Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Christina Chapan: In it for life

Many a diet has begun with the goal of fitting into a bridal dress. For Christina Chapan, though, it was the role of bridesmaid that started her down the aisle to fitness.

Chris says that as a child she hated physical activity. “I wasn’t coordinated at all,” she says. She always loved to eat, a passion she allowed to flourish in college. At 5-feet, 4 inches and her heaviest weight of 156 pounds, she wore a size 16. Her moment of truth came when her younger sister announced she was getting married.

“I didn’t want to be a fat bridesmaid,” Chris says, “especially as the older, spinster sister!”

Chris went on a low-fat diet, a program she found easier to follow than other “counting” programs. “Counting calories is hard,” she says. “Counting fat grams, you just stop at 20 and you’re done for the day.” In six months, she lost 30 pounds and fit into a size 6 dress.

After her sister's wedding, Chris took a teaching job and got married. Within a year of her marriage, she went back up three dress sizes. Over the years, the stresses of her job caused her to fall into some bad habits that led to more weight gain.

“When you’re working until 7 or 8 o’clock at night and you’re tired, those salty chips and jelly beans look awfully good,” she says.

In 2002, the youth pastor at her church recommended Bill Phillips’s Body for Life program. The 12-week exercise and nutrition challenges appealed to Chris. She relished the discipline of writing down the details of what she ate, her exercise regime and her progress. Within a year, she completed four challenges, losing 20 pounds and toning up her body in a way she had never experienced before.

Since then, Chris has remained on Body for Life, although by now it’s simply her way of life. She exercises and weight trains, and runs with her running club buddies on the weekends. She has become a certified personal trainer and leads after-school fitness programs. She has completed 17 half marathons, 4 full marathons and 3 ultra marathons. Recently, she has taken up sprint triathlons and competed in two. At 134 pounds, she wears a size 4-6. (In the photo, Chris is pointing to her name on the roster of her first marathon.)

Chris revels in her job as a special education teacher in a Chicago suburb, and maintains her conviction that a person has to carve out time for her passions, especially fitness. “You have to say, ‘This is my time, and this is my way of dealing with stress,’” she says.

Chris appreciates that Body for Life allows for a little cheating. “You eat in a very healthy way for six days, and then you can have one day, or three meals, that are not what you’d call healthy,” she says. For her, that means that on Friday mornings when the teachers and school staff host breakfasts, she can enjoy herself. And, on a recent cruise, she says she didn't restrict any foods but ate in moderation.

In the past year Chris has learned the importance of enjoying time with her husband and friends. "You can make time for what you want to, and fitness is a priority for me," she says, "but balance is the key."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Make just one decision

My son is a passionate baseball player. I'm certain he'll be the next Jorge Posada! We'll be the proud mama and papa sitting in the stands at Yankee Stadium some day.

I'm continually astonished that season after season Evan wants to get back out there and play again. The game is so brutal on a child's psyche. In this great American game, there are so many opportunities to fail... strike outs, errors, pass balls, wild pitches, humiliating losses in spring ball, fall ball and tournament ball.

At the beginning of his tournament season this year, Evan struggled at bat. He had never faced this frustration before. He tends to get on base most of the time, either with a single or a walk. As a batter, he's got great patience at the plate. He makes us nervous... we call him Full Count Kennedy.

But now he was striking out just about every game, and he was getting down on himself. We didn't seem able to help him, no matter how much time my husband had him out there taking pitches. What was going wrong?

I mentioned his struggle to his coaches and asked if someone could help him with his swing. One of the coaches said he knew what the problem was and how he could help. I was so relieved!

But, you know, it wasn't a mechanical fix the coach had in mind. No. He thought Evan's problem at the plate was mental. Here is what was going on in Evan's head. When he got to the plate, he'd be thinking: Should I swing or shouldn't I swing? Is it a strike or a ball? Should I let it go or go for it?

Instead, his coach said, Evan should go to the plate with just one thought: I'm going to swing. He should be ready to swing at every pitch. At the last second, if the pitch looks like a ball, just lay off it. Heading to the plate with just one thought in mind clears all the clutter and focuses the batter on one objective... to get a hit.

