Friday, September 18, 2009

Seven Small Mistakes Can Sabotage Your Well-Being, Happiness and Fitness

Everyone wants to experience an ongoing sense of joy and well-being. But when it comes to happiness, even little missteps can poison your pleasure in living.

Why is maintaining a positive outlook important to reaching and maintaining your fitness goals? Because, according to Dr. Martin Binks, Director of Behavioral Health at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center ( and co-author of The Duke Diet, “negative thinking can interfere with making healthy choices like getting started on your workout. By focusing on the positive, like that feeling of accomplishment you get after even a short exercise session, you will be motivated to get started.”

What are seven common mistakes, and how can you avoid them?

Focusing on the Negative
Everything else may have gone right today, yet you find yourself obsessing over the woman at the grocery store who cut ahead of you in line.

Simply put, gratitude for our blessings ensures happiness. Developing an attitude of gratitude is a skill that requires conscious effort. Before retiring, list three wonderful moments you experienced during the day for which you are grateful. Or keep a gratitude journal.

Neglecting Our Bodies
Despite information from dozens of sources bombarding us, we fail to eat foods that nourish our bodies or to set aside time for playful exercise.

If we move our bodies, stay rested and eat appropriately, our bodies provide us with ample energy to live zestfully. A high level of physical and emotional well-being is possible only in a body that its owner consistently maintains with healthful habits.

Postponing Happiness
Children who ask the question “Are we there yet?” are assuming that the fun won’t begin until the car trip ends. Many of us postpone enjoying our days in anticipation of the annual vacation or perhaps retirement.

Before you begin your day, ask yourself one question: “How will I show up today?” Make a decision to enjoy the miracle of being alive. Fortunately, happiness is possible at any given moment—and the moment is with us at all times.

Getting Even
Revenge is a dish that some of us love served hot or cold. Vindictiveness—whether executed boldly or delivered through passive-aggressive behavior—seldom satisfies. Like a drug addiction, the desire for revenge creates a craving for more.

Forgiveness is what we do for ourselves, not for the person who may have harmed us. Consequently, forgiveness doesn’t have to be earned. We offer it freely to others and in the process, it lifts our own spirits. And don’t forget to forgive yourself. Like every other imperfect human being, you are a work in progress.

Pursuing Powerlessness
Individuals who collect and recite ongoing stories of victimization are trapped in perpetual suffering. Always receiving the short end of the stick, these victims inevitably become embittered and resentful of others’ happiness.

Accept responsibility for the authorship of your life story. Consider rewriting the ending of victimization stories. Recast yourself as a noble survivor. This is your life. You are the hero—script a wonderful future. Reclaim your right to have great dreams and then pursue them.

Overvaluing Possessions
For some, the acquisition of material possessions becomes the central meaning of life. When ownership is accompanied by a sense of entitlement, discontent is bound to follow. Jealousy rears its ugly head. Acquiring newer, better and more expensive versions of possessions eventually results in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Choose to be happy with what you own and take care of the possessions with which you have been entrusted. Above all, give to others who are less fortunate. Happy people have figured out that the greatest joy in life is not in the getting but in the giving.

Living on an Island
When we isolate ourselves from family, friends and community groups, we starve the part of ourselves that needs encouragement and takes strength from others. Self-doubts undermine our courage to take risks. Self-pity replaces self-respect.

Get involved. Others challenge us to grow and learn and to engage our strengths and talents. We become more capable and loving when we share our time and our gifts. Whatever our age or condition, we still possess untapped possibilities that, when expressed, will benefit others.

Your outlook on the world is an advertisement that tells others what you feel. How will you advertise yourself today? This very moment? How happy will you allow yourself to be?

"I still need more healthy rest in order to work at my best. My health is the main capital I have and I want to administer it intelligently." Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gaining Perspective on Losing Weight - Should I drink to that?

One of the most frequently read articles in the online version of Time magazine, January 24, 2008 was one that delighted many.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported that a “a new study of cardiac health has yielded a happy formula: start with moderate exercise, at least thirty minutes to one hour a day and add moderate alcohol consumption.”

