Mind Body Makeover – Change your Mind – Change your Body
When a highly successful life coach and personal motivator like Cheryl Richardson can’t talk herself into exercising, you got trouble in River City. Especially when she’s married to a renowned exercise physiologist, a former consultant to Boston’s pro baseball and hockey teams. But working on her husband’s groundbreaking new mind-body fitness book was a breakthrough for her. Their joint work became their joint passion: total mind-body health.
Relaxing in their home in a seaside town in Massachusetts, Richardson and Michael Gerrish have no problem sharing their personality differences with a stranger. “She’s a lark, I’m a night owl,” he says. “I can be impatient and headstrong; Michael’s more thoughtful and methodical,” she says. “Cheryl’s intense.” “He’s more playful.” “Basically,” jokes Cheryl, “I’m neurotic and he’s a slacker.” “I’m not slacking,” Michael counters. “I’m just assimilating.”
Despite their differences, theirs is a marriage made in synergy. Cheryl and Michael have drawn on each other’s strong points to do what they both do best – help other people have better lives.
Somehow Cheryl, who’s 43, had never fully assimilated exercise. “I was the typical American woman who’s always struggled with her weight,” she says. “In my late twenties I weighed about 160 pounds, and I exercised like I dieted: off and on and off and on.” Michael, 44, who’s also a psychotherapist, had seen hundreds of clients go through similar struggles and set out to analyze why. His book is the first to attempt to identify and address all—and we mean all—of the mental and physical obstacles that prevent people from working out. The gist: Quit beating yourself up for not getting on that treadmill or doing power yoga, at least until you’ve made sure there’s no underlying reason for that lack of commitment.
Understand the Why, and you’re on your way to Doing. The secret to true and lasting change, Michael says, lies in “clearing your path of common physiological, emotional, and lifestyle-related problems.” In his book, The Mind-Body Makeover Project (McGraw-Hill, 2003), he describes 58 of these “Unidentified Fitness Obstacles,” or UFOs, from hormone imbalances to insulin instability to low-grade depression. Seeing these issues clearly led him to view the typical regimented fitness-and-diet plan as a sure road to “frustration and ultimate failure.” Sure, he can show you the proper way to lift weights or offer advice on crafting combination cardio and weight plans (see “Michael’s Workout Essentials,” end of article, for his basic tips), but he stresses that with any individual “there are so many variables that one size can’t possibly fit all.” Instead he promotes “joyful, whole-person fitness.”
Once she got past her own UFOs, Cheryl found herself transformed by exercise in some unexpected ways: “As I imagine my muscles becoming stronger, I also imagine my confidence, self-discipline, and ability to focus getting stronger, too. And I’ve absolutely experienced those things in my life in the last year,” she says. “Now, I can’t talk to someone about their mind and their emotions without addressing their physical health. For me it has completely underscored the fact that you cannot separate the mind from the body.”
Wanting to share the bliss with others, Cheryl asked Michael to team up with her in offering a free mind body makeover program through her Web site (cherylrichardson.com). Neither were prepared for the response—some 20,000 people got onboard in the first week. Now it’s our turn—and yours. In the following pages, we offer the couple’s five-step plan to begin your own mind-body makeover. We asked Cheryl to give us her motivational tips and observations (she’s the “I” below), while Michael weighs in on the most common UFOs (see “Top 10 UFOs” at right) and how to overcome them. This plan just might be your breakthrough, too.
Step 1 Clear Space on Your Plate
In all the years I’ve been coaching, I have never (read: never), seen someone stick to a fitness plan that was added to an already full plate. Here’s the truth about your busy life: You must remove something from your schedule in order to make space for your health. This might mean reducing the amount of time you spend in front of the television (or exercising while you watch), cutting back on computer use, eliminating a volunteer commitment, or working physical activity into playtime with the kids. While you may have to risk upsetting someone by refusing to take on a new project at work, or by asking your partner to watch the kids more often during the week, in the long run, your choice to honor your health will benefit everyone.
Step 2 Win the Mind Games
When you commit to a mind-body makeover, there’s a good chance that you’ll come up against at least one of the three following emotional roadblocks that will sabotage your success. Here’s how to overcome them before they start tripping you up.
