How a wellness coach whipped me into shape

Three months ago I wrote about the high cost of being fat. I had spent $4500 over four years because of my weight. The problem wasn't just costing me money — it had caused sleep apnea, a torn ACL, and mild depression, three conditions which eroded my quality of life.

Then a reader issued a challenge. Lauren Muney wrote to provide her services as a wellness coach free for one month: “I'm offering this to you because I've been reading your blog daily and I want to give back,” she said. She continued:

Most people think that coaching is bull. It's amazing how much money people will spend on diet books, fad equipment, diet pills, and the like — and never budge an inch. I just talk to my clients. They drop 10, 20, even more pounds of weight, plus they retain the weight loss and make life changes they never thought possible. But it is they who do the work and they who take the glory. I know you understand the value of getting rich slowly but carefully. It's the same with fitness and lifestyle changes — the good stuff is slow, but it sticks.

For years I've complained about being fat. People are sympathetic, but nobody had ever laid it on the line like this before. It felt strange. Lauren was offering to help me, but only if I were willing to take responsibility for my actions. I was scared. I realized that an impartial third-party — an expert third party — was exactly the sort of motivation I needed to succeed. (I've always worked best under supervision.) I decided I'd be a fool to refuse her offer.

Lauren had me begin by keeping track of everything I ate. (This is similar to my admonition to track everything you spend.) I knew my diet was poor, but I never realized how poor until I began to keep a food journal: donuts for breakfast, candy bars for lunch, Safeway Chinese food for dinner. I recorded everything in gory detail. After Lauren looked at the data, we spent an hour by phone discussing my habits, exploring ways I could change them. Among other steps, she had me:

  • Eliminate excess sugar. It was clear that I'd become a sugar junkie. Eating donuts and candy bars and sucking down soda was giving me more refined sugar than my body could handle.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption. I'd been having a drink or two most nights. On Lauren's advice, I cut back to almost nothing. (I still have a drink at parties or on special occasions.)
  • Reduce caffeine consumption. So long, soda. So long, tea. I used to be a Diet Pepsi junkie. I had a weakness lapsang souchong. Now caffeine is a rarity.
  • Eliminate processed foods. Most of my meals were from one of two food groups: canned or frozen. Canned soup, canned chili, canned pasta, canned vegetables. Frozen pizza, frozen lasagna, frozen chicken patties, frozen fish. Lauren had me purge processed foods from the house. (This was difficult for a frugal person like me — each discarded TV dinner was like throwing away money.)
  • Introduce whole foods into my diet. I've always struggled to eat enough fruits and vegetables. Even with this program, I'm not getting as much as I should, but I've gone from eating a couple a week to eating a couple a day. That's a huge improvement.
  • Drink water. Humans are ugly bags of mostly water. I wasn't getting enough of it. By drinking more water, my hunger subsided.
  • Eat balanced meals. Lauren emphasized the importance of having a protein, a carbohydrate, and a fat with every meal. I thought this change would be pointless, but have been surprised at how effective it has been at satisfying my hunger.
  • Exercise portion control. I have a natural tendency to eat huge portions. Lauren coached me to reduce my portion sizes so that I'm not overeating.

Lauren's advice wasn't all about food, though. She stressed the importance of physical activity. She had me do the following:

  • Obtain a complete physical. We were particularly curious if I showed signs of diabetes. (My addiction to sugar, and my reaction to it, are worrying.) I don't. My cholesterol is borderline, but other than that things look fine.
  • Buy a pair of running shoes. I'd been walking and jogging in a pair of fashionable sneakers. Lauren had me actually get fitted for shoes that matched my stride.
  • Meet with a running expert. I made an appointment with the owner of the running store. He spent time demonstrating proper form, showing me how to improve my stride.
  • Practice mindfulness. A lot of my behavior was reflexive. I was just eating whatever I felt like, or whatever was in front of me. Lauren urged me to slow down, to question my actions.

Over the course of one month Lauren and I spoke weekly about my progress. During each session she praised my success and helped me to learn from my failures. After each conversation, she drafted an e-mail that summarized the goals we'd set for the coming week. This process worked wonders.

Lauren helped me see the barriers I had created: “I can't eat breakfast because I don't have time”, “I need to eat all of the leftovers”, “It's too cold and wet to exercise”. These barriers still exist, but now I recognize them for what they are. And I've learned something: 80% of wellness is mental. Just as with personal finance, physical fitness is about overcoming mental barriers.

