Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.
DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: After I quit smoking 10 years ago after 45 years of lighting up, I gained 55 pounds. I am now almost 70 and Type II diabetic or pre-diabetic (there seems to be a disagreement on that). I want to exercise—I used to walk all the time—but I have a balance problem, and am afraid of falling. I want to be healthy and lose weight. Help!—Alisa
DEAR ALISA: I can almost feel your desperation, Alisa. But I want to make sure that you first and foremost give yourself a major pat on the back EVERY DAY for quitting smoking, especially after all those years. Despite the fact that you still have health challenges, staying off the cigarettes is a real accomplishment, and you deserve to feel powerful and triumphant because of this. I don’t know this for a fact, as I was never a smoker, but I believe that as hard as it is to lose weight, stopping smoking is harder. The addictive powers of nicotine are so strong and all-consuming—I have seen them at work in my own family. My father was diagnosed with cancer and COPD, and still refused to (or simply could not) give up his smokes, and I have heard many, many similar tales.
So, here’s the thing: You have it in you to get healthy—age and diabetes (or pre-diabetes) and sketchy balance bedamned. If you could quit, and continue to resist the lure of smoking for this long, you are one pretty strong woman. Remember that, every day, and draw on that strength.
Now, to the big question: how? How do you get your weight in check after you quit smoking? How can you exercise with your balance issues? I would start by shifting your focus away from your weight (hear me out for a minute) and to a more positive approach of adopting behaviors you know will be good for your health. As far as your diet goes (and make sure you run this by your doctor for good measure), I would focus on getting as many servings of green vegetables as you can per day, sticking to only lean proteins and low-fat dairy, avoiding fried foods and any pre-sweetened beverages, and eating only whole-grain breads and pastas (within the limits suggested by your doc). You could also set a goal of drinking a certain number of glasses of water per day. Write down those goals or behaviors so you’re clear on what you want to accomplish, and keep a food diary of what you eat every day, so you can see how closely you’re sticking to your plan.
When it comes to diet, focusing on the positive—the “I can!” foods—instead of the negative no-no-no foods can help you start seeing your diet plan as a challenge that you can rise to and work toward, rather than a chore that you want to avoid at all costs.
Now, to your issues with exercise. It sounds like you don’t feel confident enough about your balance to walk like you used to. That’s OK—there are other alternatives. First, think about investing in at least three months of personal training sessions with someone who specifically works with older populations who may have chronic health concerns. Because of your fear of falling, you need the extra confidence and security of having a professional design and guide you through your workouts. He or she can help you build your balance so you can get back to walking. But walking’s not the only way to stay active. You can try stationary cycling, or something called cranking, which involves a machine that looks like a stationary bike with “pedals” at chest level that you turn using your arms and shoulders. Cranking will get your heart rate (and calorie-burning furnace) up in a hurry.
I also think water exercise is perfect for people who may not be able to handle (at least for now) impact or have balance issues. You may scoff at the idea of cavorting around in a swimsuit when your body confidence isn’t exactly at its peak. But if you don’t hold your breath and dive in (so to speak), you’re choosing to stay where you are—and I don’t think you want to do that. I’m not talking just about swimming—there are all kinds of creative ways to move in the water to build muscle and burn calories. Check out group exercise classes at community centers, YMCAs, etc. Or go freestyle and try some of the moves we show here.
Again, YOU CAN DO THIS. Reminding yourself of your own strength will help you stay focused, and starting to make healthy changes will make you feel better about moving forward, so you’ll want to keep going. Good luck!
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Spryliving.com. Ask her your question here.