I started taking diet and exercise seriously when I was in my twenties. Over the years, I'm pretty sure that I've tried nearly every fad diet out there and discovered, pretty quickly, that none of them were sustainable for the long-term (not to mention, unhealthy). If you've had a similar experience, then you know how discouraging and frustrating it can be. Through a ton of trial and error, I finally found a system that really works for me, and at age forty-eight, I feel like I have more energy than I did when I was twenty-eight and, my pregnancies notwithstanding, my weight has been stable for many years now. When I wake up in the morning, I no longer loathe getting dressed. Instead, I look forward to looking and feeling my best for the day ahead.
Below are my tried and true strategies that I hope will help you on your own path to looking and, more importantly, feeling better.
1. Know your blood type.
I grew up in a household where my mother, who was Italian, cooked a pasta dish as a first course nearly every single night. Naturally, I grew up believing that pasta was healthy for me. But in my twenties, when I was unable to stabilize my weight, I decided to take a closer look at what I was eating. One day in a book store, I stumbled across a book entitled, “Eat Right for Your Type,” by Dr. Peter D’Adamo (www.dadamo.com), and it was a game changer for me. In his book, he identifies the foods that are best for you based on your blood type. My blood type is O+ and I learned, for example, that dairy and wheat are toxic for me. This made sense because I was experiencing symptoms that resembled celiac disease. So much so, that I decided to get tested. The tests came back negative, but I knew that I was onto something. And once I removed dairy and wheat from my diet, I no longer felt sluggish or sleepy after each meal, and the bloating and water retention disappeared altogether.
I also made another very important distinction that has informed my choices every day since: Our bodies are trying to communicate with us all the time on so many different levels, nutrition included. When I ate the right foods, I actually felt energized within 30 minutes of having eaten, instead of feeling sluggish and bloated. A co-worker of mine recently commented on my high energy level and I told her that I attribute most of it to how I nourish my body. Pay close attention to what your body is trying to tell you. What you discover may be a game-changer for you, too.
2. Find out what's bugging you.
If you are overweight and unhappy about it, you're feeding something other than your body. Whatever that baggage is, it's manifesting itself in the form of resistant extra pounds. Find out what it is. In my twenties, my weight struggle was complicated by bulimia. I educated myself on the disease by reading a lot. I read books by nutritionists and doctors who specialized in eating disorders, and ones written by psychologists and therapists. It became clear that nutrition was only one component of why my weight fluctuated. I realized that my belief system (most of which, at the time, had been handed down to me by my family and community) was sabotaging my personal growth and self-actualization. Over time, I began to unravel and uncover all the things that were eating at me and I distanced myself from the people who were unable to nurture and support me in the manner that I required. It was a long process. At times it was challenging and even terrifying, but I learned that the scariest part had nothing to do with what I actually discovered about myself. It was just an irrational fear created by my ego to keep me living in a very small box with limited possibilities.
I have a very different relationship with food today. Eating is a pleasurable act with one purpose - to deliver nutrients and energy to my cells so that I can keep doing the things that I love most, unencumbered by all the other stuff that kept those precious and desired things out of my reach.
3. Find an activity that you deeply enjoy.
“Margaret, you aren’t telling me anything new,” you’re thinking. But hold on a minute. Have you ever thought about what it looks like to deeply enjoy an activity? Have you ever been at the gym and seen all those rows of treadmills and every single person on every single treadmill is either staring at a tv monitor or has headphones on? What I'm seeing, for the most part, is a group of individuals who are pursuing their fitness goals but keeping their minds engaged in something else. Where’s the enjoyment in that? If it isn’t enjoyable, it isn’t going to be sustainable and it’s probably one of the top reasons why gym visits start off really strong in the beginning and then thin out to nothing, never to be used again within the first year. And just an aside about music during exercise: I can't imagine some exercises without music. I LOVE music. It can be motivational and uplifting. But if it's being used to distract you from what's going on with your body and getting the most out of your workout, then it's defeating the purpose.
From my experience, an activity that you deeply enjoy means that when you're doing it, you get lost in it. You lose all sense of time and become completely absorbed by it. “Okay,” you might be thinking, “but the only thing that I really love isn’t even remotely related to a gym. It’s square dancing.” Perfect! You’ve found your activity! Take lessons, join a square dancing club or become an instructor! And don’t worry about the other thing that you hear trainers say all the time about working out, ideally, 3 times a week. Do what fits in your life right now, even if it means you can only do it once a week. The secret is in doing it consistently over a long period of time. I work out twice a week. That’s all I can manage with work and the boys and all the other stuff that Kelly and I are committed to. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but over the years, I’ve logged in hundreds of hours doing something that I've loved and I've been reaping the rewards ever since.
You may also discover that your interests will change over time. That’s great! Spinning was my thing for several years, but these days I love to lift weights and I incorporate a couple of yoga poses, asanas, in my workout as well. Working out is my form of meditation. I don’t wear headphones and I don’t chat with anyone. I just go through all of my sets and stretches, paying close attention to my breath and how my body feels as I work-out (paying attention, by the way, also prevents injuries) and before I know it, I’ve logged another hour. Every little thing that you do for your body counts. It truly does. Just do it consistently and it will pay back in dividends.
