Tagged: obesity

Children Are Still Listening

Two years ago I posted The Children Are Listening and lately I feel strongly that it needs repeating. It is evident that how we talk about our bodies, how we talk about other people’s bodies, and how we handle our nutrition directly impacts how our children – the girls in particular – view themselves. They are listening to what we say and how we still idolize thin, plastic or enhanced women and super buff men.

We MUST make it a priority to teach the latest and future generations to view nutrition and exercise as equal priorities along with the standards like good dental hygiene and a good education. Then, and only then, will we see an entirety of young adults having healthy fat levels, and healthy self-esteems, which in turn will benefit us all (especially as health insurance issues are far from being resolved).  So read and remember, the children are listening.

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I overheard two nine year old girls talking the other day at a friend’s home. One tall, one short, neither thin, neither overweight – but clearly built very differently. The taller one was urging the shorter one to get on the scale to see what she weighed. Finally, reluctantly, she obliged and weighed in four pounds heavier than the taller girl. Said tall girl then replied “ooh, maybe we should run around more at recess.”

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What does this tell me? It tells me that the tall girl has been overhearing her mother lament about her weight. It tells me that by third grade, she’s already decided that what the scale shows defines how you’re seen. It also shows me how much our kids are listening society’s obsession with weight.

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It’s not just the girls mind you, I’ve caught many a group of elementary school boys quickly dismissing a girl based upon her weight, having learned early on that thinner is more attractive. All it takes is one tossed away comment “wow she’s hot” by a Dad watching a Victoria Secret’s commercial to take root his son’s head.

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If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that I do not own a scale, and berate my clients who use one to gauge their fitness. You should also know that I am trying to raise awareness with the world at large, as well as in my own home, that body fat vs. scale weight vs. internal health are three different things and should not be lumped together.

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Clearly, being a personal trainer, there’s a lot of discussion in our home about nutrition, body fat, body acceptance, etc. My daughter is built on the short and stocky side, yet she is strong and healthy – not fat. But put her next to her taller and leaner best friends, sure she seems thicker – a perception that to the ignorant child/adult could be referred to as fat.

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I work diligently to maintain her healthy self-esteem so that she will not suffer in middle-school, high- school and beyond. Young girls and boys’ feelings of inadequacy because society has deemed them inferior if they’re not built like models, starts in the home whether you’re aware of it or not.

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My hope today for those of you who read this – and hopefully you’ll pass it on to reach more – is that everyone who worries about their “weight” should stop verbalizing their issues in front of their children. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, boyfriends, girlfriends – we all need to realize that one little innocuous sentence (“I can’t lose the last ten pounds, I hate the way I look”) can plant a very destructive seed in a little person’s brain. They’ll either see themselves as flawed, or they’ll deem other’s as flawed if they don’t match up to that perfect body expectation.

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So think about what you say around your kids, and what they might internalize about themselves from it. Engage in open discussions about health, nutrition, the differences in body types, and most importantly, that ultimately we must not judge books by their covers – beauty is not just skin deep – and any other words of positive reaffirmation to remind them that life is about being a good person – not being perfect.

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How Do You Smell?

I have been blessed (or cursed depending) with an amazing sense of smell. On the good side, my ability to sniff out the delicate nuances of a special glass of wine is an enjoyable asset. But on the bad side, I can sniff out a cigarette being smoked two cars in front of me!

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Now I know first hand that America on the whole smells better than many other countries – I honeymooned in Bali and the over-powering and rampant body odor hit me the minute I deplaned and assaulted my senses every time I got in a cab. But for some reason America has gotten fixated on either masking scents within our homes or covering ourselves head to toe with perfumed products. Whether using a plug-in diffuser, aroma-therapy candle, or the multitudes of air freshener sprays, many people care more about scenting their homes with un-natural “country vanilla” or “sea breeze” aromas, than just opening the windows and allowing fresh air to do its thing.

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I have an especially high annoyance with men and women who wear too much perfume/cologne. My mother, an “old-school” elegant lady, taught me that perfume was for smelling up close ONLY. “A woman’s perfume should not be smelled before she rounds the corner” she would say. I can’t count how many times I’ve been forced to move from a theater seat (or suffer in silence if I couldn’t change seats) because some woman has drenched herself with an Estee Lauder concoction that would repel a bear!

