Despite our national propensity to overeat, under-exercise, and grow steadily heavier and more out of shape, we all yearn to be slender, fit, and attractive. Our culture rewards the thin and the beautiful; look at how we devour celebrity gossip, mesmerized by the looks and energy of our current favorites.
Why the discrepancy between our aspirations and our reality? There are a plethora of reasons, most of which can be traced to the simple fact that life gets in the way.
“I’d love to cut back on my food intake,” we think, “But I have to attend all these work functions and have little control over the meals that are served.” “I would really like to get in shape,” we complain, “But there’s no free time and I can’t afford a personal trainer to the movie stars I see.” “I really want to take care of my skin and my body,” we wail, “But I’m so busy that a quick shower and a slap of moisturizer is all I can fit into my schedule.”
It would be so wonderful to have loads of free time: to plan our days; to cook low calorie, healthy meals; to exercise without time constraints; to be able to pamper ourselves without the pressure of deadlines. Unfortunately, our lives are too hectic for that to happen in the foreseeable future.
We can throw up our hands in frustration and join the legions of the overweight and the unfit, or we can work out a personal plan that fits within our lifestyle, taking us where we want to go, albeit not quite as quickly or completely as we would prefer.
Your life, your time, the demands and responsibilities you face, vary on an individual basis. You will need to calculate what works for you, and what cannot be realistically accommodated. Here are some ideas to consider:
Eating on the run, at your desk, or on the rubber chicken circuit, wreaks havoc with even the best-laid diet plans. If you weigh even a pound more than you’d like, try to identify where you are going astray.
If the fast food on your way to an appointment is your downfall, look at what you order. Almost all drive-thrus these days offer salads. The problems with those salads can be minimized by throwing away the little bag of croutons (fried) and omitting the packaged dressings (loaded with fat). Carry your own individual container of low-calorie dressing, opt for (unsweetened) iced tea, black coffee, or a diet soda, and avoid those sugar-laden colas like the plagues they are.
If you lunch at your desk, ask yourself what are you eating? If it’s takeout, by all means, have a cheeseburger or a sandwich. Just discard the bread or bun and eat with a plastic knife and fork, cut into raisin-sized pieces that will fill you up fast. French fries and onion rings? You just don’t want to go there.
Is your office always filled with snacks and treats (as most of them seem to be these days)? When the snacks come by, go to the bathroom or, better yet, take a brisk walk around the building to beef up your “won’t” power and clear the vision of goodies from your head.
If business lunches, dinners, or those awful meeting banquets are your obstacles, plan ahead. Lunch is relatively easy: salad (with your own dressing, of course) or fish and cottage cheese are available almost anywhere. For dinner, try two low-calorie appetizers instead of an entrée. Best of all is something that you have to work at – crab legs, unpeeled shrimp, an artichoke (hold the hollandaise) – it will take a lot of time and no one will notice how little you are actually eating.
Banquets are particularly difficult because a plate is plunked in front of you, filled with food you would never order by choice. Cut whatever protein and vegetables there are into little pieces and chew slowly. Spread the rest out over your plate and play with it to delay the onset of a syrupy dessert. Get a cup of black coffee and place it squarely in front of you to thwart that eager-beaver waiter who keeps trying to slide a plate of pie onto your table.
Entertaining in the home creates a different set of problems because usually you know the hostess and want to avoid creating any bad feelings. Fall back on allergies as no one wants to see you break out in hives in the middle of their party. Carry a club soda or mineral water with you and no one will notice that you’re not drinking.
Over a period of time, these little changes can have a significant impact on your weight. If you’re hungry when you get home, make sure that you have some liquid protein or a health shake available to complete your daily nutritional needs.
With the best of intentions, millions of us purchase gym memberships. If we all actually used them on a regular basis, as we promise ourselves we will, there would be waiting for lines spilling into the streets. Health clubs can keep signing up more and more members because they know that the number of regulars will stay about the same as the new enrollees will show up in a burst of initial enthusiasm but within a few short weeks will gradually fade away.
