Vote Early & Often

oprah networkMy first exposure to a voting process took place in the fifth grade when my friend Deana Key ran for student council.  Anointing myself her campaign manager, I cut photos of celebrities like Charlie’s Angels and the Bionic Man out of magazines and created a series of posters with their images endorsing her. It worked. Deana won and I saw how good it felt to communicate about something I cared about.

So now, 30 years later, I’m embarking on a “get out the vote” campaign of my own. It’s for the Win Your OWN Show contest on the Oprah Winfrey Network. You see, I figured out that helping others have a lighter, healthier, happier life really floats my boat. I started this blog last September in the hopes that my random digressions might entertain, motivate or inspire you in the pursuit of a healthier life.  Beyond wellness, I’m also interested in helping people claim a lighter life in all areas – family, relationships, career, sex, spirituality and more.  (If we had music, this is where you would cue in a heartfelt but off-key rendition of Kumbaya).

That’s why I’ve submitted this video audition – http://tinyurl.com/28kamzk. Bet it’s the only one that features a ventriloquist dummy decked out in 1977 apparel. If you like what you see, please vote for it as often as possible and tell your friends, family, neighbors, your hairstylist and that cute guy you see at the gym but never have the guts to approach, to vote for it too. You can literally vote hundreds of times each day and it’s not considered stuffing a ballot box – although I might tell you to get another hobby if that turns out to be the case.    

Let me know what you think about the audition and thanks for helping me spread the word! Am sending you lots of good karma in return!

Dieting for Dollars

toothfairy_posterThe first money I ever made came from the tooth fairy. I remember the strange juxtaposition of the baby tooth’s painful departure and the delight of waking up the next morning to find a quarter left for my troubles.  Before you conjure up images of actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tiptoeing around in blue tights and wings, I did realize shortly thereafter that the money came from my parents. But it was still cool to get a financial reward for something that would inevitably happen.

 So I found this news story about an increasing number of companies paying employees to lose weight http://tinyurl.com/22uc3x7  particularly intriguing.  According to the article, over 30% of U.S. companies are in the process of offering financial incentives to take off the pounds. In these economic times, it might be just the incentive individuals need to eat healthier or start exercising.

When I took the pounds off in the early 90’s, I worked at a hospital where my office was less than 20 feet away from a cafeteria filled with desserts and fried foods. A bank of vending machines was stationed next to the employee exit.  We did have access to a fitness facility, perhaps to counteract the limited amount of healthy fare offered. But there is no way anyone would have subsidized my weight loss journey.  

Experts cited in the article said these programs usually don’t work or that weight loss is minimal. But I’m curious to know that when people really do succeed in shedding pounds, how are companies helping them maintain that weight loss for life? 

Would a financial reward encourage you to lose weight?

The dog didn’t eat your exercise

dog ate homeworrk_may2010Some lame excuses have ascended to legendary status. There is “the dog ate my homework.” Just about every late employee has blamed a failed alarm clock at some point in their career. For break-ups, the old standby is “it’s not you, it’s me.”

When it comes to avoiding exercise, people can be especially creative. Just ask Dan FitzSimons. As the owner of BodyFitz personal training studio in Sandy Springs, Georgia, the 25 year industry veteran has heard just about every excuse under the sun for missing workouts. Time, or the lack thereof, is usually cited as the primary culprit. But for every person who claims they don’t have enough time for exercise, Dan has a solution.

He recommends that you write a list of your five worst time consuming habits of the day. It could be parking your butt in front of the television for three hours after work or staying up past midnight surfing online. Then try to replace at least some of them with exercise.

 “If you’ve got 15 minutes to surf the web, use that time instead to go for a walk,” says Dan. “Rather than watching a TV show you don’t care about, go to bed at 10:30p instead of 11:00p and then wake up a half an hour earlier to do an aerobic video or go to the gym. Adding even 20 to 30 minutes of exercise into your day can make a difference.”

Dan also advises that you make exercise a priority by planning it into your schedule. Think about it…if you make time to see the dentist or get your hair done, it is just as easy to have a standing appointment each week for a spin class or yoga.

What’s the worst excuse you’ve ever heard or made yourself for not exercising?

Lost and Found

lost TV show_may2010Scoff if you want. But I’m one of those obsessed fans of the television show LOST.  Since the first episode aired in 2004, I have trolled the Internet for spoilers and preview videos. During this recent season, my friend Steve and I texted back and forth during the commercial breaks. Yes, I kind of sound like a 12 year old boy who has discovered his first stash of Playboy magazines. But that’s how I feel about my favorite TV show of all time.