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I also have a few male friends who wear so much head-ache producing cologne that I avoid hugging them lest I have to change my shirt just to stand being around myself.  The other day a young man working out at my gym had so much Axe Spray on that even three rows away I couldn’t’ concentrate on my workout.  I really wanted to say “sweetie, you don’t need to announce yourself that way! You’re a 6′-2″ handsome 20-something with muscles … lay off the damn cologne!”  But of course I didn’t, I just crumbled and moved further away.

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Even our laundry detergents offer six to eight different scents, all so strong and invasive, that when my daughter used to have her clothes washed at her grandparents house, I would have to wash them again because it gave me a headache just to hug her. Clothes should be clean with a mild unscented soap that removes dirt and odors, but doesn’t “sterilize” them with perfumes that then clash with deodorants, body lotions, and the rest of our self-applied scents. We even have scented trash bags!  Come on, really?

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Why am I on a soapbox today about scents and smells? Because while the essential oils industry has been selling us on the healthful and emotional impacts that can occur when utilizing our olfactory senses, what no one is addressing is the downside of all the overpowering, chemically-created scents we are forced to inhale on a daily basis.

The problem with these man-man aromas is that they dull one of our important, yet overlooked, senses and can cause headaches, loss of appetite, or worse, an altered pallet where we need higher levels of sugar and salts just to enjoy our foods. People likely forget that the first step in appetite and proper digestion is through our sense of smell. Haven’t you ever notice that when our noses are stuffed, food tastes bland.

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If we continue to douse ourselves and our environments with these over-powering and unnatural scents, our noses will stop working the way they should. Food will smell and taste different and we will seek to engage our pallet by enhancing foods with the standard taste-enhancers – sugar and salt. More sugar and salt in our diets leads to higher levels of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes just to name a few issues. Plus a dulled-nose will also miss out on the subtleties in nature of healthy clean air, flowers in a meadow, the warm smell of pine needles, or the real (not canned) scent of a sea-breeze (not to mention the warning signs of a fire or food turning bad, etc.)

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Some of you may laugh this off, but for those of you who share my nose-sensitivity, pass the word along – and lets lighten up on the perfumed products. A little scent goes a long way – and we should NOT smell you coming around the corner.

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Tastebuds & Your Brain

We humans are the only creatures living on Earth who have elevated our need for sustenance to something close to worship. We obsess over food, turn it into art, and attach emotional elation to substances that pass over our tongue and into our system. The downside of this food obsession is that we actually give up much of our self-control to one of the tiniest parts of our bodies – the taste buds.

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Taste buds are tiny microscopic hairs that send messages to our brains detailing how something tastes – i.e., bitter, sour, sweet or salty. Our brains then send us a message back (and this is where we differ from all other creatures save for maybe primates) and somehow we’ve assigned emotions to those messages. Food was not designed to be a vehicle for emotions, yet we humans combined the two nonetheless.

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The problem is that we forget that WE are in charge – not our minds, not our tastebuds – and so we indulge and indulge and indulge. With so many foods being processed with sugars and salts that electrify the tastebuds and then the brain, we find it difficult to stop eating what tastes soooo good! Because of this, America in particular has suffered the worst affects from these over-indulged tastebuds, as we have the highest rates of child and adult obesity in the world!

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Now scientists, nutritionists, and personal trainers like myself have been telling the masses for sometime that if you give yourself 5-10 minutes after completing a moderate sized meal or snack, that gnawing message from your brain to eat more WILL cease.

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Our amazing systems also initiate a message from our stomachs to our brains when we are full. However, unlike the hyper tastebud the stomach’s signals cruise at a much slower speed, there’s a lot going on in the digestive track after all. Thus if you wait the recommended 5-10 minutes, the message finally gets through and the brain tells the tastebuds to calm down – we’re full.

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So the next time you relish that decadent chocolate dessert or delightfully salty bag of chips, remember that your tastebuds are NOT in charge. Moderation is key, and after a few weeks of this “retraining” you’ll find the reward in your waistline!

