A wellness/fitness director, a couple who have lost more than 300 pounds together, and a woman who is exactly at the weight and fitness she wants to be after eight years all offer advice to begin your fitness quest by choosing one thing to change as the place to start.
The advice comes from Simeon Lang, the wellness director/fitness instructor at the Greene County Community Center, which is also a recreation center, in Jefferson; Danelle and Todd Mason of Jefferson, who worked together as a couple to lose weight, get fit and stay that way; and Heather Ruzicka, who lost more than 100 pounds and made fitness and activity a family focus.
Ruzicka, who weighed 220 pounds at just about 5 feet tall, began her journey eight years ago by not eating whenever and whatever her children were eating.
“You know, toddlers eat several times a day with meals and snacks in between,” she says.
Ruzicka would not only eat along with them, but she would eat their leftovers, too. She now has four sons, ranging in age from 6 to 19.
“My husband is 6-foot-4, and no matter what I weighed, I always looked small next to him,” she says of one of the excuses she used for not managing her weight.
Her motivating factor was when she heard one of her sons making excuses about why she couldn’t go out and play with him and one of his friends. Ruzicka says he wanted to go play in the park, and she was thinking that she didn’t want to get up and walk across the street.
Her first exercise was walking on a tread mill.
“I wasn’t able to do anything else,” she says.
At the same time, she started parking further away when she went somewhere. Ruzicka also started running up and down the stairs with smaller loads of laundry to add in some everyday exercise.
Later, she posted a note on her refrigerator — a phrase she heard Lang use — “Nothing tastes as well as skinny feels.”
Now, she says, she eats clean… food she cooks from scratch.
“The more clean I eat, the better the food tastes,” she says.
For Ruzicka, exercise and eating right are a lifestyle that has extended to her children and her husband.
“Exercise is as much a part of my day as going to bed,” she says. “Now we can all do things together without excuses.”
Danelle and Todd Mason were working on losing weight when they married in 2006.
In their first year of marriage, they each gained 20 pounds back. At 5-foot-2, Danelle weighed 320 pounds at her heaviest, and Todd weighed 400 pounds at 6-foot-2. Danelle currently weights 157 pounds and Todd 230 pounds.
It was at that point when Danelle told Todd, “I’m going to the rec center. You can come with me or stay, but I’m going to get healthy.”
Todd agreed to go.
“I didn’t want to be the one sitting at home on the couch eating chips,” he says.
They jumped into the weight-loss fray by exercising three hours at a time. Danelle tried every class offered at the rec center, and Todd worked hard as well, but they reached a point where they weren’t losing the weight the way they wanted to.
“We were doing well with the exercising, but we weren’t thinking about the food so much,” Danelle says.
Like Ruzicka, the Masons began eating “real food” as opposed to processed. They still have cheat days once a week when they let themselves have a treat.
“For us it is Friday night,” she says.
They also kept exercise and food journals to track what they were doing.
Todd notes that they even got heart monitors to see what type of exercise was increasing their heart rates the most. Todd also says his good results came from watching every piece of food that went into his mouth.
Both Todd and Danelle say they had struggled with their weight all their lives.
“I had tried every possible diet plan and diet pill out there, and nothing worked before,” she says.
Their biggest tip for people wanting to begin exercising is to find something they enjoy doing. The same goes for the food. Find healthy food that is enjoyable and don’t forget to have a treat now and then.
Danelle says she learned a lot about how to cook healthy food from watching the show “The Biggest Loser.” Todd, however, feels the show gives people unrealistic expectations that weight loss can be done quickly. Losing weight more slowly, one to two pounds a week, will be easier to maintain down the road.
Danelle’s favorite exercise is Zumba, so much so that she is now a certified Zumba instructor and teaches 10 classes a week at the Community Center.
The Masons and Ruzicka emphasize that they lost their weight and became fit over a number of years. Now they have to work to maintain what they have accomplished. All of them have worked out, and/or consulted with Lang.
Talking with Lang about getting fit and weight loss puts all of it into perspective.
“You don’t have to slave away for hours at the gym,” Lang says. “Thirty minutes a day is good. It can even be 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening.”
He advises people to find exercise they like to do, and to mix up the exercise to keep the body guessing.
“The body will get used to and adapt to exercise that is done day after day,” Lang says, adding that giving the body something else to do, can help a person who seems to be stalled in their weight loss a reboot.
Lang teaches a variety of exercise and nutrition classes, too.
“I focus on the body’s need for ‘real’ food. What we eat affects our hormone levels and many other aspects of our health,” he says. “Getting healthy by eating the right kinds of food will help you lose weight. People need to look at the quality of the food they are consuming, not the quantity. You don’t need to starve yourself or be miserable to lose weight.”
Like Ruzicka and the Masons, Lang advises that losing weight and becoming fit needs to become a lifestyle. It needs to be as important as the rest of the demands in people’s lives.
“Exercising needs to become part of who you are,” he says. “When something becomes important to you, you keep doing it.”
He also advises against trying to do too much too quickly.
“Begin by focusing on small things, one thing at a time. Then focus more on the process than the end goal,” Lang says. “Maybe today you will work on making a healthy food choice.”
Exercising is important, but Lang cautions people not to use exercise as a crutch to eat too much or eat unhealthy foods later. That said, if people are eating foods that are good for them most of the time, exercise can be an insurance policy to help maintain weight when they eat more than they thought or eat calorie-heavy foods.
Lang adds that doing a strength training and aerobic training is a good mix, but to not exercise the same muscles every day, particularly with strength training.
“Strength training breaks down the muscle tissue. You need to give your muscles at least 48 hours to rebuild before working the same muscle group,” Lang says. “You could do strength training every day if you are working different muscle groups.”
He noted that any member of the Greene County Community Center can receive a free orientation to the exercise and weight equipment and to the classes available.
“I’m not the only one teaching in here either,” he says. “Depending on the season, there are 10-12 other fitness instructors teaching all types of different classes from yoga and Zumba to indoor cycling, kick-boxing and interval step aerobics.”
In the fall, Lang started a women’s weight-lifting class and has taught a class called “Our body’s need for Real Food.”
He emphasizes that he is at the center as a resource to its members, whether they want to know more about healthy eating, exercising or both.
Lang says people need to choose exercise and an exercise routine they feel they can stick with.
“Consistency,” Lang says. “It all comes back to consistency, especially if you are just starting to work on a New Year’s resolution. Stick with it.”