Now that’s health news we can all live with, right? Eating healthfully, exercising regularly, flossing daily and getting a good night’s sleep were unexciting rules our mothers taught us. But who would have dreamed that alcohol would be a recommended addition to our fitness program?

The study, first reported in the European Heart Journal, involved 12,000 people over a 20-year period and was conducted by Denmark's National Institute of Public Health. Dr. Morten Gronbaek, epidemiologist, summarizes the results: alcohol and exercise affect the body in similar ways, and they reinforce each other when both are practiced. Evidently, consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol increases good cholesterol and clears out the circulatory system.

The population under study was divided into four groups: nonexercisers who did not drink, nonexercisers who drank, exercisers who did not drink and exercisers who drank moderately. The group that exercised regularly and drank moderately had the greatest benefit in terms of reduced risk of heart disease (50 percent). The nonexercisers who drank moderately had about the same reduction in risk (30 percent) as the teetotaling exercisers. Besides suggesting that consuming a drink a day was equivalent to exercising, the study also suggested that combining the two—exercise and moderate drinking—provided the greatest benefit.

A couple of caveats, though, are included in the study. First, moderate drinking is one to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. Second, the study is relevant for only an older population since there is no proof that alcohol will reduce the risk of heart disease before age 45. And third, women who are at risk for breast cancer need to avoid alcohol because of increasing evidence of the link between the two.

In my case, I am careful about consumption of alcohol because I seldom have the calories to spare. One drink can steal a couple of hundred calories from my daily budget of 1,500. Still, the study is intriguing. What’s your take on it?

"As I see it, every day you do one of two things; build health or produce disease within yourself." Adelle Davis

Nothing come between me and my slogan

Most days I find a way to sail through the temptations that would steer me away from my commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Other days—and I can never predict when they will occur—I am challenged to stay on course.

When the sweet siren song of seductive indulgence calls my name and my fitness plans are in danger of being shipwrecked, I need a reminder to help me navigate through the shoals. But what kind of reminder?

I needed an internal marketing plan. My first step was to order a personalized “Fat2Fit” license plate for my car. I knew that I could not drive a car with this message on the plate if I didn’t look fit. (Incidentally, I ordered the license plate a year before my book From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction was written and three years before it was published.)

My next idea was to find a meaningful mantra or slogan. Why did I need one? For the same reason advertisers spend millions to develop slogans—because they stick in our heads. If you’re old enough, you may remember Brylcreem’s slogan “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya,” the U.S. Forest Service’s slogan “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” or Wendy’s slogan “Where’s the Beef?” Why not, I asked myself, harness the power of a slogan to create awareness of my commitment to a healthy lifestyle? And if the slogan lost its impact over time, I could adopt a new one.

Searching the Internet, I found a Web site that allows visitors to insert key words into well-known commercial slogans. I inserted the words body, fit, fitness and health. Here are a few of the generated slogans:
Make room in your life for your body.
All you need is a body and a dream.
Body is Job #1.
I’d walk a mile for a body.
A body is forever.
A body is a terrible thing to waste.
No size fits all.
Better living through fitness.
Because so much is riding on your health.
My body. My way.

I had so much fun playing with the slogan generator that I had to stop myself when the list approached 50. After all, how many slogans could I use?

I hope you’ll adopt one of these slogans or, better yet, create one of your own. Be sure to display the slogan where you will see it throughout the day—on the bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door, in your wallet and on the dashboard of your car.

You can also have your slogan imprinted on a coffee cup or t-shirt—buy one for your friends and one for yourself. If you create your own slogan, be sure to send it to me so I can add it to the list. And please let me know if your internal marketing campaign steers you toward healthier choices.

I found it hard to pick my favorite slogan. Given my role as fitness advocate, I finally chose “Make Every Body Count."

"Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stearn resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind." Leonardo DaVinci

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fit in America: Coming to a town near you?

On any given day,

  • nearly one out of two American women and one out of four American men are on a diet;
  • over $50 billion is spent each year on dieting and diet-related products;
  • four out of five 10-year-olds are worried about getting fat; and
  • 33 percent of children are overweight.

