Five steps to help you rediscover the healthier you.
It all started a few years ago with Pippa Middleton’s bum. Yes, yes, the posterior that launched a thousand Dukan diets, the gluteus that maximized the way silk spilled over skin like water. All eyes were meant to be on her sister, Kate, soon to be the Duchess of Cambridge, but it was that duchesse satin-clad behind to which all eyes were glued – gluted? – as the younger Middleton made her way up the aisle.
Perhaps I am getting a bit carried away. It was more than just a firm rear end that spurred me into taking action to get my health (and figure) back in fighting form. A milestone birthday, a job that took me all over the world read sitting my own posterior on a lot of airplanes and in some of the best chefs’ kitchens. This resulted in a slow, creeping weight gain that didn’t hit me until 20 pounds later. Then a maternal aunt diagnosed with cancer made me sit up and start, well, doing sit ups.
The summer I went to visit my aunt in Europe was as much a turning point as was Pippa’s posterior. I realized I had been raised on this food, a Mediterranean-meets-Balkan mix of lean proteins, legumes, yogurt, veggies, many cooked in season and much of it raw, in the form of varied mixed and green salads. Even the yogurt had been made from a starter my mom had kept going for years.
I had been a lean, mean fighting machine as a teen and even after puberty hit, active and athletic. My body even did a good amount of bounce back after having two kids, so it wasn’t a foreign idea to my physique. Muscle memory, here we come.
STEP 1: SHAKE YOUR MONEY MAKER
They say once you’ve learned how to ride a bike, you never forget. As I said, I was athletic as a kid, a fortunate trait I had inherited from both my parents, so the idea of strapping on the sneakers wasn’t that intimidating. The weather was good, so out the door I went.
Studies show that women who walk briskly for at least 30 minutes a day can help stave off breast and other cancers, as well as heart disease. They also show that time spent outdoors is good for the brain. It’s the brain that talks the body into getting up and going, and the getting up and going is what tells the brain you’re feeling good, so go you must.
If the weather was bad, it would never be less than 30 minutes and usually closer to a 60-minute power walk on the treadmill with a slight incline to burn a few extra calories. I made sure the incline wasn’t too much as I wanted to slim down, not bulk up the muscles.
And no matter how much I dislike the fact that the treadmill is in our living room, so is the TV, so I was able to keep my mind off the time while watching a movie. For a change, I’d head to the basement, where we’ve got a stationary bike, and pedal while reading.
STEP 2: EAT IT TO LOSE IT
But it’s the stomach that takes 20 minutes to tell the brain that it’s full, and for many of us, that’s just too late. In that measly time frame, you could consume an extra Big Mac, another two handfuls of chips, another pancake and slice of bacon – you get the picture – all of which your body doesn’t actually need.
So my diet, too, had to be tweaked. Rumour had it that both Kate and Pippa were, in fact, devotees of said Dukan diet, and I just happened to have the book in my office. Hmm. As a writer who also covers health matters, I was suspect of a regimen that virtually eliminated any sources of the vitamins found in fruits and reduced the vegetable intake in a similar way.
Protein, as lean as possible, was what the doctor prescribed. That, however, I couldn’t really argue with. Loads of fish and chicken, non-fat dairy like milk and yogurt (Greek yogurt, in particular, has a good amount of protein, which creates the feeling of full with less), could all be considered a part of a healthy diet. But Dukan suggested that you eat only these things for three to seven days, depending on how much weight you wanted to lose (I needed to lose that extra 20 pounds I’d amassed over the years). Seven days of nothing but protein. There is also a small serving of oat bran to try to help keep the body’s regularly scheduled functions, if you get my drift, but I had to modify this for my own body.
For example, I knew that I functioned well on lean protein and vegetables, so I added the foods that I had researched for the following criteria that still suited Dukan’s theory and only followed the strictest components of the regimen for three days: high in nutrients, low in fat, high in flavour, high in the potential to make a meal feel more robust.
So, it was scrambled eggs with chives, steak with mushrooms, chicken breast with onions, plain Greek yogurt with a couple of almonds or a few blueberries, lots of water, full speed ahead. And speaking of that, Dukan also espoused 30 minutes of brisk walking a day.
STEP 3: STOCK THE ARSENAL
The cardio and smarter diet choices combination was working. I was feeling good, looking good, fitting nicely into my clothes. Shopping my own closet was particularly eye-opening: I could slip into a series of dresses and skirts from my past, shirts didn’t gape at the chest and it also gave me the opportunity to toss or donate the stuff that was now way too big. Joy!
Purging stuff and weight was a powerful elixir. I was feeling hot. Yes, hot. There, I said it. And I don’t mean hot flashes either. Compliments were pouring in from friends, colleagues and family (yes, there were cat calls, too), so apparently I was starting to look hot, too.
Yet it’s one thing to run your butt off (which I did, literally), but then what happens? It was time to pull in an expert or two or three to get a more holistic picture of where my health was now. I interviewed Dr. Ryan Yermus to get the how-now of hormones, as I’m at an age when they start to go their own way. Yermus, an MD, a University of Toronto trained family physician and a member of the Age Management Medicine Group and board-certified by the American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, talked about aging in a matter-of-fact way.
