Lessons not learned have a habit of re-presenting themselves-at the worst possible time.
I like to joke that God puts a pebble in my path to get my attention. If that doesn't work, I get a rock to trip over. If that doesn't alert me, a boulder soon appears headed in my direction. Only after I've been run over do I ask myself the question: what lesson am I supposed to be learning here?
Nowhere is that truer than in my efforts to get fit, lose weight and live healthfully. For roughly 40 years, I ignored every obstacle-large and small-in my path. Gall bladder surgery, a torn hamstring, clothes that fit too snugly, frequent hospitalizations, chest pain and a bad fall-all of these lessons went unlearned.
When I weighed in a 183 pounds, the bathroom scale broke. For some reason God only knows, I "listened up" and made profound, life-altering changes. Nearly six years have passed. Yet from that moment forward, I've focused on getting and staying fit. Even so, I must confess that occasionally I take a big header. When that happens, I reassure myself that I am still on the journey.
At no point can success-or failure-be declared; there is no "there". It is always and only a matter of putting one foot ahead of the other and looking to see what lessons I can glean when I stumble and fall.
This letter came to me from a reader. I wanted to share it because many of you will be able to relate to what she says.
About 10 years ago, The Body Shop ran a campaign that showed a plus-size Barbie on a sofa and the words, "There are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and 8 who do. Learn to love your body." That was a huge statement. I bought up the magnets and gave them to every woman I cared about.
I turned a corner when I became conscious of the critic in my head that said I couldn't be acceptable unless I looked a certain way. I think women in particular are raised to nurture that critic. We're taught to listen to it. For as long as I can remember, I've looked in mirrors and dissected the things that are wrong with me. The nose. The hair. The legs.
Lately though, I've started to appreciate that this body is what I'm going to live in for the rest of my life, and I might as well make friends with it. It takes me where I want to go and is the source of my physical and emotional responses to the world.
Today, I don't want to get fit to become more acceptable or meet some outsideideal. I just want to be healthy and active as long as I'm in this body.
On some level, I think I owe my body an apology. I'm sorry for starving you; overfeedingyou; purging you; and manically exercising you, then completely neglecting you. I'm okay with the waxing and dyeing-you'll just have to deal with that. But seriously, want to go for a walk and catch up on how things really are. I think I'm ready to be friends.
Isn't this a wonderful conclusion to her letter? Becoming friends with our bodies is a powerful idea whose time has come.
Circuit training is a term used to refer to a fast-paced form of weight training that offers both strength and cardiovascular benefits. You move from one type of exercise to another with little or no rest, then repeat the circuit.
The advantage to this form of exercise is that you save time. You go through a whole body routine, performing two or three sets per muscle group, in about a half hour. And since you're constantly in motion, you can get your heart pumping, reaping some aerobic benefits.
You also burn more calories (about 8 per minute) than you would in conventional routines (5-6 calories per minute).
The downside is that you won't build as much strength as you would with conventional routines. Because you aren't resting between sets, your muscles don't have time to recover, so you can't lift as much weight.
Because circuit training represents a compromise, it is best used when you're short of time or need a change of pace. Warning: don't sacrifice good form for speed.
But whatever you decide to do, almost any exercise is better than none.
I went to BookExpo America (BEA) in New York city in May with some trepidation. I live in a small mountain community in Northern California where customers chat easily and at great length with the checkout clerk at the local grocery store. Sometimes weather is the topic; other times, it's the Friday night high school football game.
How would I fare in the fast-paced Big Apple? Could I negotiate my way through a pressured urban setting after living with easygoing country folk?
Little did I know the treat that awaited me.
Perhaps my delightful experiences in New York resulted from the focus of my trip. First, I attended a "university" sponsored by PMA, the Independent Book Publishers Association. For three days, I was exposed to some of the brightest, most innovative people in the independent book publishing industry, a heady experience in and of itself.
From there, I went to the international book exposition. After wandering around what seemed to be an endless number of booths and exhibits, I ended up volunteering my time at the PMA's booth. Wearing a badge that gave me a least a smidgen of respectability, I had the opportunity to talk with interested buyers and other visitors who stopped by the booth to see what we "indies" had produced.
Nothing, however, prepared me for Caridad Pineiro. She bowled me over with her presence and savvy. Spontaneously generous, she took my picture on a computer-camera that she cleverly operated without any of the technical difficulties I would have had! Within minutes, she posted my picture in the Publisher's Directory in the Book Expo's computer system.
I discovered that she was a fellow author. Her achievements were impressive: she'd written six novels in the last year while working full-time and taking care of a family. Even so, she still found time to attend the Book Expo. In those few minutes, we made a profound connection. I knew that she and I would be friends long after BEA ended.
At some point, the conversation turned to my fitness book. Just as Caridad had impressed me, here's what happened to her:
"When I went to BookExpo America in May, it was because I was signing releases of my latest books. Never did I expect that the trip would help me recommit to becoming healthier and losing the weight I had gained.
How did that happen? During a stroll along the many rows of booksellers and authors, I ran into Carole Carson. The conversation originally started with questions about promoting our books, but then we realized we had much more in common then being authors, we both had battled with weight problems over the years.
