Seven Stages of Finding Better Health

Regardless of how we get there, there are stages along the way that everyone experiences when trying to improve their health. This article covers those stages and my journey through them so that you can use these tips to motivate yourself to take that first step – or try again.

THE REASON:

Find a motivating factor to believe in such as impending health complications, to set an example for your family, to save money, or to improve self-esteem.

When I woke up one New Year’s Day, tired, cranky and out of cigarettes, I decided it was time for a change. I decided to trade in my smokes for the patch and try to stick to a resolution for a change. I was also almost 30 pounds overweight and unhappy with myself. Fearing the effect of packing on even more pounds due to the non-smoking efforts, I went and visited a couple gyms.

I made my husband join one with me since his cholesterol was pushing healthy limits, as was his weight, and I needed someone to force me to work out instead of sitting on the couch missing smoking and tasty food. I was to be in a friend’s wedding in the summer and for once I knew I would be unable to avoid having my picture taken. I didn’t want to embarrass her or myself with how I would look in her photos and that gave me further motivation.

We joined a gym and had a complimentary session with a trainer who showed us how to use the equipment and weights and put together a workout routine for us to follow on our own. As pathetic as we felt, we showed up after work each evening and gave it our best shot. I went out and bought a whole bunch of workout gear so that the expense of it would guilt me into using it. I vowed the next time that I bought clothes it would be in a smaller size, not because I needed to move up another one – again.

THE STRUGGLE:

Recognize the challenges ahead – not everything will go as smoothly, or as quickly as you would like. There are plateaus and steps backwards. But it won’t be that way all the time. Be prepared for it so that when it happens you can stay on track and do something to change it.

As the weeks went by and our intensity levels increased my husband was seeing some pretty good results in the weight loss category. I was still languishing at the same levels and getting frustrated. But that could have just been the nicotine levels dwindling from my patch. While I was feeling sorry for myself and irritated with my husband’s good fortune I happened to catch one of Oprah’s shows on a holiday from work. It was a show with her personal trainer and fitness guru, Bob Greene, and they went on and on about eating habits, categories, portions and all kinds of considerations that made my head spin.

I decided that perhaps I should look into making a change in my diet, as well as mixing up our exercise routines – but I decided not to implement anything else new until I had weaned myself off the patch completely and proved that I could survive a nicotine free life.

THE EDUCATION:

Become a sponge for information. Seek out professional advice from dietitians, physical trainers, and doctors. Read books and websites – from well respected outlets – not fashion magazines. The more you know the better armed you are for the battle.

I went online and visited the USDA’s Food Pyramid website www.mypyramid.gov and started reading about the food categories, which were grouped quite differently than I had remembered. Cheese fell under Protein instead of Dairy for example. I also learned that calories were important, but not the only thing to measure success or concern by.

I could input my food online into a journal and it would use the information to spit out analysis. I could do the same with my activity. Turns out movement of any kind such as walking up the stairs, vacuuming and doing laundry could be recorded right along with treadmills and weights. Portion suggestions were provided to show me how to improve upon or adjust my current diet to fall in line with my goals. So I started writing down what I ate and all my active efforts so I could plug them in to my personal Pyramid.

Without even realizing it I was starting to reveal how poor my habits were, become accountable for what I was – or wasn’t – doing, and open the key to my weight loss goals.

After trying out my new knowledge and continuing my workouts I started to become depressed when I did not see any real difference on the scale. Meanwhile my husband was continuing to lose weight with relative ease. While visiting the library one rainy weekend when I needed a book fix to keep my mind off of the complete lack of nicotine, I saw none other than Oprah’s man – Bob Greene – smiling at me from the cover of his book, The Best Life Diet. So I decided to give it a try and see what secrets his method held that might work better than what the government suggested.

THE TURNING POINT:

Surviving the tough stuff is worth it. Implementing that education can pull you through the struggles and get you over the hump. Confirmation that success is possible is your inspiration to keep at it.

As soon as I started reading I quickly realized that Bob and the Government were on the same page. They both advocated the same portion control, food categories, and exercise regimen. But Bob better explained why I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted. The fact was that although I wasn’t losing weight, I wasn’t gaining any either. Your metabolism needs water to convert fat into energy and hydrated muscles work more effectively with that energy.

Water bloats you and can get pretty heavy when you step on the scale. I was consuming lots of water for but it wasn’t causing me to weigh any more than before because my metabolism was working. The lost fat was being displaced by the extra water which is normal and eventually would turn as my body became more efficient. I was so relieved that I was doing things correctly and going in the right direction that I could have kissed good old Bob right then and there. I kissed my husband instead.

Turns out he had more weight to drop than I did and the more you need to shed, the easier those initial pounds will come off from immediate efforts.

I felt liberated and excited to have been reinforced and continued on my path to health with revitalized effort. I turned myself into a task master and was harder on myself than any other motivator could be. I recorded everything I ate and drank. I thought out meals in advance – should I use up my Fat serving on Creamy Ranch Dressing at lunch or save it for that scoop of Peanut Butter on the English Muffin for my evening snack?

I would go online and review restaurant menus before going out with friends so that when I got there I would know exactly what to order and not fall to temptation out of confusion. I measured food diligently and read packaging containers for ingredients and the facts to find out if that “Low Calorie” item was really all that it was cracked up to be. I found regular brands of Frozen Juice Pops that were actually better for me than some of the diet brands.

I stuck with my weight lifting routines because they are essential to weight loss and discovered a slew of exercises on my gym’s website to infuse them with variety. And I learned that if I read while on the Elliptical or speed walking at an incline on the treadmill all that cardio flies by more quickly than watching TV alone.

