Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why be fit? Why not?

For the last three years I worked at a place called Y-Be-Fit. Y-Be-Fit is a wellness program that provides services to a campus community of approximately 35,000 people, including students, staff, faculty, and administration. The primary purpose of Y-Be-Fit is to provide information and services that can help clients understand the principles of good health and physical fitness.

Typically when a new client enters the program we start with the data collection phase. We administer some fitness tests to assess the five health-related components of physical fitness, namely, body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength, muscle endurance, and flexibility. Additionally, the client is instructed to fill out a 3-day food intake diary so that we can perform a nutritional analysis of average daily calorie intake with a specific breakdown of the primary nutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat). Furthermore, we send the client to a hospital to get a cholesterol screening done. And finally, the client fills out a lifestyle and health appraisal survey.

Of course the importance of collecting so much data at the start is to establish some baseline values for each component assessed so that 1. the client knows where he or she is at, and 2. the intern working with the client knows which components need improvement and how to create a plan to do so.

After the data collection and analysis phases are finished then the intern and client work together for three months meeting weekly to set and track goals, discuss health-related concepts that may be unfamiliar to the client, and to provide a system of accountability for the client.

Finally, when the three months of one-on-one consultation have been completed, the client is put through the same physical fitness tests as in the beginning to show what changes have occurred between the start and finish of the program.

Now, what I loved about working at Y-Be-Fit was the people, my clients. I had some tremendous experiences trying to help the generally middle-aged clientele. One man came into our office desiring to lose weight. He had about 40 to 50 pounds that he could stand to lose. He asked me what type of exercise is good for weight loss and I told him about aerobic exercise. He decided that he would stationary bike for an hour each day, seven days a week. Sometimes he would put in two to three bouts of cardio per day. In the year and few months since this man started the program he has lost approximately 60 lbs! The best part is that he and I only met together once a week for three months. He has managed to keep off the weight on his own for over a year.

Another man I worked with came in with the same desire: to lose weight. We talked about ways to improve his diet. He liked to eat snacks of calorie rich foods, aka, junk food. We discussed that he didn't have to give up the concept of snacks altogether but he could really benefit from substituting healthy snacks for his sweets and things. Over time he not only gained control over his snacking, he managed to improve all aspects of his diet. For exercise this man walked for an hour; that's all he did! He didn't do anything else besides change his diet and walk every day for an hour. In the course of six months he lost between 30 and 40 lbs and in the almost two years since that time he's kept it off.

What did these two men have that set them apart from many trying and failing to lose weight? I submit that their best ally was their persistence, their consistency. These men didn't make excuses. They didn't find reasons not to change. They found exercise and eating programs that they enjoyed and were able to maintain in the long-term. These men didn't fall to quick fix schemes. They didn't have an aversion toward good old-fashioned work. These men each had an internal locus of control and plenty of intrinsic motivation. My encouragement and other's amazement at their changes wasn't their motivation. I didn't have to bribe them to change. They came to me, I taught them a few tricks, they did all the work, and now they're reaping the benefits to the present day.

I don't share these success stories to build myself up. I share them to show that change, remarkable and permanent change, is possible. You or I or the person down the street can all change. The desire to change must come from within oneself or the change will not be permanent. Change requires a tremendous amount of work. It requires constant, consistent, persistent work. There are no miracle cures for overweight and obesity. If it took thirty years to put it on, wouldn't it make sense that it would take more than three weeks to take it back off?

When I go to the grocery store I often see those magazines at the check out stand promising rapid weight loss with some miracle diet, or special herb combination, or whatever. It's all a lie! Fat loss requires one to expend 3500 calories for every pound lost. The most anyone should try to lose, unless one is medically supervised, is 2 lbs of fat per week. That's a 7000 calorie net deficit per week. In other words, If you want to lose 2 lbs of fat per week, you must expend via physical activity, or reduce via modest calorie restriction 7000 calories above and beyond what your body needs to survive per week. Put another way, to lose 2 lbs of fat per week through exercise alone one would need to walk 70 miles each and every week!

The problem is many people aren't willing to put in the work necessary to get real, lasting results. People want a quick fix. I'm sorry to say, there aren't any good quick fixes when it comes to fat loss.

All of the best things in life require toil to achieve them. Hard, honest toil. And if you're ready to work, I'm ready to work with you.

I am not an advocate of trying to look like super models. In this age of computer manipulation most super models in real life don't look like super models. Instead of trying to look like someone else, why can't we be thankful for the bodies that we have?

There is nothing wrong with wanting a fit, healthy body. Barring serious disability I think that any person is capable of being physically fit. What is the secret, the great grand key? Improving the composition of our daily intake of food and moving more. More fiber, more water, less fat. Don't over consume. Avoid junk and fast foods save on rare occasions. Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes in abundance. Move, move, move. You don't have to get an expensive gym membership. You don't need fancy workout clothes. You don't need to buy the latest and greatest nutritional supplement. Just move. Make it fun, frequent, and include the whole family. It's not that difficult. In fact it's much more fun than the alternative: decreased quality of life and possibly premature death.

If you are ready to improve the quality of your life like the two men I mentioned earlier but need more specifics, please let me know. I cannot do the work for you but I can inform you and point you in the right direction.


Rich said...

I just reread this post and loved it as much the second time as I did the first! Hope things are well...


Nate said...

Rich, things are good these days. I'm finishing up my thesis soon and want to go to Hawaii for a PhD in nutrition--a little more up your alley.

Thanks for reading my blog. I've noticed you haven't posted in a while. You must be busy these days!