I've thought of that advice as I've been maintaining my 30-pound weight loss. Every morning, I get up with just one thought: I'm going to eat for my health today. Every other time I've tried to lose weight, I've always had this never-ending internal dialog: Should I eat this or shouldn't I? Can't I just have it this once and then tomorrow I'll start again? Why can't I have this when everybody else can? Maybe just this time.

So, to maintain my weight I've found the key is to clear the clutter in my head. Make my resolve to eat healthfully first thing in the morning. I can decide at the last second to allow myself a treat, but I make it a single, not a double or a triple. For me, that's a home run! (And, do you know what? Evan's hitting again, too!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summertime and the swimmin' is easy

In July and August, I freeze my gym membership and swim laps in our local swimming hole, The Quarry. It's a spring-fed quarry (you guessed it!) on beautiful camp-like grounds. We began going there when Evan was just a few years old and could play in the shallow pool.

The first couple of days there always make me feel like a beginning swimmer. It's entirely different to swim in a lake than in a pool. You can't put your feet down (60 feet of murky water below me!) and you're not pushing off the sides of a pool, fooling yourself into thinking what a great swimmer you are.

It's tiring! Fifteen minutes at the quarry is probably like a half hour in a pool. But it's beautiful and if I get there first thing, no one's arrived yet and it's peaceful. One time, it started to rain when I was in the middle of the quarry. Level with the water, I was surrounded by the pings of millions of raindrops all around me. I didn't want to leave when the lifeguard blew his whistle!

The best part of the quarry is that it's just 5 minutes from my house, instead of 15 minutes to the gym. So easy to get 30 minutes of laps in. I've lost a lot of my fear of gaining back my weight because of the quarry. If I gain a pound or two over the winter, I know I'll work it off in the summer because I swim almost every day. The only downside is having to wash my hair every day. It would be so much easier to be a runner! But boring, no?!

P.S. That's not me jumping off the high dive!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Let the laps begin

Once I decided it was time to tackle my weight problem, I joined a gym and started swimming laps. It's so easy to write that, but I still can't believe I actually did it. Join a gym? Me? The word itself conjures up visions of that tortuous place where you donned horrible mustard-yellow "gym suits" and failed miserably at scaling those blasted ropes and poles.

I don't part with money easily -- just ask my husband... frugal is the kind word for me! -- so to plunk down $500+ upfront and agree to $60/month was a huge commitment for me. I was ready, though, and mentally I agreed with myself to swim three times a week.

At first the going was slow. I dragged myself to the gym. Once there, I swam in fits and starts, bored, easily tired, in a constant argument with myself. Seniors in surrounding lanes passed me easily. Lifeguards made for the nearest chair, equipment at the ready. Once, a friend knifing through the water in full Speedo regalia shouted over, "Don’t give up!" just when I thought I was doing pretty good.

For almost a year, I saw little progress. A year! I guess swimming isn't the most effective means of weight loss. Well, at least if you're more like a barge in the water than a skiff. Not only that, but no one else really noticed any difference either. I wasn't buoyed by the encouraging comments of an admiring horde.

Yet I was ready. I was determined. Now that I've talked with many people about their weight loss, I can tell when someone has gotten to that point. You hear it in their voice. It's time to act and there's no going back.

And, guess what? Those 30 minutes, three times a week slowly added up. Today, almost five years later, I'm 30 pounds lighter. I know, five years. Rome obviously wasn't dismantled in a day in my case. But I'm happy as long as the needle on the scale is going in the right direction.

Today, many thousands of laps later, I weigh 127 pounds and have dropped three sizes. Buying my latest swimsuit, I felt almost dizzy taking size 10s into the dressing room. (Okay, if it's humid and sticky, I can barely hoist the thing onto my body, but it's a 10!)

The lightness extends to my mood, too. I have a new relationship with food. I neither crave it nor fear it. It’s not the enemy anymore. Neither am I the enemy. I don't hate myself every time I pick up a fork. The enmity with my body is over, too. My debilitating back troubles are gone. And my stubbornly high blood pressure has dropped back to normal.

Although William Faulkner once said that the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself, I'm happy to write about the end of my battle. I hope you'll know the joy of ending this one monstrous inner conflict once and for all, too.