An Outdoor View: On keeping motivated

Author’s note: Earlier this week, my doctor said I should lose 15 pounds and get more exercise. This column, from the Clarion on Oct. 25, 2012, deals with that very subject. — LP

Four years ago, when I decided to improve my life by living healthier, I made some important decisions. Instead of a crash or fad diet, I decided to eat nutritious foods that I’d want to eat for the rest of my life. Instead of depriving myself of foods I loved, I chose to continue eating them, but rarely and only in small amounts. I chose walking and bicycling as my main forms of exercise. I’ve been living this way for the past four years.

A couple of years ago, when I weighed myself and saw that I’d lost 60 pounds, I felt as if I’d really accomplished something. I had my balance back. I could jump in and out of a boat the way I used to do. I no longer waddled when I walked. I liked the way I looked.

The euphoria was great while it lasted, but the game had only just begun. When you’re losing weight, you’re motivated by a goal, say, “Lose 10 pounds in two months.” But maintaining your weight and overall health requires different goals. Instead of progress, you see only sameness. When you’re through buying new clothes, life seems a little ho-hum. You find yourself falling into your old eating habits. The statistics are grim. Something like 95 percent of those who lose weight gain it back within two years.

What am I doing to remain a “5-percenter”?

While losing weight, I weighed myself every morning and wrote it down. Over the weeks and months, it was encouraging to see the falling numbers. Since then, I weigh myself only now and then, just to make sure I’m within a pound of my maintenance weight. If my jeans aren’t too tight or too loose, I know I’m close.

Some people serve as good examples, and some serve as bad, but both kinds serve a purpose. Seeing a near-perfect body doesn’t cause me to shun the dessert table, but seeing someone whose front is in one ZIP code and whose behind is in another will steer me clear of temptation for days.

Some of my grandchildren are overweight. Serving as a good example to them and their children may help them develop good eating and exercise habits.

My wife, Sue, is a great motivator. She never nags, but I know she’s watching.

Getting daily exercise is important, not only to stay healthy, but to be able to eat the kinds of food I enjoy. Contra dancing — it’s sort of like square dancing — gets me sweating. Sue goes to Zumba classes twice a week. We both walk regularly and ride bikes in the summer.

I hate the hassle of counting calories. By educating myself as to what foods contain fat and high numbers of calories, I avoid the hassle.

At 73, I’m old enough that fear is an increasingly good motivator for me to be healthy. I’m not afraid of death, but I fear a slow, painful death by a thousand prescriptions. I’d prefer to not be the cause of my own death. I want to do what I can to avoid dying of cancer or diabetes, two of the many diseases that being overweight and eating unhealthy food can cause.

In the past 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of time visiting people in what used to be called nursing homes. By maintaining healthy habits, I hope to avoid spending my final years rolling around in one of those places. Just the thought of it keeps me off the pies, cakes and ice cream. On the positive side, I know that eating healthy and doing some kind of exercise daily will improve the odds that I’ll remain mobile and independent longer than I otherwise would. I’ll also feel better and remain active longer, enjoying life.

These are the things that help me choose between the sourdough and the whole-grain bread; whether to drive or walk to the grocery store; whether to order a whole sandwich for myself, or to split one with Sue. These are what help me change my life for the better.

Postscript: In the past four years, I’ve maintained good eating habits, but I sometimes go for days without exercise, and my pastimes involve lots of sitting. To get back into shape, I plan to tweak my diet a little, limit my sitting time to 30 minute stretches, and get at least 20 minutes of exercise every day. I’ll also go back to keeping a daily record of my weight. For further motivation, I’ve made an appointment to see my doctor again in six months.

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Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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