CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,
In the past six months I've lost 15 pounds by lifting weights three days a week and walking 4 miles six days a week. Recently I gained 5 pounds back. I think it is my snacking in the evening, which is when I get really hungry. I am trying very hard to cut out the snacking, and I fear I am going to gain it all back. I added 10 minutes of crunches after my morning walks but still have a pudgy tummy. Thought I was on the right track but am now discouraged when I work hard and don't see results. -- Carol
Your experience is quite common. You are definitely on the right track toward a healthy destination. The fact that you have lost 15 pounds and are evaluating your diet, your fitness regime and setting goals, actually gives you a head start. Unfortunately, you may be going in circles. Get off the beaten path.
Let's get the snacking issue out of the way. Most foods marketed for snacking are nutritionally empty and calorie-dense. More important, they are primarily made of fat, sugar and salt. Choices like these will certainly set up roadblocks to where you want to go.
On the other hand, I am not completely opposed to proper snacking after dinner if it is warranted. When you eat a light dinner, which is a good idea, you will feel hungry a few hours later. If you are prone to nibbling at night, stock your kitchen with healthy choices such as fresh fruits, protein bars or shakes, oatmeal, raisins, walnuts and almonds. Eating a small portion of one of these would be a snack-worthy food and calm the cravings.
They are also great snacks during the day. Small snacks prevent us from feeling overly hungry, and we make smarter decisions about food when we aren't starving!
Your activity has helped you lose the first 15 pounds, but it is no longer enough. Your body has adjusted to the kind of physical activity you have been doing. What may have burned 300 calories in the beginning might only be burning 150 now. Your muscles are stronger and need a challenge to progress further. It's time for a detour and a change of scenery.
Walking is wonderful, but walking six days a week is like running inside of a wheel: You will get nowhere. Pick three of your walking days and add intensity either through distance, time or incline. The other three days, move your body in a different way, at a different pace, in a different place. Try a sport or take a fitness class, such as Zumba, step, spinning or a boot camp. You could also swim, take a hike, ride a bike, or purchase a balance ball to supplement your crunches as you focus on your core.
Weight training three days a week is terrific, and I would strongly emphasize a directional change here. Staying with the same routine will leave you stranded with no help in sight. Every few weeks, something must change -- the amount of weight you lift, the amount of sets you do and certainly the types of exercises you choose. If you have never used free weights, now is the time to start. They will speed you on your path to fitness. If in doubt how to do this, tap into a personal trainer to redirect your energy and keep you from going in circles.
Finally, I recommend taking relaxing stops as often as possible. Studies link high stress levels and excessive cortisol production with weight gain and abdominal fat accumulation. Mind and body classes such as yoga, tai chi and relaxation treatments such as massage therapy make fabulous mini vacations along the way. Managing stress and getting at least eight hours of rest each night help our bodies recover and rejuvenate.
The path to a fit and healthy mind, body and spirit is marked with many twists and turns. There are not only highways, but also interesting side streets and alleyways leading us to our ultimate destination. Be adventurous and decide to take a few roads less traveled.
Cindy Boggs, corporate fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified coordinator/instructor since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail cindys...@aol.com. Look for her award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" at www.cindysays.com or contact her at 304-342-3533.