Final FreshStart Check-In: My 11 Lessons, Please Add Yours

Payback time. This is our final FreshStart post. (What’s FreshStart? Click here and read oldest to newest.) Thank you all for participating, and I hope you’ve found it worthwhile. Now for the payback: First of all, if you’ve been a regular, and would like a groovy midnight blue WBUR jacket as a reward, drop me an email. I’ve got a box full of M’s and L’s from our generous membership folks at my desk, and I’m just about to put one in the mail to Coach Beth — I figure it’s fair recompense for about 1/1000th of the time and expertise she gave us, right?

Actually, that leads me to the other element of payback: We can give Beth valuable feedback on what worked for us and what didn’t — and that may be a final bit of help to each other, as well. Please post your analysis below, and don’t hold back: this was an experiment, and your reactions are a fascinating part of the outcome. Then there are the concrete outcomes: Are you fitter? Lighter? Happier? Not? What will you take forward with you and what will you happily leave behind? Also, what do you plan to do now, health-wise?

Here are my own stabs at lessons learned and future plans:

1. The importance of having a leader: I found it wonderfully reassuring to be able pose a question to an expert and get a quick and data-driven answer. But also:

2. The importance of having a group: I also found it hugely valuable to have a group of peers sharing their experiences, and being “in it” with me, albeit to varying degrees. A couple of my biggest revelations came from other participants, like Sara’s habit of working out for a full hour. Here’s my new fantasy: An entire group trained in wellness coaching techniques, all helping each other along. I wonder if maybe my book club would be willing to become a book-and-health club? Continue reading

FreshStart Check-In, And Slipping In The Exercise

Dear FreshStarters — How goes it? Please report in the comments below. (What is FreshStart? Click here and read from oldest to newest.)

Our theme of the week: Pedometers, and the whole notion that you can do yourself a lot of good by just slipping exercise into the interstices of your life — the 10-minute desk exercise (see a how-to video in the upper right corner here), taking the stairs, parking farther away. I have to confess to skepticism that verges on prejudice against this notion. In my experience, it’s the good long workouts that carry magic, not the bits and pieces along the way. But I’d love to be corrected. Please set me straight if your experience or reading of the research contradicts my instincts.

Meanwhile, here’s proponent #1 for the pedometer this week: Blue Cross Blue Shield chief Andrew Dreyfus, whose pedometer-use is featured in the Globe this week and in the Blue Cross video below. It’s kind of an ad for Blue Cross, but he does make this cogent point: “It’s amazing how having a quantifiable goal is motivating.”

The Globe story emphasizes that competing against others for higher numbers of steps — as Andrew does with his 12-year-old daughter — helps push people. To me, though, the whole pedometer idea raises a basic question: Do I want to mesh fitness into every aspect of my life, always trying to do the right — that is, more active — thing? Or do I want to keep it more segregated in discrete workout periods? I know I could do both, but right now, I relish the feeling after a workout of being “done” with my fitness quotient for the day.

For the counter-argument, here’s Dr. Eddie Phillips, director of the Institute of LIfestyle Medicine, in an email:

“The recommendations for daily physical activity can be achieved anywhere, throughout your day by adding up your steps. You need not break a sweat, get out of breath or need to change your clothes in order to meet the daily physical activity goals, as Andrew Dreyfus has shown.”

“Additionally, you can multi-task by walking slowly (1 MPH) while typing on your laptop or talking on the phone… The trick is to keep walking and do it throughout the day.”


FreshStart Check-In, And What To Do If You Hate Weights

Dear FreshStarters — Please report! It’s the summer solstice today — have you been converting the longer light into physical energy? (What is FreshStart? Please click here.)

As we head into our final lap, I looked back at my initial goals to see how I’ve fared, and found one glaring area where I’ve fallen down: weights. I hate ’em. To me, they are just no fun. No joy. No uplift. I know study after study says that they’re a crucial element of any fitness program, especially as we age. But thus far, all I’ve managed to do is to add some light weights to my step routine. I simply cannot persuade myself to lift weights as a separate routine. I asked Coach Beth about this, and here are her initial thoughts:

1) Buddy up—Try out a class with a friend (the town recreation classes are a great way to start.)
2) Go to the local library and take out a couple of strength training DVDs–just make sure you have the weights or bands that you need.
3) Use your own body for strength training–push ups, pull ups, squats, sit ups (old fashion circuit training), yoga

But the big question is “What is it about weights that you hate?” That is the key question. Making some progress on your journey of self discovery in this area might help you take some small steps forward. Is it lack of experience? Is it lack of knowledge? Is it fear of becoming a muscle bound she-man? Is it fear of failure? Is it time constraints?

My response: “I think it’s that I perceive the burn/effort as pain. I know it’s possible to change that kind of perception with cardio — I now perceive huffing and puffing as positive, not negative — but haven’t managed to with weights yet.”

