Friday, September 27, 2013

Do you really know?

I often hear the complaint from significantly overweight women, especially those middle age and older, that they know exactly what to do when it comes to losing weight but they just can’t make themselves do it. Or if they can lose weight, they can’t keep it off. The temptations of fattening foods like cake, cookies or chips and their desire to avoid exercise are just too great. I’ve been there myself.  I remember feeling just the way they feel.

Food is often the nice person’s guilty pleasure. It’s actually quite similar to the more frowned-upon compulsions of drinking, drugging or gambling too much. It just doesn’t sound as bad or appear to be as harmful … at least until one develops heart disease, diabetes and/or joint problems. Oh yeah, don’t forget having to deal with the daily fatigue, feelings of disempowerment and self-loathing as well as social repercussions of carrying around excess poundage.

But I would challenge these ladies’ assumption that they do really know what to do when it comes to weight management. Otherwise I think they’d be doing it. They are all smart, accomplished, capable women. Like them I thought I knew what to do, but at the age of 50 I actually didn’t. It took finding out about what I personally needed to do to lose weight. In the process, which covered many months, I lost 55 lbs. and now am maintaining my weight loss.

Knowing the caloric counts of various foods and how many calories various forms of exercise burn is important, but is just part of the equation. The most important knowledge is what it takes for to become motivated and empowered to lose weight and keep it off based on your psychology, age and lifestyle. That’s especially true at midlife and beyond as it becomes more challenging to lose weight because of a slower metabolism.

My first best step was calling on my higher power. I had come to a point several years ago that I was going through menopause and didn’t seem able to lose a pound. My blood pressure was on the rise and I feared I would have to go on medication. I was totally overwhelmed, luckily, because it was only then that I remembered to call on God to help me solve my weighty problem. The challenge was just bigger than I was, and I cried out to him for help.

Soon came a big part of the answer to my prayer:  I ran across the book “A Course in Weight Loss” by Marianne Williamson, one of several good books that have come out in recent years that address the spiritual and psychological components of carrying excess weight. Such books alert us that the biggest barrier to weight loss and weight loss maintenance can be our relationship with food.

Do we see food as fuel for our activities, a means of rebuilding our bodies and a healing gift from God? Or do we see it as a way to reward, comfort, sedate, or punish ourselves? Do we overuse it as an avenue for social bonding and acceptance? When we come to rely on food to fill us emotionally and/or spiritually, we develop an unhealthy relationship with food. And an unhealthy relationship can easily lead to dependence or addiction to highly caloric foods that burden us with excess weight.

That was the path I was on. I had come to rely on food as a source of comfort. After my weight had crept up to a certain level, and my life situation had become extra stressful, it was a natural road to take. After all what more harm could a little extra cheddar popcorn, chips, dip, pizza and/or beer most days of the week do? Those things had become my refuge.

For someone else, using food as a refuge could mean indulging in too many dishes at church potluck socials, eating everything on their restaurant-portion-size plate, or binging on cookies or ice cream. It really is like alcohol dependence when you think about it. When I faced my own dependence on food for comfort and that fact that some foods especially (salty, crisp snacks) had an addictive hold on me, it was another step to creating a healthier relationship with food. I resolved to completely avoid foods that were addictive to me and to severely limit my alcohol consumption, including not keeping any at home. I asked God to give me strength to do those things. Such strategies were critical in my successful weight loss journey.

For the person suffering from an unhealthy relationship with food that is too severe for self-help measures, psychological counseling can be helpful and part of the journey to spiritual healing. When thoughts of food and/or weight loss become obsessive and/or when the urge to partake in unhealthy food or even healthy foods in unhealthy amounts becomes compulsive, it’s critical to bring in professional help. It can save years of wasted time and immediately start the psychological healing.

Misusing food is a major stumbling block to losing weight, but it isn’t the only stumbling block. Please take time to examine what’s really keeping you from losing weight and learn how to overcome the obstacles - whatever they are. There are many effective strategies for healthy weight loss, you’ve just got to find out what works for you. Keep seeking the answers and you will find them! Being the size you truly feel fit and are most comfortable with is so worth the effort!!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why functional fitness is critical as we age

Mom wants to stay independent.
Several weeks ago the house shook. My first thought was that a transformer had blown up. It didn’t sound like a tree limb or a gun shot. I wondered if my 74-year-old mother had fallen. Because she weighs 100 more pounds than I do, there was no way I was going to be able to pull her off the floor.

As Mom squirmed like a little baby, it made me realize that she has lost more of the functional fitness in her legs and core than I had realized. I knew she had trouble getting out of a chair and tended to be a coach potato, but it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t be able to get off the floor. I had tried to get her to exercise before, but she has a vestibular problem that makes it challenging for her to stay active.

Fortunately, it finally dawned on me to get out an aerobic step so Mom could put her knees on to make it easier for her to pull and wiggle herself up on her bed. I’m not sure what she would have done if I hadn’t been there. Because my mother has always taken pride in being highly self-sufficient her inability to get off the floor was extremely disheartening.