This past Sunday, it ended in a hugely promoted splash of a finale. Millions of fans were holding their collective breaths, waiting for long-posed questions to finally be answered. And it didn’t really happen. Personally, I really dug the beautiful, spiritual message of the end and bawled like a baby in some parts. But there has been a lot of backlash from people saying it wasn’t what they wanted or expected after years of devotion.

Perhaps that is why it reminds me of life after weight loss. People go on diets for many reasons. Some want to look great for their high school reunion or their sister’s wedding. Others want to lose ten pounds to slip into a pair of size six jeans, or a hundred to be able to walk up the stairs without gasping for air. But when reach the goal weight and have to deal with everyday life, the question often arises of “what do I do now?”  Life doesn’t magically change. It might not be easier to date as a size eight rather than an 18. Your cravings for chocolate don’t permanently disappear. It can take one bad day at work or a fight with your kid to send you off into a pack of Little Debbie Cakes craving comfort.

Almost everyone I know has tried to lose a few pounds at some time. How have you handled reaching your goals?

The Core Equation

einstein_may2010Despite my lack of math aptitude, some formulas have managed to stick in my head. There’s E=mc2, which addresses the mass energy equivalence. Yeah, I don’t really understand what that means. But it always conjures up images of Albert Einstein.  Another one is Pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It goes by the symbol – π , sort of like when the artist formerly known as Prince changed his name.   

But the one formula I do get is the one about weight loss – in order to lose pounds, you need to burn more calories than you are consuming.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Often, people can get so hung up on the math that they focus exclusively on cardio. The gratification of seeing 300 calories burned on an elliptical machine monitor, or twice that after an intense spin class, can become addictive. However, the truth is that you need more. Strength training makes a world of difference. Stretching is important. And  don’t forget about your middle.

Core strength works your abs, back and pelvis, which carries your limbs – your arms and legs. It is the support system that keeps you body together. As Lori Harber, founder of PerFORM Pilates explains, “When you do too much cardio at too high of a level, you can burn muscle. With too much strength training, you are speeding up your metabolism but not supporting or strengthening your heart.  Core work promotes overall health and is good for everyone’s body.”

That’s why Pilates has moved beyond celebrity circles and into the exercise mainstream. Created in the 1920’s, it originally comes from yoga, boxing and gymnastics.  Pilates works. I lost a clothing size after several months of taking up the practice without making any other changes in my eating or regular exercise routine.

Curious about how to get started? Lori shared a few tips. Consider making an investment and take a few private lessons with a fully certified instructor to get the movements right for your body – and then investigate mat classes and videos. Notify the instructor about your physical limitations so they can modify the moves. Remember that Pilates is the opposite of “no pain, no gain” and the goal is to work in a pain-free range of motion.  It should be challenging for your muscles without any neck or back pain. Want to learn more? Check out www.pilatesmethodalliance.com or email Lori at lori@perFormpilates.com.

What do you think about core work?

Weight Loss TV: Inspirational or Frustrating?

biggestloserThe Biggest Loser is one of the most inspirational shows on television. When contestants move into the ranch, its team of experts is there 24/7 to train their bodies, prepare healthy meals and provide emotional support. What people accomplish is astounding. Ashley, a 27 year old from Tennessee, just lost 143 pounds in the past 17 weeks. In some ways, it is like Olympics for us real people, where you don’t need a lifetime of advanced training or elite DNA to accomplish an incredible feat.

Not surprisingly, the entertainment industry has taken note of high ratings. All sorts of weight loss reality shows have popped up in the past few years, from Celebrity Fit Club and DietTribe to Dance Your Ass Off. But here’s the question I’d like to pose to you today. Are people setting themselves up for failure by expecting the super-sonic fast weight loss results of the contestants on these shows?

Experts say that a healthy, sustainable weight loss should be in the one to two pound range per week. So are we creating a set of unrealistic expectations by rewarding a loss of eight, ten or 12 pounds on television each week and eliminating someone who only took off six or seven?  Of the 70 million people who go on a diet each year, 95% of them are going to gain the weight back. Just ask Erik Chopin, winner of the Biggest Loser Season Three. He started the show at 407 pounds and lost 214. But when he returned to everyday life, the deli owner slowly regained the weight, now standing at 368 lbs.

What do you think? Are weight loss reality shows simply inspirational, or do they set unrealistic goals that lead to frustration?

Binges: Not just for junk food anymore

almond butter_may2010The human spirit is an amazing thing. It propels people to scale mountains and swim oceans. Regular moms have been known to go all “Incredible Hulk-like” and lift a car if their child is in danger. And in my case, it’s allowed me to turn healthy food items into a hormone-propelled binge.