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Understanding Fat

Fat has a bad rap. Yes, American’s are overall too fat, with over 34% (78 million) of adults being clinically obese (a BMI of over 30), but our response to this epidemic is to say all fat is bad. This is not true.

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Body fat exists to help us have energy when we’ve run out of food in our systems, it keeps our temperature and circulation level, it gives us healthy skin and hair, and transports essential vitamins and minerals throughout our body.

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Fat in foods helps us maintain healthy levels of body fat – provided, that the fats you are consuming are natural vs. animal based, and kept to a healthy minimum. Good nutritional fats are avocado, certain nuts, olives and their oil, and fatty fish (wild caught salmon, etc.). But with our tendency to lump everything into a “bad” or “good” column, most American’s see all fats as bad and when they’re focused on lowering their fat percentage of weight, they eliminate these essential fats.

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Another misunderstood aspect of “fat” is that sugar has no fats and therefore it’s okay to eat – especially demonstrated by fat free snack foods (cookies, etc.) that are high in sugar to compensate for the lack of creamy additives from animal fats (butter, cream). But what many adults fail to realize is that excessive sugar in their bodies (and their children’s bodies) will convert to fat for later use – said later use usually not happening because of so many American’s put exercise and activity on the non-priority list in their lives.

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Same thing has happened to carbohydrates. The fad-fitness industry decided to label all carbs as bad, and Atkins type “diets” became the rage. But ask any of my clients who come to me declaring they eat no carbs, carbs ARE essential. They usually learn this lesson after I push them just enough in a workout to cause their carb-lite systems to flip into hypoglycemia and they are reduced to a weak sweating pile on the floor. You NEED carbs – you just don’t need processed, man-manipulated carbs (i.e., white bread, white rice, crackers, cookies, mashed potatoes, etc.

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So here’s the bottom line – you’ve got to understand that fat is important and essential to a healthy body. If you keep your healthy fats, sugars (non-refined), and carbs (unprocessed), you will be able to reduce and manage your body fat percentages. Keep eating animal facts, sugar-laden goodies, and nutrition-void breads and crackers and you’ll have more fat than your body can deal with. As I always say, do NOT diet (that implies temporary) – change your nutrition to a moderate and balanced six meals/snacks per day, and enjoy an indulgent periodically (from wine to ice cream or fried chicken), and of course, exercise effectively at least 3-4 times a week.

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The Fountain Of Youth Myth

For centuries people have perpetuated the ancient lore that a fountain of youth existed. A magical pool of water (or some other substance) that could keep or transform youth and long life. Well if you didn’t already know this, it doesn’t exist!

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I bring this up because of the current escalation in people using (or rather misusing) the latest fountain-of-youth-fad Human Growth Hormone (commonly referred to as “HGH”). HGH is produced by the pituitary gland, and helps to regulate several body issues such as metabolism, muscle and bone growth (more muscle, less fat), skin and hair quality, and your body’s assumption of sugars and fats. Traditionally it has been prescribed to help skeletally and muscularly underdeveloped children and adolescents grow taller or heavier.  But since the body’s HGH levels naturally decrease with age, people have now turned to HGH products with the misplaced idea that it can rev help them lose weight and more ridiculously reverse aging.

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Thus, the market was flooded with injectable HGH via Internet pharmacies, anti-aging clinics, weight loss scam web sites, and worst of all, hack doctors (you must have a prescription for these injections). But now, with people always wanting an easier option, suddenly HGH in pill form is being peddled on infomercials or online ads that claim they will turn back your biological clock, reduce fat, build muscle, strengthen your immune system, level your blood sugars (appealing to diabetics) restore hair growth, and even improve your sex drive. However, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has found no proof or reliable evidence to support any of these claims especially in light of the fact that when taken orally (pill form) HGH is digested by the stomach long before your body can absorb it. So in case you missed it, swallowing an HGH pill, whether herbal or not (or using an spray), will NOT alter your body in any significant way.

