Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Living Healthy

I was asked to write an article for our local MOPS group on Living Healthy. Here's what I came up with.

Who can forget receiving the much-anticipated news that it’s time to bring your first-born home from the hospital? As the doctor signed my release forms, I bounced out of bed and headed straight for the new outfit beckoning from my suitcase. As I bent over to retrieve it, my protruding belly (that no one told me would remain post-partum) unceremoniously slapped the top of my suitcase and I recoiled in horror. However, I was determined to leave the hospital in non-maternity garb and an ugly game of Twister between me, the bulge and my new pants ensued. Sweat beaded and seams popped, but five minutes later I stood. Victorious, but suspiciously resembling an over-filled water balloon seconds before it bursts.

Twelve weeks later, I squeezed myself into a pre-pregnancy dress for a family wedding, only to have the zipper surrender the fight and split down the back. A cousin I barely knew discreetly met me on the dance floor, pashmina in hand, to hide my fashion disaster.

Baby number two and three came in rapid-fire succession and the lack of time to eat coupled with nursing and being in constant motion melted off the extra weight with zero effort on my part. By the time our fourth baby arrived, my seam-splitting days seemed far removed. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, scoffed at squeezing regular exercise into my over-packed schedule, and waited for the weight to drop.

Fourteen months later I stared dismally into the mirror. For the first time in my life, I was overweight and out of shape. I felt my self-esteem plummeting and ran sobbing to my husband, seeking emotional support and those oh-so-comforting words, “You’re not fat.”

My husband, who had been kind enough to gain some sympathy weight during my pregnancy, surprised me with his response. He reassured me of my beauty to him and gave me a Kleenex to mop up my drippy nose and red eyes. Then he gently suggested that we start living healthy.

We mapped out a course of action that included consistent exercise, healthier food choices and smaller food portions. We set attainable goals, celebrated when we achieved them, and functioned as drill sergeants if one of us was slacking. Our kids got in on the excitement and started training for a kids’ triathlon. As a family, we attended a weekend sports festival and I cried as I watched our oldest three kids splash, pedal and dash themselves across the finish line of their first race. My husband ran a 10K and I ran a half-marathon and managed to stay upright and alive. It was the motivation I needed to pursue a life-long goal of running a marathon. Three months later I ran the Chicago marathon and my husband, my mom, and my aunt and uncle chased me around the race route, encouraging me all the way to the finish line.

Our transition to healthy living didn’t happen overnight, but the positive effects on the scale, in our energy level and general health, and the trickle-down effect to our kids make it all worth the extra effort. If you’re ready to start living a healthier life, here are some tips to try.

1. Set attainable goals. Don’t expect to go from zero workouts in a month to seven in a week without quickly burning out. We settled on twice-weekly workouts with one, more-intense, weekend workout. There is no one-size-fits-all plan, so start slow and choose a plan that you can stick to.
2. Find a partner. In my case, my partner happened to be my husband, but it could easily have been my mom or a friend. A partner provides the much needed encouragement and accountability that you will need to be successful.
3. Choose a form of exercise that excites you, not one you dread. Join a gym. Start running. Hit the pool. Buy a yoga or Pilates video, open it and actually do it. Go for hikes in the woods. Ride your bike.
4. Give yourself grace when you fail and celebrate your victories.
5. Pay attention to what and how much you eat. Switch out processed foods for fresh food and make portion adjustments as needed.
6. Include your family in your lifestyle change. Get a jogging stroller. Teach your child to ride a bike. Go to the park. Take an after-dinner walk as a family.
7. Don’t be a slave to the scale. I have a cheap scale in my bathroom, but I never get it on it because it could become a depressing obsession for me. If weighing yourself will be motivational, weigh yourself once a week and not daily.
8. Remember that your worth as a woman does not come from an unattainable Hollywood standard, but from who you are in Christ. You are a precious daughter of the King and you bear His name. You were created to live out a God-given purpose that I’m pretty sure has nothing to do with your pant size.
9. Remember that kids copy behavior not words. If you want your kids to be healthy, you need to model healthy living for them.
10. Don’t quit if you get discouraged. You can do it.

So go dig out those seam-splitting, non-maternity pants and those zipper-breaking dresses. Hang them in plain view and get to work! Won’t you feel great when your change to healthy living allows you to wear them confidently?

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