The Power of Four

The Power of Four

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!

The Power of Four

Decades ago, my friends warned me this would happen. As I consumed a seemingly endless stream of chocolate milkshakes, strawberry sundaes and banana splits, they’d shake their heads and say, “It’s all gonna catch up with you someday.” Turns out, they were right.

I’m not sure when I crossed the line from beanpole to beanbag; I only know that one day I was driving and felt an obstruction between my lower back and the driver’s seat. Horrified, I realized that the obstruction was me — a roll of fat like a mountain bike tire wedged between the car seat and myself. Yikes!

When I got home, I took a good hard look at my undiesclad self in the mirror. No denying I was a muddle through the middle. More dismaying, though, was that even my legs — specifically my thighs, which I’d assumed would stay toned forever from a lifetime of exercise — were getting, gasp, chunky. How — and when — had this happened? I was eating the same as always (including a dessert every night) and was exercising as much as ever (daily). It just didn’t seem to be working anymore. “It,” I realized, was my metabolism. Maybe it wasn’t on an allout sit-down strike, but it definitely was on a work slowdown.

I might have caught on sooner if I’d bothered to weigh myself regularly, but I’d always been so thin I never saw the need to “obsess” about my weight. Meanwhile, the pounds were sneaking on, and my body’s equilibrium was getting more and more out of whack. The same amount of food plus the same amount of exercise no longer resulted in the same number of pounds. It was obvious that if I wanted to shed some pounds, I’d have to exercise more or eat less.

Cutting out or simply cutting down on ice cream probably would do the trick all by itself. But over the years, I’d given up smoking, drinking and, for the most part, gossiping. Ice cream was my only remaining guilty pleasure. I chose to exercise more.

I already was exercising every day — at the very least, a walk around my neighborhood, which is a good mile. Yoga, swimming, gardening, exercising my horse — one of these “extras” was added to my daily walk more often than not. But a mile walk and an extra activity apparently weren’t cutting it anymore. I needed a more disciplined approach. So I devised an exercise point system similar to the food point systems used by dieters.

The system works like this: An easy mile, which takes me roughly twenty minutes, is worth 1 point. All other exercise is assigned a point value relative to that mile walk. A half-mile swim, for instance, is 1 point; a mile swim is 2 points. Gardening for half an hour is worth 1 point. Shoveling the snow can be 1 or 2 points, depending on snow depth and heaviness. An hour aerobics class is 2 points. A half-hour yoga video is 1 point. Mowing the lawn with the power mower is 1 point. Even housework counts — vacuuming or mopping floors for half an hour is worth 1 point.

Through trial and error, I discovered that if I want to eat ice cream and lose weight at the same time, I must earn 4 points a day. The points can be amassed in any combination and at any time of day or night. For instance, I could take a two-mile walk in the morning, mow the lawn in the afternoon, and do a half-hour yoga video before bed. Four points. Or I could exercise my horse for half an hour in the morning, walk the dog around the circle in the afternoon, and take a two-mile walk in the evening. Four points. If I do something exotic that’s not on my points menu — someone invites me canoeing, for example — I estimate the number of points based on how much energy I expended compared with a mile walk.

“Cheaters” are partial points that I don’t keep track of — parking my car across the lot from the grocery store, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, occasionally carrying hand weights on a walk, etc. The cheaters add up and are insurance against those days when time simply doesn’t allow me to reach 4 points. I try to keep those days to a minimum, and have had very few of them.

I do give myself Sundays off, which is a big physical and psychological boost. If I’m beat on a Thursday and it’s late and I still need a point, I tell myself “Sunday’s coming” and muster the energy for one last walk around the circle or a stretch-andflex video before bed. Even though Sunday is a free day, I can exercise if I want to and take a walk if the weather’s glorious or do some gardening if the weeds are calling. The point is I don’t have to.

This system works for me. I’m losing weight — albeit slowly — and keeping it off. I never feel that I’m in an exercise rut, and I like the fact that necessary activities — mowing the lawn or mopping the floors — count toward my points. Another plus is that this system covers all three components of physical fitness — strength, cardio and flexibility. Best of all, I never feel deprived!

Four points a day might seem like a lot to pay for the luxury of eating ice cream, but it’s worth it to me. If I want to drop my point requirement to 2 or 3, I can always cut out or cut down on the ice cream. That probably won’t be happening anytime soon, though. I just stocked up on Cherry Garcia.

~ Kristine McGovern ~

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