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The truth about HGH whether injected or in pill form is that it is NOT a fix for aging or fat loss, and there are dangers to its use as well. While HGH injections have been useful in the treatment of children and adults who have significant growth hormone deficiencies, for the rest of the population there is the potential for a myriad of serious side effects, including:

  • Swelling in the arms and legs
  • Carpal tunnel and arthritis like symptoms
  • Increase in headaches and muscle pain
  • On-set Diabetes
  • Abnormal growth of bones and organs
  • High blood pressure
  • hardening of arteries

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So once again I find myself standing on my soapbox pleading with the masses to not look for shortcuts when it comes to improving their health. If you’ve been following my blog for any period now, you know that I’m a proponent of making the change to a healthier lifestyle quick, easy, and moderate (no extreme diets or two hour workouts). There are no shortcuts, but honestly, It’s not as hard as you think once you embrace these simple ideals:

  1. You must eat small healthy quantities 5-6 times a day while still allowing yourself small indulgences along the way;
  2. You must drink lots of water;
  3. You must exercise a minimum of 20 minutes, 3 times a week in a manner that elevates your heart rate and challenges your muscles; and
  4. You must stretch and seek improved or sustained muscle flexibility and balance, while also allowing for enough sleep/rest.

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These four simple “musts” can become second nature if you are motivated enough and prioritize them into your life. They are far less expensive than pills or fad equipment or DVDs, and ultimately they will get you to your goal and keep you there. Endorphins help reduce inflammations (like arthritis), improved circulation will result in healthier hair, nails, and skin, and regular exercise elevates your energy all day (which can also directly translate into your sex drive if that’s one of your issues. Who needs HGH now?

Please stop looking for the fountain of youth – for in truth it only exists within your own commitment to stay healthy and active for as long as you’re destined to live.

Are You Sure It’s Healthy?

For years Americans have turned to salads as a safe, low-calorie meal they can freely consume when trying to “lose weight” (which as you know I appropriately renamed “lose fat”). Many an office worker suffers through weeks of homemade salads or restaurant salad bars just to they can feel like they’re eating healthier and, more importantly, leaner.

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Well the truth has been out for some time that depending upon what’s on or in your salad, as well as the dressing type and quantity, salads aren’t necessarily better for you than a lean hamburger and a few fries or even a glass of diet soda.

Currently, the hottest weight-loss food trend is Juices and Smoothies. Tumblr and Pinterest are weighed-down (pun intended) with hundreds of breakfast juice recipes. Sorry to burst another bubble, but ingesting a large quantity of fruit sugars, even if they are balanced out with chia seeds and spinach, can still pack on “sugar” calories that can turn into fat.

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The point is that you really have to consider all aspects of your nutrition to know if something is healthy for you. Take the afore-mentioned morning smoothie. An average recipe might include an apple, banana, carrot, spinach, blueberries and chia seeds, and maybe even a dash of yogurt. Depending upon the size and quantity of items, there can be anywhere from 45-60 grams of sugar. The recommended daily amount of sugar an average adult should consume is about 25 grams (6 teaspoons). One smoothie and you’re double and that’s just breakfast!

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Back to the salads, here’s some perspective for you: McDonald’s Chicken Caesar Salad is your pretty run of the mill Caesar (including croutons and creamy dressing) and comes in at 425 calories and 21.4 grams of fat. Their regular burger is only 253 calories and 7.7 grams of fat. Even if you added a small fries, while your calories would be a touch higher (459), your fat grams would only be 16.7.

Perhaps you already know that Chinese Chicken and Caesar Salads are the worst salads you can eat when it comes to lean and healthy nutrition. But did you know that even without croutons or wantons and ditching cream based dressings, if you load up a salad with nuts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, egg, quinoa, feta cheese, etc., you’re still consuming a lot of calories, sugars, and fat grams. Undoubtedly better for your insides than a Big Mac or anything from Taco Bell, but don’t be surprised if your fat loss slows down depending upon your habits and metabolism.

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So next time you decide to clean up your nutrition, read labels and crunch numbers before you assume that juices and salads will get you to your goal. Ultimately, you’re always better off to eat moderate amounts of healthy foods, and exercise more rather than deny yourself something or over-consume something in it’s stead.

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There’s a great article in the New Yorker about the detrimental effects of too much sugar.  Click on the photo below to read it.