Despite the attention and expense, we’re getting fatter. So what’s a country to do? Some countries have created their own solutions:

  • Japan is measuring the waistlines of all citizens. Those who exceed the limit are required to attend classes and make healthy lifestyle changes.
  • Mexico has introduced a national campaign to lose weight titled Vamos Por Un Million de Kilos, or Let’s Lose a Million Kilos.
  • France has introduced a community-based initiative titled EPODE (Ensemble, Prēvenons l’Obésité Des Enfants, or Together, Let’s Prevent Obesity in Children). Successful in thinning children in the two pilot villages, the program has expanded to 113 villages.

Our national educational efforts, while laudable, are insufficient to trigger positive changes on a day-to-day basis. To trigger changes on a grand scale, we need a project far more imaginative than anything we’ve tried so far.

If we can harness our collective talent to put a man on the moon, surely we can direct our talents to create a fun-filled, dynamic U.S. fitness promotion campaign. If we can spend $700 billion to solve problems in the financial community, can’t we find a few million dollars to address a health concern that touches the lives of a majority of our citizens?

Let’s call the program Fit in America. Under this umbrella heading, leaders can organize group weight-loss programs that respond to the needs of each community. Fit in Atlanta can compete with Fit in Dallas. Fit in San Francisco can challenge Fit in Chicago.

Besides losing weight, we can also reinforce the sense of belonging. Being part of a larger effort will help rebuild the cohesiveness of the American people and shrink the gap resulting from the increasing polarization that has diminished our trust in one another.

Working together to lose weight and become fit, we will reaffirm that it is more fun to create than to tear down. We will discover that our differences are less important than our similarities are.

What do you think? Are you ready to bring Fit in America to a town near you?

"To pull together is to avoid being pulled apart" Bob Allisat

Does the calendar control your weight?

Who hasn't stepped on the scale on Monday morning after a weekend of splurging and resolved to shape up? To diet from this day forward until the surplus pounds are gone? And to exercise at least an hour a day?

By Tuesday, the resolve is weaker but the memory of the number on the scale is still fresh enough to ensure compliance, albeit unwilling. On Wednesday, the commitment to shape up and lose weight is hanging by a thread. Thursday is a “just get through it” kind of day.

Friday night signals the beginning of a three-day orgy that starts with relaxing drinks and food and is followed by more treats and delights on Saturday and Sunday. Then once again comes Monday's moment of truth, complete with regrets when the unhappy consequences of last week’s choices are reflected in the number on the scale.

What helped me escape the weekly cycle was taking a “no matter what” approach to my fitness commitment to myself. I resolved that whatever the day of the week or whatever events were swirling around me, I would keep my caloric intake in the range of 1,500—1,800 calories and exercise an hour each day. Unless I was sick or injured, there would be no exceptions. No days off. No matter what.

Just like I had my cup of coffee each morning and flossed my teeth each night, I would exercise and monitor what I ate each day.

Over time, this “no matter what” approach to eating and exercising has become part of my daily routine. Consequently, my habits, not the calendar, now dictate my behavior.

If you’re struggling to free yourself from repeated failure, consider experimenting with the “no matter what” approach. Building healthy habits into our daily lives is a task worth undertaking. Join me!

What can MacDonald's do for you?

First we heard about Jared and the Subway diet (Jared lost 245 pounds eating only at Subway), and now the McDonald’s diet is receiving attention. Chris Coleson, a 42-year-old Virginia resident, lost nearly 80 pounds eating two meals a day at McDonald’s for six months.

And Chris is not alone. Eating only at McDonald’s, Merab Morgan of North Carolina lost 30 pounds (10 pounds a month for three months).

These dieters aren’t the first to claim weight-loss success eating at McDonald’s. Previously, a New Hampshire woman lost more than 35 pounds on a diet based on McDonald’s fare, and Don Gorske, featured in Guinness World Records, has eaten over 19,000 Big Macs, yet he remains a slender 6-foot, 180-pound man.

For some of us, the idea of eating mounds of french fries and double cheeseburgers, topping that off with a McFlurry dessert and still losing weight is a dream come true. But the truth is that all of these dieters drastically reduced their calories by choosing salads, wraps, diet sodas and apple dippers without the caramel dip. The dieters also limited how often they ate and how much food they consumed.

