Fitness · Nutrition

Weight Control: The Art of the Possible

You can, however, eat anything on occasion, as long as you remember your eating issues. There are some who find they have to resist certain foods the way a drug addict must—and they are learning more about how this works too. Most people I know who have maintained a normal weight through their adult years approach food the same way as alcohol: during the week, they eat healthy, either low calorie or low carbohydrate meals. If they do indulge, it is usually rarely, and not late at night. On weekends, they relax considerably-at parties they eat dessert, have drinks, appetizers, etc. They keep an eye on portion size, and feel satisfied.

Exercise has also become a regular habit for people who maintain a healthy weight. On the one hand, it is seen as a priority and effort is made to fit it in. On the other, in keeping with the reality principle, it has to be something that you can sustain and develop into a lifelong habit. For example, many people begin by vowing to go to the gym daily at 6 a.m. For most people this is a challenging task, one that can be achieved for a while, but is hard to sustain. Once February rolls around, it’s harder and harder to get out of bed in the dark. You must find a way to get started without it requiring superhuman discipline.

My personal philosophy is “never break a sweat.” Though this is not always true, my aim is to never push myself to do something that might seem painful, exhausting, or overwhelming. This is a way of remembering that exercise does not need to be hard in order to be useful, and that the more you do it, the easier it gets. Some days, when I don’t feel motivated, I’ll promise myself that I only have to do 10 minutes of exercise. If I decide I want to do more, fine. Almost always, there is no problem continuing, because exercising in this way allows it to be a pleasurable habit. In the 25 years I have been jogging, I have almost never run for more than two miles, I have been able to sustain this habit almost without interruption (possibly because of this). For both long term health and weight control, consistency is the key.

It’s true that if you want to lose weight, you may have to step up the frequency or intensity for a while, but it’s important to remember that weight lost slowly is more likely to be kept off. Finally, the psychological benefits of exercise are tremendous. I tell my patients to exercise if they want to do one thing that will automatically lift their mood. Outdoor activity is especially good in this regard since exposure to fresh air and sunlight can also be mood enhancers.

One last thing to consider when approaching weight as a health issue: women in this country are experiencing an epidemic of body image problems. It’s very difficult to accept not being perfect in a society that seems to value beauty so much. And unlike more sophisticated countries such as France, we are subject to the idea that there is only one standard of beauty and here that is almost always the young kind. As a woman ages, she may begin to feel overlooked, and the menopausal transition, necessitating the acceptance of the loss of important functions, makes many feel less feminine. While this makes it more important than ever that we try to feel good about our bodies. Staying as fit as we can helps, yet many women get discouraged and “let themselves go.” Often this is tied to a long-standing body image problem summed up by the attitude “why bother, I look terrible anyway.” Others go to opposite extreme, relentless in their pursuit of ageless perfection. Again, accepting reality yet engaging in “the art of the possible” should be the goal, especially as we age. This
is a time of life that has potential for it’s own brand of healthful beauty and balance, wisdom and maturity, and there’s no reason not to go for it.

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