The pursuit of health and fitness is enjoying tremendous popularity these days, which makes sense since so many people in our society are extremely unhealthy. At a second glance, however, it becomes apparent that “health” is only part of the reason so many of us are trying to eat healthier and get more exercise. One of the main driving forces of the current health movement is image. We want to look good and feel better about ourselves, and having better health promises to help us accomplish that.
At surface level, improving one’s self-image through better health is innocent and easy enough, but there are several underlying factors that make this a dangerous pursuit. For one there are two highly effective mass media campaigns that take advantage of our basic human desires but pull us in two opposite directions. On the one hand, the multi-billion dollar food industry spends millions of dollars every year on marketing campaigns and making foods that are optimal designed for human palatability (but not for health). We are hard-wired to love the taste of sweets and fats, because in creation these nutrients are almost always found in healthy forms. Corporate food companies understand the fundamentals of human taste, but take advantage of it in the cheapest and most effective ways possible; the result is cheap, attractive, and DELICIOUS food that we can’t get enough of but ends up clogging our arteries and fattening us up.
On the other hand, almost every form of media we look at uses sexual images or plays on human covetousness to sell consumer goods. We are simultaneously targeted by marketing campaigns that tell us to eat foods that satisfy our cravings (that are ultimately making us fat) and that successful women should look like Barbie and successful men like Fabio. An internal battle ensues, a war between the desires of human nature! We order our fast food, but we drink diet soda. We binge on ice cream, but we make up for it by spending three hours at the gym the next day. We submit ourselves to vicious cycles of high and lows, New Year’s resolutions and feelings of failure, bingeing and “fasting.”
In order to arrive at a balanced perspective of health, the first thing we have to do is throw off the lies of our culture and the constant temptations to compare ourselves to others. The truth is, even people who represent the “perfect” image of fitness often still struggle with self-esteem and positive self-image. Why? Because when we compare ourselves to others or the ideals of our culture we are never good enough. We are always left seeking to be like someone else, to out-do someone else, to be the most original, the most fit, etc. If a person who struggles with obesity looses excess weight, he may or may not feel better about himself when he compares himself to others.
The best way we can improve our self-image is to have a firm understanding of who we really are. At this point, things can still get messy, as most people don’t have an accurate understanding of who they are; they’ve been too busy comparing themselves to others or some random ideal. Most of us tend to underestimate ourselves, and we choose to believe something about ourselves that’s often based on misconceptions. The reality is that you are an amazing human being, intricately complex, fearfully and wonderfully made with unlimited potential. You are unique and have sometime to bring to the world that nobody else has. It is belief in these truths that should form the foundation of your self-image.
While the pursuit of fitness is important for a number of obvious reasons, improving self-image isn’t one of them. A self-image rooted in the truth about who God says we are can free us from the lies and false images of our culture and set us on a path of true health, spiritually and physically.
In August 2010 I decided to change my life. Well, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. I knew I didn’t like how I looked, how I felt or the example I was setting for my kids. I knew I wanted to lose weight, but the task seemed impossible. Starting off at 218 pounds (E gads! I’ve admitted it!) I wanted to lose 48 pounds and get down to 170 pounds (about where I was when I got married 6 years before and felt better about myself). Weight has always been something I struggled with though, so the battle ahead was daunting.
As a kid I was always chubby and considered myself fat as a teen. (Side note, looking back now I don’t consider myself fat then. Chubby yes… Boy, gaining a bunch more weight certainly gives perspective.) During my teen years I did a lot of dieting and trying to lose weight. I really had no idea what I was doing and just wanted an easy way out. I was never athletic and hated PE with a passion. Some days I’d nearly be sick over the anxiety of PE class. My motto was “I run for fear, not for fun.” I also had asthma and used that excuse to the fullest extent (I also didn’t understand that having asthma didn’t mean I couldn’t do anything.) Right after high school and into college, I hovered around 175-185 if I remember correctly. I met my husband during the summer after high school and dated for three years. We were married in 2004 and after exercising before the wedding I weighed 175.
I maintained that weight until the fall of 2006, when I started a one year Master’s program. This program really was insane. It crammed two years of classes, internship and thesis into a 9 month period. I quickly learned to eat to
survive during that time. I needed to be awake longer, survive on less sleep and eat what was easy and quick. This meant lots of sugar, soda and fast food. I only had time to peel a wrapper and eat it. The funny thing is that now if I want more energy and to think better I’d eat healthy, because eating poorly makes me feel sluggish and icky. I gained 10 pounds during those 9 months. I justified eating this way because of needing to survive the program, and I would stop eating this way when it was done. I didn’t. I kept eating this way. Easy and quick was in fact easy and quick and tasty. Even now from time to time, when I’m feeling tired and need a pick-me-up, I can catch myself thinking at first that I should get something sweet or a soda. I made myself think that I was eating differently after graduation, but my calorie counts still stayed high and the quantities were big.
