DEAR TAMMY: First, thanks for the kind words about my book. If reading it has gotten you fired up and ready to make some healthy changes, I’ve done my job!
So let’s figure out some strategies to help you get started while you’re primed and ready. I know how it is, both to be a working mom and to be overwhelmed, especially with the school year starting. But if you wait for the “perfect” time to begin making changes, you’ll NEVER do it. I know, I know—stop with the preaching and get on to the advice. Here goes:
Do it for the health of it. To add a little fuel to your fire to get fit, remember that changing your diet and getting more active are an investment in your health. This isn’t just about fitting into a smaller-sized pair of jeans—this is about being the healthiest mom you can be for your children. In fact, men and women who carry their weight around the middle are at higher risk for things like diabetes and heart disease than others whose weight is distributed differently. I am not telling you this to scare you, not at all. It can be easy to dismiss weight-loss goals as superficial, especially when the going gets tough and you have to make sacrifices and choices along the way. So keep your health top-of-mind going forward, and you will be more likely to stick with your new plan.
Let go of the numbers. Let’s try something different. Instead of your setting your sights on a “goal weight,” let’s skip it and create goals around healthy behaviors. My problem with the whole goal weight idea is that you can’t really know what your number should be, and weight is not the best indicator of health anyway. You can get most of the health benefits by dropping 10 percent of your body weight (that’s about 18 pounds). But chances are, you will want to go further. There are plenty of people who are skinny and unhealthy—you don’t want to be one of them. I would create daily, weekly and monthly goals around things like eating a certain amount of fruits and vegetables (up to 9 non-starchy veggies and 5 non-starchy fruits are recommended daily), drinking water or other calorie-free beverages instead of soda, limiting fast food to no more than one drive-through a week (or whatever), and walking 30 minutes at least 3 days a week. Those behaviors are things you can control; the scale has a mind of its own.
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Focus on what you CAN do. I know how overwhelming it is … looking at that road ahead of you and thinking about how far you have to go. Don’t. Let. It. Paralyze. You. Dr. Travis Stork (yes, the hunk on The Doctors), told me in an interview that we make more than 200 choices about our health every day. We choose what to eat, when to get up, what to do with our free time (and yes, we all do have free time … some of us less than others!). I think we forget we even HAVE a choice. We get into ruts and routines and after a while, we think there’s no way to make a change, or that it’s too hard, or that you’d inconvenience everyone else (not to mention yourself). There are many, many things you can do every day to get healthier, live “lighter,” and get your weight under control. You just have to open your mind. For instance, I used to think there was NO WAY I could work out in the morning without a couple of cups of coffee in me, and maybe a bite to eat. That kept me from doing early morning workouts at all, because I felt like I would miss too much sleep. One day, though, I just tried it. I missed that morning cup of Joe, but I didn’t doze off in mid-run, and my energy was—surprise—higher all day long (no afternoon slump, either). To get healthier, you HAVE to do things differently. Keep on doing what you’ve been doing, and you’ll get the same results.
Work activity in. I’m guessing that the hardest thing for you is going to be getting exercise. Duh, right? That’s really the hardest thing for everyone. One of the reasons I suggest embracing exercise first—even before changing your diet—is that it forces you out of your comfort zone, out of those ruts and routines I just referenced. It requires you to see yourself differently, to ask for help (to watch the kids so you can go for a walk, maybe, or meet your girlfriend for a Zumba class), to try new things. To risk not being perfect at something. So while I know you have an insane schedule, I would suggest your carving out time to do something active three days a week to start. Maybe fitting in two workouts (as in, 30-minute walks) on the weekends and one weeknight will be easier for you. But when you’re looking at your schedule, don’t forget to question those “givens,” those routines that may be hiding a chance for you to make a change. For instance, do you have to rush home right after school, or could you walk around the track at the high school? Could you use part of your lunch to walk the track or up and down the stairs? Could you volunteer to help, say, the cross-country team, and take the opportunity to walk/run a few laps at the same time?
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On top of that, make sure you take every opportunity you can to move around. Wear comfortable shoes and stand and walk around while you’re teaching; walk the halls when you have time during class changes and any breaks. On your off time, try finding active things to do with your kids. I mentioned Zumba above—not sure if your 12- and 14-year-olds are girls, but if they are, find a class and bring them along! Take “family walks” or hikes together. Choose some fitness DVDs (many libraries lend them) and try some together. Play active games on the Wii—or, egads, in the backyard! Even your 6-year-old will benefit from moving around more—and your relationships with all of your kids will be stronger as well. Suggest going for a walk instead of lunch with a girlfriend, or a Zumba or yoga class for a girls night out.
Ask for help. Pardon me for making assumptions, but since you are a member of one of the “helping professions,” you may suffer from the self-sacrificing syndrome common among teachers, nurses, social workers, advice columnists (!). You know, where you focus so much on helping others that you don’t know how to ask for help yourself? Or you fool yourself into thinking that you don’t even need it? Well, getting over that and making yourself and your health a priority is Job Number One. You CAN do this—don’t get me wrong—but it will be WAY harder if you don’t learn how to ask for help. You DESERVE the assistance of others to get you to a healthier place—remember that. And force yourself to ask for that help, knowing that you would be the FIRST person to say “yes” if the tables were turned.
You don’t mention whether a significant other is in the picture, but if so, have a serious discussion with him about what you’re trying to do, and tell him you need his help. Make sure you spell out what that looks like—picking up the kids or taking over homework duty once a week so you can make a fitness class, or agreeing not to bring home trigger foods you’re trying to keep a limit on. Tell him, explicitly, that you don’t need a “diet cop”—you just need his support in the specific ways you’ve mentioned. You can also ask your older child for assistance with chores, watching the younger ones, etc. (Bribery always works well with them!)
I am so excited for you to get started—so I’m going to quit writing now and let you! Hope this helps, and best, best wishes to you!
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl. To submit a question, visit spryliving.com/experts.