From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You


My whole life is about inspiration, so when the folks from Chicken Soup for the Soul showed me the manuscript for this book about “Shaping the New You,” I wanted to get involved. We all need some help when it comes to taking care of ourselves. We want to do it, we know how good it will feel to be in shape, but we need that push to do the hard work necessary to get there.

These 100 stories written by regular people about their efforts to control their weight and get fit really resonate with me. There is no better inspiration than hearing someone else’s story. You will undoubtedly make a connection while reading this book—you’ll find a little motivational trick that you know will work for you, or read a phrase that gets you out of your chair. . . and out of the kitchen!

No one has a bigger appetite than me! Food was my entire life growing up. I could be blindfolded and still find a po’ boy place. I was raised in New Orleans, within walking distance of the best food in the world. I love food! But I have learned to love myself too. And that is how I dropped more than 100 pounds in my early twenties and kept it off for the four decades since.

My parents were in show business. Although they were larger than life, they had cute little bodies. I don’t know if they had to work hard to look as good as they did. My mother was a professional singer and performer for much of my childhood. She was petite and always dressed elegantly—a real Auntie Mame type!

I was raised with music playing all the time in the house, and we lived around the corner from Preservation Hall. My parents danced in the living room. That is probably why exercising to music and dancing is so important to me.

My parents’ philosophy was “Know no strangers.” I use everything they taught me. No one remains a stranger to me. And it’s funny how people will open up to me, on the most personal topics—their weight, their health, their life stories. I am like their priest or rabbi!

That’s one of the things that I love about this book. The authors of these stories open up their lives to you and share their ups and downs (literally) and unselfishly pass on their wisdom. I am sure you will find useful tips and some great inspiration in these pages.

It doesn’t take much to start to gain control of your life. You can do it a little piece at a time. Take the first story in Chapter 1, “Getting Started,” as an example. Douglas Brown was 80 pounds overweight and was rejected when he applied for life insurance. This spurred him to action. He started simply—taking the stairs in his four-floor office building every day. Over time, this led to a complete change in his fitness and diet and he is a much happier and healthier guy today.

You really can learn to love exercise. In Chapter 2, “Exercise Can Be Fun,” you’ll read about Fran Signorino, who got in shape in the privacy of her home using my tapes. After a fairly aggressive perm, she even had my hair! And her family and friends tease her all the time when she says she is “doing Richard” and can’t be disturbed. She says I’m always in a good mood and I make her keep trying even when she’s tired. Happy to be of service!

One of the things I love about this book is that there are plenty of stories about “falling off the wagon.” We all have our bad days, and that doesn’t mean your diet and fitness program is over. . . it just means that you will do better the next day. In Chapter 3, “To Err Is Human,” you’ll read lots of stories from people who have their weak moments, including Rebecca Hill’s very funny story about working on a fitness video shoot in Hawaii with a super fit staff. She was so embarrassed about ordering hamburgers from room service that she left the empty tray outside someone else’s door every night!

Chapter 4 is about “Regaining Control” and you’ll feel much better about your own slips as you read how other people got back on track. Kimberly Hutmacher describes how she has lost 20 pounds over the last couple of years in her story called “Resolution Not Revolution.” She explains, “By keeping my goals small, I was able to follow through and sustain each one for the long haul.” And in Chapter 5 you’ll read about “The Gym” and how it really isn’t as scary as you might think. Sally Schwartz Friedman has a great story called “Sweat Sisters” about going to a women-only gym where the social life and the great conversation distract her while she sweats her way to fitness.

You deserve to reach your target weight and get fit! And you deserve to have a realistic target weight. The stories in Chapter 6, “Liking Myself,” are very important. The authors write about learning to like who they are and accept their body type. Some of them have struggled with too little weight and some with too much, but the key is to enjoy who you are and realize that you are beautiful inside and out, as Thurmeka Ward learns to do in her story about self-image called “Wonderfully Made.”

One of my key themes is to laugh and have fun while you are taking care of yourself, and what better way to have fun than to have a diet and fitness buddy? In Chapter 7, “Having a Partner,” friends and spouses work together to get in shape and strengthen not only their bodies, but their relationships as a result. Stefanie Wass describes how she and her husband walk every day to combat osteoperosis and how they are more connected than ever due to their daily time together.

Having a buddy can help you stay “accountable” too. I met a 402-pound man last December who is using me as his accountability buddy. Every week he sends me a journal of what he has eaten. He has lost 105 pounds so far in the eight months he has been doing this. In Chapter 8, “Telling Myself the Truth,” you’ll read about food journals and other methods people use to keep themselves honest. Sometimes we are not so honest, as Elizabeth Kelly confesses in her story, “Lying to Myself,” when she discloses that she was not writing down everything she ate in her food journal.

You never know what will work for someone, and that’s why this book includes a whole chapter on “Foods that Made a Difference.” Bracha Goetz has a great story called “Soul Food” about how a friend reacquainted her with fruits and vegetables by discussing how wonderful apples are. This story had such an impact on the staff of Chicken Soup for the Soul that they are all eating apples now! Amy Newmark, who is the co-author and publisher of this book, told me that her mantra now is, “If I am not hungry enough to eat an apple, then I am not really hungry enough to eat.”

You’ll find additional great suggestions in Chapter 10, “Off the Beaten Path.” One of these tricks may work for you. Jennifer Quasha describes how she has made a ritual of having a fancy decaf coffee each night while her young children eat dessert. She keeps a whole shelf full of different types of decaffeinated coffee beans and artificial sweeteners for variety.

Every morning I get up around 4:30 and say, “Thank you God for this beautiful day and I’ll be kind to everyone in every way.” Every day can be wonderful for you too. You can be proud of yourself and happy with the progress you are making toward your goals. Take an inventory of who you are and what you want, and then get started on the path toward “Shaping the New You.” You’re sure to find inspiration and companionship in these pages.

~Richard Simmons

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