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Mind games: The mental connection to physical fitness

by Vernon Warrick
Special to The New Tri-State Defender

When the average person asks me a question about physical fitness, it's normally something like, "I'm ready to get in shape, so what should I do?"

My natural inclination is usually to find out what they have been doing up to that point, and the responses are always generally the same: "I've stopped eating everything that I know is bad." Or, "I've gone cold turkey except for rain water and cabbage, plus I do X amount of miles, sit-ups, etc. every day."

A proud look can be seen when I tell them how great that sounds, but a blank, bewildered stare tends to follow when I ask, "How long can you keep that up?" Sustainability is an essential element of any diet or fitness plan.

Sure, the extreme approach can lead to quick and sometimes drastic results. Maybe you'll lose 10 pounds in 10 days or drop two pant sizes in two weeks. But if they can't be sustained, those extreme efforts can be summed up in three letters – fad. It's better known in the fitness world as the Yo-Yo Effect, a term coined by Dr. Kelly D. Brownell, a clinical psychologist from Rutgers University. The Yo-Yo Effect takes place when someone starts off successfully in a weight-loss program, typically by way of an extreme approach, but winds up gaining back more weight later.

Consistency is the key to avoiding the Yo-Yo Effect – consistency in physical activity and consistency in eating habits. If weight loss is your goal, your plan should begin with 30 minutes of physical activity three times per week. Use a moderate pace the first two weeks, then push toward 85 percent of your target heart rate in week three. By week four, you should be adding some resistance training for a total body circuit-style workout.

Chances are you know all about successful dietary guidelines from TV commercials and food labels. The trick is sticking to them. Healthy foods are vital to any successful fitness plan. More whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein, such as turkey, fish and egg whites, and less fried foods, dairy, red meat, sugar and carbohydrates, like white rice and white bread, is the best approach.

The magic numbers for sugar and sodium are 100 and 2,000 – less than 100 grams of sugar daily and fewer than 2,000 milligrams of sodium. In fact, quantity or portion control is important for every meal. Try cutting your normal meals in half. If you dine out, request a to-go box when you order. If you want to eat the other half, have it later at home.

When you eat is also just as important as what you eat. On weekdays, either eat normal-sized meals three times per day every 4.5 hours, or eat six smaller meals every two hours. Weekends are your reward days, so treat yourself to what you would normally eat.

Bottom line is you have to master the mind games to master your fitness program. The more consistent mental habits you develop, the more likely you are to move toward your goals and avoid bouncing back to bad habits like a yo-yo.

(Vernon Warrick is with Right Now Fitness in Cordova.)


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