Dietitians face a major occupational hazard: the underlying pressure to remain a model of good health and fitness. After all, you probably wouldn't trust a dentist with bad teeth, or a mechanic with a jalopy. Would you trust a dietitian with a muffin top?
Of course, we dietitians are people, too. Occasionally, we also get too busy to squeeze in our "nine a day" of fruits and veggies. Some of us are mothers whose childcare obligations make a regular gym commitment difficult to manage and whose post-baby bodies are quite worse for the wear. After a long day at work or at home with our kids, we're equally tempted to plop down on the couch and eat dinner in front of the TV, even though we know that's a recipe for disaster. And so it shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that once in a while, we dietitians may find ourselves a few pounds over our own goal weights—or several hours under our weekly exercise targets.
At present, I am one such dietitian.
Technically, I am not overweight. In fact, after the holidays, I was only two pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight, at which time I was quite fit and active. But the number on the scale didn't tell the whole story. I had the beginnings of "bingo arms" where my once-toned triceps lived. And we won't even discuss the souvenir "twin skin" left on my belly from that 53-pound pregnancy weight gain.
I may still squeeze into the same size-28 jeans as before, but I sure don't look as good in them. My toddlers have been weaned for well over a year, and the gym I belong to offers free childcare. Let's call it like it is: I'd become a sedentary mom who was quickly running out of excuses.
Last month, I found my inspiration, and took a baby step toward change. I've got some rockstar clients whose weight loss journeys have been nothing short of remarkable—even in the context of lives no less busy or stressful than my own.
"E," a fellow twin mama with whom I've been working, lost 60 pounds in seven months—while working full time. With no time for the gym, she gets off her train several stops early in the morning and speed-walks to her job. Her spouse helps pack her lunches and snacks at night, and she totes them to work in a pink lunchbox borrowed from her daughter.
"K," a fellow thirty-something with Celiac disease, lost 20 percent of her body weight in 2012 by keeping a food journal and transforming herself from couch potato to an endorphin junkie who rotates her workouts among hot yoga, spin classes, and Zumba to keep her exercise program interesting. She lives an hour away from the gym, but by planning ahead, she schedules exercise around work and social commitments so she doesn't have to muster up the motivation to make special trips just for a workout.
To me, the most interesting thing about these two stories—and those of dozens of my other clients who are dropping weight like it's nothing—is that I've been the one guiding them the whole time! In other words, I can spot opportunities to exercise in other peoples' schedules and identify strategies to make sure healthy food and snacks are always available in their busy lives. Surely I have the capability to direct these skills inward!
And so, last month, I took a first small step to recapture a version of myself that I would recognize from before having kids. I did it without fanfare and without making grandiose promises to myself that I'd be hard-pressed to keep. I chose one small, measurable, manageable goal that was within my control: to accompany my friend Karen to a one-hour spin class at our gym every Wednesday evening.
The strangest things happened once I decided to do this. My (fabulous, supportive) husband enthusiastically stepped forward to take on the evening rituals of bathing, feeding, and bedtime for our kids so that I could step out once a week. On Wednesdays at work, I found myself drinking more water during the day in preparation for my class—and my appetite was dampened as a result. On Thursday mornings after a workout, my quads felt tauter and my stomach felt flatter—both powerful motivators to eat well that day so I could "bank" the results of my hard-earned burn the previous night. During my morning commute to work, I found myself wanting to trot up the steep three flights of stairs in my train station rather than taking the escalator. After winter storm Nemo, I raced my husband to the shovel so I could be the one to work up a sweat clearing the sidewalk in front of our house ... and that of our neighbors on both sides, too.
By doing one positive thing toward self-improvement, I awoke a sleeping giant within. In other words, the spillover effect of making one single change in my life has amplified the effects of that modest change in ways I did not anticipate. And as a result: I lost a pound per week for the first three weeks. My muffin top is more of a mini-muffin top now. My energy levels are rebounding. I have squirreled away a precious, additional hour of "me time" during the week. Slowly, Tamara is getting her groove back.
To be sure, I have a long way to go in order to recapture my previous level of fitness; an hour of vigorous exercise per week, while a great start, is still well below where it should be. But something is better than nothing, and little changes can go a long way.
Just because I can't drop weight and firm up with Biggest Loser-like efficiency, the importance of the modest, gradual changes in weight and body composition that I am able to achieve in my own time is not diminished. Finally, I am once again practicing what I preach—and that itself feels pretty great.
I'm already contemplating my next move and plan to take on another small change once Wednesday spin class becomes so habitual that I no longer need to think about it. I can assure you it won't be dramatic—no Cross Fit, P90X or marathon training for this mama (at least, not in the foreseeable future). You're more likely to spot me zig-zagging through the streets of my hometown once per week, kids in tow, using my jogging stroller as it was intended to be used. And if you do, give me a high five, and please step aside!
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Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN, is a NYC-based registered dietitian whose clinical practice specializes in digestive disorders, Celiac Disease, and food intolerances. Her personal blog, www.tamaraduker.com, focuses on healthy eating and gluten-free living.