“Chronological age isn’t as big a factor, but aging is sometimes the reason for feeling ‘off,’ ” he says. “My patients will say they feel they’re not right, even though they are healthy by traditional standards.” But it’s also something that he believes can be treated with the right tools.
“The clock starts to wind down,” he adds, and it’s better to prepare the body for it while lowering the risks of aging: heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few. And vitamin supplements, bio-identical hormones (sourced from yams and approved by Health Canada), exercise, diet – all of the above are a part of his approach.
Blood tests measure levels of just about everything, including vitamin D and testosterone, estrogen and other hormones. His treatment, which approaches each patient on an individual basis, includes balancing hormones, “not to stop the process of aging or things like menopause (female) or andropause (male) but to ease the transition,” making the process, the “change” hopefully easier for the body to bear. His approach is not just to load the body with what the blood tests show it’s lacking but to use supplements and hormones to help bring the body into that balance.
For example, estrogen and progesterone help to balance each other but, in many cases, progesterone starts to drop earlier in the aging cycle. Its importance is that it helps you to get a good night’s rest, when most of the body’s healing takes place. Testosterone, yes, even in women, is still key, too, for muscle toning and libido and needs to be brought into balance. But for women, he says, it’s not testosterone that’s necessarily what he’d prescribe. He’d more likely look at the other hormones like progesterone or DHEA to try to help the body build the testosterone back up. For men, testosterone helps with sex drive and contributes to mental clarity and mood. “We treat the patient until they feel well again,” he says.
He also works with the Medical Marijuana Clinics of Canada in pain management. Good to know, I thought, considering the customized exercise program he added to my routine. But seriously, he put together such a program, which allowed for better body awareness and ensured that my workouts had injury protection plans. “It’s not about being thin,” says Toronto-based kinesiologist Daniel Greenwald of GFit, “but we still need to be strong.” So cardio is good, but straight-on classic calisthenics with some resistance training is even better.
And why not? Helen Mirren, the babe with a bodacious body at 71, swears by her 12-minutes-a-day Royal Canadian Air Force workout. With regards to pain prevention, Greenwald advocates easing into the training circuit with a 10-minute cardio workout and a series of stretches designed to curb injury, particularly for the back. A yoga mat, a skipping rope and some resistance bands were all Greenwald suggested as a good start to a home gym.
Crunches, push-ups, lunges, skipping rope and rowing with the resistance bands (great for arms) were a key part of really jump starting my metabolism, to keeping the weight off and building muscle mass to avoid the “thin-frail” trap that many of us fall into as we age.
Let’s face it, if you fall, even if you can get up, you still need a little padding – and muscle is better than fat. It was hard work, going at the four circuits three times during the workout and doing it two to three times a week, but after only a month, my now thin frame (yes, I was losing the weight) was also becoming a strong, buff frame. My arms, once a bit of a Bugs Bunny parody – you know the cartoon, where he holds up his arm, and the muscle droops, looking more like a swing – were now perfectly sleek in a sleeveless top.
STEP 4: SKIN IS IN
… but when it’s sagging? Not so much. As our skin ages, it loses some of its elasticity, and its ability to snap back. So even with the weight loss, there were still a few hurdles for me to tackle or tighten. My muscles were there from all those crunches and planks, but the skin lacked firmness.
A visit to Avenue Skin Care revealed a new treatment called ReFit. Dr. Trevor Born, Avenue’s medical director and a highly regarded dermatologist who practises in Toronto and New York, is a fan of the technology. Created by Viora, the company that also came up with ReLift (which I reported on in Zoomer’s April 2013 edition), ReFit is part of its Reaction treatment system.
Andrea Trofimuk, head of practice development, describes how it works this way: “The deep heating of subcutaneous tissue initiates a mechanical stretch in the skin that induces the production of collagen, stimulates fibroblasts to enhance collagen secretion and improves elasticity.”
The technicians at Avenue Skin Care and other locations across Canada (see www.vioramed.com for locations) work with post-weight loss patients to “shorten the skin layer” making it tighter, especially in the areas of the tummy, under the arms and tops of the knees. “It’s a non-invasive surgery-free option that can give a boost to those that need a little extra help in the trouble areas of the body,” says Susan Shirriff, president of Avenue Skin Care and a medical skin-care specialist. The technology, which is referred to as body contouring, claims to force the process of collagen formation, along with a reduction in cellulite and the fat layer. Indeed. My confidence boosted, I was ready to stop covering up and try on a bikini.
STEP 5: KEEP ON KEEPING ON
Gravity, however, will never go away, nor will the process of aging – but there is still potential. So, I ask you, why can’t we be strong physically well into the golden years?
For me, it’s been a two-year health and weight-loss journey and, although my aunt is still going strong, there have been other setbacks. While writing this story, a family tragedy did strike. I lost my great uncle and, at an industry event, toasted his memory with a rum punch or two. Sure, I’ve eschewed the sugar, but he was worth the indulgence. And being healthier helped me push through the sadness. After the event, I did what makes me happy. I climbed on the treadmill and worked it out.
With a little persuasion, we can all give that attitude of ours a wake-up call. I’m off to the southern hemisphere for my next assignment. Too bad it’s winter there because I really do look great in my bikini.