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Fall is an ideal time to begin a weight-loss program

Marissa Nicholson got married and lost her mom to cancer within a year. Then she had three children and began a busier life. She put on weight to the point that “people would stare at my stomach instead of my face.”

She decided to take a fitness class several times a week, but continued to eat the foods she learned to embrace while growing up on the West Side of Buffalo.

“Every dish I made was pasta of some kind,” she said. “I got stronger working out, but I didn’t lose much weight.”

Nicholson, 35, of Cambria, decided to change her ways more substantially three years and nearly 75 pounds ago.

She began during fall – after the number of outdoor summer gatherings cooled with the weather and New Year’s Resolution pressure remained months away – a time of year many experts believe is ideal to start a weight-loss plan.

“You blink and the holidays are coming – and they’re even tougher,” said certified fitness instructor Sarah Coburn, who helped Nicholson lose weight.

“If you start now, you’ll have a better handle on the holidays,” Nicholson added.

The two women – who get together four times a week at Coburn’s group exercise center, Power Fitness in North Tonawanda – and Lisa Drzyzga, workplace wellness consultant at Univera Healthcare, recently shared insights for those ready and willing to start losing weight in the coming days, weeks and months – and who want to keep off those pounds.

Start now

This holds true whenever you get more serious about reaching or maintaining a healthy weight. But start now and you can still get in some solid exercise outdoors and buy lots of healthy, fresh, local fruits and vegetables in season. “If you fall off the bandwagon, start again,” said Drzyzga (pronounced Drizz-guh).

Understand your choices

Identifying what causes your eating quality and quantity and how you react to stress are important in the weight-loss equation. “It’s so much more mental than physical,” Coburn said. “Life is stressful. Life is hard. It’s recognizing in those hard times that you are important enough to keep working and putting yourself first.” Nicholson said things started to click on her weight-loss journey the more she talked with Coburn about the eating and exercise choices she was making, and understood more about the demands on her time, her entrenched eating habits and an acceptance that she deserved some time to step back from other responsibilities and take better care of herself.

Sometimes weight gain starts by not learning proper nutrition while growing up, said Coburn, a mother of two who changed her eating and fitness habits a decade ago, to great success. Sometimes it involves comfort eating, maybe because a trauma has taken place or self-confidence has been shattered. “I’ve talked to people where it’s come down to one statement,” Coburn said. “Something one coach said to one client one time has triggered long-term weight issues. You can overcome that.”

Understand the equation

“I used to tell Sarah I like to work out but I had to lose weight before I’d come and work out,” Nicholson said. “She kept saying, ‘No, that’s not how it works.’ A lot of people think, especially when they’re overweight, ‘Once I start moving I’ll start losing weight.’ That’s not always the case, especially if you’re not changing those eating habits.”

“You can lose weight,” Coburn said, “if you focus on very strict eating habits. However, most people want that flexibility of having that piece of pizza or that beer every once in a while. Once they’re on point, I tell my clients, 90 percent stay on your game, 10 percent you can fall off, with both fitness and exercise. It needs to be consistent, clean eating, consistent exercise. They’re both important.” The fitness part becomes more important as we age, our bones and muscles weaken and our metabolism slows, Coburn said. The right balance can ward off osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic maladies that can come with weight gain, as well as prevent falls.

Set reasonable goals

“If you don’t hit some unrealistic goal, you get discouraged,” Coburn said.

Challenges are a way to kick off a weight loss journey – Nicholson started losing weight by setting a 25-pound weight loss goal in 2½ months before Christmas – but there comes a point to diminishing returns, and discouragement. “If you’re trying to lose 50 pounds or 100 pounds, it can be very unrealistic to do that quickly,” Drzyzga said. “You want to set a goal to lose one or two pounds a week. The slower you take it off, the longer and more manageably you’re going to be able to keep it off.”

Keep track, then see an expert

Nicholson started journaling what she ate and drank – everything – and was surprised by how many empty calories she was consuming. Drzyzga’s daughter decided to become vegetarian, so her mother has encouraged her to make an appointment with a nutritionist. “A lot of times you might not realize how many calories are in certain foods. If you write down what you’re eating and give it to a nutritionist, they’ll be able to say, ‘Here’s where you can choose this instead of that.’ ” Ask your primary care doctor for a referral if needed.

Find a friend

“You’re more likely to give up on yourself but you don’t want to disappoint a friend,” Drzyzga said. If you have to start alone, be open to new friendships. Nicholson came in on her own four years ago to a group fitness session Coburn taught at a different gym. “So many people embraced me that I felt immediately like I had friends,” she said. Coburn tells her group class members regularly, “Remember we are here together, so let’s support each other.”

It also helps to find something you love. Drzyzga joined a big-box gym last October but learned over the summer that she enjoys swimming more. “I go at least twice a week,” she said, “but I’m more apt to go three or four times if my sister and daughter are willing to come with me.”

Add and subtract foods

Drzyzga’s husband, Alan, a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service, decided to make his entire breakfast and lunch only fruits and veggies. “You either want to take one bad habit out, or put one good habit in, at a time,” Coburn said. “Once you do that, it needs to be permanent. I tell my clients, ‘Don’t make short-term changes if you’re not planning to keep them for a long time. Then, you’re just going to teeter-totter. Sometimes it’s easier to add,” she said, “so I’ll suggest you add more water. When you’ve added some good, healthy habits, it’s time to start taking some things out.” Nicholson said her weight loss quickened when she took most of the sugar and processed foods out of her diet.

Drink right

Nicholson also learned that two beverage culprits contributed to her weight gain: diet soda, which research suggests can promote greater hunger, and four double-double coffees each day. Coburn told her those coffees – each containing two sugars and two creams – were adding about 1,200 calories to her daily load. The average woman needs to eat 1,500 calories a day to lose 1 pound a week and no more than 2,000 calories a day to maintain weight. For the average man, it’s 2,000 and 2,500 calories. “The number one recommendation I would make if you’re drinking diet or regular soda: Switch to water,” Drzyzga said. Infuse it with lemon, lime, cucumbers or strawberries to make it more flavorful.

Be positive

Part of the blackboard at the entrance to Power Fitness reads, “You are smart, you are beautiful, you are powerful.” Four words in large black print in the group fitness room read, “Start Strong” and “Finish Stronger.” A blackboard at the back of the room starts with the words, “I Powerfit for:” Classmates have scrawled their own reasons, including, “The ones I love,” “Mind, Body & Soul!,” and “My booty.” Nicholson wrote, “Because I am worth it! And so are you!”

Find a good gym – now!

Don’t wait till the New Year’s Resolution crowd jams the gyms come January, Drzyzga said. She recommended the following for the right fit: Convenience to work and your home; accessibility during the hours you plan to use it; prospects at work (Univera has a Wednesday afternoon running club, and fitness facility); quality of equipment and certifications of the trainers; types and convenience of classes, and if they cost more than a monthly membership; insurer or employee discounts available for many sites.

“Whatever the season, always keep your fitness goals SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely,” Drzyzga said. “And remember to have fun!”


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