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http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/how-much-harm-can-sugar-do

How To Exercise The Kids

We all know that childhood obesity is on the rise. In fact, one-third of all American children ages 6-17 are clinically obese (more than 20% body fat). The first remedy is of course nutrition, which I have addressed more than once in this blog. But the second and equally important remedy is exercise – or movement in general. Between higher educational demands, homework loads, and video games/TV being used as babysitters or “decompress time” — our kids just aren’t moving like we used to. (Let’s not forget that 75% of public schools no longer have PE as a mandatory class.)

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The solution – we must entice, motivate, and if need be push our kids to move more. But let’s face it, if we have to push them or demand they exercise, they’ll resist and/or hate it. So we have to make it fun. Now I know from all my clients (teens to adults) that you might have to drag them along initially, but once they see true results 90% of them get inspired and motivated to continue so they can see even more results (i.e., toned thighs or bigger biceps).

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There are a myriad of exercise options that you can choose from and even rotate through to keep movement fun and challenging. Obviously there are the usual options that are great for calorie burn and muscle tone but cost for equipment and/or classes/lessons (soccer, gymnastics, etc). But here are a few examples of less common ways to get the kids moving, that don’t cost as much or require as large a time commitment:

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  • Hiking
  • Boxing (just gloves and pads are required)
  • Bike Riding (street or trails)
  • Resistance Training (Age 16+)
  • Homemade obstacle courses
  • Skateboarding / skating
  • Swimming
  • Playing Xbox Kinnect or Wii
  • Walking (with or without the dog)

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The key is 30-60 minutes five times a week. For those reluctant children, if you join them in the activity they’re more likely to engage. Give them some choices, let it be their pick. As already stated you might have to make the designated exercise time “mandatory” initially, but with consistency comes results and with results comes enthusiasm and even addiction. (Don’t let that word scare you, fitness addiction doesn’t have to mean obsession, it’s more that the individual becomes self-motivated to continue because they just don’t feel as good without exercise.)

Keep in mind that children under age 16 should avoid resistance training (weight lifting) to any great extent as their muscles are still forming and risk of injury is higher. However, body-weight exercises are fine as long as kept to a minimum (i.e., pull ups, push ups, crunches, burpees, etc.)

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For especially overweight children, any new exercise regiment needs to start slow, and have easy to reach goals so they do not get discouraged by their lack of endurance or strength.  But it is essential that you push those goals forward each day. Example: if they can only handle a five minute walk or 10 jumping jacks, the next time its six minutes or 15 jumping jacks.)

Make it fun, make it consistent, make it a family affair when possible, and make it all about health and never about scale weight!  Add in healthier nutrition (include them in shopping and cooking as well) and before you know it, the whole family will be fit and healthy.

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What Are Your Kids Drinking?

Today I am getting back on my “nutrition for kids” soap-box to address a continuing trend of parents thinking it’s okay to give kids lemonade and 7-up (or any soda) with their meals. Every time we eat out with our daughter I see other kids getting lemonade or clear soda (7-up, Sprite) with their meals. At my daughter’s school every open-house, award ceremony or celebration includes cookies and 7-up or lemonade. I want to scream out “why are you offering them sugar and sugar? Don’t you know how bad that quantity of sugar is?

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If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m all about moderation, and that includes sugar. But I am astonished to see how little regard these two innocent-seeming liquids appear to have with parents.

Just on simple logic, I would think if you’re ordering high fat and carbs “kid-friendly” foods like mac n’ cheese, chicken fingers and fries, or pizza, that you’d opt for water to at least balance out these nutritionally void meals. Add into the equation that kids often get dessert after such a meal, and you’ve just given them plenty of sugar. But no, the world at large thinks nothing of sugar + sugar where kids are concerned.

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Many parents and restaurants offer fruit juices as an option, thinking that these are healthier. Well, I’m here to tell you they’re not. Perhaps you need an in-your face assessment of what is really in these drinks?

8 oz of Lemonade (like Minute Maid) = 27 grms Sugar

8 oz of Orange Juice = 24 grms Sugar

8 oz of Apple Juice = 26 grms Sugar

8 oz of 7-Up/Sprit = 26 grms Sugar

8 oz of Coke = 26 grms Sugar

1 Capri Sun packet = 18 grms Sugar

8 oz Nesquik Chocolate milk = 29 grms Sugar

(Don’t forget, you often give them refills too!)