Like Jared, Chris and the other McDonald’s dieters lost weight because they cut the number of calories consumed on a daily basis. Even on the reduced-calorie regimen, the dieters found eating strategies they enjoyed, so they were able to stick with their program. These successful weight-loss stories reaffirm the basic premise: if you consume fewer calories than you need, your body will burn stored fat to make up the difference, and you will lose weight.

Even if you’d never consider adopting the McDonald’s diet, Chris’s story still provides a lesson: to lose weight and sustain new habits, follow an ongoing eating regimen that you find pleasurable and satisfying. Depriving yourself of food you enjoy and forcing yourself to eat food you hate can easily send you into an attack of overeating and bingeing. To achieve your ideal weight, eat foods you like that provide nutrition and don’t pack on pounds. This way, you can continue your eating program indefinitely.

Whether the McDonald’s diet provides the necessary nutrients remains unclear. But even on a low-calorie eating regimen, you can consume the required nutrients if you eat a balanced diet.

The key to losing weight and maintaining your new weight does not involve where you eat, but what you eat. Don’t follow your inner sheep and adopt a regimen that for others. Instead, find the eating style that works for you and your body. Your goal is to achieve a healthy body weight and have fun achieving it.

"Things are only impossible until they are not." Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Thursday, July 23, 2009

To Drink or Not to Drink?

That is the questionat least for those of us trying to lose weight. Should we indulge ourselves and then suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous guilt for consuming empty calories? Or should we abstain?

Last week, my girlfriend Deborah Wagner, a registered nurse, and I had an animated debate on this subject over a wineless lunch. Both of us work to maintain our weight between 128 and 132 pounds. Given our commitment, lunches inevitably begin with a self-assessment on how we’re doing, followed by the latest insights.

When the topic of wine came up, Deborah argued on behalf of the daily sip. As head of our community’s wellness program, Deborah is well informed, whereas my contrary point of view was strictly personal. Although my mind was made up, I was willing to listen.

Deborah asserted that her nightly glass of red wine is medically beneficial. She cited research claiming that a daily glass of red wine improves heart health, may prevent tumors from growing and may also improve nerve function. Preventing or delaying heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s should be reason enough, Deborah said, to enjoy a glass of wine. She quickly added, however, that if a person didn’t drink wine, they shouldn’t begin. However, for Deborah, the immediate benefit was the relaxing effect of wine. The nightly ritual made the transition from work to home seamless.

Best of all, Deborah said, a glass of wine helps individuals maintain their weight. She based her assertion on researchstating that people who consume a single drink a few times each week have a lower risk of obesity than teetotalers or heavy drinkers have. I could understand the connection between heavy drinking and surplus pounds, but I was surprised that a moderate amount of alcohol helped individuals stay trim.

My argument against indulging was not scientifically based but was nonetheless compelling to me. I seem incapable of drinking only one glass of red wine. If one glass tastes good, then the second glass tastes even better. I’ve also noticed that if I drink a glass of red wine with dinner, I crave sugar later in the evening. While the wine doesn’t cost too many calories, the sugared dessert I can no longer resist certainly does. In addition to consuming surplus calories, I feel less rested upon rising the following day. Throughout the day, my energy level is lower than usual even as my appetite is ratcheted up.

I’m 15 years older than Deborah, so our age difference might explain the different physiological reaction I reported. Or maybe I just have different body chemistry.

Had I been more prepared, I could have buttressed my antiwine argument by citing the dangers associated with drunkorexia, the latest eating disorder. This unofficial term describes individuals (mainly women) who starve themselves all day so they can indulge in alcohol later without feeling guilty about consuming too many calories. This abuse of alcohol leads to malnutrition, organ damage and weak bones. Treatment is complicated because the disorder is frequently part of a larger complex of dysfunctional behaviors, such as bulimia and anorexia.

Debbie and I ended our lunch without resolving our differing opinions on the value of a daily glass of red winewe agreed to disagree. Like the good friends that we are, though, we had no problem agreeing on our next lunch date.

What’s your perspective?

"Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake."                Bible, 1 Timothy v. 23