¶ Unrealistic expectations. When most of us decide to get in shape and get healthy, it’s usually because we’ve reached a threshold of frustration with how we look and feel. We often set unrealistic goals that reflect our self-loathing instead of self-love: “I will remove every ‘bad’ food from my diet,” say, or “I will exercise every single day (despite my insanely busy schedule).” Rather than setting yourself up to fail, under-promise so you can over-deliver. For example, if you dream of losing 30 pounds in 12 weeks (that’s a lot—2.5 pounds a week), why not shoot for a pound a week and be pleasantly surprised if you lose more? Then, as you start to eat better and exercise more consistently, you can focus on the myriad other benefits to getting in shape that go beyond losing weight.
Try this: Write down all the benefits you’ll get from making your health a priority, and then commit to paper a concrete, loving intention. It might be something like “I eat well, exercise at least four times a week, and add weight training to my fitness regimen.”
¶ Fear of failure. Anxiety about not following through or reaching your fitness goals is normal. The trick is to recognize setbacks for what they are: simple setbacks, not disastrous deal breakers. Because, guess what? You will fail. You’ll eat something you “shouldn’t,” get stuck with a major project at work and feel too tired to exercise, or need to cancel your gym plans when your son or daughter gets sick. But rather than seeing the process of getting fit as a rigid plan that must be strictly enforced, why not see it as a journey of self-discovery, one that teaches you about what does and doesn’t work for you? And go with the flow by planning for obstacles. For example, I keep a set of free weights at home for those times when I’m unable to make it to the gym.
¶ Giving in to guilt. When you begin to make space for your fitness program by canceling commitments or renegotiating your responsibilities, there’s a good chance that you’ll feel guilty about disappointing or upsetting someone. Do it anyway. Consider just some of the benefits that others will receive when you refuse to give in to guilt: There’ll be lower health-care costs for you, your family, and your employer, and you may save your loved ones the time, money, and emotional distress of caring for an unhealthy family member (you) later in life. You’ll have more energy, confidence, and patience, which will translate to a greater desire to do things with and for others. Feeling better about your body can also restore or increase your sex drive. Need we say more?
Step 3 Get Out of Your Own Way
If it were as simple as “just doing it” or hiring someone to badger us, we’d all be healthier and happier. But it’s not. An unrecognized problem—insulin instability, work addiction, perfectionism, and thyroid problems are just a few possibilities—may be hindering your success. That’s why the most important part of the mind-body makeover is to recognize and dismantle your personal Unidentified Fitness Obstacles—those physical and/or emotional roadblocks to a consistent total-health regimen that thwart, to one degree or another, the good-faith efforts of the majority of us.
Michael describes in this story the most common UFOs, but because there are many others, please consider taking the entire UFO test in The Mind-Body Makeover Project. If you don’t want to buy the book, get it from the library – it’s that important. (The electronic version of the complete UFO test is in the works. Talk to your doctor about your results and ask about available testing options when necessary. If you don’t feel comfortable, find someone else. We recommend seeing a doctor with a complementary approach (to find a practitioner near you).
The key to your success may be hidden, but it’s easily within your grasp. Bring it to light!
Step 4 Build Your Secret Weapon
There’s a natural path of development for effecting change with any new habit, especially the kinds of life-altering habits you’ll develop with a mind body makeover. Being aware of the stages will help you to develop the discipline you need to stay focused on your ultimate goal: optimal health and happiness.
¶ Stage One, or “Let’s get this over with, shall we?” At first, exercise can feel like a chore. Last year, when I was at this stage, I found that there were two things that helped me. The first was using the support of an exercise partner who challenged me to follow through when I was tempted to “skip just this one workout.” The second was that I didn’t allow my perfectionism (one of my top fitness obstacles) to trip me up as I’d done in the past when, for example, I’d force myself to complete every single minute of my cardio routine even though I felt exhausted and needed to rest. Allowing yourself to be driven by an unreasonable “inner task master” sets you up to fail.