By the time 2009 rolled around I was 215 pounds. In April 2009 I lost 15 pounds, but after a car accident in December 2009 I gained that weight back plus three pounds. The car accident left me with back problems. I couldn’t do much of anything. No picking up the kids, bending over, moving much…sitting and standing both hurt a lot, so exercise was off the map. My life became more sedentary, but my eating habits stayed the same.
Thankfully, after a lot of prayer and physical therapy, I slowly became better, but I really wasn’t happy with the way I looked. I didn’t want this to be my example to my children, and I hated being in photos. I knew I would probably feel better if I lost weight too (and boy was that an understatement).
One year ago, in August 2010, I didn’t think I’d be able to lose so much weight. In fact I felt it was next to impossible, but I started off striving for one pound, then two, then three… and so on. Now I’m down 42.5 pounds, and weigh 175.5 pounds. The funny thing is that I now wear a size 10, and the last time I weighed this I wore a size 12. Gaining muscle & losing fat makes a difference. Five and a half pounds to go until I reach my first goal weight!
I started off using two months of Nutrisystem. I like Nutrisystem, because it uses real food, tastes good and gave me an outline for how I needed to eat. After that I mimicked the plan’s calorie count, food group balancing and other nutrients. The rest is history. I started off with 1600 calories a day and am now down to about 1500 calories a day (with doctor’s approval of course) — as I’ve lost weight I’ve needed less/day to keep up the same weight loss/week. If you have an iPhone, you have to use the LoseIt app! I wouldn’t have been able to do it with out that app!
I also started running in September 2010. I hated running. Remember, my motto for running was “I run for fear, not for fun.” But on a fateful girls’ night out my friend (who has lost a lot of weight herself) encouraged me to do a 5K and told me about Couch to 5K. I looked up the program and it seemed reasonable. It would give me a good training plan, and I’d lose weight along the way.
On October 30th I did my first 5K after only 5 weeks of training. I thought I was going to die, but I did it! On Thanksgiving, two days after my Papa died, I did my second 5K after finishing 9 weeks of training. God and running got me through my Papa’s illness and death. After finishing the 5K training program my friends encouraged me to move onto a 10K. Why not? This was getting addicting and that was only twice the 5K. Of course there was Bridge to 10K to help, and I loved it as much as the first program! Sometime after my first 5K, a friend coerced me into doing a half-marathon. On Superbowl Sunday of this year I did my first 10K, and in March I did a half-marathon. In May I ran my second 10K.
I’m currently training for my second half-marathon on October 2nd. I have gone from a person who dreads running to someone who gets restless if I go a couple days without running. In April I also had the opportunity to run a 5K with a friend who ran her first 5K. I’m still slower than I’d like to be, but I’ve come a long, long ways from the girl who couldn’t even run a minute. My first mile time was over 18 minutes and my most recent personal record was 10:10. I get so excited to see my progress and how far I’ve come.
During my journey, I’ve also grown deeper relationships with my friends. A group of us would meet every weekend to run, jog or walk at whatever pace we were at and however far we were going. We bonded so much during this time and cheered each other on. It was helpful knowing that there were people waiting to meet, so I couldn’t bail, and who understood what I was going through too. My dear friend and I ran alongside each other in the 10K and half-marathon pushing each other on when the other needed encouragement.
Running has also deepened my relationship with God. It has taught me another side of Him. It has taught me about endurance in Him, trusting Him and caring for the body He’s given me. There have been many, many runs where each step was done in prayer. He taught me that He will provide me strength and sustain me. He taught me that He knows what is ahead and has a plan for me. These lessons learned while running have overflowed into other areas of my life as well. Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I had no idea how many areas of my life would change. I didn’t know I would be happier and focus better. I didn’t know my friendships would deepen. I certainly didn’t know that I would inspire others. I didn’t do this to inspire others. I started off selfishly to change myself. Thankfully God has used my selfish intentions and is using my journey to inspire others. I couldn’t have done any of this without God, my friends, my husband and my kids. I’m proud that I’m setting a good example for my children, especially my daughter. I hope and pray that my kids won’t struggle with weight and food the way I have.
At the end of last August, I started trying a yoga dvd, bought a $50 treadmill and took my first step. Then there was that fateful girls’ night out when a friend told me about Couch to 5K and said she’d run a 5K with me. And I said “Why not?” That seemed like it would be a good goal. I had no idea that moment was really the start of three 5K’s, two 10K’s, a half marathon, training for another half marathon, a blog and motivating others. I’ve lost 42.5 pounds, gained a ton of self confidence, deepened friendships and overhauled my life. Now I am the example I want to be to my kids. In fact recently my kids were talking about how they’re growing and getting bigger, when my daughter piped up, “Mommy, you’re shrinking!” Why yes I am.
