I live in Boulder, Colorado, just named fittest (and smartest) city in the United States. It’s not unusual, here, to see 65-year-olds running eight minute miles, pumping iron at the gym, rock climbing and bike commuting. People seem to be as driven here as in New York City—with the body, instead of one’s career, as the focus.
Still, as a corrective exercise specialist, I see lots of people who look fit limp into my office with nagging injuries and fatigue. So what is true fitness?
When one client came to see me, she was 85 pounds overweight with extreme hip pain. She explained that she worked out until she was blue in the face—and not only didn’t seem to lose weight, but sometimes exacerbated her hip pain to the point that she was unable to exercise at all. She regarded me with disbelief when I told her that 90 percent of fitness is due to what you eat. You mean working out isn’t the best way to lose weight?
According to my mentor, Paul Chek, a holistic health practitioner, there are six elements to health. In order of importance:
I bet if you asked most people what constitutes fitness, they would think exercise is number one.
After my client’s initial evaluation, we saw that she was caught in a cycle of self-defeating thoughts about her health and body. Because of her weight gain, she was not able to relax and breathe deeply…and she was eating incorrectly for her metabolic type. She tested as a protein type but was eating mostly sugary carbohydrates. Sugar and starchy carbs cause inflammation, so it was little wonder that she had hip pain. She needed to see the relationship between her negative thoughts and the food she put into her body, her hip pain and her weight gain.
When she was upset about her weight, she breathed quickly through her mouth, which can cause dehydration. She needed to drink more water and use relaxation techniques to slow her breathing.
It’s important to drink good-quality water. Most tap water contains leeched pesticides and other toxins. Filtering helps greatly—but local spring water with a pinch of Celtic sea salt for proper mineral retention is ideal.
Stress and poor diet prompt the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, which causes a surge in adrenaline, increasing blood pressure and blood-sugar levels and causing an immunosuppressive effect—depressing your ability to heal quickly, and making you more likely to get colds. It turns off the parasympathetic half of the nervous system (the parasympathetic is the brake on our nervous system—if it shuts down when you’re under stress, your body can’t slow down to heal or recover from exercise or injury). Have you ever tried to get into shape when you are totally stressed out—and not lost an ounce? When your parasympathetic brake is off, the body will actually hoard fat as a means of conserving fuel.
My client, who was stressed to the max, needed what I call a “non-exercise” exercise program to start: stretching, breathing exercises, tai chi, low-impact postural training, yoga and gentle walking. You might ask how she could possibly lose weight doing that. Remember: 90 percent of fitness is nutrition.
To address her eating habits, we’d tested her to determine her metabolic type (see Bill Wolcott’s Metabolic Typing Diet). Because she was a protein type, her body functioned better on high-fat, high-protein foods with tons of fruits, vegetables and high-quality fats.
Buying heathfully is particularly important with meats. Be sure to buy local, organic produce, free-range grass fed beef, non-farmed fishes, cage-free poultry, fresh farm eggs, raw nuts and unpasteurized milk. Local organic produce doesn’t contain the pesticides and herbicides sprayed on regular commercial produce. Organic meat comes from animals that have been humanely raised without the use of hormones, preservatives and antibiotics. When you eat a factory-raised animal, you ingest harmful chemicals (so much so that our society has become antibiotic resistant). Check your state to see if raw milk and butter products are legally available; if not, you might be able to purchase a share in a milk cow. Pasteurization, which kills the beneficial enzymes in milk and butter, has been linked to lactose intolerance and dairy allergies.
Over the next 11 months, my client learned to use her breathing to relax and reduce stress, drank plenty of mineral-rich water and began to shop and cook for her metabolic type. A slow exercise program helped relieve her hip pain—and, in turn, helped her to get better restorative sleep. Not only did she lose 75 pounds, but she achieved what I think of as true fitness—relating to her body with care and mindfulness.
Ruth Hiller has worked in the fitness industry since 1990. After being introduced to the CHEK program, she was able to correct her own back pain and posture, and relate to her whole body’s problems, not just the symptoms. For more: [email protected]
Q: I know diet is important, but I want to eat Ben & Jerry’s once in awhile…so telling me to eat better…well, I know I should, but how?
A: For those late night cravings, opt for a healthier choice such as an easily prepared baked apple with Gjetost cheese (caramelized goat cheese). Place a cut up apple in a saucepan with 1/4 cup water, a pinch of cinnamon and a teaspoon of maple syrup. Cover and cook for 15 minutes on low. Grate 1/2 oz Gjetost cheese over the hot apples. Can be served warm or cold over yogurt. That said, also allow yourself the naughty stuff on occasion!
Q: I don’t want to know all this high-tech parasympathetic stuff, it’s confusing, I just want to know how I can lose those five pounds and be comfortable naked on Saturday mornings.
A: Read my lips: do not put yourself “on a diet.” Gradually change your eating habits by incorporating foods that are appropriate for your metabolic type. Find out your metabolic type here.
Q: I feel good about how I look…but I’m always hungry. Should I eat more? Or am I just eating the wrong foods?
A: If you don’t know your metabolic type, you could be eating the wrong foods. You should feel satisfied from a meal for 3 to 4 hours. If you’re not, you could be having blood sugar spikes and crashes from too many carbohydrates.
Q: What if I share meals with someone who eats unhealthily or differently?
A: You have to eat what’s right for you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make dinner together. For example, if you’re a protein type and your friend is more of a carbohydrate type, you could make some great marinara sauce. Put it over spaghetti squash and add meat or chicken with some cheese, and your friend could put the sauce over whole grain pasta.