¶ Stage Two, or “I’m not thrilled, but I’ll do it anyway.” As you keep at it, you’ll start to experience the amazing benefits of exercise—at least after the fact. You’ll have more energy, your moods will level out, and you’ll feel better about yourself (and about life in general). There’s a good chance that you’ll also notice a decrease in your appetite and your stress level. Although working out still feels like work during this stage, your focus is more on the end result—how you feel afterward—than on the task at hand.
¶ Stage Three, or “Wow, this ain’t so bad after all.” After about eight weeks, I not only felt good after I exercised, I started to feel good while I was doing it. My cardiovascular endurance increased, the amount of weight I could lift increased, and I started to see muscle tone. I still remember the day that I stood in front of my bathroom mirror flexing my biceps and seeing definition for the first time in my life. At this stage, seeing and feeling results will fuel your desire to honor and strengthen your body.
¶ Stage Four, or “Exercise is my secret weapon.” When you get to this stage you realize that besides being the key to health and longevity, exercise is a potent self-esteem tonic that gives you the ability to live life on your own terms. Along with building your muscles, you’ve developed discipline—the key to making healthy choices in all areas of your life. At this stage you’ll want to exercise—it’s your secret weapon—and you’ll be amazed at how easily it now fits into your schedule. For example, when I feel overwhelmed during the day, I do a quick 20-minute workout on my elliptical trainer to burn stress and get focused. Like everyone, though, I’m a work in progress. I still have days when I’d rather not go to the gym. But being more disciplined means I can relax, because I trust myself to get back on track the next day.
An important caveat to these stages:
At some point you’ll hit frustrating plateaus when your progress comes to a grinding halt. It may be that you need to mix up your workout routine or challenge an outdated goal or belief. Whatever the reason, know that plateaus, if inevitable, aren’t permanent. When you understand that dry spells are merely speed bumps, you’ll begin to see them as gifts—a reminder to slow down so you can get your bearings, reevaluate your plans, and slowly shed the old you to make way for the new.
Step 5 Make It Last
Now that you’ve begun to make positive changes in your life, it’s all about maintaining momentum. Don’t worry. There are steps you can take to stay motivated. Here are three of my favorites.
¶ Remember your original intention. To make sure you stay on track, create a new intention statement. Put it in writing, and hang it on your bathroom mirror to reinspire and refocus yourself every day. It might look something like this: Today I feel inspired to improve my physical and emotional health. I love my fit, healthy body, and I eat food that nourishes me.
¶ Create a foundation of support. The greatest motivating force of all is being connected to like-minded people who are following the same path. Join forces with an exercise partner, for example, or take advantage of the free Mind-Body Makeover Project resources and support available on cherylrichardson.com.
¶ Behave like someone who has arrived. This step comes from psychotherapist Carol Look, Ph.D., who uses “emotional-freedom techniques” (described in Michael’s book) to help clients with issues such as weight loss and smoking cessation. She suggests that you “claim” your desire to accomplish a goal by affirming and repeating to yourself your joy in achieving it several times each day. For example, “I love being strong” or “I love being energized.” Look says that by focusing on the pleasure of a desired outcome, you’ll begin to instill new beliefs into your subconscious, which will dramatically increase your chances of staying inspired.
One final thought: if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Mind-Body Makeover Project, it’s that pursuing success is like a dance – one step forward, two steps back. You will hit plateaus. You will feel discouraged. You will question your motivation. And you’ll be reinspired. These are normal steps on the path to long-lasting change. •••
Top 10 UFOs
Years ago, motivated by his work with numerous clients who struggled to meet or maintain their fitness goals, Michael Gerrish started to dig deeper. “I’d ask people about things like how they were sleeping, what was going on at home, and how their emotions affected their relationship with food,” he says. “When I started collecting data and consulting with medical and mental-health professionals, specific trends became apparent. This inspired my work on Unidentified Fitness Obstacles.” At this point, Gerrish won’t take no for an answer. “If somebody says ‘I can’t do it,’ I don’t believe it. I know that there’s more going on than meets the eye. I know if I ask the right questions, we’ll get to the root of the problem.”
Consider the statements under each UFO and use the rating scale to record your response to each question. Add up your total for each UFO and refer to the scoring chart.
1 – Strongly disagree
2 – Mostly disagree
3 – Neither agree nor disagree
4 – Mostly agree
5 – Strongly agree
25+: There is a high likelihood that you have this problem. To verify your results, see a medical doctor, naturopath, or mental-health professional.
