So Many Things to Experience. So Little Time: Gyda Climbs Mt Kilimanjaro

 

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Uhura Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest peak in Africa at 19,341 feet. On this climb you will find yourself gaining a significant amount of elevation in a very short period of time. Altitude sickness is a real possibility and can range from being mild (such as headaches or nausea) to quite severe, causing excessive fluid on the lungs or even the brain. Because everyone reacts differently to altitude, all climbers must take measures to minimize illness, such as eating, sleeping, and staying well hydrated.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is both physically and mentally challenging. The climb requires you to dig deep and set aside fears and doubts that you will not have the strength or endurance to make it to the top. Perseverance is the name of the game. You are literally positioned amongst the clouds and experiencing the journey of a lifetime.

Does this sound daunting, exciting, challenging? Well my client, Gyda DiCosola at the age of almost 60 years old made this journey and is planning Kala Patthar, at Mt.Everest base camp as her next adventure. Gyda was not always this physically active and shares how she overcame a serious health issue and a lifelong struggle with weight.

There are so many simple but amazing perspectives that Gyda gives, and if you read through too quickly you will miss the wisdom and clarity in her words. So I invite you to just pause, and take a little time to ponder. She adopted a simple 3 step fitness plan that led to a healthier lifestyle and her ability to conquer challenges like Mt. Kilimanjaro. Even if you have no desire to scale a mountain top, these 3 steps are applicable for most of us.

Two of Gyda’s phrases particularly caught my attention. First, she changed her entire attitude and outlook on fitness and life as a whole. She said she wanted to be different but realized this was not possible if she kept everything the same. This is part of the personal development philosophy that I try to incorporate in my own life and hopefully encourage in others. Everything begins and ends with our attitude. We all face challenges and sometimes circumstances beyond our control. However, I know that I personally do so much better, when I proactively choose positive actions, reactions, and thoughts.

When it comes to attitude Gyda has it all going on. This woman never complains, and she is definitely not a quitter. There is one part of her fitness story that she does not share, but I feel it truly demonstrates the importance of an attitude shift. Gyda had to have both of her hips replaced about a year ago. When I questioned her about the procedures, she never once complained about any part of the recovery process. I have only heard her express how grateful she is to be able to move and do all the things she loves. Gyda is regularly walking, spinning, hiking, snowshoeing, kayaking, and busy planning several new adventures such as Batton Memorial March in White Sands, New Mexico on Sunday, March 19, 2017. Just this morning she told me that a woman approached her in spin class saying, “Most people that have that kind of surgery are doing water aerobics!” Well there is absolutely nothing wrong with water aerobics. All exercise is good exercise! But, I have to say that I am entirely inspired by this woman.

The second perspective Gyda gives is something I find to be truly beautiful. She was talking about how much she came to love hiking and being outdoors but more importantly that she realized along the way that she liked the person she had become. This is not something born out of arrogance or pride but rather a feeling (as Gyda words it) of “being strong and comfortable in your body.” I say this often and believe it to be true. When you are living a healthy, fit lifestyle you receive a special gift, self-confidence. And, this confidence transcends to other areas of your life.

Here is Gyda’s story and how she is achieving fitness at this stage of her life:

My fitness epiphany happened at age 50 when I was diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my leg and put on blood thinner. Fortunately, the clot dissolved, numerous tests determined I was low risk for a repeat clot, and I was able to stop medication. But the potentially serious clot was a wake up call and caused me to re-evaluate my approach and commitment to fitness, and life in general. I had been heavy all my life and although I loved to hike, backpack and be outdoors, I had relied on youth not fitness to pull me through. I went through the typical bouts of aerobics classes, jogging, and dieting with varied success, relying on “magic” combinations of foods and restrictive eating for short periods to reduce my weight, which always came back. Of course my goal was to look a certain way, not to be strong and comfortable in my body.

After my illness, I adopted 3 new simple attitudes. First, to simply make healthy choices in everything I ate. No foods were preferred, no foods off limits. I just chose whatever healthier alternatives were available. If I ate bread and had an option for whole grain, that was my choice. If I could have brown instead of white rice, that’s what I chose. There wasn’t anything dramatic, just a commitment to be aware of how I was fueling my body.

The second was a new mantra- moving is always better than not moving. If I could take stairs instead of the elevator, I chose stairs. I parked my car farther away from my destinations to allow for some walking. Again nothing dramatic, just if I had an option to be moving, I chose that instead of being still.