It’s common knowledge that portion sizes in the United States have increased drastically over the past 20 years, especially in restaurants. Many health professionals blame these growing portion sizes for America’s obesity epidemic, and there’s even talk about outlawing certain sizes of drinks. Such limitations are frowned upon by many. After all, no one want’s to be told how much they can or can’t eat and getting one’s money’s worth when dinning out is also a concern. Being presented with a skimpy plate of food can leave customers with the feeling of being cheated.
The problem with larger portion sizes is that the typical American does not know when to stop eating or drinking. We live in a fast paced world where we tend to ignore our body’s signals. Working long hours, we skip lunch but then mindlessly eat in front of the television to unwind from the busy day. Ignoring what our body tells us over time leads to the inability to recognize when we are hungry or full, making it ever easier to overeat at a meal.
Many of us have also been raised with the value that it’s essential to “clean your plate.” Only then will you get dessert! As a consequence, we tend to eat whatever is on our plate. All of it.
So how can we return to healthy portion sizes? Until we learn how to better listen to our bodies, we can start making improvements in portion control by getting a better understanding of what an actual portion size is.
Use this handy chart as a “rule of hand.”
Other tips on controlling portion sizes:
Use smaller plates. Studies have shown that we tend to want to fill up our plate with food—no matter what size the plate is. Coupled with the possible habit of “cleaning our plate” and we have a problem on our hands. Choosing a smaller one and telling yourself you can always go back for seconds will prevent you from going overboard.
Don’t set serving dishes at the dinner table. I’ve noticed when having dinner at friends’ homes that many people tend to set all of the food right on the table. When we are having fun and enjoying conversations with loved ones, we actually tend to eat more since we aren’t paying attention to how full we are. Setting the serving dishes on the counter, makes it less likely that we’ll get up and serve ourselves again unless we truly are still hungry.
Eat slowly. It takes about fifteen minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is full. This is one of the reasons why we can become uncomfortably stuffed. If we eat slower and enjoy our food, our brains will have a chance to realize when it’s time to stop eating.
God gave us food to sustain us, to power us through our day. We should rejoice in this by savoring each meal, not mindlessly stuffing ourselves.
Do you have trouble controlling portions or mindless eating?
What is one thing you could do today for a better relationship with food?
Have you ever found yourself circling the parking lot to find the “best” spot…at the gym?? Did you ever stop to think that since you are there for a workout anyways, you might as well get in a few extra steps? Chances are you thought about it, but decided you didn’t have the time.
These days we are all about efficiency: efficient offices (sitting all day), efficient communication (e-mail), efficient appliances (that do all the work for us), and efficient commutes (driving everywhere). I drive most places even though I have a Target less than a mile away. We also have an elevator in our apartment building, and I have to talk myself out of taking it.
With the modernization of household and work-related tasks, we aren’t required to move as much throughout the day as our ancestors did. Instead we sit all day and tell ourselves we need to hit the gym HARD to make up for our lifestyle, but can working out for an hour a day even make up for the relative physical inactivity many of us have chosen during the remaining 23 hours of the day?
What if there was a different way? What if we could incorporate movement into our days little by little?
NEAT or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is one way our body burns calories and in turn, boosts our metabolism.
Exercise is by definition planned, structured and repetitive physical activity aimed to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness. NEAT fitness is simply daily activities that require bodily movement. Studies have shown that lean individuals tend to have more NEAT in their day than overweight or obese individuals. These little movements add up over time..so let’s take a cue from our lean friends!
It’s not tough to incorporate these types of movement into your day. Try adding some of these activities or increasing their frequency in the following week to help boost your metabolism:
Taking the stairs
Doing the dishes
Parking further away and walking
Walking the dog
Getting up from your desk once an hour to walk around
Window shopping with friends
Taking out the trash or recycling
Rearranging your furniture
Cleaning out your closet
Scrubbing the toilet
Chasing your kids around (or the neighbor’s kids…preferably with their permission)
Walking instead of using the moving ramp at the airport
Cooking or baking from scratch
Fidgeting (who’d have thought my annoying leg jiggling habit was actually doing me some good?)
The funny thing about this list is that these might be things you are avoiding but need to get done. Attempting to do physical work around the house or enjoying some fun with your loved ones can actually benefit your health and boost your metabolism!
So the next time your honey asks you to take out the trash, you will jump up and do it with a smile, right?
How can you incorporate NEAT into your life?
Do you make an effort to get up once an hour if you sit all day?
While the most important consideration for health is making a commitment to a holistic lifestyle, determining body fat percentage can be a useful tool for setting goals and seeing where you’re at health-wise. Fatness or skinniness aren’t always good predictors of health, but obesity (30% body fat) is usually correlated with increased risk for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Use the US Navy Body Fat calculator below (the most accurate body fat calculator) to get an estimate of what percentage of your body weight is fat.