Experts say that I should find my “why”: a goal that goes beyond simply losing weight and gets at the real motivation behind the desire. I thought I found that reason last year when, during the pandemic, my doctor prescribed medication for high blood pressure. Instead of being scared straight, I gained 10 pounds.
My “why,” which, at this point, is mostly to stay alive, doesn’t seem to be providing adequate motivation.
I know there are other factors at work here. A pandemic has taken my activity level from moderate to sedentary. For women in my peer group, shifting hormones (see my past column on menopause) can make even the most reliable metabolism slow to a crawl.
Eat less (and better), exercise more, reduce stress — we all know the mantra for improving our health. Yet, more than one third (34.3%) of adults in Georgia are obese and about the same percentage (34.8%) suffer from hypertension, according to 2020 data from the State of Childhood Obesity.
When I learned about the growing field of lifestyle medicine, which focuses on six pillars designed to prevent, manage and reverse chronic disease, I was intrigued. Maybe viewing weight loss as a clinical topic that can be addressed by an entire field of medicine could help people like me.
“(Lifestyle medicine) gets at the root of health. When we nurture our bodies in these fundamental ways we look better and feel better,” said Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, Associate Professor at Emory School of Medicine and Medical Director of Emory Executive Health.
Bergquist, a certified practitioner of lifestyle medicine, said 80% of resolutions fail because they are too big, the list of resolutions is too long or the individual lacks a real plan for reaching the end goal. By contrast, lifestyle medicine can prevent 80% of chronic illnesses.
If that is the case, why aren’t one-third of Georgians working with practitioners of lifestyle medicine?
“We assume people will do this on their own and outside the office,” said Bergquist, who specializes in internal medicine. “Rather than people thinking about it as a branch of medicine, they think about it as ancillary to what they get from the health care setting. There is science to support that we need to change that.”
A health coach, a nurse practitioner or a physician certified in lifestyle medicine can help with the process of defining and implementing goals throughout the year. That professional can also serve as a partner to keep you accountable, Bergquist said.
“Something magical happens when you work with other people. The key part is you get accountability. You need someone to monitor and coordinate your progress with you,” she said.
That makes sense. My healthiest stretches as an adult have been accomplished with or for other people: an early stint as a fitness instructor, working out with friends or hitting a health peak when I was pregnant with my daughter.
Based on what Bergquist shared, I need to think about my “why” in a different manner.
Staying alive isn’t enough motivation to keep me on track, but focusing on the reasons I want to stay alive — to raise my daughter and spend more time with the people I love — offer the kind of incentive needed when problems arise on the road to wellness.
“That type of thinking helps you think in a more flexible way. If you have a problem, you come up with ways around it,” Bergquist said.
After talking to Bergquist, I also realized that I need to be more holistic in thinking about weight loss. Nutrition, exercise, stress, substance abuse, sleep and relationships are all pillars of lifestyle medicine. Maybe I need to work on all of those things in tandem to find my way out of my chronic weight loss loop.
“Looking at your care as being more holistic is pretty essential,” said Nneka Okona, an Atlanta-based author of “The Little Book of Self Healing,” (Adams, $15). “People find it easy to tap into physical care but neglect psychological and emotional care.” The more than 150 healing practices in her book address the different aspects of health for mind, body and soul.
Okona is not offering prescriptive knowledge. “My books are choose your own adventure. Everyone is different. They come with their own stuff and their own needs,” she said.
She also doesn’t bother with resolutions. “Usually they are just so cliché: Lose weight, better diet, sleep more, and a week in you haven’t done it and you just feel terrible about yourself,” she said. Instead, she sets intentions for the year.
“I choose a word that I want to be my theme for the year and I reflect on if I am embodying that word in all areas of my life,” Okona said.
This year, her theme is to play more, to find a way to create pockets of joy for herself. “I think the point is to look toward what you want more of in your life,” she said.
With that, I turned a corner in my thinking. My intention for the year is to ask for help. I don’t have to keep going in circles with the same weight loss goals when I am surrounded by resources — family, friends and qualified professionals — who are willing and able to help.
I just have to be willing to ask.
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