From the Kitchen: Post-holiday healthy eating and exercise requires commitment for success

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By Elli Rarick

In selecting a topic for this week I did some soul searching about how and why I, as a senior citizen, find it difficult to stick to any New Year's resolution regarding a diet plan or new healthy eating habits and exercise. Any nutritionist or doctor will tell you that dieting is pretty much a "quick fix," most of the time, and then the pounds return once you reach your goal weight and slowly slip back into your old eating habits. Changing your eating habits and developing a reasonable exercise program are the keys to successful weight loss and keeping it off. You just cannot continue to diet forever. You can, however, develop a lifelong healthy eating regimen that will benefit you in the weight loss and maintenance areas. Naturally, this is easier said than done.

When I look back, I believe I have been "dieting," at one time or another, my entire adult life. I really like food, especially sweet things! It is hard to cook and bake for a large family or even just the two of us, as it has been for several years, without eating and drinking that which will eventually move the scale upward. As a senior this presents a whole new set of issues. Every magazine I pick up addresses this problem and there have been and continue to be countless books written on the subject.

Like so many others, I vow every January to improve my choices and lose a some pounds. I don't need to be told that it would be helpful to my health; I know it. The doctors must realize that fact as they no longer mention it! I was always told that as I progressed into my senior years that I would naturally begin losing a few pounds a year. I am well on my way into senior status and the losing hasn't begun yet. On the other side of the coin, I consider myself fortunate that I am maintaining (even gaining sometimes) as that probably means I am still somewhat healthy and void of any serious illness.

I have suffered serious lower back and cervical spinal issues and arthritis for most of my adult life. I carried the burden of being overweight as being a huge contributor to these conditions even though I was at a very acceptable weight when first diagnosed and for many years after. I was always an active person and maybe that kept my weight under control when I was younger. As the years drifted by, the pounds stuck around longer; sound familiar? I tried dieting and walking (the best of all); but, when I stopped either of those, the weight returned and the painful conditions did worsen. The damage was done. Trying to lose weight and with some success did, however, ease the physical strain which helped me psychologically as I felt better about myself and that I was doing what I could to help a difficult chronic condition.

Following the surgical repairs, numbering in double digits, and advancing age issues; dieting and walking became more difficult. I have found that I don't eat as much as I used to so one would think that would help. I am sure it does, to some degree. The problem, as I see it for many seniors, is not how much we eat - but what we are eating - and a lacking in exercise area. Because of the chronic issues I now deal with I am unable to do many physical tasks and find myself concentrating on more sedentary ones. This is great therapy for the mind but takes its toll on the physical body.

Every year I vow to start walking when the weather cools and here it is mid-January and I am still in the "vow" stage. Last year I began having hip and knee issues that are now making the walking much harder. As a senior, I must fight the times that I feel like giving in to my status; choosing to sit in front of my computer or in my recliner. This is a battle that is as big as making healthy food choices for many of us.

It is my belief that if we continue to press forward with even minimal exercise and movement and begin working on the healthy food choices and eating habits; we can add additional and more enjoyable years to our lives.

Why is it so difficult to stick to something that we know will benefit us? For me, mostly I think I am somewhat lazy in that area, and it is work. There are no quick fixes so that means commitment. I applaud those who are willing and able to make that commitment and stick to it. I am still hopeful that one day I will join that group. Meanwhile, I am right there with so many of you, still trying to just make it through January!

The following information was taken, in part, from Kraft food & family magazine, winter 2008. They also have a Healthy Living section on their website that you can check out at kraftfoods.com for additional information and ideas.

For a fun workout try dancing. They suggest limbering up with stretching first to help your muscles and joints remain flexible. For an aerobic workout, try fast-paced ballroom, jazz or salsa dancing. Or, you may just want to dance around the house. One should aim to dance for 20 minutes, three times a week, either at home or at a class, etc. in order to achieve maximum benefits.

Throughout the day try different things that will help you to live wisely. Eat some protein at every meal. It helps you to feel full. For example, try fish for dinner; cheese for lunch. Nothing is better to curb the sweet cravings than fresh fruit. Both fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients so keep lots on hand.

And, don't forget to get in the recommended 6-8 glasses of water a day. Try sipping it often and you will find drinking that much to not be so difficult. It is good to sneak in a little exercise whenever you can during your daily routine.

A couple of the best suggestions include parking further away from an entrance so you need to walk some and taking the stairs rather than the elevator whenever possible.

Let's make 2008 the year we make a difference in our healthy living choices.