20–25: There is a better than average chance that you have this problem. Explore the possibility with a medical doctor, naturopath, or mental-health professional.
15–20: Though it may not affect you significantly, it’s still possible that you have this problem. Consider the possibility that it may stem from (or be related to) another UFO.
UFO 1 Candidiasis
¶ I often feel ill when it’s muggy or damp (or when I’m around dust or mold).
¶ I often crave alcohol, sugar, bread, and products containing yeast.
¶ I often have headaches (with tingling), dizzy or lightheaded spells, and “brain fog.”
¶ My skin is often very dry, and my hands (and feet) are cold.
¶ I often suffer from allergies, colds, urinary infections, or stress.
¶ Sometimes, first thing in the morning, there is a white coating on my tongue.
Candidiasis is an overproduction of yeast. Symptoms include those above along with low energy, yeast infections, stomach pain and/or cramps, indigestion, depression, and bloating. This is a very common condition that’s becoming more widespread due in large part to the fact that yeast and sugar-laden foods have become dietary staples. The use of antibiotics can contribute to this problem as well. If you suspect you may have candidiasis, there’s a good chance you’d benefit from restricting your consumption of the likely suspects. See your doctor for testing. He or she may prescribe antifungal drugs such as Nystatin and Sporanox.
UFO 2 Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
¶ In the fall and winter, I’m always more depressed, overwhelmed, and fatigued.
¶ In the fall and winter, I find that I often crave starchy or sugary foods.
¶ I always feel quite a bit better during the spring and summer months.
¶ In the fall and winter, I sleep a lot more (and spend more time at home).
¶ I often gain at least 10 pounds in the fall and winter months.
¶ I always have more energy and feel better on sunny days.
SAD is easily treated by increasing your exposure to bright full-spectrum light, either by spending more time outdoors or using a bright-light visor, light box, or full-spectrum bulbs (check out biobrite.com for a sampling of bright-light options). In general, results can be achieved in 20–60 minutes a day. For cases in which light therapy
does not produce the desired response, antidepressants may also be prescribed.
UFO 3 Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
¶ I tend to get bored very easily, and often leave tasks half-done.
¶ Pursuing a goal inspires me, but achieving one leaves me “flat.”
¶ I speak or act impulsively and don’t often have much tact.
¶ I’m usually either distracted, or I totally tune things out.
¶ I’m intelligent and creative, but I sabotage my success.
¶ I crave stimulating activities, but nothing excites me for long.
You don’t have to be “hyperactive” to have ADD. Although most ADD sufferers are unfocused much of the time, they also can be hyperfocused, i.e., they can be at either extreme. It’s important to address this condition with an experienced professional who can make an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment.
UFO 4 Dysthymia (Low-Grade Depression)
¶ I’ve been feeling anxious or hopeless, more often than not, for at least six months.
¶ I’ve been sleeping too much (or too little), more often than not, for at least six months.
¶ For the past six months (or longer), everyday tasks have seemed like a chore.
¶ For at least six months, more often than not, I’ve been irritable and tense.
¶ I’ve been very indecisive, more often than not, for at least six months.
¶ For at least six months, more often than not, I’ve suffered from low self-esteem.
Typical symptoms include feeling “flat,” lethargy, weight gain, fatigue, low energy, anxiety, less interest in sex, and increased need for sleep. If you suspect you may be suffering from dysthymia, it’s important to see a psychiatrist who specializes in treating depression. While antidepressants may be prescribed if the problem is ongoing and/or severe, other options, such as SAM-e, St. John’s wort, and 5-HTP may be worth discussing with your physician (be sure to inform your doctor of all supplements you’ve been taking). Other forms of treatment include psychotherapy, allergy testing, amino-acid or omega-3 supplements, and energy work.
For advice and support, go to healingwell.com/depression.
UFO 5 Snack Amnesia,
¶ When I try to recall what I’ve had to eat during the day, my mind goes blank.
¶ I often underestimate how much food I’ve consumed.
¶ On a typical day, I “pick” a lot and forget that it all adds up.