Carole's enthusiasm and sensible talk about how she lost her weight and her commitment to spreading the word spurred me to consider that I had to get back to a healthier lifestyle because that healthier way of living would not only help me prolong my life but, in the process, maybe help me lose a few pounds.
Inspired by Carole and her words, I started this new quest with the same fervor with which I tackled my next novel. I did some research, and luckily, I had Carole's wonderful book to guide me. I approached this lifestyle change the way I would one of my characters, wondering why I wanted it, why I was conflicted about attaining that goal and how I would accomplish that objective once I committed to it.
Then I doe into the journey. I began to watch what I ate, but made many of the same mistakes I made the last time I lost weight. I realized I could eat salad until the cows came home to eat it with me, but I hate salad and so I was dooming myself to failure because I still viewed what I was doing as a diet and not a lifestyle change.
I acknowledged that I could never be a salad lover but that I was a vegetable lover, especially dark greens like kale, broccoli rabe and spinach. I also loved squash and beans and so I substituted healthy doses of these vegetables with servings of lean meats and found satisfaction instead of frustration.
I also knew, however, that it was about more than the food. The last time I had lost a great deal of weight, nearly 70 pounds (all of which I gained back over five years), I had been a jogging fiend-an hour or more a day-but with a family, a full-time job and writing deadlines, that kind of exercise routine wasn't possible any longer. It was probably a good part of the reason for the return of my weight.
So I embarked on a more reasonable path: a half hour every day, with a slightly longer workout once or twice a week as time allowed. By the end of the first few weeks, I was walking up the long flights of stairs at the railroad station rather than using the escalators. Simple exercise like that counts as well. Even two 15-minute walks a day contribute to keeping you healthier.
What's been the result of these preliminary lifestyle changes? In about three months, I've lost 24 pounds and a dress size. I feel more focused and have way more energy then I used to have. People have noticed that I'm looking trimmer and standing up taller. But more importantly, I feel better and healthier. I feel like I've finally got a sound foundation for continuing with this lifestyle change.
So, I hope this helps all of you who are out there, wondering what you can do and whether it is possible to lost the weight. Know that you are not alone with your struggles and that with the support and inspiration of people like Carole, you can go from fat to fit and stay that way."
Is there any doubt that we influence each other? Caridad renewed my heart's desire to write, and I rekindled in her the lifelong commitment to lose weight and become fit.
An earlier blog on the "medicalisation of obesity" sensitized me to the issue of the role physicians play in reducing obesity.
In the August 9, 2007, blog, I referred to an interview with Dr. Hamish Meldrum, the head of the British Medical Association, reported in the August 2, 2007, London Evening Standard. Dr. Meldrum argued that altering fat-generating behavior (eating less and moving more) was a better solution than prescribing a weight-loss pill.
Dr. Fuad Ziai, a pediatric endocrinologist, has prescribed Adderall, which contains amphetamine, to over 800 teenage patients who are suffering emotionally and potentially physically from obesity, 90 percent of whom have lost weight. His rationale for the use of Adderall, typically used for attention-deficit disorders, is the absence of other treatment viable options.
Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance and is considered addictive. It is informally referred to as "legal cocaine." Because of its speed-like effects, it is popular with college students. Al Gore's son was recently arrested for possession of Adderall without a prescription.
I asked my teenage granddaughters, Heather (17) and Danielle (15), their opinion: Is it appropriate to treat obese teens with amphetamines?
Even though I carefully posed the question in neutral terms, I was certain that they would argue on the behalf of addressing the immediate needs of the obese teenagers, even if it meant prescribing an amphetamine.
I was wrong. Here's what they wrote:
"Few teens, or adults for that matter would choose to become obese. Yet all of us have the choice of what we consume and how much we exercise
The Illinois doctor who is prescribing Adderall is giving teens a lazy way to lose weight. He is reinforcing the mistaken idea that we can eat whatever we choose without consequences. A better solution would be to teach teens how to take and keep off the weight through exercising regularly and healthful food choices.
Besides that, amphetamines have severe side effects. While the teenager may have more energy, the teen might also have drowsiness, hallucinations, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, insomnia, dizziness, anxiety, an irregular heartbeat and extremely high blood pressure. These side effects could be potentially harmful to an adolescent's maturing body.
Would a few pounds really be worth risking one's life? And once the prescription runs out, what then? Will the teen be hooked on amphetamines? Will the teen regain the weight? And even more? If so, then it would become even more important to exercise and eat healthily.
Taking amphetamines to produce weight loss only postpones the inevitable. Instead of wasting precious time and money on an addictive drug, it makes more sense to learn lifelong habits today-habits that will keep teens thin and healthy for the rest of their lives."
As a layperson, I'm not in a position to cast aspersions on Dr. Ziai's medical practices. Certainly his intentions are good. Even so, like my teenage granddaughters, I have reservations about whether his approach is the right one.
Taking a shortcut makes the destination more important than the journey. But isn't making the journey how we acquire self-restraint and self-respect? What do you think?