I learned not to bring temptations into the house. I'm good about saying “no” to the big things — a package of cookies at the grocery store — but I'm terrible at saying “no” to the little things. A single cookie at home becomes two, which becomes three, which becomes an entire plate. I have the discipline to resist an entire package of cookies, but not to resist them individually, so I keep them out of the house completely.

I've stuck to the plan for three months now. I had a ten-day lapse around Christmas — all the cookies from friends were too much to resist — and I need to ramp up my exercise, but things are going well. I've lost thirteen pounds. I have more energy. I'm not foggy-headed from sugar. Best of all, I'm no longer suffering from the depression that has dogged me for the past two years.

I couldn't have done this without the help of a wellness coach. Because Lauren exists outside my daily life, outside my family, outside my circle of friends, she's able to point out problems without the baggage of other relationships. There's still a lot of work to be done. In early March, when spring begins to peek its head through the Oregon rain, I'll contact Lauren to set up another month of coaching, but this time as a paying customer!

As the proprietor of Physical Mind, Lauren Muney specializes in lifestyle improvement and increasing human performance for personal, professional, and business endeavors. She's also a crack whip artist! And a fire-eater!

More about...Health & Fitness

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
34 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
brad
brad
13 years ago

Congratulations, that’s inspiring! For those of us who have trouble with self-discipline and motivation, being accountable to someone else is often the only solution. Regarding caffeine, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing in moderation (he says, drinking his second big cup of coffee for the day), and certainly lapsang souchong is a better choice than Coke or coffee. Green tea is delicious when prepared properly (don’t use boiling water and don’t let it steep for more than a minute and a half), and white tea is even better. Pu-erh is fantastic for people who like a strong-flavored tea,… Read more »

Schizohedron
Schizohedron
13 years ago

Many congrats on your progress and your decision to accept help. Thanks for the very inspirational post!

Chris Blackwell
Chris Blackwell
13 years ago

Congratulations on all your progress. The only thing that I didn’t like about the diet was the requirement to cut back on caffeine and alcohol. I think that both of these things can be alright in moderation. A recent article I read stated that caffeine in moderation can improve mental alertness. Also, I’m sure everyone has read the article published a few months ago that red wine was found to help obese mice. Now, whether this applies to humans or not remains to be seen, but I think that a glass or two of red wine a night has more… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

I believe — and Lauren can correct me if I’m wrong — that the reason she asked me to be so aggressive about caffeine and alcohol is that I was consuming far too much before. I suspect that once my habits become established as healthful that it’s okay to resume consumption of these things in moderation. And since the results have proven so effective thus far, I’m not anxious to rock the boat. I should point out (because I see I failed to emphasize it) that the single most effective change I made was reducing my sugar intake. I was… Read more »

icup
icup
13 years ago

question: how far do you go to reduce sugar? is it just cutting out the sweets like donuts, or do you actually get into looking at the sugar content of normal foods (that one wouldn’t generally consider to be ‘sugary’, like for example, bread)?

The reason I ask is that I too feel fatigued and muddle-headed, and would love to cut back the sugar if that’s what it takes, its just that I don’t generally consume alot of sugary foods like donuts and sweets.

Melsky
Melsky
13 years ago

Congratulations to getting on a path to better fitness. My husband and I are the same age as you and we have lost a lot of weight in the past year. I’ve gone from size 20/22 to 16 and am still losing. I turn 38 in one month and will be buying myself a new wardrobe, mostly from thrift stores. I was surprised that you are not drinking tea anymore though. Everything I’ve been reading is that tea is really good for you. In fact I’m trying to drink more tea for health reasons. I’m wondering how caffeine is bad… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

How far do you go to reduce sugar? Aha — the “extended version” director’s cut of this entry went into detail about that subject. The final edit you see here lopped out about half of what I’d written. 🙂 I’m certainly cutting out sweets like candy and cookies and donuts. (I actually have a stash of dark chocolate from which I take nibbles now and then, but this dark chocolate has a very low sugar content.) To begin the process, Lauren had me go through my kitchen cabinets and look at the labels of all the processed food. “If it… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

@Melsky

I’m drinking herbal tea. I can’t cut that stuff out completely!

Melsky
Melsky
13 years ago

I posted that before I saw your comment above.

I also want to add a fun thing that I do to encourage weight loss. When I am in a thrift store and see something I like that is a bit too small I buy it and put it away. Every month or so I try on my too small garments and see what fits. That’s been really motivational for me.

