Starting over again

How do we get back into shape after becoming enslaved to our desires for food and overeating during the holidays?

A man prepares matzot for the seven-day Passover festival, which begins this evening. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A man prepares matzot for the seven-day Passover festival, which begins this evening.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Passover! When the Almighty took us out of Egypt, he gave us freedom. But freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want.
Unfortunately, we generally become enslaved to our desires for food and overeating during the holidays.
But now, it is after the holiday, and our clothes don’t fit as they did just a few weeks ago.
But what can we do? And more importantly, how can we bring some permanence to our health and fitness regimens and not go through this process every single year?
If you need some incentive to find your way back to healthy habits, consider this. According to an article in the May 1, 2008, edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, overweight and obesity are associated with hypertension, glucose intolerance, high cholesterol levels and obstructive sleep apnea. More importantly, obesity is associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney disease, and obesity has been tied to 12 different types of cancer. Rates of diabetes have more than doubled in the last 30 years, and fatty liver disease has become increasingly more prevalent.
The question is, what is the best way to lose all of those extra pounds?
First, what NOT to do! Diets do not work, and in the long run will leave you sorely lacking in nutrients. Consuming too few calories can slow your metabolic rate and impede your weight loss. Rapid weight loss crash diets will have you lose water and muscle, but not fat weight.
It is important that you eat in a way that will give you good nutrition and enough energy for each day. Remember, it is never good to eliminate any one food group from your diet. (Yes, we need carbs, just pick the healthy ones!) By being active – walking instead of driving and taking the stairs instead of the elevator – and starting a formal exercise program, you could very easily burn 300-500 calories a day. You would need to cut 300 calories a day to lose one half-kilo a week.
Aerobic exercise will also greatly improve your cardiovascular health. By doing resistance training, you can actually raise your metabolic rate and keep your muscles and connective tissue in good working order throughout the aging process.
Instead of dieting, learn how to eat properly. See a good registered dietitian and work with her on formulating a food plan that you can live with and will provide you with good nutrition – and at the same time will include foods that you enjoy eating.
Remember, a food plan, as well as an exercise plan, has to be something that is doable for you. Make sure that it makes sense for you and fits comfortably into your schedule.
The goal is to make proper eating and exercise just another part of your life that becomes the norm.
You don’t have to lose weight overnight or be able to run 10K in a day. Slow, gradual progress usually translates into more permanent results.
Your dietitian will start by making an important calculation to determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Simply put, BMR is the number of calories our body uses as energy to sustain itself throughout one day, without doing extra activity or exercise. At rest (i.e. while sitting at the computer or reading), the human body burns only about 12 calories per pound of body weight per day (26 calories per kilogram).
(This formula is approximate; you can find metabolic calculators on the Internet.) This means that if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg), your body uses only about 150 X 12, or 1,800 calories per day.
Therefore, in order to lose weight, you need to reduce the number of calories you consume per day and burn more calories; what we call creating a caloric deficit. One kilo is 7,500 calories, so in order to lose a half a kilo per week; you would need to consume 500 fewer calories per day, or eat 250 fewer calories and burn 250 calories per day through exercise and activity.
Metabolism is a very important component in our calorie burn, and the older we get, the more important a player it becomes. Due to deterioration in our muscle mass as we age (sarcopenia), our metabolism slows down more and more. In order to counter this, it is important to do resistance training using weights, bands, or your own body weight and to do these exercises two or three times a week to build muscle. In addition, eating small meals five or six times a day will keep your metabolic rate elevated and also keeps your insulin releases even and prevent spikes that over a long period of time can lead to type-2 diabetes. Eating only a few large meals a day is not good for weight loss or your health in general.
Don’t rely on exercise alone for weight loss. It won’t work. It is an important ingredient in losing weight and exercise is good for everyone’s overall health whether they need to lose weight or not, but you can never burn enough calories through exercise to have meaningful weight loss. For example, if a heavy person walks an hour a day briskly, he or she will use a little over 500 calories. If that person needs to lose 25 kilo, that is about 400 one-hour walks and that is presuming they are never increasing their caloric intake. So weight loss needs to work from three different angles; eating less, increased metabolism and exercise.
In addition, there are the three secondary, but very important issues in losing weight. Make sure you are sleeping seven to nine hours a night, that you are drinking enough water each day, and by all means, keep your stress levels under control.
In the secular world, every January 1, we hear about New Year’s resolutions. And taking care of our health is usually one of them. Gym memberships soar at the beginning of the New Year, yet by March the dropout rate at gyms is astonishing. People who have purchased half-year and full-year memberships are no longer attending. The initial excitement slowly evaporates and we are all back into our mundane rut, with our old habits back in place.
The first step in breaking this cycle is to concentrate on three main areas – exercise, proper eating, and stress reduction. Exercise should consist of a balanced program of aerobics four or five times a week, resistance training two or three times a week and stretching on a daily basis. A good nutritious food plan must include vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins, and just as importantly, portion control. Manage your stress levels with a combination of practical problem-solving together with relaxation techniques. Your exercise routine is another key ingredient in reducing stress.
So, how can we avoid this recurring scenario, make the necessary changes and keep our resolutions? Here are some important tips to help you meet your health and fitness goals:
1) Make health a priority – make time for getting healthy!
2) Get yourself a partner. Sometimes these are called diet buddies or exercise buddies. You need to be accountable to someone other than yourself. Find a friend. (A spouse may not be the best idea.)
3) Work on your environment. Don’t bring things into the home that aren’t good for you or that you tend to eat a lot of, like salty or sugary snacks.
4) Keep your exercise gear handy. Keep it in a place that you just can slip into your clothes and shoes easily. Sometimes, it is just a matter of getting on the gear – and you are ready to go!
5) Set goals for yourself – not necessarily weight loss. See how long you can walk and how fast. Set weekly and monthly goals to increase your distance and your pace. Set a goal of a smaller dress size or pants size.
6) Reward yourself. What are you going to do for yourself when you reach your goals? Try to avoid food as a reward.
7) Give yourself credit! When you have done something that was difficult for you, when you are able to change a bad behavior, write it down and give yourself a much-deserved pat on the back.
8) Write it all down! Make an accounting of your health. Whether it is your food intake or your exercise, keep a log of everything. Make a diary and also write down your feelings at the end of the day or after an exercise session.
Now that the holiday is behind us, we need to do our part and make an effort to succeed. The best protection that we can give ourselves is to eat right, exercise and reduce stress! When you have succeeded with all of that, it will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”
• The writer is an ACE-certified personal trainer and a certified wellness coach with 18 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss center Lose It! and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs; he also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at (02) 651-8502, 050-555- 7175, [email protected];