Ideas, anyone?

FreshStart: Entering The Final Stretch, And Eating With Reverence

Dear Freshstarters: How goes it? Please report in the comments section below. (What is FreshStart? Please click here and read from the oldest post to the newest.)

Deep in the mists of the distant past, we began our FreshStart efforts on April 18, which means that we’re about to enter the final month of our three-month deal. Not that it’s ever really over, of course. The whole point of making “SMART” changes is that they’re supposed to be sustainable. No free passes starting July 18! But I already feel as if I’ve learned a great deal under Coach Beth’s kind and expert tutelage, and the central lesson I’ve learned is that the health journey is an unending process of tweaking and calibrating and experimenting, with 1,000 different possible routes toward the overarching goal of living healthier. Anybody else feeling that way?

I’m also thrilled to report that for me, this stuff is definitely working. My body is starting to look decidedly more summer-ready, my energy is revved up, my appetite is down, and I’ve been staying away from the scale but I’m seeing the kind of subtle streamlining that Beth said to expect. On a literary note, I’ve just finished reading “Women, Food and God” by Geneen Roth, mainly because I was deeply curious about why it became such a major bestseller. I still have no answer to that question. If you’re at all familiar with the “intuitive eating” movement — the idea that we should not “diet,” but listen to our bodies and eat mindfully when hungry — it treads familiar ground. (An interesting local therapist and writer, Jean Fain, is an active proponent and has written a book called “The Self-Compassion Diet.”) But I did take away a few golden nuggets, and my favorite was the idea that we should try to eat with reverence for our selves and our bodies. What a positive way to eat.

This video is so over the top it made me giggle, but it does convey a sense of mindful eating:

The book ends with Geneen Roth’s eating guidelines:
1. Eat when you’re hungry
2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car. Continue reading

FreshStart Check-In: How Exercise Can Be Like Breast-Pumping

Dear FreshStart members: Please report! (Wondering what FreshStart is? Please click on the FreshStart link in blue above. It’s never too late to join, just post your goals in the comments section below.)

Rachel and I had the edifying privilege of hanging with Dr. Beth Frates, our FreshStart wellness coach, at the WBUR festival yesterday, and I’m full of new insights about how all this works: how it’s a long process of gradually tweaking plans, strategies and habits — experiments in which we manipulate our own stubborn selves toward healthier behaviors.

What particularly struck me is how intensely individual the coaching process is — the opposite of the usual one-diet-fits-all approach. One of Beth’s clients found that eating a lime every evening stopped the late-night munchies; another found that bouncing on an exercise ball while watching TV eliminated the snacking habit. Each came up with those ideas himself or herself — and really, who else could possibly have suspected that those were the right tricks for each of them??

I mentioned to Beth that thanks to Sara, who posts regularly on FreshStart, I’d had an “aha!” moment, and she encouraged me to share it. Sara mentioned that she often runs for a full hour, a level of effort that carries magic for her weight control efforts. My first response was, of course, “An hour?” But then I had my revelation: I just haven’t been working out for long enough. It’s fine to aim for daily exercise, and that has definitely been a helpful change, but 20 minutes a day — for me, at least — is just not enough. In the past few days, I’ve started aiming for 40 or 45 — and really, if you’re going to go through all the overhead of changing and showering and getting there, why not get more actual exercise in?

Now, how is this like breast-pumping? Well, it’s a personal thing: Breast-feeding and pumping never worked very well for me — either I was just old, or I was missing some dairy gene. I rented the most powerful breast pump available, and still, the output was measly. Finally, I went to see a lactation consultant who asked me to show her how I pumped. I brought out my pump and started a demonstration, and she reached down and turned the dial, which I had been setting at a medium 5 or so, all the way up to 10. WHOOSH! The pump turned into a roaring hoover-monster that seemed about to suck my whole body into its innards. I had never tried setting it on max because, well, it seemed so extreme, and medium seemed powerful enough. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t getting the results I wanted because I just wasn’t pushing hard enough.

FreshStarters, have you had any “aha!” moments in the past weeks? Please share!

FreshStart Check-In, And The Ultimate Shout-Along Catharsis Workout Playlist

Singer Carolyn Thompson

Dear FreshStarters — Please report! For those who began at the beginning, we’re now halfway to our three-month goal. How goes it? Have you adjusted your goals? Your expectations? (For background, please click on FreshStart in the “Don’t Miss” row in blue above.)

Here’s my own bulletin: After months upon months of good intentions, I’ve finally — finally! — created the ultimate workout playlist. This is not just a compilation of catchy, high-energy songs. This is a participatory playlist, in which each song has a chorus or a phrase that begs you to shout it out, thus engendering a powerful and soul-cleansing catharsis.