You may think neither you nor your loved ones will ever lose the ability to get off the floor, even if you don’t exercise, but it happens to inactive seniors all the time. Even worse, seniors sometimes must rely on walkers or may become bedridden, not because of illness or injury but because of muscle disuse. Even more alarming, muscle weakness is a major risk factor for falling.

I tell you this story as an illustration of the importance of functional fitness. Simply put, functional fitness is the physical ability to do what we need to do to live our lives. If we can lift 20 pounds but we can’t climb a flight of steps without great difficulty, we may have arm strength but we’re not really functionally fit. We lose functional fitness when we are inactive and don’t regularly challenge all our muscles, including our heart and breathing muscles, our core and our legs - not just our biceps and triceps.

Anyone who has had a bone break or other injury that required a period of not using their muscles can attest to how fast muscles can lose their strength and flexibility, if not challenged. Astronauts come back from space weaker and have to build back their strength because during spaceflight their muscles aren’t challenged by gravity. The exercises they do during the flight only do so much good.

Your current physical limitations may be minor, such as not being able to turn your head as far back over your shoulder as you once could. Or they may affect you a bit more, such as not be able to carry as many grocery bags or easily reach to change a light bulb. Maybe you can’t dance as gracefully as you once could. Maybe you’re prone to neck or back spasms. All these things may seem of limited consequence, but why should we accept them when we could avoid them by doing a little exercise.

Like many people I knew nothing about functional fitness for most of my life. We hear that we need to exercise to keep our weight at a healthy level and avoid or lessen chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But we don’t really hear about how exercise can work magic when it comes to retaining and even improving our physical abilities. Our biological age can be much younger than our chronological age with a little exercise.

Four years ago I was seriously overweight and began a healthy weight loss program, which included not only a balanced diet but walking 10,000 steps a day. I wasn’t thinking fitness. I was thinking getting rid of some fat. But the most immediate effect of the program was the improvement of my cardiovascular health. I didn’t get winded as fast. Plus my legs felt stronger, and even my core strength improved. I became physical capable of more.

Later when I added yoga to my routine I gained some strength and range of motion. I could turn my head back farther over my shoulder. My lower back became stronger and I quit suffering from those occasional lower back spasms. During this fitness journey I decided to become a certified personal trainer, and as I began reading about functional fitness I incorporated strength training into my workouts. Soon I was able to carry in many more grocery bags at one time. After adding Zumba, a Latin dance aerobics, I have become more agile, coordinated and my balance has improved. My core feels as strong as after I had taken ballet for years in high school.

All this increase in functional fitness was been a shocker to me. I had no idea when I started my fitness journey how much my functional fitness would increase. When I was 49, I felt 99. Now I’m 53 feel as spry as when I was 33.

Although I had tried to encourage Mom do some leg and core exercises periodically before, she never would. I didn’t nag her of course because that is counterproductive, but I did pray. Fortunately after my mother’s fall she reconsidered her policy on exercise. She began to do leg squats and some other exercises with me. We started slow, but now she’s building up her legs and core nicely. We’ve now even begun working on her posture and arm strength as well. Mom has become a true believer. “I thought working out was just about looking better, which I'm not worried about. I didn’t realize exercise is really about being able to function!” my mom says.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A healthy dose of vanity

Some of us avoid the gym or other means of exercise, or will only exercise so often, in part because we have convinced ourselves that you have to be vain and self-centered to exercise regularly. Only someone who was vain would pay that much attention to their body is the thinking. No. 1, that’s not the case. Many if not most gym goers are primarily motivated by health, fitness and/or athletic goals. And No. 2, what if people who go to the gym regularly do take pride in their appearance and want to look their best? What if they do love themselves as well as their neighbor? Is a healthy dose of vanity so bad? Don’t we each deserve to be our best selves? Isn't that what our creator intended.

Okay, I agree some folks are obsessed with the way they look and spend far too much time on their appearance, and that’s not good. But don’t make their problem your problem by trying so hard to go to the opposite extreme. Do you avoid church because some people are hypocrites? Do you avoid alcohol because some folks are alcoholics? You’re right, some of you do avoid those things because of those reasons. So this may be a better example: Do you avoid making money because some people are greedy? Not many of us would answer “yes” to that, as making money, like pursuing fitness, is in large part a good thing.
You know, I used not to put very much emphasis on how fit I looked, or even felt. I think I didn’t want to focus on myself too much. I believed I didn’t need to use too much my time exercising, because I could be doing something more productive. But now, having faced a health scare, lost weight because of it, and gotten fit, I see things differently. I believe I deserve to be fit, as healthy as I can be, as well as look my best. All those things make me a more productive human being, and actually able to serve others better than ever before. When I am at my best, it’s easier to put my best efforts forward. I’m also taken more seriously because people see that I respect myself. So call me a little vain for being fit and trim, but I'm healthier because of it.