The third change was in attitude. This involved a willingness to shake up how I acted, to just do something or respond differently than my norm, to be open to try anything once. I wanted to be different and how could I accomplish that goal if I kept everything the same? These three things altered me both physically and emotionally. I shed excess weight without dieting. I discovered I really like vegetables. I tried new experiences, taking drawing and horseback riding lessons even though I was not very good at either!

Moving to New Mexico from New Hampshire expanded my hiking opportunities, and I loved exploring the cultural and ecological diversity here. I realized I really enjoy being fit but more importantly, I like who I am. I also discovered I like physical challenges. In September of 2015 a few months shy of my 60th birthday, along with my sister (in her 50s) we summited Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa at 19,341 feet. There we released our mother’s ashes into the wind over a blue ice glacier.

I’m now planning a trek in 2018 to Everest Base Camp, climbing to the peak of Kala Patthar at 18,514 feet, with my New Mexico hiking bestie and fitness training partner, Clarissa. So many things to experience, so little time.

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And there you have it…“so many things to experience and so little time.” This, my friends, is the truth. Let’s not allow fears and doubts stop us from experiencing all the wonderful blessings of this lifetime.

Fitness for Every Stage of Life: Tybi Shares Her Path

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When I was reading through Tybi’s perspective on fitness, one word really hopped off the page at me. Balance. It is an aspect of her personality I don’t think I fully grasped when I was working with her. In our sessions we were always focused on the workout, gaining strength, and helping her implement some nutritional strategies. I really missed how good she truly is at achieving and maintaining balance, something I constantly try to emphasize with women I am working with.

Tybi is busy with family and career, but she has managed to find a fitness plan that is working for her. She is honest when she shares that exercising is not her passion, and she doesn’t have hours to spend at the gym. Her passions lay elsewhere with motherhood and teaching science to mid school children. However, she does want to look good, feel good, and stay healthy.

The first thing I noticed when reading her story was her healthy relationship with food. She is not afraid to eat nor is she depriving herself. Rather, she is practicing portion control and making good eating choices most of the time. The second thing I noticed was her great attitude about exercise. She is not worrying about how many minutes she is exercising or whether it is enough. She is doing what she can each day and enjoying the feeling of being outdoors and moving her body. Third, Tybi practices consistency when and where she can. When it comes to staying fit, every little bit makes a difference. That walk at lunch, leaving a little food on the plate at the end of a meal, or having a healthy snack all add up to big changes over time.

I know that there are those who would disagree and maintain that certain cardio and strength programs would be better for Tybi. They may indeed be right on some levels. However, I would argue that any plan you cannot implement in your lifestyle is the wrong plan. We are in this for the long haul and it’s really about finding consistency in the areas that you can on a daily basis.

Here is Tybi’s perspective on staying fit and maintaining consistency in her own words.

As a young child I grew up in San Francisco and our family walked everywhere. After I moved to Albuquerque, I danced for a few years, but I never considered myself athletic and neither did my parents. However, they did teach me the value of home cooking, portion control, and balanced, healthy eating habits. We ate very minimally processed food and small portions.

During my twenties my weight was never a problem. I worked out sporadically but kept within my ideal weight range. I ate what I wanted but never overindulged. When I became a teacher I never had time to go out to lunch. So I got in the habit of packing small portions and healthy snacks.

At the age of 36 I had my daughter. During my entire pregnancy I frequently walked and taught an after school yoga class for parents and people within the community where I worked. I was also careful with my eating habits. My husband is a great cook and that has made it easy to stay on track with home cooked, well balanced meals. Because of the consistency with my activity and eating habits, I did not gain an excessive amount of weight during my pregnancy.

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In my forties things began to shift, and I really started to notice the weight creeping on. I also noticed a loss of muscle tone. My husband and I recently bought a boat and reached a point in our lives where we are able to frequently travel to warm places. This meant I would be spending more time in a bathing suit. I signed up to work with a personal trainer, Carol Covino in January of 2016. I have to admit that one of my main goals other than staying healthy was to feel good in a bikini. I worked out with Carol 2-3 times per week for six months. It was a wonderful experience and I learned so much about nutrition and fitness. I lost ten pounds and have kept it off. I am much more toned, feel stronger, and am comfortable in a bikini. Yet I feel there is always room for improvement.

One of my biggest struggles with exercising is finding time in my busy schedule. I don’t hit the gym as much as I did when I was working with my trainer, but I have kept fitness as a big part of my weekly routine and try to make finding time in my schedule a priority. I attend the gym about two to three days per week. I power walk a mile every weekday during my 30 minute lunch and eat a light lunch that I have packed during the walk. Someone might think five miles a week is not that much but it is so much better than nothing and it feels great to be outdoors. When I go to the gym, I lift and do 30 minutes of cardio. If I can’t make it to the gym, I work out at home. With the help of the internet you can find so many ways to work out at home with minimal equipment.

