Interview: Thoughts on Health and Wellness

Recently, I participated in a roundtable discussion with three other fitness professionals where we were asked about various health and wellness topics. I found the questions posed to be quite interesting and thought-provoking. See if you agree with what I said – post a comment and let’s get a conversation going!

Question 1:   How is it that we can have four healthy people here at this table, with four completely different lifestyles?  What is the common thread that allows all of you to be healthy?

Me: I’m a post-menopausal female in my early 60s. I spent 35 years working in corporate America, mostly sitting at a desk in front of a computer, in a high-stress, 50 to 60 hours per week job. I didn’t find fitness and wellness until my late 30’s, when I’d finally reached a low point physically and emotionally. I started on Weight Watchers, doing step aerobics and strength training. A foot injury led me to indoor cycling, which in turn led me to road cycling, and ultimately triathlon. I did my first triathlon at age 42.

I believe the common thread that unites us all here today is that we recognize that health and fitness play a huge part in a person’s quality of life, and emotional/mental health as well.

Question 2: What does a healthy person look like?  Are they happy, thin, strong, muscular, lean, energetic, etc?

Me: First and foremost, it’s not about outward appearance in my opinion. To me, a healthy person has energy, vitality, mobility, and balance. Whether a person’s scale weight or body type plays a part in that can vary widely based on the individual.

For example, in triathlon, individuals may choose to compete in their age group, or if they qualify (based on body weight), in a separate category for larger body types. These categories are called Clydesdale’s (for men) and Athena’s (for women). Although these athletes don’t meet society’s standard of “fit” based on appearance, they are nevertheless strong and capable of completing a demanding endurance event. Conversely, I have an amazing client who is a long-term cancer patient. She “looks” healthy for her age and is slender and tall – but is she “healthy”?

Question 3: So, what is the best diet, and how do you know?

Me: The best “diet” (as we use the term today) isn’t a “diet” at all. I avoid using that “D-word” because of its negative connotations of deprivation, suffering and willpower. I’d rather talk about a nutrition plan or program – and the best one is one which nourishes the body effectively, is satisfying and satiating, and when coupled with regular exercise, helps the body to achieve and maintain a healthy body composition for that particular individual (not scale weight).

Question 4: How did you personally come to realize the benefits of your diet and your work out regiment?  Why do you think that works so well for you?

Me: Especially when you work at a desk in a high-stress environment, the tendency is to reach for the comfort foods and quick energy from caffeine and sugar. Not to mention the Friday donuts, the birthday cakes, and all the holidays (both before and after, when everyone is trying to unload the stuff their families wouldn’t eat!). And don’t even get me started on the Girl Scout cookies!

What was most helpful for me at first was staying focused on short-term, “process” goals – not the 30 pounds I needed to lose. Exercise also played a huge part in my own fitness transformation. Once I became a triathlete, where regular training is just a normal part of life, it was easy to see that what I ate had a huge impact on how well I performed. For me personally, I had to go cold-turkey on the sweet treats though – I have trouble with moderation when it comes to those, so it’s better for me to just not eat them.

Question 5:   Where do you think “fad diets” are born and why do you think they get “legs”?

Me: I really believe that fad diets are born from our desire for a quick fix with minimal effort. Fads get their “legs” from paid celebrities’ and quasi-experts’ endorsements, massive amounts of advertising including click-bait, and anecdotal evidence. Certain diets have had long-standing histories that offer a particular allure based on a deeper emotional connection or desire. For example, when you think of Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or NutriSystem, what comes to mind? For me, it’s “fast and easy with no deprivation.” Then there’s Paleo and Keto, which have an aura of glamour and toughness that makes others admire you for doing it. Plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets often have an idealism aspect, like animal welfare, “clean” eating and new age hip-ness (if that’s a word!)

On a related note, what troubles me even more than the fad diets is the exploding “nutraceutical” industry where companies are pushing their own version of a magic pill or potion that if you take it, will cure everything from acne to cancer. These companies are unregulated and their claims are often based on complicated-sounding pseudo-studies, but mostly rely on anecdotal evidence from those who’ve used the product. What’s interesting is that the people making these claims are also usually *selling* the product as well, through multi-level marketing.

Question 6:  What does it mean to lead a healthy lifestyle?  What does it mean to be a healthy person?

Me: To me, living a healthy lifestyle means, first and foremost, moving your body! Our bodies are designed to move. Unfortunately, our western culture has gotten so far away from that with readily available and cheap food, desk-based work, and entertainment/technology that keeps us sitting for hours and hours. It’s really scary to think that we need a federal government program to encourage kids to go outside and play for an hour a day!

A healthy lifestyle also means nourishing your body with foods as close to their original source as possible, and avoiding over-processed and “artificial” anything. I’m not obsessed with going organic/free-range, but in some cases (especially certain vegetables) organic just tastes better.

Finally, a healthy lifestyle means sleeping more, playing more, and engaging face-to-face with other humans, animals, and nature. It’s being mindful and grateful as well, for all that you have. Here in the U.S. we have so much, whereas millions and millions of people in the rest of the world face a daily struggle to feed and shelter themselves and their families, or even just to stay alive in the face of continuous daily violence from criminal elements, corruption, civil war, terrorism and racial or religiously based genocide. Just think about that the next time you casually shell out $4.50 for a coffee.

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