winter bikingConstant motion is something that comes naturally to kids. But as we grow older, many of us lose touch with that natural instinct to move. That doesn’t mean the desire is gone; it just needs a little kindling.

MOVEAL~1Made to Move
Before I vowed to stop talking about losing weight, I read this book Move a Little, Lose a Lot by Dr. James A. Levine. Although my focus has shifted away from weight-loss, I still think Levine makes a valid argument about how we are meant to live. Humans were not made to sit all day every day; we were made to move. When we stop moving, we start getting tired, sick, and overweight.

So what should we do? Move as much as possible during the day! Levine says there shouldn’t be an hour of the day when you’re sitting still. “It’s time to live just as you were meant to live… on your feet.”

TRAMPO~1A Life in Motion
When it comes to movement, it’s the little things that count. “Nonexercise activity thermogenesis” (NEAT) is all the movement you do during the day that isn’t strenuous exercise. It’s the energy you burn living your life—washing dishes, cooking supper, taking out the garbage, letting the dog out, bathing, walking to the mailbox, etc.

So how much do you move during your waking hours? Do you drive to work or school, sit all day, drive home, and sit all night? If your work requires you to be on your feet throughout the day, do you sit all evening and night when you get home? Or if you are at home all day, how much time do you spend sitting? Start paying attention to your daily movement, and you may find you don’t move as much as you thought you did!

The more you sit, the more you will want to sit. If you feel like you are too tired to move, you might just need to move more. And the more you move, the more you will want to move! While exercise wears you out, NEAT is actually energizing. Increasing your daily movement is simple—all you have to do is get up and go.

standing deskSet Goals
Set reasonable goals for yourself that are enjoyable and sustainable. You can plan and schedule your NEAT activities, or simply ask yourself each day, “What do I feel like doing right now that will keep me off my butt and on my feet?” Make movement part of your daily routine. Even if you have force yourself to get up and start moving, keep repeating those activities until they become habit. Soon, you won’t have to force yourself to do anything—you’ll just be doing what comes naturally.

stepperGear Up
Use what you’ve already got to help you get going; you’d probably be surprised by the number of useful tools you have lying around your house and garage! Consider investing in other items that will encourage movement. Yard sales and thrift stores are a good place to start, and watch for sales at the stores you frequent.

Comfortable walking shoes are a necessity. Inclement weather gear (snow boats, rain coat, etc.) is definitely worth the investment. Games and gadgets like an mp3 player or kindle/tablet can make moving more enjoyable. Bicycles, stability balls, yoga mats, free weights, pull-up bars, mini-trampolines, etc., are all reasonably priced and handy to have around. If you can afford a decent piece of exercise equipment, like a treadmill, stepper, stationary bike, etc., go for it! Request gear, equipment, and gadgets for your birthday or Christmas—I’m so glad I did!

Increase Your NEAT

  • If you can stand or walk and do it, then do! Read, write, type, eat, talk on the phone, text, surf the web, watch TV—do them all while standing, walking, or pacing. (I typed this entire blog post standing at my kitchen counter.)
  • Drive less, walk or bike more. Walk or bike to school or work.
  • Don’t let winter get you down—bundle up and brave the cold! Moving keeps you warm.
  • Play in the snow! Sledding is the best.
  • If you work at a desk, consider getting a stand-up desk, stability ball, under-desk minicycle, step or stepper for your office. At the very least, get up and move every hour—stretch, do a few jumping jacks, whatever.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Meet a friend for a walk every morning and/or take a family walk every evening.
  • Park farther away from entrances.
  • Walk or bike on your lunch break.
  • Play yard games, board games, and sports with your friends and family.
  • Play with your kiddos—fly kites, play tag, ride bikes, go for a hike, jump in the leaves, play in the snow, run through the sprinkler, go to the playground.
  • Gardening, yardwork, shoveling snow.
  • Go to museums, zoos, festivals, galleries, and science centers.
  • Shopping or window shopping.
  • Sewing, knitting, crocheting, wood work, instruments—it’s all movement and better than just sitting.
  • Got a dog? Take him for a walk or play fetch.
  • Cooking and baking from scratch.
  • Housework, chores, cleaning, organization.
  • Home improvement and do-it-yourself projects.
  • Hobbies galore: fishing, hunting, gardening, golf, archery, tennis, yoga, swimming, kayaking, hiking, geo-caching, bowling, spelunking, snow sports, water sports, etc. The possibilities are endless!

303EXE~1Exercise is okay, too.

  • You can exercise if you want to. Exercise is a great, healthy habit. I do actual workouts sometimes when I’m bored and have energy to burn. Workout DVDs, books, and YouTube videos provide lots of variety. My kids love the book 303 Kid-Approved Exercises & Active Games (there’s books for preschoolers and tweens, too!).
  • Keep in mind that exercise is not a substitute for NEAT activity. Working out does very little for your health if you are inactive the rest of the day. Levine says, “Even if you work out at the gym four or five times a week for an hour, you will not undo the damage you’re doing to your body through 8 or 10 hours of sitting on your butt each day.”
  • Exercise in moderation with adequate rest, recovery, and nourishment. Don’t exercise on an empty stomach, when you are tired, or for longer than 60 minutes. Eat carbs and salt with a bit of fat and protein within 30 minutes post-workout.
  • I recently read that, based on our circadian rhythm, the best time to exercise is between 10 AM and 3 PM, and that you should avoid working out first thing in the morning or late at night (The Female Body Blueprint by Josh & Jeanne Rubin).
  • Be cautious about intensity and frequency of workouts; over-exercising can be just as damaging to your health as inactivity.
  • If you are an avid exerciser, be sure to watch for symptoms of metabolic slow down: low body temperature, cold hands and feet, frequent urination/clear urine, fatigue, insomnia/trouble falling asleep or staying asleep/waking between 3-5 AM. If you start to experience these symptoms, you might need to take a break from exercise to recuperate and refeed.