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Now you might be saying “so what? What’s so bad about 26 grams of sugar?” Well, besides the fact that it offers no nutritional value, it can damage their metabolism, and increase their risk of obesity and type II diabetes, among other health issues (like mood swings and hormonal spikes). I’m not even touching upon the deadly high-fructose corn syrup issue (in sodas), or the quantity of sugars in a Jamba Juice or other seemingly “healthy” juices.

The American Heart Association has set guidelines for the limits of added sugar that kids should consume each day. (Added sugar means “refined sugar or sugar substitutes” as fruit and other foods contain natural sugars.) The amount of added sugar that a child should consume on a daily basis varies depending on the child’s age and caloric intake, but here’s their basic recommendation:

Preschoolers should limit added sugar to about 16 grams per day

Children ages 4 to 11 should limit added sugar to about 12 grams a day

Pre-teen and teens should not have more than 20 to 32 grams per day

Clearly you can see how one drink at lunch has already maxed out the quantity of added sugar your child consumes. Now factor in any desserts or sweet-treats they’ve consumed that day and you’ve easily overloaded their sensitive systems.

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I was criticized repeatedly when my daughter was a baby because I didn’t give her any refined sugar until she was 2. No birthday cake, ice cream, candies, fruit yogurt, or fruit juice. I was called controlling, silly, and even, albeit jokingly, evil. My Father-In-Law asked once why I didn’t give my toddler apple juice. I replied that she had a bowl-full of apple slices in front of her and a bottle of water and once in her stomach she would have “apple juice.” (He didn’t find my sarcasm funny.) I did point out that this way she was getting fiber that is missing from filtered apple juice, but he’d already tuned me out.

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The reality is that America loves it’s sugar and many well-meaning parents blindly fall into line with their children’s nutrition. But hopefully you’ll stare a little longer at the facts posted above, and at least think twice next time before giving your children that innocuous little beverage. Perhaps on another day I’ll bring up the issue of rampant use of sodium in America and how much of that harmful substance you and your children are consuming, but today my attack is on sugar. Have a sweet day!

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Stuck In A Rut?

Wake up call people — it’s already February of 2015. Raise your hand if your commitment to getting in shape that was so passionately fueled last month, has slowed it’s momentum or worse, stopped completely.  Now let’s see a show of hands of those who just never got their mojo ramped up enough to even get off the couch yet this year – the fact being that you are stuck in a rut.

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This is unfortunately all too common with 85% of the over-weight population in America. The task of shedding fat when you clearly don’t already enjoy exercise can seem very daunting. Combine that with poor nutrition, and the depressing momentum of increased weight with decreased energy and stamina and you will be STUCK in a cycle of immobility and negative thoughts.

So how do you get un-stuck? There’s no one-size fits all answer to this, but there are choices. Some are slow and steady, some are more aggressive.  It’s all about what kind of person you are, and how important your life and health are to you. The key here is motivation. I’ve written many times in this blog about tricks to getting and staying motivated. I won’t reiterate them here – surf this blog and read them for yourself. But know this, if you don’t really want to see/feel a change in your body and internal health, then you will stay in your rut and I suggest you just find a way to be happy there (yes my sarcasm is showing).  Below I list several options for starting your journey to health and fitness, beginning with the easiest and progressing to more aggressive choices.

Stand up! Right now!

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Set a phone or watch timer and every 30 minutes stand up and move. Walk some stairs, do some stretches, march in place, whatever low impact activity you can muster, but do it for 4 minutes. You do this 6-10 times a day and the changes to your body, stamina and mood will surprise you. Then progress to more energetic activities like jumping jacks, desk or wall push ups, air squats, etc.

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Take a walk.

No need to run – running is best for the young or non-obese. But walking – fast walking – preferably with a hill or two will get your heart in to the fat burning zone, tone your lower extremities and elevate your mood significantly. Start with a half mile, progress up to 3 miles. Bring music or a friend – use a smart phone app that spews out motivational reminders — whatever helps you stay on task. (A half mile will take you 10 minutes on average.)

