Have you ever ...
- felt guilty for skipping a workout?
- eaten just because you were bored?
- been frustrated with the results of your regular exercise routine?
- denied yourself snacks you love in order to stick with your diet?
If you answered yes to any (or all) of these questions, then you have plenty in common with the thousands of readers who applied for Shape's Fitness Makeover -- including our two lucky winners, Kia Mello, 27, and Magdalena Barrera, 29. Both brides-to-be, Kia and Magdalena wanted to look and feel their best on their respective wedding days. So, to help them push their fitness to the next level, make smarter food choices and learn how to balance their health with the demands of their busy lives, we sent them to the five-day Shape Your Life (SYL) program held at Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Ariz., last fall to meet with SYL's team of fitness, nutrition and mind/body experts. Read on to learn how Kia and Magdalena transformed their exercise and eating habits -- and how you can too!
How they did it Kia and Magdalena wanted to bust their workout plateaus, but they weren't sure what to do. SYL's experts showed them how an improved mind-body connection can translate into maximum results. Here's what Kia and Magdalena learned.
Finding Fun In Fitness
Kia Mello, 27, a mortgage banker from Chicago, cut straight to the chase when she wrote to us: "I hate cardio," she said. "I want to learn how to enjoy doing cardio in the gym. I always get so bored!"
At 5-foot-6 and 135 pounds, Kia wasn't looking to drop a lot of weight. Her goal was to learn how to love the time she was already spending on cardio workouts and to strengthen and tone her body. "I have heard of the mind-body connection when you are lifting, but I have never been able to do that," she says. "My mind always wanders when I'm working out."
To help Kia break through her cardio conundrum, Linda Shelton, Shape and SYL fitness director, taught her how to vary the intensity of her treadmill workouts by mixing in sprints and different inclines. Meanwhile, sampling activities like boxing and Pilates inspired Kia to try new classes at her own gym back home, including body sculpting and a cardio/martial arts combo.
In addition to busting boredom, Kia discovered that exercising in a class setting boosts her motivation. "I don't give up as easily in a group atmosphere as I do when I'm working out by myself," she says. "You can't just stop when you want to, so I know I'm really pushing myself."
On the strength-training front, the SYL program helped Kia realize that she was trying to lift too much weight, which threw off her focus. "When you do that, it's hard to exercise with proper form," she says. "Using lighter weights will help me concentrate on doing more reps using correct form."
Armed with greater awareness, Kia has transformed her attitude about fitness: "I always thought I had to spend two hours lifting to see results. Now I know that if I focus on form I can see a difference in half that time!"
No More Diets!
Kia could probably tell you the exact calorie, carb and fat content of almost anything on her plate. "I feel like I'm consumed with what I eat," she told us. "I just want to stop my obsession with food."
Kia described herself as always being on some kind of diet, and she would often deny herself foods she enjoyed like fruit, bread and pasta. Anything fattening was a definite no-no, but on the occasions when she would indulge, Kia says she'd go all-out: "I'd overeat because I would think that I was not going to have this for a while." This bingeing made Kia feel guilty.
With the help of Lisa High, M.S., R.D., SYL director of nutrition and a nutritionist with Wild Oats in Boulder, Colo., Kia worked on developing a new mind-set. "Lisa taught me that carbs are not bad -- they're needed for the body to function," she says. Not labeling foods as "good" or "bad" has helped Kia to stop punishing herself for eating things she likes. "I'm no longer limiting carbs," she says. "If I want a cookie, I'll have one, but I won't eat the whole box -- I know I can have another one some other time." This attitude adjustment helped Kia enjoy her treat guilt-free!
Kia also learned to be more mindful when she eats. "Usually, I would eat food because it was in front of me or because I was bored," she says. "Now I try to stop before I start feeling full and I watch my portions instead of just eating whatever is on my plate."
Rediscovering Her Passion
Magdalena Barrera, 29, of Mountain View, Calif., knows a thing or two about weight loss: After reaching an all-time high of 190 pounds due to her sedentary student lifestyle, the 5-foot-4-inch Ph.D. candidate dropped 36 pounds within seven months of joining Weight Watchers in late 2003. But then Magdalena hit a frustrating five-month-long plateau.
"I signed up for my current kickboxing and weight-lifting classes thinking they would help get the scale moving again," she told us. After a few months, Magdalena noticed improvements in muscle tone and endurance, but her weight continued to hover at 154 pounds.
"Before SYL, my philosophy was that as long as I was doing the 'right' things -- three hours of cardio, two hours of weights and one hour of yoga every week -- I would continue to lose weight," Magdalena says. However, through SYL training in strength, Pilates, yoga and hiking, Magdalena realized that she wasn't using the correct form or working out at a high enough intensity to burn off the extra calories she needed to drop the additional weight.
"This information got me excited, because I realized I could be doing more effective workouts in less time," she says. "Now, on days when I'm pressed for time, I can work out thoroughly and quickly and get a great workout and not feel like I 'failed' because I didn't do an entire hour of weights or kickboxing."
Trying new classes reinforced for Magdalena the importance of seeking variety. "I learned that in order to continue seeing results, I need to constantly keep my body guessing by using muscle groups in different combinations," she says. To achieve this, Magdalena plans to incorporate NIA dance into her workouts. "It inspires me to move in every way possible to engage my entire body -- up, down, side to side."
Discovering NIA at SYL also rekindled Magdalena's passion for dance. "I had no idea how much my body missed it!" says the former salsa and merengue instructor. "Also, I realized how deeply meditative dancing can be -- it gives me a mind-body connection that so far has been missing in my exercise program."
Magdalena's regimen changes have already started paying off:She reports that she's shed 3 pounds and expects her weight loss to continue.
Trusting Her Instincts
As a Weight Watchers member, Magdalena had learned a lot about selecting nutritious foods. However, she tended to get overly caught up in counting Points (Weight Watchers assigns a point value to every food and participants are allowed to eat whatever they want as long as the total doesn't exceed the Points allowed per day). She would often eat the same meals over and over again because she had memorized all of their values -- a habit that caused her to become bored and unsatisfied with her diet.
"Although my eating habits were technically healthy, they were also very regimented and unimaginative," Magdalena says. "At SYL, [SYL nutrition director] Lisa pointed out that I should appreciate how far I've come through Weight Watchers and how it has given me a structure for making healthier food choices. However, she encouraged me to learn to trust my own instincts about when and how much to eat."
Now, Magdalena no longer counts Points, but uses the hunger scale, rating how hungry she feels on a scale of 1-10, to help her determine when and how much to eat. (For more information on the hunger scale, see "Now It's Your Turn," page 187.)
Through the SYL program, Magdalena realized that she controlled her food and exercise so tightly because she felt she had no control over other areas of her life. "I realized I was putting a burden on [eating] that it's not meant to carry," she says. "Food is just meant to fuel and sustain your body, not to become a way to manage stress."
Meanwhile, eating at Canyon Ranch helped convince Magdalena that smaller portions can be satisfying if they are flavorful. "The beautiful way the meals were presented also helped me to appreciate food as a pleasurable visual experience," she says.