Case in point: The warm-up song is that Chumbawamba classic, “Tubthumping,” whose chorus repeats: “I get knocked down! But I get up again! You’re never gonna keep me down!” Or consider the cool-down song: a Jim’s Big Ego version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feelin’ Groovy” that makes it into a semi-rap song with an occasional shout-out of “Feelin’ groovy!”

It sounds silly. Okay, it is silly. But the good kind of silly.

Studies have repeatedly found that good music contributes to better workouts. FreshStarters, do you have playlists you’d like to share? Please post them in the comments. Or even, perhaps, bring them to the WBUR festival this Sunday at noon on the Charles. Here’s the festival’s schedule. CommonHealth has been promised our very own booth, and we’re hoping Coach Beth will come and let us grill her in person with our lingering questions. I’d be happy to bring a few Cathartic CDs, if anyone wants one.

Meanwhile, here’s my whole playlist:

FreshStart Check-In: Meet-Up? And Paving The Path To Optimal Wellness

Dear Fresh-Starters: How goes it? I see that WBUR is holding a festival June 5 from noon to 4 p.m. on the Charles River. Would anybody like to stage a FreshStart MeetUp, maybe at around noon? Coach Beth (Dr. Beth Frates of Harvard and Wellness Synergy)  thinks she can make it, and I’ll ask the WBUR powers-that-be to let you be special guests who don’t need to buy tickets. What do you say? I’d love to meet everybody, and talk about ways we could bring FreshStart to the next level…? To any potential newcomers out there, it’s not too late! You can join by leaving a comment below laying out your health goals.

And now, Coach Beth has the floor:

Having started this wellness journey together 5 weeks ago, it is time to take a step back and review our progress. First of all, congratulations for taking the “plunge” into examining your own lifestyle habits and how they relate to your overall level of health and wellness.

Sticking with any program for over 4 weeks is also something we need to celebrate. Whatever you have been doing these past 4 weeks, even if it is simply reading the posts of others, wellness has been on your mind. Depending on what stage of change you are in for different behaviors, your actions were probably different.

As you may know, there are 5 stages of change:
1) Pre-contemplative (I won’t, I can’t)
2) Contemplative (I may)
3) Preparation (I want to, I will)
4) Action (I am) and
5) Maintenance (I still am-after 6months or more).

Sometimes just acknowledging the stage you are in for a specific behavior (such as adding exercise into your daily routine, eating fruits and vegetables, avoiding sugar, or meditating) is the first important step.

After 5 weeks, it is a good time to re-evaluate your stage of change around your targeted behaviors. Your stage of change might have changed. Did it? From our posts in this blog it sounded like many people were in preparation to start and some are in action now.

You might be wondering: What are some common behaviors of people enjoying their optimal level of wellness? What are we striving for? This is where the paver comes into play. Wellness is an ongoing journey and can involve many different factors depending on an individual’s current behaviors, attitudes, and patterns. That said, there are some common threads among people enjoying their optimal level of wellness and their journeys there. I call these tools for P.A.V.I.N.G. your path.

P = Physical Activity on a routine basis (type, frequency, duration, intensity will vary)
A = Attitudes of a “growth mindset,” positivity, appreciation, and so called “failures” are opportunities for growth and development
V = Variety in one’s exercise routine, diet, and goals. Try new activities, foods, and strategies.
I = Inquisitive mindset, looking for more information, investigating current health and wellness recommendations
N = Nutrition focus on what is healthy for your body (such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, lean meat, fish, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats ). Avoiding highly processed foods, sugar, trans fats, and saturated fats.
G = Goals (monthly, weekly, daily) for your health and wellness. SMART behavioral goals that are written down on a calendar, appointment book, dry erase board, or other method. Sharing these goals with others (friends, family, wellness coach, physician, or fellow bloggers) so that you feel some support as well as accountability for them is another important factor for many people.

These are only 6 tools, and you might be using different ones. We have touched on several of the six tools through the course of this blog. Today, I want to spend a minute on the A, “attitude.” Continue reading

FreshStart Check-In, And 11 Ways To Stem ‘Nocturnal Foraging’

Dear FreshStarters — How goes it? And what are your goals for the coming week? Please report in the comments below! And in case you missed them, check out the check-ins from last week, which include a death-defying 5 a.m. wake-up time for Barbara’s runs. In particular, Coach Beth shared ten great ideas for fighting that urge to eat at night — and just today, I see that The New York Times adds its heft to that worthy goal. The “Really?” column reports here:

At the end of the study, the scientists found that the late sleepers had higher body mass indexes, typically downed more calories at dinner, and ate fewer fruits and vegetables. The late sleepers also slept fewer hours, a habit that is generally linked to weight gain. But even after adjusting for these and other variables, the scientists discovered that eating after 8 p.m. was associated with a higher body mass index, suggesting that late-evening calories are, for some reason, more hazardous to your weight.
Recent studies suggest that eating at night may in fact lead to more weight gain, though it’s not clear why.