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Do NOT diet or buy a new exercise DVD.

These options are too easy to quit, and too temporary. Instead, buy a cookbook of low calorie, easy to make meals and spend some time on your feet cooking. Join a gym and commit to 3 times a week doing something different each time – for only 30 minutes. This keeps your time commitment manageable, your boredom level low, and the constant changing up of what you do there will keep your body from plateauing thereby making results continue which perpetuate motivation for you to continue.

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Make a contract.

Get a workout buddy and sign a contract with each other to keep each other on task and accountable. Take turns designing the workouts – keep them fresh and ever changing. Let your egos take over as you try to one-up each other – while still not over-doing it however. (Injuries are the best way to get back in a rut!)

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Set a aggressive fitness goal.

Pick a 5k, 10k, half marathon to train for. Hire a trainer and set a body fat % goal. Join a rock climbing gym, pole dancing or salsa class. After a few months you should have achieved your goal and be ready to maintain your new health levels or set another goal.

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"Beginner's Pole Fitness class at ESTEEM Fitness."  (photo by Nicole Barrett)

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The key with all of these is to make shorter-term goals that are achievable and then progress incrementally. Whether it’s six months or one, you WILL get out of your rut. Once again I stress that you have to really want this! Take stock of your life and how different (better) it could be if you were physically in better shape. If that is something you want, follow these steps and you will achieve it.

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Sleep — The Missing Link

It’s a well-known fact to those of us in the fitness profession that sleep is a key element in achievement of reducing fact in the body (“losing weight” as most of you refer to it). Unfortunately, this fact is little acknowledged, not to mention followed, by most people. Sleep is a commodity in our fast-paced, over-worked, over-committed society. While many of us can function quite well with little sleep (especially you Moms), the detrimental effects are huge, yet hugely ignored.

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With too little sleep comes a myriad of issues ranging from depression, elevated stress levels on organs, higher blood pressure, reduced sex drive, inability to concentrate, and deteriorated memory, just to name a few. But the biggie is obesity. According to studies by medical professionals, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30% more likely to become obese than those who slept seven to nine hours. Research has shown a direct link between sleep and the peptides that our brain stimulates to regulate appetite. Not only does sleep loss appear to stimulate appetite, it also stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, especially at night when the body is less likely to burn those calories.   Even kids are suffering from less sleep thus resulting in the increase of childhood obesity.  The demands of school and after-school activities are leaving kids less time for sleep.

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There is also a vicious cycle that occurs in obese people who suffer from sleep apnea. Even if they allow enough time to sleep, their sleep is disrupted multiple times each night which results in less quality sleep time. Thus their bodies retain more fat, increasing the sleep apnea, and the cycle continues until they are on assisted breathing devices. Sadly, I have a hard time convincing most people that if they follow my recommended course of exercise, healthy consistent nutrition, and proper sleep habits, they could find themselves off the breathing mask within months (and in many cases off their high blood pressure meds too)!  But I have personally helped many clients to do just that.

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So here are a few tips that can help improve the increase amount of time you sleep:

Prioritize: Make sleep as important as all the other responsibilities you have in your life. Schedule 8 hours of sleep just like you schedule everything from getting to work on time to getting to the gym (you do schedule your exercise time too, right?).

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Decompress: Many of us need a little while to decompress before we can fall asleep. Schedule about 30-minutes prior to your targeted sleep time and do some yoga-like stretches, read a book, watch TV (as long as the show is not too dramatic or stimulating), or write in a journal (as noted below).

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Journaling: If you’re like me, sometimes the issue with falling asleep (or staying asleep) is an over-active brain, sorting and re-sorting tasks or issues needing to be dealt with. If you spend a few minutes prior to sleep jotting down the tasks for the next day(s), or writing about issues weighing on you, or your day and feelings, the brain will relax and sleep will be easier.

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Time your Nutrition: You mustn’t got to bed hungry, but conversely, you don’t want to have just finished a meal. Make sure your last meal or snack is at least one hour prior, but not more than two hours before bedtime.

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It’s getting close to that “resolutions” time of year, I hope all of you seeking to change your body’s condition, add “getting more sleep” to your resolution of losing fat and getting into shape. It is essential to your success.

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