THE PROGRESS:

Hard work pays off. You will see results the more diligent you are and the reward is further motivation. There are more ways than one to measure progress – the fit of your clothes is more telling than the scale.

All of these changes worked like a perfectly coordinated symphony. The weight actually started dropping. I noticed it in my face first. One day I glanced up from my book at the wall of mirrors in front of me at the gym and did a double when I didn’t recognize myself. Then I noticed that my clothes actually fit. They were no longer tight and uncomfortable. And my new gym clothes which I had bought at my heaviest were actually starting to become loose.

Weighing myself only once a week was nerve wracking. But more frequent than that could be discouraging as weight fluctuates up and down in small increments all the time. A consistent weighing on the same day at the same time in the same environment would provide the most accurate overall picture. And even when the scale showed undesirable readings, the change in notch on my belt proved that things were still working.

The first three months of the year I focused on expelling nicotine from my body and keeping my brain from talking me out of it. I did that by distracting it with learning how to use equipment at a gym and ease sore muscles back into activity. And I drastically cut my soda intake and replaced it with water.

The next three months of the year I re-vamped my diet completely. I stopped eating fried foods which were a staple. I actually increased the amount of food that I ate on a daily basis, learning that skipping meals was counter productive. I found out just how backwards our culture is with food – serving us three times the necessary portion size and saving the biggest meals for the end of the day. Smaller portions, with the majority of it consumed at the beginning of the day, and lots of grazing throughout is the way to go.

By the time my friend’s wedding rolled around I had lost half of my goal and realized that if only I had changed my diet at the same time I incorporated exercise I likely could have fit into that smaller sized dress already. All exercise and a crummy diet, or a great diet and no exercise are not going to be as effective as both together – for they feed off of each other and get results.

THE CONFIDENCE:

Trust yourself to be successful, and others will too. Routine establishes familiarity and prior efforts turn into second nature. Ease breeds inner confidence which makes you shine on the outside.

Over the next three months I felt confident enough with my understanding of portions, categories and timing to stop measuring, recording and obsessing. I knew what I should eat and found my body actually craved those things instead of the crap that I used to put into it. I was amazed that I found vegetables that I enjoyed without drowning them in dressing. Whole grains tasted richer than my standard floury whites. Restraint served me well and routine kept me on track. By the time my birthday rolled around in September I had met my full goal. I had lost 25 pounds, stayed smoke free and was no longer ashamed to be photographed.

When Christmas rolled around I went out and bought a new outfit that fit properly to wear to our friends’ annual party. The moment I put it on I realized just how big of a difference my hard work had made. After living in oversized clothes that hid my shape I now discovered I had one that others might like to see. That outfit was actually more flattering than my physical reality, but it gave me the confidence to replace my old wardrobe in its entirety using all that money I had saved by not buying cigarettes, knowing that I would not be putting the weight back on.

THE POWER:

Make sure you can implement your healthy ways in your real life to continue your success. Your health is in your hands. By accepting that power and embracing it vigilantly you will never want to relinquish that control to former temptations.

My methods involved real food in real settings with goals, accountability and rewards. I have kept my weight the same for 2 years and am so thankful. I have friends and co-workers who use fad diets such as cutting all sugar, or joining weight loss clinics that provide all the food for them. But as soon as they get their weight down and are on their own, the weight comes back. They haven’t learned how to eat in reality.

My way didn’t cost anything other than the gym membership. But there are plenty of alternatives such as tennis, biking, hiking, swimming, jogging (moms can buy a jogging stroller) or working out at home that might cost less and feel more fun. If you don’t find a routine that works in your world, around your family’s needs, your work, your fun – you won’t follow it and it won’t work. You have to schedule it into your week and sometimes drag someone else along (like I did with my husband) to force the issue.

But before you know it, the gym turns into a time you think of as your reading hour and not a workout or your sliver of the day all to yourself.

It is a system of balances and sacrifices. Rewards and treats are encouraged, and are offset by lots of hard work and monitoring. It takes time and determination, but with the right knowledge going in, it sure is a lot easier to succeed.

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Comments

  1. Sandy says:

    That was an incredibly motivating, informative bit of pep talk. I love it, because I am hearing from a real person with real challenges, not a celebrity that can work out four hours a day with a personal trainer. I have always lost weight the “free” way, but have slipped a little and would like to get it back. I am now inspired! I would love to hear more from you. Next edition…how to keep it off!

  2. This is a wonderful, well-written post. And so inspirational! I guess in today’s world we don’t like making “sacrifices” much. But the trick seems to be to learn to think of it differently instead of a “sacrifice.” Thanks for sharing your experience with everyone!

  3. Great article! I too am on a new journey of self-improvement. Kudos on quitting smoking, I know how hard it is. I think the thing that kept me focused on quitting, is realizing how much power I gave those smokes. I think the same goes for food, which is my focus now. Glad I stopped by, it was a timely article and very motivational. Keep on, keepin’ on…

  4. ds says:

    Great article! Sound advice, well researched, and from a personal perspecitve. It was smart to stop focusing on calories early on–that is the kind of behavior that leads to other kinds of issues. It really is all in how you look at it. Thanks for sharing–well done!

  5. Wanda says:

    A great motivational article that in essence, maps out a journey to self improvement. Love the idea of bringing a book along to the gym!

  6. stacy says:

    Great article. Entertaining and eduacational. I started Weight Watchers in April and have lost 20 pounds, but I really need to exercise more.

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