Thursday, March 01, 2012
If I have learned one message that I believe has a lot of power, it would be: becoming healthier starts with change. We all have habits that we think may be slowing us down, but we balk at the idea of changing our habits. Maybe it’s due to lack of time, lack of interest, fear, or the justification in our minds that the effects cannot be too detrimental to our health. We have all been there -- even I have.
The idea of becoming healthier can seem difficult to understand if we aren’t looking in the right places, so I want to share with you my personal journey with wellness and give you an insight into what has worked well for me and what has not. Granted, my plan may not right be for you, but having a basic understanding of health and wellness can assist you in reaching your goals.
Time after time, we see commercials, web pages and hear our friends talking about the next greatest thing: “burn fat fast,” “drop pounds in a short amount of time with this miracle machine,” “take this miracle pill, and you will see fast results,” and the list of statements go on and on. The allure is great, but the truth is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There is only one real way to get to where you want to be, and that is to become active and eat well. It will be difficult to maintain results with a four-week “no carb” diet or a 30-day fitness plan. You will have to make lifestyle changes that will continue to support a new, healthier you. Changes will not happen overnight. It will take time for you to get to where you want to be.
Below is my journey.
About a year and a half ago, I realized that I had let myself go. Weighing more than 225 pounds, I realized that I used every excuse I could think of, leading me to become overweight. My meals were hardly ever healthy, and I was lucky if I got to the gym once a week. I would always justify my inactivity by thinking the house chores and yard work were enough physical activity. I was also going to school, working full time, and taking care of my family, so my health was placed on the back burner. I realized that I had let myself go because my health wasn’t a high enough priority. I made the hardest revelation that I had to make -- if I wasn’t practicing a positive and healthy lifestyle, it would be hard for people to believe anything I said. Health promotion and education is very important to me, and was my complete focus while I was finishing up my masters program. I believe that the best way to limit injury, decrease sickness and improve overall wellbeing is to live a healthy life. I realized I had to make the change for myself and my career.
The first rule that I took into account when I started to change my life was that I needed to be realistic with my expectations. I think when we first want to make big changes, we give it our all. The problem with a dramatic change in diet and exercise is that our body may not be ready for such a change, making it very difficult to maintain. For instance, with diets, our body will go into starvation mode if we do not feed ourselves enough calories. When we try “fad diets,” we often do not get a great overall balance of calories, which will not help our body burn the calories we are consuming. Some of these diets can be your biggest enemy in reaching your goal to become healthier.
The next rule that I started to follow was that I would become accountable for my choices and actions. To better understand my needs, I took a look at how many calories I needed to consume to function properly, which is referred to as your basal metabolic rate. There are several “caloric need” calculators out there, but I recommend visiting Mayo clinic’s version. You will have to take into account how much activity you do. Once a very wise dietician told me that to fuel the body properly and lose weight, you should not drop below 1,000 calories under you recommended intake. For instance, with my current activity level I need around 2,700-2,800 calories a day just to maintain my current weight. If I want to lose two pounds in a week, I should take in 1,700-1,800 calories a day. This 1,000 calorie reduction for seven days will equal 7,000 calories, or two pounds (3,500 calories make up one pound). To lose 1-2 pounds a week (this is recommended by Mayo Clinic to ensure that the weight stays off), it is important that you stay between a 500- to 1,000-calorie reduction per day. This means that it was important for me to take a look at what I was. I practiced moderation, still eating meals I enjoyed, but understood the consequences with each decision I made. Limitations can end up hurting you in the long run. If you set too strict limitations, you may be more likely to binge eat, wrecking all the hard work you have just put in.
The other very important step was creating a realistic fitness plan, and sticking to it. When we are making changes to our daily habits, we need to understand that our body will need time to adjust. I remember all too well the idea of jumping back into my routine, with the same weight and repetitions, and realizing my body was not prepared. I was in so much pain it took an entire week to recuperate. My plan this time around was simple: start light and work my way up. I scheduled my gym time in a way that made it just as important to me as going to work. Some people can go to the gym right before work, some go during lunch, and others go after work. What helped me was packing my gym bag and leaving it in the car, because this ensured that I was prepared to go to the gym after work. Even when the end of the workday was drawing near and I wanted to talk myself out of going to the gym, I would see my bag as I got in my car, and that motivated me to go directly to the gym.
Please keep in mind that fitness needs to be fun, or you will not stick to your plan. I grew up in a gym, and find it therapeutic in a way. I know strength training isn’t as exciting for others as it is me. I recommend trying different things, such as walking groups, running groups, cycling clubs, or group activity classes. Signing up with a gym and participating in group activity courses is a fun and exciting way to get in shape. Group activity classes combine cardio and strength training, usually within a 45-minute workout. I hear a big fear is “not knowing” what to do in group activity classes. Here is my recommendation: approach the instructor and mention that you are new. This will help the instructor give you cues to keep up with the group. And contrary to popular belief, people will not make fun of you. All of us have started at this point, and we all remember way too well what that feeling is like.
It has taken me a year and a half to get to where I was over 6 years ago. I have finally gotten down to 195, with my goal of weighing 180 pounds. A year and a half may seem like a long time, but at the end of the day, I am leaner, stronger and feel much better. Today, I have seen many changes with my weight, my musculature, and my outlook on life and health. I have stayed consistent with workouts while trying out new ideas to constantly break the plateaus that our bodies run up against, and have stayed accountable with my meals and calorie consumption. I use the information that I have acquired over the years and put it into practice, fueling my body correctly, and continuing to meet my goals. I am also planning to participate in a sprint triathlon this coming summer, which is a completely new adventure for me.
I will not lie, I am not perfect. When I feel like having a burger or pizza, I will. I accept my decisions, and stay accountable. Moderation has kept me from eating everything in front of me when I am feeling weak, and allows me to enjoy what this world has to offer. Wellness is not a sprint or even a race; it’s a commitment to ourselves to minimize the risk of the many diseases that come from lifestyle choices. This accountability can be reached in many ways. Some great ideas would be to find a workout partner, form a group of walking buddies, join programs such as Weight Watchers, or document what you do.
Find what works best for you. There will be some trial and error, but I assure you, eventually, you will find what clicks.
I want to help you with your journey, and am open to hear any ideas you would like to share with me. If there is anything you would like to discuss with me, let me know -- I am here for you!