¶ On days when I think my diet is good, I find that I often gain weight.
¶ Often when I crave a snack and go to the cupboard or the fridge, I find that I’ve already eaten most or all of the thing I crave.
¶ I swear that I don’t often eat very much, but others insist that I do.
It’s easy to be mistaken about how much you truly eat. In one study, when researchers had people guess the amount of calories they consumed, many subjects were eating more than twice what they assumed. If you can relate to the questions above, keep a detailed food log for one week to accurately assess your normal eating habits. This will help you to recognize exactly where you’ve been sabotaging your success. (See “Cheryl’s Log,” page 86, for her experience with this.)
UFO 6 Insulin Instability
¶ My energy level soars then drops when I eat high-carb foods.
¶ The foods that I crave are those that affect my energy level most, i.e., cause drastic energy swings that lead to extreme fatigue.
¶ I often don’t feel well when I eat foods that are high in carbs; for example, I get headaches, have trouble focusing, or feel faint.
¶ No matter how hard I exercise, I don’t lose very much weight.
¶ I keep my energy level raised by eating high-carb foods, but I need to eat them frequently, i.e., every one or two hours.
¶ I often wake up feeling anxious and/or hungry during the night.
To determine whether you have this problem, avoid high-glycemic foods for at least one week. Common culprits: “white foods” like white bread, white rice, and potatoes; snacks like chips, crackers, and cookies; and foods containing high amounts of simple sugars (maltose, glucose, and honey). Keep a food/mood log to assess the results. If your head feels clearer, you feel less bloated, and your energy level is more stable, you might be insulin sensitive. Following a 40–45 percent carbohydrate, 25–30 percent fat,
and 20–25 percent protein diet (consisting primarily of low-glycemic foods) for three to six months will help get you on the right track.
UFO 7 self-sabotage
¶ When I gain weight, I adjust by not eating much on the following day.
¶ I live in/frequent/work at a place where I’m tempted by fattening foods.
¶ I frequently grocery shop when I’m hungry and, as a result, buy fattening foods.
¶ I joined a gym that is far away from where I work or live.
¶ I often compare the way I look with pictures in magazines.
¶ I often buy sugary snack foods for my partner, spouse, or kids.
When it comes to finding the time to work out and eat well, self-sabotage is a problem that can be difficult to resolve. It may be the result of unresolved emotional issues, energy blocks, addictive behaviors, a quick-fix mentality, unrealistic expectations, toxic relationships, or weak boundaries. To prevent self-sabotage, it’s important to identify how your lifestyle, eating patterns, relationships, self-image, and fears are affecting the ways you behave. For example, does a fear of being “noticed” make you sabotage your success? Are you frequently exposed to people, places, or situations that cause you to overeat or feel too tired to work out? Keeping a daily journal will help reveal patterns that keep you stuck. Good resources include Peter Michaelson’s book Freedom From Self-Sabotage and Cheryl’s Stand Up for Your Life.
UFO 8 poor life/time management
¶ I don’t know how to budget my time, plan ahead, or follow a plan.
¶ I’m often too busy, fatigued, overwhelmed, or distracted to work out.
¶ When I exercise, I feel guilty—I should do less “selfish” things with my time.
¶ I don’t have the time to exercise; too many other things always come first.
¶ Spending long hours at work is a higher priority than my health.
¶ Working out is a luxury, and it’s one that I can’t afford.
Poor life and/or time management can lead to work addiction, forgetfulness, weak boundaries, disorganization, self-denial, denial of the problem, challenges at home, low energy, and sleep debt. Often the problem stems from distorted priorities and misconceptions about how long (and hard) one must work to achieve a desired result. To resolve this problem, it’s important to: a) acknowledge it; b) recognize its effect on your life; c) learn more-effective “self-management” skills; and d) ask for help. You might consider hiring a coach. Visit coachfederation.org for a referral.
UFO 9 perfectionism
¶ I often judge myself harshly and obsess about how I look.
¶ My need to do everything perfectly often makes me put things off (for example, getting myself to the gym or changing the way I eat).
¶ If I can’t do a perfect workout, I won’t do one at all.
¶ When I work out, I often wear loose clothes to hide my flaws.
