Physical Health Struggles and Ways to Combat Them

As the Chief Medical Officer on the ship, I wanted to talk more about health and fitness. This is going to start off about me and my struggles with my own health and fitness. Then it will lead into some information I have learned along the way. I have hopes that this story will help others who are struggling with their health and fitness. As many of you have noticed recently, I have become interested in and engaged with health and fitness of late. There are several reasons and excuses for this; I found myself starting to become lethargic both mentally and physically, as well as getting older (40 is fast approaching). I found that I was gaining weight by eating all the wrong things and not being active (other than a walk a month); then COVID came along and added to my not wanting to be active! Things were shut down; my prior roommate was baking up a storm several times a week. The weight gain surely came from everything above and my general sedentariness. Video games and bad food became my life.

I was never one who cared about what I ate; it usually was not healthy in any form, but man, was it delicious. When I got into running, I was always hopeful that I could simply run it off. You cannot outrun a poor diet! Many years prior I weighed more than I do now and was unhealthier and sedentary (notice a theme?), and I was such a foodie that going out to eat was a common occurrence. I dealt with the weight until I started to get into running. Food was still central, as runners love to eat. My problem was that the food I was eating after a run was the same food I ate all the time – unhealthy, with few fruits and no vegetables. I lost enough weight to get into the Air Force Reserves, at which point I got back into shape by strenuous work, exercise and pretty much being made to eat the right foods. The military made me do it. As soon as I was out and back home, though, I was back to eating whatever I wanted, which was mostly sweets, beer, and general restaurant and fatty food eating. Thus, over the past 6 years my weight started to come back on, slowly but steadily, and I just did not care that much. My running times went down; I stopped going to running clubs and just stopped doing anything.

An important thing to know is that water is a vital part of life and you need it more than you realize, even more so up here at altitude than down at sea level. My water intake was almost non-existent, happening only when I knew I was going for a run that day or taking medicine for my headaches. Otherwise, I survived on coffee and beer. Somehow. I was lacking the motivation to get healthier and lose weight. I think the breaking point that really motivated me was that none of my pants were fitting, my belts stopped fitting, and my loose shirts were getting tighter. I am not one to go spend money on new clothes simply because I am gaining weight, or to go buy them. I do not buy clothes that often; I just made them work until they could not anymore. The next big motivator was the upcoming conventions in August. I wanted to wear some of the dresses and nicer fitting costumes/uniforms and not look like the sack of potatoes that I often feel like. I was simply not happy with how I was looking and feeling in clothes, or being out of breath going up the apartment stairs.

So, the journey into getting back into shape and caring about my health started full force in the last 4 weeks. I wanted people to join me, because doing things as a group, with friends or with partner(s), and having the motivation and accountability have proven to help. I took to drinking more water, I am up to 6 glasses of water a day, but the recommended amount is eight 8 oz glasses of water a day. That is 64 oz of water!! Then came the change in what I eat and how much of it, and the psychology of eating. I had to stop sitting at work, snarfing down all the sugary goodness and skipping meals. That meant picking up fruits and veggies for snacking on instead. It meant changing what I ate for lunch and dinner, and how much of it. It also meant watching my salt intake, as salt helps you gain weight as well. Finally, it meant getting active again. I have been worried about my knees having issues when I go running, so at lunch on my 30-minute breaks I have been getting outside and walking, anywhere from 1.5 to 2 miles. After I wrote this, though, I went out with a friend and we did a 3-mile run/walk, and my knees held up just fine.

You might be surprised to learn that walks for as little as 30 minutes can help you lose weight, with the right food changes. I keep wanting to use the word diet, but that is not what this is. This is a lifestyle change, not a diet to lose weight and then go back to what I was doing before. The 5 pounds I have lost so far are guaranteed to come back if that is the case. I know that you might not want to focus on your health or fitness level and that some people are restricted from working out or doing certain physical activity, but did you know that weight loss comes 80% from the kitchen (what you eat) and 20% in the gym (or anywhere; gyms are not necessary!)? Tracking food can be a helpful thing; it has been proven to help as well. That is what I and several of my friends have been doing, and the weight loss has happened.

A great way to get started is swapping out one unhealthy snack (I see you, ice cream) and having a bunch of grapes, or even frozen yogurt if you really want that ice creamy goodness. But you do not have to deprive yourself of your favorite goodies, because that is negative reinforcement and you will focus on it too much. Instead, save it for a special day once a week, but do it in moderation, maybe when we all get to go back to Friday Night Socials again, or just a Friday because you deserve it. Instead of sitting there on your phone during lunch (like I used to do), go out for a 15-minute walk so you still have time to eat, but you know you did something. Or save the walk for after work and take a friend with you, or call a friend while you are walking.

The weather is really shaping up to be great; we have already had some great days this past month. So, drink plenty of water, track your food and go for a walk, do yoga, or play a video game that gets you moving. Our monthly Leadership walks are coming around again, so be sure to join us! If you ever need support or motivation, or someone to talk to because you are struggling, I am here to talk and be your support, just like many of our members are. We have people in the group with a wealth of information. As a member (family) on the Tiburon, I am looking forward to seeing all of you again in these upcoming events!

My next article will be on mental health and how it affects your physical health, and how your physical health also affects your mental health. It is sure to have some valuable information in there.

MyFitnessPal – This free app can be found on the Apple and Google App stores.

Noom – Two-week free trial, which I used to help me lose those first four pounds. It has great psychology-driven articles to help change your thinking about food. Then you can continue to use the free app. It is also on the Apple and Google App stores.

Water: How much should you drink every day?

LTjg Becky McDaniel – Chief Medical Officer