I’ve already sold the first batch of too big clothes on craigslist.

brad
brad
13 years ago

I agree about exercise as a way to cut fatigue and improve alertness. The “exercise more, eat less” mantra really works…I find it easier to exercise more than to eat less and it’s amazing what 30 minutes or more of daily aerobic exercise can do for your mind as well as your body. In summer I ride my bike outdoors for an hour a day; in winter I have a rowing machine that I row for 30 minutes a day (which is equivalent to a couple of hours of biking in terms of aerobic effort…rowing is a very in-your-face-no-letup form… Read more »

nolandda
nolandda
13 years ago

“Ugly bags of mostly water.” Heh. Nice “Home Soil” reference.

Oh, and congrats on your success with your new diet/exercise regimen also.

Lauren Muney
Lauren Muney
13 years ago

Following up re: caffeine conversation: JD had a serious caffeine issue. Caffeine isn’t too bad ‘in moderation’ (1 or 2 cups at most… that’s an 8-oz cup, not a Starbuck’s Venti), but he was really imbibing so much more. His body was trying to use caffeine to wake him up because ate so much sugar he’d get a lull after his blood sugar dropped, and because he ate meals so infrequently, he had no energy. So caffeine (for him) was a substitute for “real fuel”. (JD, normally I wouldn’t talk about my clients but you are being so open about… Read more »

RJ
RJ
13 years ago

This sounds great, J.D., and it seems like you’ve really come a long way in taking ownership of your own health. I’ve been working on a better diet and more exercise over the years, as well, and I too have been able to emerge from the muddle-headedness and fatigue of my past. If I had only done so years ago! But better late than never. One thing that a lot of diet/exercise programs emphasize, in addition to good food choices and aerobic exercise, is anaerobic exercise (weight-lifting). Has this been a part of your coaching program? Even moderate weight-lifting helps… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
13 years ago

A terrific resource for whole foods and nutritional information: whfoods.org Regarding sugar/carbs – you will get enough of it in whole foods without having to consume bread, pasta, etc. all of which ends up on your belly and on your butt as fat. I have a bowl of whole oatmeal with ground flax seed and that’s it for “grains” for the day. You can get the same fulfillment with legumes – beans like chick peas, kidney, black, etc. if you crave that “pasty” feel on your tongue. Alcohol is very high in sugar content, especially beer and wine. Like everything… Read more »

Lauren Muney
Lauren Muney
13 years ago

To answer RJ’s question about weight-lifting: JD decided to stick with exercise which he enjoyed: walking, running, and biking. We discussed the benefits of resistance (weight) training. However, his initial decision was to work within his ‘favored exercise’ perimeters so he will stick to it, not to (yet) require him to do exercise he didn’t want (and wouldn’t) do. He also purchased an indoor trainer for his bicycle, which will help build some muscle groups for this initial season. In addition, he found favorite ways of incorporating other favorite activities while he walked or ran, like listeing to books on… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

He found favorite ways of incorporating other favorite activities while he walked or ran, like listeing to books on tape or music. Yes, indeed. I would be lost without my iPod. Books I have listened to while walking over the past few years: Vanity Fair, Dracula, Master and Commander, Cloud Atlas, and many more. Plus, sometimes I listen to music. For me, there’s a natural progression to exercises when I work toward fitness. In the past, I’ve started with walking, moved to biking, moved to running. I’ve then added in some weight-training and swimming. To me, swimming is the pinnacle… Read more »

icup
icup
13 years ago

fyi: Herbal tea *usually* doesn’t have any caffeine because it technically isn’t a tea in the sense that it doesn’t come from the same plant as true teas. re: caffeine, most beverages vary in their caffeine content, but coffee typically has the most, at around 100 Mg per 8 ounce cup (or 100 mg per shot of espresso!), while green and white teas generally have the least, around 15 mg. Most soft drinks are somewhere in the middle of that. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the product and how it was made. Incidentally, chocolate also isn’t generally… Read more »

Jag Nogg
Jag Nogg
13 years ago

Congratulations JD. It sounds like you are doing great. I ran my first marathon last year – Boston (as a bandit) in 4 hours 35 minutes and it was an awesome experience. I had that as a goal for 15 years and I finally did it. I was derailed many times along the way (I had to have 3 knee operations), but I never gave up on that dream. I truly believe that anyone could run a marathon if they put their mind to it and lay out a detailed training plan ahead of time. Best of luck. On my… Read more »

RJ
RJ
13 years ago

Sounds great, Lauren. Now,…can you help him with this comic book thing? 😉

r
r
13 years ago

great post!

I particularly like the comment about the similarity between tracking everything you spend and tracking everything you eat. I’ve found that tracking everything I eat in a program that will automatically track how many good (and bad) nutrients (etc) I’m consuming is really, really helpful for me. I use the (free) service sparkpeople.com for this, although there are a number of others, also (I think the USDA even has a free online one). It’s a great place to start!