Unless you have a job with very regular hours, something few of us enjoys these days, it’s difficult to commit to going somewhere on a regular basis. We mean to go but then an important meeting comes up, our significant other asks us to do something, or the kids pester us to drive them somewhere.
Our high demand lives almost force us to obtain our exercise at home. Television is replete with home equipment that promises to flatten our abs, define our parts, and re-sculpt our entire bodies. Despite their assurances that the equipment easily folds away, we know our apartments can never accommodate a Bowflex or a Nordic Track.
Where do those buyers live? In the suburbs, we suspect, where the expensive equipment is soon relegated to the basement or the garage to gather dust until some future yard sale comes along. Equipment, except for minimal contraptions such as elastic bands and hand weights, is just too much trouble, and setting them up takes too much time.
Slipping exercise into your schedule is most easily handled (and therefore more likely to be regularly repeated) by pursuing activities that can be initiated without any preparation time, special clothes, or long periods free of interruption.
The old standbys of pushups, situps, stretches with weights, yoga, and calisthenics has stood the test of time for a reason. They can be inserted into your crowded schedule at odd moments of the day and require no preparation except a short warm-up. Some of the newer programs: callanetics, pilates (some), killer exercises, and video workouts also fit these requirements.
When you unexpectedly find a secret half hour free, take a walk and, if you can, magnify its benefits with an occasional bout of sprinting.
Such a plan may not make you into a Mr. or Ms. Universe but it will keep you limber and semi-fit while avoiding that energy-devouring guilt you develop when you set your sights too high and then fail to follow through.
3. Taking care of yourself
We have all read the accounts of Cleopatra bathing in asses’ milk to bleach and smooth her skin. But she was a Queen, for heaven’s sake! She didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to fight the traffic into the office. She didn’t have to take care of a husband, a house, or a child. You’d have the time to leisurely bathe if it weren’t for cleaning the house, washing the clothes, finishing that report for the office, helping the kids with their homework, cooking dinner, and picking up Aunt Mildred at the airport.
We know we need to take care of ourselves. We want to perform the routines that will stave off the signs of age that wait just around the corner. We would love to take a long daily bath or shower, polish our skin to perfection with a loofah and scrubbing powders, envelop ourselves in skin softeners and lotions, and pamper our face and hair with special cleansers, masques, and skin brighteners.
Again, our lives get in the way. We work out a minimal routine of makeup remover, toner, and moisturizer. We shampoo our hair when we can and occasionally find the time for a special oil treatment or facial. It is hard to be fully motivated when the signs of age are brief and fleeting. When I have more time, we tell ourselves, I’ll work on it.
Twenty years later, the wrinkles have set in, the jowls have puffed out, and our skin carries the scars of sun, wind, and gravity. Then we bemoan our lack of care through the years and try to minimize the ravages of time already indelibly imprinted on our looks.
By all means, stick to your rapid daily routine. Sure, you could get up earlier in the morning and have time for more self-care but you’re already, like most working-age Americans, sleep-deprived.
One solution is to identify one period a week when you can steal a couple of hours for yourself. Women, especially, shortchange themselves, too busy taking care of everyone else and ignoring themselves. Stake out your claim to that two-hour window as if your life depended on it. Use it only for you.
Use it to take deep treatments for your face or your hair. Use it to practice relaxation, listen to music, or walk in the rain. Use it to pamper every part of your body and spirit. Use it to think about yourself, and your goals, and your dreams.
Use it to appreciate yourself and the good things life has brought you. Use it to lay plans for future self-development and use it to become your own best friend and confidant.
Our lives are so filled up with what we have to do that our wants and internal needs are often unmet. In even the busiest and most demanding schedule, there are moments we can carve out for ourselves, but only if we absolutely insist on it. Right now is the time to become assertive about your own self. You too deserve a brief moment in the sun.