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."

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