Listen to your body.
It’s okay to relax. If you are physically exhausted or sore from standing and moving all day, take it easy. Rest is important, too!


Local readers are welcome to borrow my copy of Dr. James Levine’s Move a Little, Lose a Lot. Want your own? You can get a great used copy for a few bucks at AbeBooks!
Check out my follow-up post Movement Resources!


Life in this Body, Part II


What is life in this body really about? I wrote and rewrote my answer to that question half a dozen times, trying to articulate my thoughts on how to mindfully care for our bodies without regard to body image. But every time I read through my response, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the answer was much simpler.

When I reworded the question—What should bodily life look like?—the answer came to me immediately. It was right in front of me the whole time, simple and unassuming: the life of a child.

Observe the way young children interact with the world. They’re much more in tune with their physical instincts than adults. Kids are always doing what comes naturally:

  1. They move constantly. They walk, run, skip, dance, jump, scoot, crawl, twirl, and trot. Force them to sit, and they squirm, fidget, flail, and ultimately get up. They can’t help themselves; they need to move!
  2. They yearn to be outside. They crave the fresh air. They roll in the snow, run barefoot in the grass, dig in the dirt, pick flowers, climb trees, stomp in rain puddles, and jump into piles of leaves.
  3. They eat and drink when they’re hungry and thirsty, and stop when they’re full. They eat what they like and refuse to eat what they don’t like.
  4. They sleep when they’re tired. They go to bed early, get up early, and sleep 10-12 hours a night.
  5. They play. And because playing is fun, they tend to laugh, smile, and giggle all the time.

What should we adults do with our bodies? All the things that kids do simply because it’s in their nature to do them. But guess what? It’s in our nature, too. We haven’t lost our ability to do what kids do; we’ve just chosen to ignore our instincts. We stubbornly push aside the things we need in favor of what we want. We force ourselves to do things we don’t really want to do because we think we need to. But I think it’s time to be more child-like.

Embrace your body’s natural desire to move, be outside, eat, drink, sleep, and play. It’s easier than you think and every bit as fun as you might imagine. I’m not saying you should shirk your responsibilities and play outside all day (but wouldn’t that be awesome?!). All I mean is that we should strive to incorporate these things into each and every day so that they become an integral part of our lives.

We were not made to sit on our butts all day indoors. We were not made to starve or overindulge our bodies. We were not made to work constantly without time to rest and play. We were made to love and serve the people around us, to enjoy creation, and to care for the things entrusted to us. We were made to live.

Life in this Body, Part I

After years of being entirely consumed by diet and nutrition, I’m in a much better place now. I pay attention to my body’s cues and try to give it what it needs. I eat regular food and try to stay warm, but not obsessively. I feel pretty darn good. But I look… different.

I went straight from a highly restrictive diet to eating without restraint, and I put on substantial weight. If you aren’t familiar with the phenomenon, here it is in a nutshell: Your body rapidly gains fat to repair itself after a period of extensive deprivation. Oftentimes, your body overcompensates, gaining more fat than you initially lost, as protection against future deprivation. Well, at least I’m well-protected! At present, I am the heaviest I have ever been (pregnancies excluded). And if that weren’t enough of a blow to the ol’ self-esteem, I calculated my body mass index.

The result: “You are obese. To obtain a normal body weight, you must lose between 38.86 and 73.85 pounds.” Stupid BMI chart, always making me feel inadequate and stuff. But it’s not just the charts, scales, and calculators; it’s the media, peers, family, friends, and even perfect strangers criticizing my body at all times, in all places, both directly and indirectly. I’m way beyond just having a low self-esteem—I’m ashamed, jealous, angry, and insecure.

too short
All my life I’ve had people either alluding to my physical inadequacies or scrutinizing me straight to my face. It seems like their criticisms only serve to fuel mine, and the longer I stand in the judgment of others, the more I feel like doling it out. At the end of the day when I’m face to face with my own reflection, all I see is a person I despise. How did I get to this awful place where I am the one person I find so difficult to love and accept?

It wasn’t until recently, when I overheard my six-year-old son say he was “fat,” that I realized the far-reaching effects of my self-deprecating talk. It’s funny how we try so hard to teach our children to be kind, confident, and accepting when we don’t even afford ourselves those luxuries. And what do you suppose our children actually take to heart, what we say or what we model for them every day? In this case, the answer was painfully obvious.

When I complain about my shape and size, what am I communicating to my family, friends, and everyone else in earshot? That my body is not good enough? That physical appearance is what I value most? That happiness is only attained by being a certain weight? If that’s the message I’m conveying, maybe I should just shut up.

So I did. I quit complaining about my tight clothes. I quit pinching my belly and sighing in disgust. I quit discussing my need to get in shape. I quit talking about losing weight. Instead, I asked myself, “What is life in this body really about?”

Stay tuned for Life in this Body, Part II…