- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Erik Mead is 41 and on a mission. “To be stronger and in better shape than I’ve ever been,” he said.
He has a wife and four girls — 2-year-old triplets and a 6-year-old. “The best I can do is try to stay fit and be around for them,” Mead said. “I don’t want to let anyone down that really cares for me.”
So, for the past 3½ months, like many out there now working to fulfill New Year’s resolutions, he’s been striving to eat less, not until he’s full but until he knows he’s had a healthy portion. He’s been working out five days a week during his lunch break. He met his own personal challenge to bench-press two 100-pound dumbbells, one in each hand. And he now wakes up each morning thanking God for another day, for helping him battle past addictions and blessing him to be the sole provider for his family.
“I’m a lot happier,” Mead said. “You’ve got to want more out of life than to keep waking up and existing.”
But getting in gear can be tough during and after the holidays. The turkey and stuffing were delicious. Leftovers were even better. Holiday parties flowed with eggnog and champagne, and grannies and aunties everywhere rolled cookie dough, poured batter and served helpings of edible delight.
Fitness experts say a typical Thanksgiving Day meal is about 3,000 calories. During Christmas, an average American is expected to consume about 6,000 calories, according to Bon Secours health system in Virginia. Between November and January, without much thought, a person could gain 7 to 10 pounds.
There’s no need to be frustrated for long if a plan for a healthier lifestyle is established, Mead said. It’s got to be one that addresses overall wellness, he said, including exercise, diet, mental health and, for many, a path toward spiritual balance.
For some, that means yoga. For others, it’s meditation or prayer, walks on the beach or a few moments of positive thoughts each day.
“I’m rediscovering my Catholicism,” Mead said, referring to Bible verses in the New Testament books of Matthew and Mark that say to love your neighbor as yourself and to love God with all your heart.
Positive, long-term change, Mead said, “starts with loving yourself.”
“Don’t think about what you’ve already done. Just get back on the horse, and start anew every new day,” said Becky Sutay, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator with Health Connections, a program that in part focuses on community outreach, at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital in Leonardtown. “Just because you’ve had a bad day, it doesn’t mean you’ve ruined the entire plan.”
If you’re invited to a party, be the one to bring a healthy dish, such as a vegetable or fruit tray. “Don’t stand by the food table,” she said. “And watch the alcohol. It reduces your ability to make wiser choices.”
It’s OK to have a little taste of everything, but it’s not necessary to have the full portion, Sutay said. Where possible, modify recipes to reduce fat and calories, and fill up on water. Take snacks such as nuts and fruit, and eat them before arriving at a party to reduce the temptation to eat less-healthy foods. There are several food plans that allow for one cheat meal a week, Sutay said, but “not sunup to sundown.”
“My philosophy is, the key to life is balance,” said Deborah Petro Kreahling, owner of DPK Counseling & Consulting in Prince Frederick.
Get good sleep. Get nourished, and stay hydrated, she said. Find some free time, maybe watch a program with the kids, or listen to music and relax. Don’t try to finish everything at once — so maybe the Christmas cards didn’t go out until the New Year. Maybe a child didn’t get everything on their wish list. But relax. More can be purchased as it’s affordable throughout the year. And remember to keep cool, Kreahling said. “When you feel yourself getting all revved up, we need to cool down.”
Take five to 10 minutes for a short walk, to listen to music and distract yourself from the situation. Have a glass of cold water (not alcohol), and drink it slowly. “After the cooldown, come back and talk about the situation,” Kreahling said. “Conflict is just a problem that needs to be resolved.”
“If you’re feeling overwhelmed in one area, you’re not balanced,” she said. For clarity and focus, try writing out goals and placing them nearby as reminders to stay on track. “Sticky notes are great,” she said. They can be attached to refrigerator doors, mirrors and desks.
And exercise. Even if it’s just walking the dog, Kreahling said.
But “don’t set yourself up to fail,” said Natasha Atkinson, director of Longevity Studios in La Plata. “Don’t automatically think Jan. 1 you’re going to hit the gym five days a week.” A healthy goal is to lose about 1 to 2 pounds a week.
She talked about jumping on the scale less often and setting other measurable goals. Pay attention to how clothes fit. Pull out the tape measure at the beginning of the fitness plan, and reassess as time goes on.
Be realistic. A person might want to be a size 6 by June. “If you’re already a size 10, that’s realistic,” she said. “If you’re a size 22, maybe not.” And that’s OK. Set a goal that is.
Some people in their 40s and 50s who work in sedentary jobs have trouble just getting up from a seated position on the floor. Others have had hip or knee replacements and have the same challenge. A realistic goal for them is just to be able to get up on their own, Atkinson said.
Another goal could be only having one or two desserts or treats in a week, or drinking more water each day until getting to about half of one’s body weight, in ounces. For instance, a woman weighing 150 pounds would drink 75 ounces of water.
And if you can’t make it to the gym for an hour, 20 or 30 minutes of exercise at home or outdoors can make a difference, she said.
Work out with a partner, but don’t let them ever talk you out of reaching important goals, she said. And try to avoid stress, which is a serious issue for many during the holiday season. Stay surrounded by goodness.
“People going to gyms are more uplifting,” Atkinson said. “You’re not going to get a lot of ‘Debbie Downers’ there, so it’s encouraging.” Join exercise classes for camaraderie, and if you don’t like running, don’t do it. Find activities that are enjoyable, Atkinson said. “You just have to find out what it is that you really want.”
That’s what Mead has done. He wants to be like his dad, whom he described as a “physical fitness guru,” who has run marathons and is a fourth-degree black belt at 67. But, for Mead, it’s been a long journey at times. He’s honest about those shortcomings, and, he said, candor has made it easier to move past them.
“I don’t need to hide from anyone,” he said. It’s made him a husband and father who wants to protect his family and shield them from the pain he says he caused his own.
Mead said he never used intravenous drugs. “But I used just about everything else out there,” he said. And it never felt right.
“I always held deep inside of me the morals my parents brought me up with,” Mead said. “I always felt guilty.”
He’d gotten high one night, and then the guilt overtook him. “I went to my mom’s house and cried,” Mead said. That’s when he started his road to recovery. “I just had a spiritual awakening.”
His resolution this year stands on changes he’s made throughout time to become the person he’d like to be. For the past 13 years, Mead said he’s balanced his recovery meetings with a determination not to fail and stay down. He’s up at about 4:30 a.m., at work as a government contractor an hour later, in the gym for an hour at 10 a.m. on his lunch break, with 20 minutes of cardio and 40 minutes of strength training, each day targeting a different muscle group. And twice a week, he’s working part time at World Gym in Lexington Park, where he talked about his goals earlier this month.
He’s always been into physical fitness. Sometimes he would stop, but he always started again. “I’ve went up the hill. I’ve went down the hill,” he said. “I’ve struggled with my sobriety.” He said he’s been clean for years and is on track to reaching his goal of being in top shape. And Mead vowed to stay in the fight.
“People give up too easily,” he said. “Like when they make a New Year’s resolution, and they get sore three days after working out. Or, they don’t have a partner, so they can’t stay motivated. Working out is a lifestyle,” he said.
You can get bored, or your body can plateau. Just switch up the routine, he said.
“I’m just trying to ask for God’s will every day and just let it play out,” Mead said, pausing a few seconds to think.
“My fear, if I ever passed away early, I hope my kids would be old enough to know at least the type of man I was,” he said. How he treated their mother. “That I was a hard worker.”
“I’m not always good at it,” Mead said. “I fail. I try again. And I keep on truckin.’”