Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Living Healthfully: Normally, I don't speak of such things

For me, being overweight was not so much fun, so I've never much really liked to talk about it.
But I feel like I need to because lately I've been listening a lot to people are just as frustrated as I was and just as poorly educated about food, exercise and nutrition as I was. I say "was" because my knowledge since my roller-coaster weight gains and losses has increased tenfold; I finally understand what it takes to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And I guess I feel like I should share, since I would have gladly listened to someone who could have explained it to me. Of course, this type of post, wouldn't be complete without some pictures, which often helped me to really see how my lifestyle was really manifested and spurred me into taking action and learning.
During college, I gained (freshman year) and lost (sophomore year) and gained (first part of junior year) and lost (last of junior and all of senior years). (This is the picture from the middle of junior year that made me say "oh-my-gosh!")

Finally, during the last year and half of college, I maintained a pretty healthy weight, although the means by which I arrived there was a bit ridiculous. I ran for nearly an hour a day every day -- rain or shine, snow or hurricane-force winds. I ate very little food, and most of what I ate was pretty healthy, though highly unbalances. And I slept very little and drank ridiculous amounts of caffeine because I worked at a fabulous coffee shop that I still dream about every night when I sleep. Some of my methods, like running, were an attempt to maintain a thin body; other things, like the caffeine, lack of sleep and eating very little were byproducts of leading a too-busy-for-my-own good life. (Here is the result of my running-a-lot, sleeping-and-eating-a-little lifestyle. And, yes, those are real pyramids; we're visiting Egypt here.)

Again, after college, I let myself gain weight again. With working a real reporting job, I didn't have time to run an hour a day no matter what. And, by God, I was hungry after not eating for so long! Couple that with the fabulous food my father-in-law prepared for dinner while we lived with them as newlyweds and my poor understanding of nutrition and exercise, and the pounds packed back on. And I couldn't believe that I let myself become so unhealthy and so, well, fat. (Ugh, I hate this picture. I cannot believe what can happen in one year and three months, which is the time frame between the last picture and this one. This is one way I know that my lifestyle was not healthy while I was in college even though I was thinner.)

So I joined Curves. And it was the first step in changing my life. Shortly after joining as a member, I began working there full time while I was earning my teaching certificate. I cannot tell you how much I craved learning about exercise and nutrition. I soaked up all of the training Curves gave me, and I began studying nutrition and exercise on my own. Two months later, I became pregnant with my first son. And if you read Saturday's Pregnancy Diet post -- you know I learned a LOT about nutrition during this time. In fact, I still follow many of the Pregnancy Diet guidelines when I'm not, you know, growing another human -- I still limit my intake of refined carbs and strive to get enough protein -- though not quite 80-100 grams.

Before I got pregnant this second time around, I had lost nearly 30 pounds and three dress sizes. So the time frame for the weight loss and maintenance was October 2006 until December 2008, and please note that during this time I was pregnant with my first for nine months of it. (This is a picture of me from September 2008 after losing nearly 30 pounds while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.)
But anyway, I've researched my little heart out regarding exercise and nutrition, so forgive me if I don't cite every single study I've read or source I've interviewed.

*Simply put, cardio-vascular work outs are not enough to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle. You really need weight training incorporated into your workouts so that you are building muscle mass, which then increases your metabolism and helps you burn more fat while resting. Curves is perfect for me because it combines cardio and weight training in one fluid, 30-minute workout (Yes, only 30 minutes daily!). So I'm not only exercising my cardio-vascular system, I'm also exercising myriad muscles by weight training with machines that use hydraulic resistance. As women age, we lose muscle yearly, so it's important to keep building muscle as we age so we don't lose it and become floppy! Read research about circuit training here.

* I work out at Curves four to five days per week, and I reap benefits left and right. Not only have I lost fat, shed inches, gained muscle and improved my flexibility, I have also strengthened my immune system and increased my energy level. In my humble opinion, being active at least five days a week is key to losing weight, maintaining weight loss and achieving a healthy lifestyle.

* And, of course, I still get my butt outside to walk with the toddler on nice days not only for the benefit of exercise but also for the fun of exploring our world together.

* Our family engages in fun and spends time together while doing physical activities -- bike riding, walking, swimming, kayaking, hiking, etc.

Hate to beat a dead horse, but exercise alone is not enough while losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle. The fuel we put into our bodies is important.

* Fruit and vegetables are really, really, really important parts of your diet. They provide minerals, nutrients, antioxidants and are generally high-fiber, low-fat foods. They have high nutritional benefits for relatively few calories.

* Not all fats were created equal. Just because a food is low fat doesn't mean it's good for you. And just because a food is high in fat doesn't mean it's bad for you. You need to know your fats. Avoid trans. Eat limited highly saturated fats like what's found in cheese. Consume healthy fats in moderation -- like olive oil and fats found in avocados and nuts. We need fat in our diet, but we don't need tons of it. Learn more about fats here.

* If it's processed, it's probably not healthy. Whole foods are healthiest. Foods like crackers, chips, frozen meals, donuts, cookies, cakes, muffins, pretzels and most breads contain lots of preservatives, chemicals, flavorings and artificial colors. Yuck, yuck and yuck. A little of these things are OK. None of these things are part of my daily diet anymore. If you cannot recreate a food item in your kitchen by using every ingredient listed on the package, you may want to question even eating it at all. These foods often have low nutritional benefits for high amounts of calories.

* Carbohydrates are not bad, but too many starches and unrefined carbs can mess with your blood sugar levels and cause you to gain weight. Learn more about good carbs and bad carbs by reading Barry Sears' The Zone Diet. Or just trust me, and limit your intake of refined carbohydrates and starches to just one or two per day. Note: I fully believe that whole grains are really, really beneficial to your body in moderation. Steel cut oats and whole-grain, minimally processed foods do have a place in a healthy diet. Also note: I do not follow the Zone Diet exactly -- I make healthy decisions based on much of the research done for the Zone Diet.

* I like to eat animal-by products like cheese, meat and yogurt. But I eat them in moderation. I choose low-fat cheeses, yogurts and meats. It's pretty simple. Chicken has less fat than ground beef. Fish is a great choice and it offers a great amount of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, which reduces inflammation inside the body. It's well worth reading about Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

There's more. But that's what initially comes to mind. I hope it saves someone from yo-yo dieting and roller-coaster weight loss and gain, because there's little more frustrating, in my mind, than never achieving lasting fitness and feeling like you're sacrificing a ton for little or no results. As always, I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Good for you! It's hard to stay healthy, not just slim. A pack of cigarettes and a 12-pack of diet Mt. Dew a day'll keep anybody thin. It's the healthy part that's tough to stick with.

    My big thing is sugar - I buy and eat (mostly) healthy, nutritious food. Then I eat cookies, too. Maybe that's why I've been working my butt off for 5 months and only 2 pounds? Darn cookies... at least they're whole wheat and homemade and probably wouldn't be doing so much damage if it were only five or ten at a time.

  2. I LOVE what you wrote about (not) being able to recreate it in my own kitchen! What a cool rule of thumb.

  3. "If you cannot recreate a food item in your kitchen by using every ingredient listed on the package, you may want to question even eating it at all."

    Yes, yes, and MORE YES. Thank you for this!


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