By now, everyone knows that Oprah Winfrey is displeased with her current weight and is seeking to turn things around in 2009. She elaborated on her situation in a "falling off the wagon" episode this week. Here are some practical lessons I culled from her experience that you can apply to your attitudes about diet, exercise, and weight, even if you don't have the cash to surround yourself with trainers, doctors, and assistants.
1. Sometimes you need a "Proud Mary" moment. It's tough to make changes unless you realize you need to. Winfrey said she really became aware of her size last May, when Tina Turner and Cher appeared on her show and she was invited onstage to sing with them to "Proud Mary." Of course, any of us might worry how we'd look next to those ladies, whose legs reach approximately as high as my chin, but for Winfrey, her anxiety was a wake-up call that she'd put on more pounds than she was comfortable with. Having a reason to change is only the first step in harnessing your willpower, but it's an essential one.
2. Seemingly healthful snacks can be anything but. Winfrey's bugaboo was organic multigrain blue corn chips. Slightly better than potato chips (140 calories and 7 grams of fat per 1-ounce serving, compared with 150 calories and 10 grams of fat) but by no means a health food—particularly when you eat a big bag a day, as Winfrey says was her habit. Don't look at the appealing words and health claims on the front of a packaged food; turn it over and read the nutrition label to get the scoop. Better yet, snack on fruits and veggies instead.
3. Age can make it harder to lose weight... Totally unfair, but true. As Winfrey's fitness guru, Bob Greene, noted, your body isn't the same in your 50s as in your 30s and 40s. A somewhat slower metabolism may be inevitable, but part of the problem is that we tend to reduce activity as we get older. Move less, lift less weight, and your muscle mass shrinks, which in turn slows your metabolism even more.
4. ...so be sure to do strength training. Winfrey has caught on to what fitness experts have been saying for a while: Aerobic exercise is key, but equally important is a routine that works your muscles. This helps stave off sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass and function, as well as providing other health benefits. Plus, if you ask the great-looking trainer at the gym what her secret is, she will probably say "weights"; many women swear by strength training as the best way to look and feel better.
5. Find something you love to do. We'd like to suggest this idea to Winfrey, who says she dislikes cardio exercise. Instead of thinking of exercise, how about finding an activity you enjoy that also burns calories? Lance Armstrong wouldn't have returned to racing unless he truly enjoyed biking; maybe for Winfrey it's dancing or rowing or something other than a machine at the gym.
6. Make sure all your other systems are "go." After struggling with her weight, Winfrey was diagnosed with thyroid problems; Greene even wondered if she was depressed (Winfrey says she was instead exhausted). Weight gain can be a symptom of other problems. If you're struggling or are putting on weight for no apparent reason, see your doc and find out what's up. (Even if you aren't depressed, by the way, exercise is a great mood-lifter.)
7. Schedule in fitness. Unlike Winfrey, you probably don't have a personal assistant to draw up your daily schedule. But you almost surely have an appointment book or a PDA that you use to map out lunch dates and work deadlines. Write in your workouts as you would any other commitment that you don't want to miss. (You can also harness technology to spark your memory.)
8. Set reasonable goals. Rather than fixating on a number on the scale, Winfrey says her goal is "to be the weight that my body can hold and be healthy and strong and fit and be itself." Not a bad idea, and certainly better than trying to weigh as little as, say, Cher.
9. Embrace the body you have. Not to get all, um, Oprah on you, but her advice to be grateful for what your body can do now, even if you'd like to change it a bit, is great. Wear clothes that fit, thank your legs for being able to carry you up a flight of stairs, and be good to yourself, even if you, too, are looking to drop weight in 2009.