approaching puberty, possibly in the middle of puberty, and going through incredible body changes.  How in the world can we accurately say that many of these children are overweight?  Is there really a weight that they SHOULD (don't you just hate that word?) weigh?  I say, we really can't.

In fact, I don't think the problem is weight or body size at all; and I believe this to be the case even for adults.  The excess weight is a symptom, NOT a diagnosis.  The issue is inactivity and overeating nutrition starved food.  So when dealing with a child and weight, do we really want to start talking numbers to them?  Do we really want to focus their attention on the scale?  How've we, as adults, done with that?  Are American adults getting any thinner or are we tipping the dreaded scales more than ever before? 

The solution then, is to get our kids MOVING daily and EATING well at least 80% of the time.  Forget the weight, that will take care of itself. Don't even mention weight to them and for goodness sakes, please don't suggest to your child that they are getting too heavy.  You may as just get them a gift certificate to the "Self Loathing and Low Self Esteem" store.  They are not too heavy.  But they may be too inactive.  They may be making wrong food choices.  THAT'S where the answer lies.  Even mentioning their weight to them is far more dangerous to them than that actual weight.  And here's why, it will be easier for our children to get active and shed pounds than it will be for them to overcome a negative self image once that seed has been planted.  Ideas about ourselves formed in our brains are harder to lose than inches formed on our hips.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ten Ways to Live Healthier and Happier!

It seems to me sometimes that fitness is sooooo complicated.  You have to eat this.  Work out like this, not that.  I think what happens is that we equate fitness with losing weight.  They aren't necessarily the same.  And while I may run the risk of giving the impression that I think NO ONE needs to lose, in my opinion, often it's not "weight loss" that people need; it's just to get healthy and gain healthier habits.    The accompanying weight loss is just a by product of making healthy changes to your lifestyle.

Which brings me to the topic on hand today.  What are some easy things that ANYONE can do to lead a healthier and happier life?  What good is health if you're miserable, right?  So I've come up with a short list of ten things that any of us can do to get on the right path.  There's nothing scientific about them and honestly, no studies were done.  But after over 20 years of working in the weight loss/health care/fitness industry and a lifetime of battling my own body image related demons (I kicked their butts!!!); I'm going to consider myself someone who knows what they're talking about.  Put me on the stand and make me expert witness!  Here we go.....

1. Get rid of your scale! - We get fixated on a number that really doesn’t mean anything. Ditch the scale! Most of the time, it’s not going to tell you what you want to hear anyway.  It's not your friend!  That number doesn't necessarily mean anything.  Instead, measure your progress by how you feel and how your clothes fit.

2. Make small changes. – Don’t think you have to commit to exercising 2 hours 5 days a week. Or restrict your calories to 800 or some other outrageous number. Make small changes like giving up (or reducing) the amount of soda you drink. Drink 8 glasses of water. Forego having bread for a couple of meals a day. Small and smart changes add up and are easier to make a part of your lifestyle. One of my favorite sayings is, "Little and often fills the pot".  This applies to so many things, even a healthy lifestyle.  Small changes practiced often lead to healthy results.

3. Commit to make exercise part of your lifestyle. – You don’t have to kill yourself, just commit to do some physical activity every day. Commit to SWEAT every day. Even if it’s only for 20 minutes to start. Again, don't go NUTS!  Don't try to do something that you're not going to be about to keep up with for a lifetime.  Just commit to MOVE some, zumba, rumba or some other fun thing ending in "a"!

4. Change the voices in your head. – The voices in our heads tend to tell us a lot of negative stuff. Think about this:  If someone came up and said to you even half of the stuff you say to yourself, you'd slap their face.  You wouldn't let someone disrespect you and talk to you like you're nothing; so why do you disrespect and talk to yourself like that?  Quit allowing those voices to say things to you that you wouldn’t allow anyone else to say to you! Make those voices talk nice and respectfully to you. Your body will respond in kind!

5. Listen to your body. – Really listen. Is it hungry? Feed it what it needs. Is it tired? Give it rest. Is it stressed? Help it relax. Listen to your body and get to know it. Your body and your brain don’t always agree. Most of the time, it’s your body that’s right! Your body can do more than what your brain says it can!  Again, that's why we HAVE to feed our brain, right, positive, motivating, loving thoughts.

6. Sleep 7-8 hours a night. - Period. End of story. Our bodies need to rest and regenerate. We are complex machines that require a lot of energy just to move. Just to digest food. Our bodies need sleep as a time for it to perform routine maintenance.  I hear you.  "Serene, I just have too much to do.  I just can't go to bed until this stuff is done."  YES. YOU. CAN!  That "to do" list that we cling to will still be there when you wake up.

7. Stay away from sugar. – There is nothing healthy that comes from sugar. It puts fat on us. It wreaks havoc on our moods. It prevents us from knowing what real hunger feels like. Cut down SIGNIFICANTLY on the amount of sugar you take it and you’ll see a HUGE change in your body AND how you feel.  I'm not saying never have another sweet.  But consider how much sugar you're having every day and then make ways to decrease that.