Personally, I could tell them why. When I eat at night, my fatigue extends to my willpower, and I easily down hundreds upon hundreds of calories. Here are Beth’s great tips, and she’s looking for more:

1. Do not buy anything in the grocery store that tempts you into the “nocturnal foraging” trap (as one of my clients so nicely labeled it).
2. Repeat the mantra “Eat after eight and gain weight,” which is a quote from Dr. Pamela Peeke.
3. Chew peppermint gum instead of eating at night.
4. Drink an 8 ounce glass of water with lemon instead of snacking.
5. Journal about your feelings during the times you want to reach for the night time snack. Continue reading

FreshStart Check-In: Progress! And Kristi Yamaguchi’s Goals, Much Like Ours

Skater Kristi Yamaguchi takes a jump

Dear FreshStarters: Please check in! How has the last week gone? Are your goals working? Please post your progress as a comment below. (For background on FreshStart, please click here and here. It’s not too late to join by posting your comment here, and there are still prizes available!)

I knew it! I noticed last week that my Winter Paunch (like Beth J’s Muffin Top, only lower) seemed to have begun to deflate. And this morning, the scale confirmed: down two pounds from when we began three weeks ago.

Really and truly, I’m not focusing on weight loss as a goal. My two goals at this point are to exercise just about every day, and to drastically curtail nighttime eating (Barb, those TJ’s dried strawberries are delectable!) But it’s wonderful to get quantitative confirmation, and I figure that’s what I’m using the scale for: as a reality check to explode self-delusions about exercise and calories.

And speaking of reality checks, here’s a nice bit of confirmation of our goal strategies from the renowned skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi, who spoke to The Los Angeles Times here:

“I always try to start out with some type of goal,” she said, “whether it’s to learn a new jump when I competed, or these days just to do some type of activity three to four times a week. Then I work backward and think of what I need to do to get there, and give myself smaller goals that are more immediate. For example, I’d practice the new jump 20 to 30 times a session, or organize my schedule to fit in the workouts.

“Even if it’s only 30 minutes,” she added, “it’s better than nothing. When I do make time to exercise, working out to motivating music always helps — whatever gives you a bounce in your feet. When you don’t feel like working out, think about your desired end result and hopefully that motivates you.”

FreshStart Check-In, And Coach Beth On Night-Time Eating

RIP, my night-time cereal habit

Dear FreshStarters: How’s it going? How was your last week? Are your goals making sense? Please post your progress as a comment below. (For background on FreshStart, please click here and here. It’s not too late to join by posting your comment here, and there are still prizes available!)

I blush to admit this, but I really do believe that part of the reason I remained single through my thirties was that I so love to read and eat at night. Nothing could make me happier at the end of the day than settling into bed with a great novel and a box of cereal or a can of corn kernels. How could I marry? How could a husband possibly understand that I preferred fiction and carbs to him?

Happily, I did ultimately find such a man, but just because he understands my night-time vices doesn’t mean I should retain them. I mean, the fiction part can stay; but the eating-and-reading thing, the feeling that I want to be eating as I read, page after page, has to go. Hence the flower tribute to my last (empty) box of nighttime cereal, at the right.

When we launched FreshStart two weeks ago, I pledged to give up my night-time cookies and replace them with cereal. Last week I shared the realization that cereal is no good if you eat half a box of it. So now, inspired by the excellent insights below from Coach Beth, I’m prepared to shift altogether to eating fruits or vegetables at night. Beth — our wellness coach, Dr. Beth Frates — wrote the post below as a response to Rachel’s query about nighttime cereal, but I wanted to make sure everyone saw it. She helped me see that my evening carbs are effectively tranquilizers, and there are much healthier ways to calm down at night:

Ah….the dreaded cereal at night conundrum. Who hasn’t experienced that? Well, the draw of the carbohydrate, the often hidden sugar (but not in the oatmeal you are writing about unless it is instant with added sugar), the cereal… It is so easy to prepare, and it tastes so good. It seems “safe” enough.

Well, depending on the type of cereal you are consuming no matter what time of the day, it can set you up for the sugar cycle. Again, this has to do with the sugar content and whether you are consuming a simple carbohydrate in your cereal. It goes like this, you consume the cereal, you get a spike in blood sugar, your body responds by releasing insulin from your pancreas to counteract that sugar spike, then the sugar is removed from the blood stream and goes into cells, hence you are hungry again because you have low blood sugar. So what do we do, we eat more. This is the vicious sugar cycle no matter what the time of day. Continue reading