Everything in moderation

"Everything in moderation - including moderation," a patient of mine once pointed out to me explaining his reasons for taking a break from the diet regimen I had prescribed for him. I like it when such nuggets of wisdom are thrown my way. It brings things back in perspective. In my experience, drastic measures result more often than not in drastic failures. I have long been a believer in small steps rather than grand resolutions, especially when significant and lasting lifestyle changes are required.

Of course, "small" is not sexy. Drama is. You can read plenty about people who, for example, have lost enormous amounts of weight in record breaking time. There's the story about the young man who grew up as the "fat kid" and who is now a competitive marathon runner after he shed more than half his body weight in less than a year. There's another one who "ate himself thin" by eating nothing but sandwiches at fast food places. Middle-aged women who were once grossly obese have reportedly turned their lives around to become runway models and trophy wives once more. There is no shortage of these miracle narratives. And not just in the rainbow press. High-end health and lifestyle publications love attention grabbing headlines just as much and often show little concern for the credibility and integrity of their reporting.

I wish everyone all the success they can have, especially when it comes to health matters. My main concern is that the accomplishments last - preferably for a lifetime. There's some truth to the expression "easy come, easy go." One of the most important elements in counseling, whether it concerns weight management or any other health issue, is that the patient needs to reach the point where he or she "owns" the process. It doesn't matter how quickly or how dramatically progress is being made on the outside, if it is not driven from within the patient's desire to change. That can be a long haul and the outcome is never certain.

In my own practice as a health counselor, I prefer to look at the whole pattern of my client's behavior, not just at one or another "thing" that needs fixing. The achievement of good health is dependent on many factors and cannot simply be measured in terms of weight and size. For example, rather than pushing for weight loss as a primary goal, I like to see progressive weight management integrated in the development of an overall healthy lifestyle.

There are no one-size-fits-all (pun unintended) diet or exercise regiments that can be prescribed regardless of the living conditions, lifestyle habits or even personality traits that differ with each person. Taking into account someone's particular abilities and limitations is crucial. Not everyone can turn on a dime and change on command. What works (and what doesn't) largely depends on who we are as individuals.

Good health is always a work in progress. Maintaining it takes effort. Sometimes that means failure and having to start over. Sometimes that means to be pro-active. The Holiday Season is just around the corner. Most of us will exercise less and eat more with the cold weather upon us and all the goodies being offered at office and dinner parties. We already know the consequences from remembering what happened to us last year. That should give us enough incentive to watch our actions extra carefully to keep us from doing too much damage to ourselves this time.

On the other hand, it is also important that we are kind to ourselves and don't become our own ever demanding and unforgiving taskmaster. My favorite motto is: "Nothing is forbidden, but everything counts." So here is my advice for the coming holidays: Whatever you choose to do for the benefit of your health, make it user-friendly. Make it manageable and make sure it fits in your busy schedule. If it doesn't, you won't stick with it, no matter how beneficial it would be for your health.

Timi Gustafson spends most of her time traveling around the world and writing about her encounters and observations. She is the author of "The Healthy Diner - How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun." Her book is available in bookstores, at Amazon.com and online at www.thehealthydiner.com - To receive her free monthly newsletter by e-mail, you may send a request to tmg@timigustafson.com

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