As far as eating goes I limit portions and simple carbs but don’t deprive myself. I do struggle with staying consistent with both food and exercise when we are traveling. We are taking more vacations, and I am still learning how to moderate my eating and make time for working out when I am out of my daily routine. A cruise need not turn into a week long binge session.

My thoughts about health have really changed as I have gotten older. I look at people in my life who have embraced aging, remained active, and are more fit than those who are decades younger. I am inspired by these women! I will never be a fitness fanatic but I aim for consistency with my current “fitness plan,” and am determined to remain active and healthy as I age. With this frame of mind I believe I will be looking forward to the next decade and beyond instead of dreading it. I hope that someday I will be lucky enough to chase my grandkids!

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How I Overcame a Decade of Yo-Yo Dieting

I was always a skinny kid and a notoriously picky eater as a child.  Yet, there was a drastic shift when I reached my teen years. Suddenly I was constantly hungry and gained a lot of weight in a short period of time. Looking back I realize that the initial weight gain was a normal part of puberty and due in part to a rapid increase in my height. However, at the time I became fixated on the fact that I was fat. I was self conscious and constantly compared myself to my thin girlfriends and the even thinner fashion models I saw in the magazines of the 70s.

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This period marked the beginning of an unhealthy eating pattern that lasted for close to a decade. I would literally starve myself to lose weight and then rapidly gain back those pounds and more. By the time I reached 17, I weighed 160 pounds and suffered from a slow metabolism and low self-esteem. I was so ashamed that I would attempt to hide in family pictures and would tear up my photos or cut myself out of the pictures. In fact, I have no photos from this period of my life. I erased myself.

After I graduated from high school I resolved to lose the weight and resorted to near starvation techniques to successfully reach my goal weight of 115 pounds. I looked great and was encouraged by numerous compliments and plenty of male attention. I dated, went on to college, got a good paying job, and kept the weight off. Life was great! There was only one problem. I began a pattern of yo yo dieting.  I would binge on all kinds of fatty, sugary foods and gain 5 to 10 pounds. I would then feel ashamed, insecure, and unworthy and would rapidly starve myself back down to 115 pounds. Food was the enemy, and eating was something that made me feel guilty.

The weight cycling continued into my mid-twenties until a big lifestyle change broke the pattern. I met and married my husband, Mike. Was I a damsel in distress saved by my knight? No this was hardly the case. I was and still am a strong minded woman. I was simply fed up with my own behavior and with the health issues I was experiencing from insufficient nutrition. My husband was the catalyst for the changes I was already mentally ready to make.

Neither one of us had any knowledge of nutrition other than the four basic food groups taught in school. However, what Mike did have was a love and appreciation for good food that he in turn shared with me. My Italian hubby enjoyed eating at great restaurants, cooking gourmet dinners, and drinking amazing red wine. He was a foodie long before that term was ever popular.

It’s funny because until Mike read this article he was unaware of the impact he had on my eating habits. Early in our relationship he put me in charge of making a salad for a meal we were preparing for friends. He quickly saw that I did not know how to do this simple task and patiently taught me how to prepare a beautiful salad. I remember Mike telling me something he would later say to our kids, “It’s all about the presentation.” That statement resonated with me and marked the beginning of a change in perspective. Food was not the enemy. It was something to be enjoyed.

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When my perspective shifted, I no longer struggled with my weight. I focused on nourishing my body with healthy, delicious foods and enjoying treats in moderation. My weight regulated over time and stayed within a normal range.  I went on to learn about exercise and fitness nutrition. I became a competitive marathon runner, cyclist, cross county skier quadrathlon athlete, personal trainer, yoga instructor, and national figure bodybuilding competitor. The past mistakes were far behind me, and I did not even think about those painful years for a long time.

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I was prompted to write this blog when old demons recently resurfaced. I suffered a back injury that left me unable to do any type of real workout. Although my body weight was staying fairly consistent, body fat was increasing and muscles were losing definition. I began comparing myself. The thin magazine fashion models of yesterday were replaced by the beautiful Instagram fitness ideals of today. I even compared myself to my own past competition photos. I was stepping on the scale way too often and skipping meals. I questioned my ability to successfully coach clients because I was not able to exercise and not in “competition shape.”