4. Low and slow, Baby, low and slow.
My friend, Marie, recommended Stu Mittleman’s book, “Slow Burn: Burn Fat Faster By Exercising Slower," to me when I wanted to give distance running a try. I discovered that distance running wasn’t my thing, but I learned something important that has informed how I exercise since and it's this: pushing myself really hard during exercise is really counter-productive to becoming leaner and fitter, not to mention, it hurts and doesn't incentivize me to want to do it again. And here's the clincher: How fast or slow you perform an activity determines whether you are burning sugar or fat. Who knew, right? Well, Stu did, apparently. And he's a world record-setting endurance super stud in his own right and backs up his claims with proven science. I highly recommend this read.
Part One: Peanut butter cups, gin Martinis and cream cheese Danishes. These are the foods that I like to cheat with and, ironically, they are also kryptonite for my O+ blood type. But I don’t believe in abstinence because it isn’t sustainable. Our bodies are built for pleasure, joy and love, which is why I subscribe to what I refer to as my Detox-Retox-Detox regimen. But here’s the trick: I don’t have them very often (I would limit indulgences to once a week and in small amounts) and I totally and immediately forgive myself for the infraction instead of beating myself up for it, like I used to when I was younger, thereby derailing my efforts for days and weeks at time (I was really hard on myself back then). For the ladies out there, I do the same with regards to my PMS cravings, which, if you're like me, that bag of chips can become the center of your universe to the likes of which will compel you to make a special trip to the store, in the pouring rain, just to get your fix. I get it. To date, I haven't been able to find an antidote for those monthly cravings. I just give in to them (and when possible, in moderation), then forgive myself and finally remind myself that I came into the world with equipment that is capable of bringing another human being into the world and I have been blessed with two beautiful boys, as a result. So I give thanks instead of hating the inconvenience of my monthly cycle (and those cravings) and I just roll with it as best as I can.
Part Two: I wish that every single thing that I ate was organic. But it isn’t always possible or realistic. And I’m not always sure how organic a product truly is and I don’t trust labels one hundred percent. On top of which we’re still taking toxins into our lungs and through our skin. It can be crazy-making, if you let it. So, in conjunction with watching what I eat as best as I realistically can, I also make sure I remove the toxins as well. There are several asanas that detoxify the organs, and I also enjoy a dry sauna from time-to-time. You can also try lymphatic self-massage. There are, literally, hundreds of great resources online. Find one that works for you. If it seems overwhelming and you feel like you need more guidance, I suggest taking a yoga class or speaking to a yoga instructor or massage therapist. They are usually really eager to help and impart their knowledge. And of course, always check with your doctor, first.
6. Eat Dessert for Breakfast.
When I have a hankering for something decadent and not good for me (yes, the two are mutually exclusive), like a piece of chocolate birthday cake, I allow myself to have it - with one restriction: I have to have it for breakfast or sometime before lunch. I noticed that when I do this, my body is better able to digest it without impacting my energy level too much and the next day I don’t wake up with a food hangover for having eaten in the afternoon or evening, which, in my experience, has been the ultimate kiss of death. Once I have my treat, I immediately fall back into my normal diet regimen for my next meal (I usually have salad with a protein source for lunch). I limit these treats to once a week. Whenever I've tried to sneak in more than one treat during the week, I start to see the weight creep back on again. Trust me on this one.
7. Sweet Slumber
Arianna Huffington started a pro-sleep movement, the Sleep Revolution, for good reason. But mothers have known from time immemorial how torturous and debilitating sleep deprivation is. Both my boys didn't start sleeping through the night until they were two or three years old, so you can imagine what my life has been like for years! Sleep is critically important to EVERY SINGLE FACET OF OUR LIVES. When it came to weight management, I realized that the sleep deprivation I experienced, especially after my second son was born, was delivering a double whammy: It was slowing down my metabolism and increasing my appetite. I was unable to shed those last pregnancy pounds, no matter what I did. When I finally started getting enough sleep (for me that's at least 8 hours per night) I lost those last pounds, my complexion looked better, my eyes were brighter and I was happier and more outgoing!! Sleep also improves our ability to make better decisions (like whether or not to have that brownie ;-). There are apps that you can download onto your phone that can help you retrain your body to sleep longer and more soundly. Ear plugs, alone, were game changers for me, since I was used to keeping an ear out for my babies' middle-of-the-night cries. I like Mack's Extreme Comfort, Soft Foam Earplugs. They are super soft and also come in "Slim Fit" for those of us with smaller ear canals.
Be persistent in your efforts to improve and maximize your sleep. If you're doing it right, you should be sleeping about 8 hours a night. That's one third of your day and a huge portion (33 1/3 percent) of your life! Consider the impact that it can have on the quality of your life and the realization of your dreams!
Staying healthy is a lifelong commitment for me that's constantly challenged by life itself. But I keep hanging in there because when I'm rested I'm happier, more creative, and better able to focus on the things that I want to manifest in my life. These days, I'm experimenting with a few more strategies that I will share, once I get the skinny on them, so stay tuned!