When the going gets tough, keep going

The following is a expanded version, with links, of a story I wrote that originally appeared in yesterday’s (Feb. 1) The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer.

You’re a month into your new fitness program and you’re not seeing the results you expected: You are not alone.

And yet, you are.

“Every person is different,” says Sue Dissinger, Health and Wellness Director for the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. Your age, sex, genetics, personal physiology and environmental factors all combine to make your fitness challenge different from the guy on the treadmill next to you.

That may help to explain why, a month into your New Year’s resolve for a new you, it may feel like you still see too much of the old you. Perhaps the most common beef after a month of eating better and exercising? I’ve hardly lost any weight!

“Your entire body composition changes, not just the number on the scale,” says Logan Washburn, fitness director for the UNC Wellness Center at Meadowmont in Chapel Hill. “The way your clothes fit, for instance. Are they loser? Do they fit better? That’s something to pay attention to.”

If you’re exercising hard you may actually gain weight during the initial phase of a new fitness push, Washburn says. You’re burning fat and adding muscle; since muscle weighs more than fat, weight loss isn’t always a reliable initial indicator of success. However, since fluffy fat takes up more space than dense, compact muscle, loser clothing — especially around the waist — is.

If you’re a stickler for statistical evidence that your efforts are making a difference, check your percentage of body fat, which will decrease as muscle replaces fat.
You should also check your PH level, advises Danny Russo. Russo is a Charlotte-based personal trainer/fitness guru who travels the country with his RN wife, Janet, spreading the word of wellness to women through his FEW (Food, Exercise, Water) Program.

“The first thing I tell them,” Russo says when he appears before women at health clubs, hospitals, churches and community centers, “is to pee on this little strip of paper.” Because of our often unhealthy, chemically dependent diets, Russo says most of us have acidic body chemistry, which can open the door for a host of diseases and makes our bodies less efficient. Translation: fat and other unhealthy stuff tends to stick around.

Russo says he also instructs his clients to cut back on sodium and add potassium to their diets to take care of excess water retention. “You can drop 10 pounds of water and two dress sizes in just a few days,” he says.

And if you aren’t eating enough, you may be frightening your body into a circle-the-wagons mode. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average moderately active adult should consume at least 2,000 calories a day; even for a non-active person that total shouldn’t drop below 1,200. When the body isn’t getting enough fuel, it starts conserving and hangs on to as much fat as it can. “You don’t want to lose more than one or two pounds a week or your body goes into shock,” says Washburn.

A month into a new wellness program is also a good time for a gut check. Ask yourself:

  • The first thing Debra Delano, above, did when she dropped her 100th pound was sign up for sky diving lessons (top).

    Is the regimen you’ve chosen working for you? “There is no one program,” says Russo. Agreed, says Debra Delano. Four and a half years ago, the Charlotte resident weighed 257 pounds; a year later she was down to 157. Along the way she discovered that some of the exercise classes most popular with others — Zumba and yoga, for instance — weren’t for her. Instead, she’s become a disciple of weight lifting (“I lift a crazy amount of weight”) and line dancing, every Wednesday evening at Coyote Joe’s and often for 45 minutes, on her own, before work.

  • Are you pushing yourself? Washburn says pain should never be part of your workout equation.  However… . “Exercise to where you’re slightly uncomfortable, to where you’re a little short of breath.” And, “It’s OK to be a little sore afterward.”
  • Do you need a support system? Face it, left to our own devices it’s easy to blow off a trip to the gym after a long day of work. Enter a support network, be it a personal trainer, a group exercise class, or someone who’s going through the same thing you are. “Having someone to talk to on a regular basis can be important,” says Dissinger. “Someone who can help talk you through the barriers, about the feelings you’re having.”

If your long-term goal seems too far off, set short-term, weekly goals. “Tell yourself you’re going to go to the gym three days for 30 minutes, or you’re going to eat five vegetables a day,” says Washburn.

If there is a magic number in all this, says Washburn, it’s 12, as in weeks. “That’s how long it usually takes to break a habit and establish a new routine.

“Remember,” she adds, “it’s a lifestyle change. Your body’s changing. It takes time for your brain and body to kick in.”

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Y’s Dissinger says getting over your short-term hurdles may be as simple as sharing.

“The biggest thing is to not keep your feelings to yourself,” she says. Talking to someone, be it a  certified trainer or another sweaty comrade in the trenches, could be all it takes.

“There might be a simple fix to help you stay with it and get over the hump.”

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