“Remember, your body hears everything you think.” When I read that statement on Body Positive, a Web site authored by psychologist Deb Burgard, I stopped reading and started thinking about what my own body hears.
If I recorded all of the thoughts I have about my body, what would the recording reveal? What would yours reveal? Do you hate your thickening torso and expanded waistline? Are you disgusted with the padding on your hips or thighs? Do you wish you were paper-thin? Or weighed 50 pounds less? Or wore a size 4? Would you erase those wrinkles and color the graying hair?
If you step on the scale and berate yourself for surplus pounds (as I did for many years), you may be endangering your health and well-being. Even worse, you may be thwarting your efforts to make healthful changes. Instead of thinking harsh, self-critical thoughts, how about giving your body some credit where credit is due? How about focusing on the positive contributions your body is quietly making as you move you through your daily routine?
Over the past 24 hours, here are a few of the gifts my body gave me:
. Restored my energy after a good night’s rest
. Healed a blood blister on one of my toes
. Carried me 9,459 steps playing tennis
. Let me feel the warm sun and cool breeze
. Eliminated the pain of a headache
. Let me view a videotape of my two-week-old grandson, Diego and his three-year-old brother, Matisse
. Made me laugh as my husband read aloud the nightly chapter from Garrison Keillor’s book Pontoon
. Helped me learn to install software on my laptop
. Fought off an ear infection
. Reminded me of three goals I need to accomplish today
. Gave me the pleasure of eating a wonderful meal with friends last night
. Taught me a new card game
. Kept my blood pressure low
. Kept my energy high
. Signaled to me when it was time to refuel and time to rest.
I could list many more, yet even the expanded list wouldn’t include the gifts that I automatically received without any awareness.
Next time I’m critical of my body, I’m going to repeat this simple exercise to regain my perspective. My body is incredibly generous, and I need to be generous in my appreciation of its gifts in return. If I perform this exercise regularly, my self-esteem will become genuinely solid and my distress over my body image will be healthfully low.
So what’s your body done for you lately?
Fought off an infection
Taken you to the top of a hill
Stayed awake so you could drive home safely
Learned a new skill
Rewarded you with the sight of a sunset
Healed a bruise
Given you a new sensual sensation
Kept working despite being in pain
Expressed a strong emotion through your face and body language
Made another human being
Defended you from an attack, or healed from an attack
Grown into its current form from a sperm and an egg
Given you sexual pleasure
Let you know through pain that something needs your attention
Released you from pain
Given you the sound of children laughing
Rejuvenated during sleep
Allowed you feel the exquisite touch of another person
What do I have in common with Shigeru Miyamoto, internationally acclaimed video game designer of Wii Fit for Nintendo? When it comes to promoting fitness, we share the same philosophy.
If you read the notes of the small design team that developed the ground breaking Wii Fit exergame, you quickly realize that Miyamoto wanted the game to be fun, he used his own life experiences and those of team members to build the model, and he wanted fitness to involve the entire family.
Those characteristics are consistent with the message I’ve been promoting, reflected in the acronym FIT:
F: Fun—Make exercise fun and playful.
I: Integrate—Integrate your exercise routine into your lifestyle.
T: Together—Team up with others so you can give each other support and encouragement.
With his blueprint and the talent of his colleagues, Miyamoto created a product that hit the mark. Over a million customers have purchased Wii Fit since it was introduced in Japan last year. The exergame will be introduced in the United States and Europe this spring (it is expected to sell for less than $100), and extraordinary sales volumes are anticipated.
Wii Fit relies on a peripheral balance board that measures the weight, locates the center of gravity and calculates body mass index of the user. It also counts steps, serving as a pedometer.
Four kinds of exercises are offered: aerobic, muscle and strength building, stretching and balance. The exergame has 6 to 10 activities associated with each category. For example, aerobic choices might include step exercises or jogging, and balance exercises might involve tightrope walking.
The Wii software displays the progress of family members on graphs and charts and comes with its own dedicated Wii television channel.
What worries you about getting older? A market research study conducted by GfK Roper Consulting addresses this question. Reported in the March 2008 issue of Dr. Andrew Weil’s Self Healing newsletter, the study determined that worries about aging vary by culture. Germans worry about losing their mental alertness, while the Dutch don’t want to gain weight. Thais want to retain their eyesight. Americans have four fears: losing their energy, becoming dependent on others, losing their memory and gaining weight.