¶ I often dwell on what is wrong instead of what is right.
¶ People have often told me that I’m much too hard on myself.
This is one of the most prevalent UFOs. Perfectionists often suffer from self-doubt, unrealistic expectations, all-or-nothing thinking, and a distorted body image. In addition, they are often hesitant to ask for help, skeptical, prone to faultfinding, and extremely self-critical. So afraid to fail they rarely succeed, perfectionists ironically end up doing a lot of imperfect things, like exercising too much or starving themselves to lose weight. Perfectionists also tend to find fault with test results or underrate their scores. In short, perfectionists tend to look for reasons why something won’t work (or isn’t true) as opposed to what might work and could be true. Start by acknowledging the problem, recognizing its effect, and gradually reprogramming old reflexes by consciously shifting your response.
UFO 10 hormone imbalance
(thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, adrenal)
¶ I have random bouts of anxiety (when stress is not clearly the cause).
¶ Even in warm environments, there are times when I feel cold.
¶ For the past six months (or longer), I’ve had less interest in sex.
¶ I’ve been having hot flashes, headaches, and palpitations for three or more months.
¶ My hands and feet are often cold, and my temperature tends to be low.
¶ I often sense that my body is working too hard or is under strain.
Typical symptoms include a slow metabolism, mood swings, an exaggerated “startle response” (may indicate an imbalance of the stress hormone cortisol), inconsistent energy level, weight gain, bloating, fluid retention, lethargy, irritability, and consistently feeling on edge. If you’re over age 35, it’s a good idea to have your hormone levels tested for a baseline measurement. It’s also important to note that test results can be misleading, particularly in the case of hypothyroidism (low thyroid), i.e., it’s possible to have an imbalance even if your test result is negative. To confirm a hormone imbalance, consult a medical doctor or naturopathic physician who’s familiar with more than just a standard battery of tests (for example, blood and/or saliva tests). Treatment includes medication, supplementation, and adjusting the type, timing, and/or dose of prescription drugs.
Michael’s Workout Essentials
For more-detailed information on weight training, aerobic exercise, or stretching, see The Mind-Body Makeover Project or ask Michael via his Web site: exerciseplus.com.
- When resistance training, slower is better. Slowing down will ensure that the muscle you’re trying to target is fully stressed and will significantly reduce the stress on your back and joints. The lifting phase of each movement should be 4–6 seconds long; the lowering phase should be 6–8 seconds.
- Use the heaviest weight you can use to do 6–10 repetitions with strict form. If you can’t do at least 6 reps, reduce the weight the next time you work out. If you’re able to do 10 reps with good form, increase the weight.
- Never end an exercise after completing one full rep. In other words, always make an effort to do at least a little bit more—do one-fourth, one-half, or three-fourths of another full rep. Training to “muscular failure” will maximize gains in strength and tone.
- Before you begin a weight routine, make sure your muscles are warm. Five to 10 minutes of a low-impact exercise like walking or riding an exercise bike will do.
- Rather than doing a single sequence of stretches before you begin, do one stretch before you train individual muscle groups. For example, stretch your shoulders prior to doing a seated press. If 10 or more minutes pass before you work a particular group, the muscles you stretched before your routine may no longer be relaxed. (According to studies, a stretch works best with a 30-second hold.)
- If you do an aerobic workout and a weight workout on the same day, do the weight workout first. Because slower weight training means your movements feel more intense, your energy level must be high to handle the added stress. Also, fatiguing your muscles in a cardio workout before you begin will prevent you from using good form.
- In general, do 3–4 aerobic workouts every week. Mix it up by doing what you enjoy on any given day, whether it’s walking, biking, boogie-boarding, or working out on an elliptical trainer.
- When performing aerobic workouts, try to maintain your target heart rate (THR). Use the following formula to determine your THR: 220 minus your age, multiplied by .65 if you’re sedentary or just starting to work out, .7 to .75 if you’re moderately active or somewhat fit, and .8 to .85 if you’re very active or very fit.
- When possible, exercise. 1–3 hours after you finish a meal. If you train on an empty stomach, there’s a good chance you’ll feel weak or fatigued. Conversely, you’ll feel uncomfortable if you train when your stomach is full.