Yan Zhu
Yan Zhu
13 years ago

One thing I found useful is focus on “constructing a healthy life style.” After achieving that, weight loss is a natural consequence, along with other benefits.

Jen Schneider
Jen Schneider
13 years ago

Awesome post! One thing I really love about your blog is that you consistently demonstrate how interrelated everything is: what we do with our money, how we treat ourselves, what we eat…all related to core issues, no? I’m trying to lose the last of my baby weight (argh) and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t coming off. I’ve started exercising regularly again, albeit not as much as I like, given the Denver’s been hit with a gajillion feet of snow every weekend for a month. Anyway, I started tracking on fitday and was totally shocked at how many calories I… Read more »

DM
DM
13 years ago

Congrats on your recent success. I’ve been making some similar changes in my life over the last several months. I’ve included a strength training component that might appeal to your frugal nature. I stumbled across a website that details the use of a sledge hammer as strength training equipment. The movements that he describes have real life working translations, which has somehow kept it more interesting for me. I’d encourage you to check it out at:

http://www.shovelglove.com/

Leo
Leo
13 years ago

Great job, JD. What you’ve realized that has made you successful so far is that it’s a series of lifestyle changes that have effect over time, not something that happens all at once in four to six weeks. Give it time. I’ve been making similar changes in my life, with great results as well. Check out these posts: * Givin’ up caffeine – help! * 2006 Year in Review – A great year! * Recipe for a Flat Stomach * How I save money Good luck on the rest of the year! Stay positive, and don’t let negative thoughts stay… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
13 years ago

Great post. Love the Star Trek reference (and I see a commenter even knew the episode title… geek 😉 ).

The link between attitudes for frugality and weight-loss were an insight for me. Good stuff. Thanks.

Maitresse
Maitresse
13 years ago

I went to the website you linked, and searched for Lauren’s credentials. All I could find, however, was a list of articles she’s written. As an ACSM certified personal trainer, I take issue with some of Lauren’s assertions. For example, caffeine in moderation is good for you, and can help prevent soreness after exercise, among other benefits. Alcohol in moderation is also good for you! Red wine, especially, has been proven to have health benefits. I had issues with other things on her site, but I’m not going to write an entire essay picking apart everything she’s said. Lauren certainly… Read more »

Maitresse
Maitresse
13 years ago

Thanks for the link to Lauren’s bio. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it when I first visited her site. I did look at the “About” page, and didn’t see anything there. I’m not familiar with the organizations she lists, but I will check them out. It’s good to see that she has some training, at least.

My comments regarding her recommendations weren’t just about what she had specifically recommended to you, but what I had also read in her articles.

Angie
Angie
13 years ago

Good for you, JD! Sounds like you’re in for a great 2007, fiscally and physically. A big thank you to the good folks here at GRS who recommended sparkpeople.com back during the New Year’s Resolution posts. It’s a terrific tool for keeping track of what you’re really taking in and working off. Keeping track of your calories in and out is in some ways like keeping on top of your finances. But when it comes to money, you get receipts and bank statements and all kinds of documentation that you can use to stay on track. With food, not so… Read more »

Alvaro
Alvaro
13 years ago

Very interesting story. Yes, coaching and support are very important elements to help us change habits.

We see that as an integral element for what we are trying to do: a mental workout circuit. We just launched the brain fitness blog carnival, and you may be interested in taking a look
http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2007/01/19/inaugural-edition-brain-fitness-blog-carnival-1/

Regards

Adam
Adam
13 years ago

I was wondering what type of walking device is being shown in the 2nd picture. Looks like a strap comes down from the lower back and attaches to the front of the foot. Is there a purpose for this strap?

moltar
moltar
13 years ago

For me food choices are usually very simple. A rule of thumb: does this come from nature? If yes – eat it, if not (i.e. boxed, canned, frozen, processed, etc…) – pass it.

Saundra in MO
Saundra in MO
13 years ago

I had the same question as Adam…..

Anybody know?

Travis
Travis
13 years ago

Great post! I’ve had my share of the battle of the bulge, and the above tips are very useful. In my own journey of coming down from 396 to 192 I’ve found that the two most important factors are –

Water
and
Having an outside agency with an unbiased, but invested opinion on what’s going on with my general fitness

For what it’s worth.

Julia Stewart
Julia Stewart
11 years ago

Congratulations on your great progress – and I want to congratulate Lauren on her awesome offer and brilliant coaching. It sounds like awareness was what was lacking. Sounds too simple, but that and unwaivering belief in the client is sometimes what it really takes for a coach to help someone transform their life.

shares