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This utterly absurd thinking compelled me to take a long walk down memory lane and relive some of the past mistakes to remind myself of just how far I have come. Yes, I can’t wait to get back into a workout routine. I love body building and seeing all the beautiful muscle definition. However, I also need to recognize that my worthiness as a woman and my ability to help others is not dictated by how I look. I wish I could go back in time and tell the younger version of me everything I have learned. Then I remember the choices I made were the choices that made me who I am today, and perhaps I can be the catalyst for change in someone else’s life.

Identifying Triggers for Weight Gain

There are many different lifestyle triggers that can profoundly affect the way we eat. In fact, any change in life can produce changes to our eating patterns and activity level. Here are just a few.

Career: Do you have a job that is sedentary or involves a long commute? Is your job stressful? Do work associates bring donuts, pizza, and cakes into the break room? Stress leads to high levels of cortisol, and cortisol causes cravings for salty, sweet, and fatty foods.

  • 69% of administrative assistants have reported weight gain
  • 51 % of K-12 teachers have reported weight gain
  • 51% of Nurse Practitioner or Physician’s Assistants have reported weight gain
  • 17% of workers say workplace celebrations contribute to their weight gain
  • 70% of workers snack during the day
  • 35% eat because of stress

Marriage: After the honeymoon, lifestyle patterns tend to change. Typically, more food is consumed, and there is less physical activity. Typical reasons include-

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  • Watching more television. You watch your favorite program, you spouse’s show, and then one you both like.
  • Snacking during the television viewing.
  • Having a spouse who is a good cook. Often saying no to a particular food or trying to cut down on portion size is perceived in a negative way by the spouse who prepared the meal.
  • Entertaining and going out together to eat. Perhaps your circle of friends and family encourage you to overindulge. It’s much easier to follow the group.
  • Beware of emotionally based childhood eating habits that can carry over into adulthood, affecting both you and your spouse. Did your parents reward good behavior with food? Eating can also be driven by cherished memories. My husband is comforted by memories of a home cooked pasta dinner. I remember my mom’s holiday baking.

Pregnancy: Women often find it difficult to lose weight after birth and may continue to gain weight. What might be some of the issues?

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  • Some women develop low thyroid function during pregnancy. If you’re having persistent problems with weight gain, you may want to talk to your OB and have a thyroid test.
  • Women who lose sleep tend to gain weight. A study found that women who were sleeping less than five hours a night, six months postpartum were three times more likely to have gained additional weight.
  • Stress. Being a new mom is stressful, and stress hormones can promote weight gain. In addition, women are more likely to eat when they are stressed.

Pregnancy weight gain does not just affect women. Expectant dads often pack on the pounds as well.

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  • Stress: Dads worry about impending life changes and new responsibilities.
  • Many times dads will eat more simply because mom is eating more.
  • Loss of sleep. Both parents are up with the baby.

The Solution: Be Specific and Make a Plan

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  1. Identify what changed in your lifestyle to cause the weight gain. Was it one of the triggers listed above or a different one?
  2. Activity level: Were you doing more exercise before you gained the weight? Was the type of exercise different? For example, you played tennis 3 days a week before you got married, but now that racket is collecting dust in the garage.
  3. Eating habits: Was your pattern of eating different before the weight gain. What types of food were you eating? How often were you having meals? Did you eat out or prepare your food at home?
  4. Develop a plan:
  • Answer the questions without self judgement. Acknowledge that a shift occurred in your life and when it happened.
  • Be very clear, specific, and honest with your answers. Change cannot occur without understanding the triggers.
  • Use your responses to develop a simple plan.
  • Simple changes are key. Rather than focusing on losing 40 pounds, reach for short- term milestones. For example, commit to walking for 20 minutes a day and modifying portion sizes rather than obsessing about losing 40 pounds.

Sources

CareerBuilder. Teachers, Engineers and Scientists Among Most Likely to Gain Weight on the Job. May 20, 2013

USA Today. Gaining Weight at Work? You’re not alone. May 31, 2013

The Huffington Post. Marriage Weight Gain: Reasons You’ve Gained Weight Since the Wedding. February 14, 2013

Body Weight, Marital Status, and Changes in Marital Status. Journal of Family Issues. January 1, 2016 37: 74-96

Emotional Eating vs. Mindful Eating. Help Guide: Mental, Emotional, and Social Health. Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A. April 2016.

University of Utah Healthcare. The Scope. University of Utah Health Sciences Radio. Why Am I Gaining Weight After Birth? July 3, 2014

Parenting. Dad’s Pregnancy Symptoms: More Than Just Sympathy Pain? 2016