A client came to me recently with a goal of holding his “spare tire” at bay. While this is a rather amorphous platform from which to spring forward, I accepted the challenge and wrote him a basic exercise plan. However, when I attempted to touch on the subject of nutrition, he virtually jumped down my throat, informing me that he still wanted to “enjoy life”, and he was unwilling to accept any dietary restrictions or changes to his current favorite foods.
I then informed him that I could not guarantee any degree of success for him, since he was so very resistant to a total health plan.
As a Certified Health Coach and Certified Personal Trainer, my approach to wellness is to treat the whole client and not merely train his various muscle groups. The human body is an intricate machine, and addressing all of its parts – mind, body, soul, and awareness, and the integration thereof — seems to me a practical approach…and one that has proven to be largely successful.
The term “lifestyle shift” has begun to appear in wellness magazines and professional fitness journals alike. The medical community is starting to ease into this frame of mind as well, which is always a good sign. Wellness as a general concept can be thought of as a healthy state of being, one that is dynamic and constantly evolving. Since a human being is a complex entity, wellness addresses many components.
The U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System has outlined the following aspects of overall wellness:
- Behavioral /Intellectual: engaging in activities which have a positive impact on life, such as using recommended safety measures, and refraining from harmful behaviors
- Environmental: creating a personal space to enhance well-being, preserving the natural resources in the world
- Financial: planning and saving, cash and credit management, risk management o Medical / Dental: screening, prevention, treatment, adherence
- Nutritional: choosing and maintaining a prudent meal plan, making healthy food choices, weight loss
- Occupational: interests, skills, performance, satisfaction, environment, transitions o Physical: structured exercise, active lifestyle practices
- Psychological /Emotional: coping, stress management, problem solving, decision making
- Social: family and social support and cohesion
- Spiritual: core values, identity and purpose
While this may seem largely unrelated to fitness, the shift we are asking our clients to make in terms of a lifestyle is bound by the same considerations as deciding to hire a personal trainer, and that is Dr. James Prochanska’s Transtheoretical Model of Change:
- Contemplation, or getting ready
- Preparation, or being ready
Change can be difficult for many individuals whom we encounter at the gym. The comfort level associated with doing the same workout routine every single week, for example, may provide a false sense of “doing the right thing”, yet often results in frustration when it fails to yield the desired results. Frustration leads to abandoning the gym altogether, virtually guaranteeing that no progress will ever be made toward a greater level of wellness.
An article published in the journal Military Medicine outlines the results of a study conducted by the Department of Psychology, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. Participants from all branches of the United States Military (Army, Navy, Marines Corps and Air Force) embarked upon a 5-day intensive protocol known as LIFE, which represents Lifestyle change, Individual readiness, Fitness excellence and Eating healthy. The 53 participants were also evaluated one year later. Results showed that the average weight loss at the one-year mark was approximately 10 lbs. for the men and 14 lbs. for the women. These individuals also reported engaging in healthier eating patterns, and perceiving a greater sense of well-being on a daily basis. The psychologists feel that the implications of the LIFE program might be very positive for the military; they predict “…improved service retention, health, and overall quality of life or patient evidence that matters.”
If such a shift is possible within the regimented confines of military life, imagine how easily it could be introduced into our daily civilian routines. Up until recently, traditional methods of facilitating changes towards becoming “healthier” generally focused to some extent on dieting. This has shown to be beneficial short-term, typically while participants are engaging in a 6-week Biggest Loser type of competition. However, once the program has been completed, the weight usually reappears. Recently, researchers at the University of Missouri in Columbia have found that “Eat for Life,” a new wellness approach that focuses on mindfulness and intuitive eating as a lifestyle, is actually much more effective than traditional weight-loss programs in improving individuals’ views of their bodies and decreasing problematic eating behaviors. “Intuitive eating and mindfulness are two relatively new intervention approaches that have been effective in supporting healthy eating and body image,” claims Dr. Lynn Rossy, a Health Psychologist for the University of Missouri health system. “Eat for Life encourages individuals to become more engaged with their internal body signals and not the numbers on the scales.”
The concept of not weighing oneself while working on wellness changes is a difficult one for many individuals, especially women, on whom society tends to place a tremendous amount of pressure on physical attributes. The premise of mindfulness and intuitive eating encourages individuals to learn how to eat, exercise and experience their bodies from their own internal cues, such as hunger and fullness, rather than external cues, such as calorie counting and weight scales.
Dr. Rossy’s study revealed that women who participated in a 10-week Eat for Life program reported higher levels of body appreciation and intuitive eating, and lower levels of problematic eating behaviors such as binging, purging and fasting, when compared to women who did not participate in the program. At the beginning of the study, Eat for Life participants’ weights ranged from normal to morbidly obese, and some women displayed eating disorder behaviors. At the conclusion of the study, participants were significantly more likely not to exhibit disordered eating. Mindfulness can be a powerful entity. Such a partnership between mindfulness, awareness and fitness already seems to be in play for the majority of clients we train. They can already visualize how they wish to look, the lean muscle mass they wish to add, and the improvements in cardiac endurance for which they are striving; our job is to guide them safely toward those goals. However, with the addition of a total lifestyle shift, progress could be dramatically increased, and in areas upon which most clients never even focused. Lest we think this is a problem unique to the American way of life, a study was undertaken at Smart Foods Centre, School of Health Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, Australia. Their data, published in the Journal of Human Health and Dietetics, indicated that in individuals typically targeted for nutritional intervention, wellness and well being were identified as meaningful terms associated with improved health.
Armed with this heightened sense of awareness regarding a total body / total lifestyle shift, applying it may prove daunting at first. There are an abundance of clients out there who match the description and personality profile of the gentleman I referenced earlier. However, if you sense that a client has an open mind, it might be prudent to begin an assessment discussion with an inquiry into his typical “day in the life”, and open the door in this fashion. We can then ease forward with the fitness, nutritional, and psychological aspects that are all required to work together in order to achieve goals.
About the Author
Cathleen Kronemer is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for 22 years. Look for her on www.WorldPhysique.com, and feel free to contact her here.
She welcomes your feedback and your comments!