I used to think that chocolate or least something else with cavity-causing properties was required for out of control eating.  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were a proven fire-starter for me, as are tortilla chips and cheese dip. About two months ago, I started working with a holistic nutrition expert to learn how to eat for more energy. She’s taught me so many great things, most of which have stuck.  I don’t have any junk food lying around and the constant sugar craving seemed to dissipate.

Then a few days ago, I started overeating the healthy stuff. Downing organic dates with a dollop of almond butter like they were candy. Loading up on a handful of unsweetened carob pieces like I used to mainline chocolate chips.  Calorie-wise, it’s not the kind of volcanic eruption that junk food causes. But it is still annoying that stress and PMS – those wonder twins of happiness – have fueled some emotional eating.

In the past, I just threw items away that prompted bionic eating. But what do I do now…dispose of the healthy stuff and replace it with something less tempting like potato chips?

Have you ever turned healthy food into a binge…and if so, how did you finally stop?

Your Food Rules

food rulesRules are an interesting thing. Some people live to break them. A series of hypocritical books about dating rules taught women how to play games to land the guy – only to have the co-author get divorced. When it comes to food, the rules are just downright confusing.

That’s why I really liked Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. Filled with wry humor, this little book features practical advice for making daily decisions about what to eat. You know, the debate between Chicken McNuggets and free-range bird, or a Big Mac versus a Banana.

Wisdom includes things like “Avoid food products containing ingredients a third-grader can’t pronounce” and “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.”  It got me thinking about what “food rules” are particularly working for me right now.

Tried and true for years is the guideline of not eating at least two and hopefully three hours before bedtime. Sandy Dalis, a holistic nutrition expert, has taught me the importance of eating colors at every meal.  So that means raspberries with my morning oatmeal, some broccoli with lunch, a snack of an apple with almond butter and trying to sneak kale into my mango salsa salmon dish.  

Now that approach is different from rules of the past. When I first started losing weight in 1992, my main “food rule” was to eat low-fat.  Over the years, I touched on low carbs and low calories.  My current place of eating real, unprocessed foods is working because it makes me feel great.

What are your biggest food rules these days?

Toy Surprise Included

icount chocula_0410Growing up, my brothers and I were always suckers for the promise of a toy surprise.  We begged mom to buy us cereals like Lucky Charms, Fruity Pebbles and Count Chocula non-stop. Sure, I dug the chocolate breakfast vampire’s chemically enhanced, sugar coated deliverable. But it was the decoder rings, toy cars and mini tattoo stickers that had us hooked.

Marketers at fast food companies jumped on the band wagon, adding figurines of cartoon characters and other irresistible tidbits to their kid’s meals. That strategy worked all too well. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the number of overweight adolescents has tripled since 1980.

Well, now a California county has decided to strike back –  http://tinyurl.com/29tkvu7. Elected officials in Santa Clara, right in the heart of Silicon Valley, voted on Tuesday to ban toys in kid’s meals. It was their first salvo in an effort to fight the obesity epidemic in California and the United States.  Ken Yeager, the county supervisor behind the ban, explained “this ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes.”

They have got a point. It will be interesting to see if other local governments follow their lead. But meanwhile, the fact remains that the parents are the ones bankrolling those kid meal purchases. What’s going to change their behaviors for good?

What do you think? Are you In favor of the ban and want to see others like it? Or is it a misguided effort that misses the real problem?

School lunches on red alert

school_lunchWhen I think of national security threats, a couple of images come to mind. You know, a fanatical terrorist with a shoe bomb, crazy natural disasters or Kayne West hijacking the microphone at an industry award show.  But it turns out that a new one is looming in the horizon – the mystery meat served in our school cafeterias.

A news story broke on Tuesday about how increasing childhood obesity rates are going to impact the military’s ability to fill its ranks –  http://tinyurl.com/y225kbm. Jamie Oliver, the enthusiastic British chef, has given us a behind the scenes look at what kids are really eating in school lunchrooms in his Food Revolution television show.  

Growing up, there was a hierarchy – at least in my Columbia, SC elementary school – of school lunch items. The top of the pyramid was dominated by pizza, sloppy joe sandwiches and macaroni & cheese.  A prerequisite square of frosted cake or heaping pile of French fries never failed to delight.  At the bottom of the list was the stuff you tried to hide in your milk carton – collard greens, unidentifiable chipped beef, Brussels sprouts and the like.

Thinking back on all of the junk I ate, it’s no wonder I had a weight problem until age 26. And apparently the beginning of a national security nightmare. What’’s the scariest thing you remember eating from school lunches…and would you enjoy chowing it now?