8. Incorporate strength training. – Muscles burn fat. Muscle is what spurs your metabolism. Build lean muscle and you are building a fat fighting furnace!  It's okay to get off the treadmill.  You won't blow up and get fat.  Move rapidly through strength training moves and you'll still get the cardio benefit that you get from the treadmill.

9. Eat real food. – You want butter? Eat REAL butter. You want chocolate? Eat really GOOD chocolate. Sour cream? Don’t go fat free. The flavor that it loses from eliminating the fat is replaced by sugar and chemicals. Eat REAL food. You’ll find that it takes less to satisfy you and you’ll enjoy it sooooo much more.  Often we binge on foods because we never feel satisfied.  We're trying to feed our bodies with nutrition deprived foods and so our bodies keep wanting more.  But, and this is where the listening to your body comes in, our bodies are asking for FOOD, not junk.  We don't put water in our gas tank and expect our car to run.  That's ridiculous, right?  And yet, we put nutrient deficient food into our bodies and then want those bodies to perform.  Doesn't work that way.  Eat REAL.  A good rule of thumb:  most of what really feeds your body is along the perimeter of the grocery store.  Dairy, fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs, etc...those are real foods and they aren't in the aisles.  It's the processed and over sugared foods that are in the aisle shelves.  Keep along the perimeter and you'll do fine!

10.  Build relationships with those you love. –  Oh, I could wax poetic about this for hours on end!  There’s so much more to life than what size pants we wear, or if we look like a super model in our swimsuit. Build relationships with the people that you love. Live for them, NOT what you look at in the mirror.  Your workouts and your body are not the end....they are the MEANS to an end.  That end being that you live longer and stronger for and with the people you love! Something that we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why I Write

Writing is cathartic for me. It helps me clarify and organize my thoughts. It helps me muddle through the melange of ideas and ideologies that fill my head. It puts me on the right track of why I espouse an opinion and what exactly that opinion is.

Sometimes, it can also feel like vomitting. Pardon me for being so blunt and coarse. I used to talk aloud to myself and thus "vomit" up all the thoughts and questions in my head. I thought that would always be a part of my life, this talking to myself. But maybe it's evidence of a better place I am in my life that talking aloud to myself has simply gone away. Like the person who you always seem to see in line at the grocery store and then one day you realize, "Hey wait, I haven't seen ..... in a while". My release from this self talk snuck up on me. That internal angst and fear that accompanied my life like a silent companion; just left surreptitiously one unknown evening.

I think it's because now I write. It's a compulsion. When I feel questions arise; when I find myself forming an absolulte on an idea; when I'm taking my stand; when I'm completely lost in confusion or see things that leave me wanting to scream at the injustice or weep for the hurt I'm seeing others deal with....then I HAVE to write. I have to sort it out - to GET it out.

Maybe that's the healthy part of the talking to self AND the writing. Because it IS getting it all out. My feelings are there. I mean, GOOD NIGHT, I feel like I'm immersed in them sometimes. So they have to get out of my brain, my heart, my conscience and on to something else. If I can make those thoughts visible, I can sort them out. I can deal with them. I can make sense of the jumble that is my brain sometimes. So even this morning, as I'm gearing up to start work and take care of the essential minutae of having a job; I found myself needing to write. If only to write about why I need to write....I just felt a little over flowing and needed to loosen the valve a bit.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My First Love!

I feel great! I feel FABULOUS! I'm Leo DeCaprio in Titanic with my arms open wide proclaiming, "I'm king of the wooooooorld!" Why do I feel so euphoric? I'll tell you....I worked out at 4:30 this morning! I know that to many, this seems like a ridiculous time to come workout. Or you say, "Man, I wish I could get up that early, I just can't" But I have to tell you, it feels so great!

The workout feels wonderful in itself. But what really feels great is starting my day this way. I almost literally jumped out of bed (it's the only way I can do on a cold morning...there's no such thing as slowly letting go of the warmth of the covers. You just have to jump out of bed and get into workout clothes as quickly as possible). I quickly got dressed, my sweet husband started my car for me while I brushed my teeth and put in earrings. Then I was out the door and on my way to the gym!

Within about 40 minutes of waking up, I've got music blasting in my ears and my body moving! What an incredible way to start the day!?! I've got more energy right at this moment than I've had in a while at this same time of day. I don't have my workout "hanging over my head". It's done! Anything else exercise related that I do today is just a bonus! Words can barely express how liberating that alone feels. I'm not one of these that can consistently exercise in the afternoon. My good intentions get knocked out by the sucker punch of "Oh Man, I really don't feel like changing clothes and working out". It just seems like such a hassle and usually I already have a "to do list" of things that still need to be done at home for the day.

Another thing I love about that crazy early workout is that I don't feel like I'm taking anything away from anyone. The kids are still in bed. There's nothing else really that I'd get up at 4am for that wouuld make a difference in my day. Since getting married last year, I stopped the early workouts because it's so much harder getting out of bed when there's a warm snuggler laying beside you! I still have my warm snuggler, but I may have to resist the temptation to snuggle and get my early workouts in again. All I know is, today, I feel MAHVELOUS!!!!