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Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004 06:20 pm

Come alive in ’05

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Cover photo by Nick Steinkamp

Come January, Irene Salz predicts, she will see many new faces. So will Sara Lopinski and Carmine Gaulding.

All three women help people in Springfield live healthier lifestyles through diet and exercise, and the start of a new year, they say, is a popular time to make changes.

Most of us set New Year's resolutions -- and they often include eating better and exercising more. But after a few weeks or months, we get frustrated and give up. Our treadmills wind up as places to hang laundry; the pizza deliveryman becomes a frequent visitor.

Sound familiar?

If you want this year to be different, these local experts agree, finding a plan you can live with for life is the key to achieving your goals.

Salz, who lost 25 pounds in 1981 and has kept it off ever since, says she understands why her business booms after the holiday season of overindulgence.

"It's a new year -- people are ready to launch into eating better," says Salz, a service provider for the Springfield office of Weight Watchers who also serves as a motivational speaker and consultant. During the past 20 years with the weight-loss center, she says, one of the biggest changes she's noticed is that more people today have health issues as a result of being overweight. "It's our society," she says. "Society says, 'Eat.' Everything is supersized. We are products of our environment, and it takes time and commitment to change."

Weight Watchers focuses on group support and accountability to help people lose weight, in addition to encouraging them to make healthy diet choices such as drinking more water; taking vitamin supplements; eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk products, and protein; and limiting fats, sugar, and alcohol.

Seeking the help of a registered medical professional is another route.

"Too many people want to rely on diets in a can or unrealistic fad diets," says Sara Lopinski, a registered dietitian at St. John's Hospital. "Instead, they should make a concentrated effort to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet."


Start small

Lopinski suggests starting with small changes in your daily routine. For example, if you never drink fruit juice or eat fruit at breakfast, make that your first goal. Or trade in that chocolate-glazed doughnut for a whole-grain cereal and skim milk. Talk to a registered dietitian about how to improve your diet, but don't try to overhaul your entire life at once.

Lopinski, who has been a dietitian since 1975, says she also has seen increasing numbers of obese people over the course of her career.

"The Atkins diet had been around forever but enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the past couple of years. Fad diets kind of go in cycles," she says. "I think people have been very much influenced by low-carb diets, which are now on a downhill slope, because people discovered they are hard to follow and the rapid weight loss is not losing fat but water. I hope people will get back to the basics when it comes to eating."

She agrees with Salz's assertion that society plays a role in why people are overweight: "People are eating out more and exercising less, and people don't cook anymore -- and when we eat out, we get enough for two or three meals in one portion. In order to lose weight, you have to improve your eating habits and change your lifestyle. You can't do it for three months and then go back to your old ways. You have to make those lifestyle changes."

It's not just adults who want and need to strive for a healthier lifestyle. Genda Freeman, a pediatric dietitian who also works at St. John's, says she counsels overweight children and teenagers.

"The diets of the kids that we see tend to focus on what a lot of people may call junk food," Freeman says. Children are eating too few fruits and vegetables and too many fatty snacks such as potato chips and cupcakes, and they're drinking too much soda and [sweetened] juice. "We're seeing overweight children and subsequent problems because of that, like sleep apnea, diabetes, high cholesterol, and blood pressure," that are normally the province of adults. The reason for the upswing? Poor eating habits combined with a sedentary lifestyle.

"When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to go outside and play," Freeman says. "Today, play means watching TV or playing on the computer."

She recommends less fat and sugar, more fruits, vegetables, and lean meat. Trading cookies and chips for carrots and fruit is an easy way to help kids eat better. Eating meals together as a family, "around the table, not in the front of the TV," she says, is another way to limit the amount of junk a kid eats. Encouraging your children to get more exercise by playing is also beneficial. "Get creative," she says.

Options include taking a class at the YMCA or other facility that offers children's classes. If outdoor play isn't feasible, think about buying a small trampoline or other toys to get your kids moving.

Lopinski says when adults resolve to live healthier, they might as well bring their families along: "When I counsel my patients, I tell them over and over again, 'It's a family affair.'"

Eating right is half of the equation

Improving diet isn't the only key to a healthy lifestyle.

"We aren't getting out and moving like we should," says Lopinski. "You can't lose weight or improve your health without becoming more active." But you don't have to join an exercise club to get your heart pumping -- just take a walk. Although Lopinski recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, exercising seven days a week would be better. "But there are health benefits even if you take two 15-minute walks a day," she says.

Some of us need some extra stimulation in a group environment, and January is an especially busy time of year at local fitness centers. "There's a lot of new people and a lot of returning old faces," says Gaulding, a group-exercise director at FitClub.

"A lot of people come back for the new year. It's a good starting point," she says, "just like a Monday -- everybody can start fresh."

For newcomers who have been leading a sedentary lifestyle, Gaulding says, any kind of exercise is better than none -- even 10 minutes a day is a good place to start. "Three times a week is a good rule of thumb to maintain your weight, but the more you exercise, the better and quicker the results will be."

Gaulding suggests starting out with a low-impact exercise such as Pilates, which strengthens and stretches muscles without putting stress on the body. She also recommends a combination of cardio activity, such as running or walking, and strength training.

"Once [clients] start lifting weights and doing some strength training, it increases their metabolism, making their cardio workout more effective. They burn calories more effectively with more muscle mass," she says.

FitClub offers a variety of group exercise classes: Pilates, cycling, weightlifting, yoga, and step and pump, which is a fast-paced aerobic/toning class. The Springfield Racquet and Fitness Center, on Chatham Road, also offers a variety of classes as will the soon-to-open Gold's Gym, on Clear Lake Avenue.

Even a dedicated exerciser can use the New Year to change a workouts for the better, says Gaulding: "If you usually do the treadmill, try a group class like Pilates or change the time of day to work out. Trying something new for the new year is good."

FIVE STEPS

Sara Lopinski is a registered dietitian at St. John's Hospital. Here are five steps she recommends for improving your diet:
¥ Make a commitment. "You can't just make a resolution for the month of January. It has to be something you do for life and something you're willing to spend time at."
¥ Use the buddy system. "Draw upon the support of others. We all have saboteurs in our life that make it difficult, but there should be other people in our life who help support us." She suggests making lunch dates with other people who are eating healthy or join a friend each morning for a walk.
¥ Set smaller, more realistic goals. "Most of us can make noticeable improvements in our health even if we lose just 10 percent of our body weight." If someone weighs 220 pounds but ought to weigh 180, it's easier to set a goal of losing weight in 10-pound increments instead of the total amount all at once.
¥ Learn to enjoy healthier foods. Replace comfort foods with fruits and vegetables.
¥ Get active. Enough said.

Internet Resources

For additional reliable nutrition and health information, check out these Web sites:
Weight Watchers, www.weightwatchers.com American Dietetic Association, www.eatright.org U.S. Department of Agriculture, www.usda.gov National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, www.nhlbi.nih.gov

New Year's Day Punch

Ingredients
4 cups diet ginger ale
4 cups grapefruit-mango juice
2 2/3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
4 ounces white rum, 80 proof
2 limes
1 small red grapefruit, sliced
1 sliced orange

Directions
Combine the ginger ale, juice, concentrate, rum, and the juice of one lime. Slice the remaining lime. Garnish punch with sliced lime, grapefruit and orange. Yields eight 1-cup servings. May also be made without the rum.

Ñ Courtesy of Weight Watchers

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