Because we focus on the minuses associated with aging, the pluses are less obvious. Among others, benefits include a perspective honed from surviving many a rough spot, an enriched joy in living and, if we’re wise, an in-depth insight into ourselves and others.
Although the specific fears about aging vary by culture, the underlying fear is a shared one: losing some aspect of fitness. Increasingly though, we are learning that what we consider to be the effects of aging—for example, loss of mobility or added weight—are instead functions of lifestyle choices.
This information is good news because we can alter our lifestyle to avoid or slow some of the negative consequences of aging. Knowing that we can make choices today that will shape our future frees us from our fear of aging. That’s the theme of Dr. Henry Lodge’s book Younger Next Year, Dr. Andrew Weil’s book Healthy Aging and similarly titled books currently on the bestseller list.
Whatever our age, size, time or station in life, fitness needs to be a priority. Fitness can be pursued at age 9 or 90, at size 10 or 20. It can be the goal of a pregnant woman, a person recovering cancer or a person who uses a wheel-chair. Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we can strive for fitness; that is, we can work to become our best physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self. This philosophy is summarized in the acronym FEAST: Fitness at Every Age, Size and Time of Life.
Genetic destiny determined that I would be a 5-foot-1-inch female rather than a 6-foot-2-inch male. That I would have a smattering of athletic skills but never become an Olympic athlete. That I would have a reasonably good mind but never be labeled a genius. My job is to make the most of my gifts to maximize my genetic destiny.
I can impact the aging process by the daily choices I make. For example, according to Dr. Weil and others, regular exercise can slow and even prevent age-related changes in my brain. Research indicates that exercise can even reverse the effects of aging. And keeping my weight at a reasonable level by healthful eating improves my chances of warding off life-threatening illnesses.
Extensive promotions for the latest, greatest and fastest-working weight-loss scheme are touted, one after the other, throughout the media. These advertisements make me realize how important it is to focus on fitness rather than dieting to achieve quick weight loss. After years of failure, I’m convinced that dieting is like riding on a train that loops around in circles before stopping to let you off. Only after you’ve debarked do you realize you are standing in the same place where you embarked. Instantly, you know where and how you were taken. Even so, waiting for the next train is tempting.
Forget the train ride. Buy a pedometer and begin walking. Feel reassured that you can be fit at every age, size and time in your life. If you take care of your body through regular exercise and careful eating, it will shape itself into the condition that best serves its needs. If you do your part, you can count on genetic destiny to bring you to your highest level of personal fitness.
Won’t you join me at the table and celebrate the FEAST?
More Americans are eating out on a daily basis than ever before. According to statistics reported by the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly half of the dollars expended for food are spent on eating outside the home. Not coincidentally, two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and half of these overweight Americans are obese (more than 30 pounds overweight).
Could our increasing pattern of dining out be a contributing factor to our rising national obesity figures? Some experts believe that there is a link. What can we do to keep wonderful restaurant meals from adding not-so-wonderful inches to our waistlines?
Here are four strategies that can help you trim calories:
1. Portion Management: If you’re eating with others, plan on sharing, whether it’s an appetizer or a sandwich. Many restaurants will serve a split order for a small additional cost. If you’re eating alone, package up half of your order before you begin eating so you won’t be tempted to finish the entire portion.
2. Conscious Choices: If fast food is your only option, order a salad or yogurt. For a more substantial entrée, order a large salad with grilled chicken, shrimp or garden vegetables for your entrée. Ask the chef to leave out croutons, cheese and bacon bits.
3. Sandwich Tricks: Take off the top slice and eat an open-faced sandwich. Replace mayonnaise and cheese with mustard. Order whole-grain bread and ask for a double serving of vegetables. Replace fries or chips that accompany the sandwich with fruit or a green salad.
4. Drinks and Desserts: Instead of sugared drinks (even a regular soda can contain several hundred calories), drink water, low-fat milk, tea or coffee. Ask for skim milk with coffee drinks. Order a child’s cone, sorbet, yogurt or light ice cream for dessert.
These and other defensive strategies for eating at fast-food restaurants can be found in the April 2008 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.
Our growing appetite for dining out isn’t the only factor triggering our collective weight gain, but it does play a role. Remember these important strategies when contemplating the menu: choose wisely, eat smart and enjoy your food!