We’re taking a break from our regular Wednesday Bubble and talking with three amazing women, Shonali Burke, Kami Watson Huyse and Julie Pippert. These women are graciously sharing their stories about the turn that their lives have taken with regard to health and fitness. Change is never easy, but neither is aging. That’s why I have been so intrigued by the upsurge I’m witnessing in the number of women in their 40s who seem to be committed to changing bad habits before those bad habits change them.
Last Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report outlining a trend among the medical community to increase its efforts to recommend that adults participate in exercise and other forms of physical activity. Since 2000, there has been a 40% increase in the number of adults who have been advised to incorporate exercise into their routines. Importantly, however, at each time point measured in the National Health Interview Survey, women were much more likely than men to have been advised to exercise. While this aspect of the Survey doesn’t elaborate on these data, studies have shown that gender does influence obesity rates and that worldwide, more women than men are obese. Not only are women challenged to run household and care for children, but many also work outside the home. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for meal planning and even less, for exercise. Nevertheless, both are essential for good health and wellbeing.
A few years ago, my friend, cookbook author Mollie Katzen suggested to me during our interview that even if women do nothing differently, as they age their bodies become less efficient metabolic machines, adding that one of the most consistent things she’s observed amongst her friends is the “oh my god, what happened to my body” moment. The ‘I’m minding my business, doing the same things I’ve always done and all of a sudden, I’ve got this spare tire, I’ve got the fat” epiphany. The answer?
Trial and Error
Health is trial and error. What works for one woman might not be exactly what works for another. We all need to forge our dietary paths and strategies that work for both our individual metabolism and our bodies. And if it isn’t working? Change it up and aim higher. Or differently.
Shonali explains that her trainer introduced her to two dietary strategies: The Primal Blueprint (aka, the Paleo diet, which focuses on balancing insulin levels in your body) and Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat‘ (again, focusing on insulin regulation). She says that while “there have been lapses,” I typically eat no grains, legumes or processed foods/foods high in sugar.” What strikes me as the most important thing in Shonali’s incorporation of a new way of eating into her life is that she tries to cook a meal every day consisting of a healthy salad and an entree that is protein-rich but also, she is “careful not to let myself feel hungry; if I am hungry, I eat…I just eat the foods I know are good for me.”
Kami says that while she may eventually go on a specific plan, like Body for Life , she prefers easing “into any dietary restrictions slowly. So far, I am just trying to back off on portions,” she explains, adding that “I have always eaten lots of vegetables and fruits but I am upping that.” Julie is also relying on portion control and is “eating very little meat, mostly fish,” and “as much fresh food as I can instead of processed food.” As a working mom of two and with a husband who has a long commute, Julie says that it can be hard to do regular family dinners but that she worked with a nutritionist who helped her “identify ‘eat this/not that’ convenience type [healthy] foods, such as flash frozen veggies and fruit but not packaged meals.” She adds that she ‘also attends free cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma to get easy and quick recipe ideas.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed accountability and how answering to another person, e.g. a trainer, can help you get into a groove. However, it’s important that that groove is yours’ and your’s alone. Moreover, setting goals is part of that accountability but rigidity is not the aim; instead, goals need to be fluid and evolutionary.
Julie says that her “initial goal was to lose weight and get out of the overweight category. I wanted to eat right and get active. Once I achieved that, I wanted to work out a long-term health maintenance plan.” She adds that that entails tweaking portions and working on body toning. Kami’s goal is more specific: she wants to lose 10 to 15 pounds (minimum) to improve the pressure on her bad knee. After that, however, she says that “it would be great to reduce my waistline by 2 to 3 inches to get off some of the belly fat, which is, by far, worst for your health.” Shonali also says that her goals had to do with “losing a certain amount of weight and fitting into a particular dress size,” but now, she’s considering aiming even higher and is considering running and possibly training for a 5K.
To thine own self, be true
Guess what? It’s all about you. I’m serious. Don’t believe me?
All three of these women say that the primary outcome of the changes that they’ve made in their lives is that not only do they feel better, but they also feel better about themselves. Wow! Since Shonali has started last August, she has lost almost 20 pounds and 15″, reduced her BMI from 25.3 to 22.4 and lowered her body fat percentage from 31.6% to 24.3%. She’s also come down one dress size. However, here’s the rub: she says that “the numbers are great but what I really love is that I have more energy and stamina. I am much stronger than I used to be; I sleep better, I’m more focused with my work and my confidence has increased greatly.”
Kami’s journey has just begun (or as she describes it “just restarted”) and yet, her primary outcome echoes Shonali’s. “I feel better about myself and that is priceless.”
Julie, too, expresses a similar experience. “I lost 50 lbs initally,” she says, although this is at the low end of the weight range for her size and she’s not been able [rightly so] to maintain that. Still, She is at a healthy weight and at an average BMI. And most importantly, she explains “I have a lot more energy, huge improvements on stress and mood and I look better. That’s led me to dress better, feel better and achieve more.”
The lessons inherent in these outcomes are essential: aging can be bumpy and sometimes, our bodies don’t behave quite as we expect them to. Dress size, body fat, weight loss are simply keys that help to unlock the door to the most important outcome we can achieve: self-love. And when you feel good, that radiates out in unbelievably beautiful, gorgeous ways. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s true. Honestly? Be kind to yourself and to thine own self, be true. Like Kami says, the gift is priceless.
I hope that you’ll stay the course and tune in again on Friday for Part 3.
Can I just give a shout out to Alexandra (who commented before me) for being a terrific inspiration when it comes to making exercise fun? I think you know here through Women Grow Business, Liz, but the blog and she and her sister Kymberly author is just terrific - it makes me laugh no end, and is one of my must-reads. Thanks so much for putting such thought into this series. Every time I read about Kami's and Julie's journey, it inspires me even. What you said about it being "all about you" is really true. I think far too many women think they have to look like someone else, be like someone else... and I always wonder, WHY, when being YOU is the best possible thing in the world?! We can - and should - look to others for inspiration, but at the end of the day, our goals are all unique, and we have our own ways of getting there.
I don't know how Alexandra came on my radar but has had a guest post on this blog and I hope she'll do it again. I am inspired by all your stories, which is why this is a three parter, a first on this blog. I didn't want anyone to miss a thing and there was so much greatness that I needed to share it all. Thank you!
I am so glad that your women and their stories are so accurate. It isn't just about weight loss; health and brain power are probably more important. Who wouldn't want to feel great and have more energy? Great job on this series.