Help me help myself

WEEKEND LIFE
Saturday January 6, 2007
Help me help myself

SUSAN SEMENAK

Can’t stick to your diet? Hire a diet coach. Can’t get to bed at night? Maybe you need a sleep therapist. Too lazy to go to the gym? A personal trainer will make sure you do. These days, there’s a legion of professional butt-kickers out there for the motivationally challenged, from life coaches who help tackle the big picture and parenting gurus who offer child-rearing advice, to personal organizers who hound you to pick up your clothes like your mother used to.

In the bustle of busy urban life, there’s a paid professional for just about every area of human behavior that might need tweaking. A little extra help might come in handy right about now.

For most people, the lifespan of a New Year’s resolution is less than six months, according to eDiet.com, a consumer diet and fitness website. That’s because we take on too much, we don’t think our goals through before embarking, and we’re too hard on ourselves when we stumble, experts say.

Marylene Gagne, associate professor in the department of management at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business, studies what motivates people. She says intrinsic – internal – motivators are always more powerful than extrinsic ones. The individual trying to lose weight or quit smoking or exercise more needs to truly believe that what he or she is doing is worth the perseverance.

The Gazette solicited several Montreal experts for their strategies to get started and stick with those New Year’s resolutions.

How to lose weight

Eva Libman, a cognitive behavioral psychologist, is associate director of the Jewish General Hospital’s Behavioral Psychotherapy and Research Unit. She helps clients with behavioral therapy, including stress management, weight control and sex therapy, and sleep-disorder treatment.

First off, examine your goals. Is the amount of weight you are trying to lose realistic? Is it really important to you? Why?

Ask yourself why you overeat. Are you frustrated or overtired? Are you having trouble at work? “Sometimes there are other things that need to be sorted out. Maybe what you really need is more rest, or to take care of other things,” Libman suggested.

Break it down into manageable bits. Don’t say you need to lose 40 pounds. Instead, say you plan to lose five pounds a month for eight months. Libman says smaller goals allow individuals to begin seeing results sooner, which provides its own reinforcement.

Keep a journal of everything you eat and when – even before you begin your weight-loss campaign. “Recording is a very powerful technique. It focuses your attention and enables you to recognize what is going on.”

Weigh yourself regularly. It’s feedback. Once a week is usually enough.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. One day of overeating is not catastrophic. No matter how badly you have binged, if you stop, it will still be better than if you continue.

Talk to yourself. It’s a great way of taking control. “I can always stop.” “I don’t have to have another piece of cake.” Before long, you’ll start believing it.

Build in rewards. Have coffee with a friend after a run or spend an evening at the movies after losing a few pounds. At the beginning, you need extrinsic motivators.

How to get more sleep

Sleep is an involuntary process; you cannot make yourself fall asleep. But you can prepare your mind so that sleep will come.

Breathe. Try an easy deep-breathing exercise, silently counting from one to 10 and then backwards while breathing deeply. One. Relax. Two. Relax. Three. Relax. Practice during the day. The exercise gives you something to distract you from the thoughts and worries inside your head that keep you from sleeping.

Find a bedtime ritual and stick with it. Like kids and bedtime stories, adults might need their own bedtime routines that take place at roughly the same time every night.

Distract yourself. Reading, for instance, is a wonderful way of detaching from the day’s events. For others, talk radio can provide the necessary distraction. (If you sleep with a partner, you might need to invest in a pillow speaker.) Libman says it’s better than soothing classical music, “which isn’t powerful enough to interrupt your thoughts.”

Avoid stressful situations or conversations in the evening. Maybe 10 p.m. isn’t the best time to call your mother.

Practice good sleep hygiene. Make sure the room isn’t too bright or too dark for you. Keep the ambience pleasant.

A little background noise is good. A fan with a nice low hum masks the television playing in the other room or the cars passing in the street.

How to look your best

Marie-Claude Pelletier, a stylist and wardrobe consultant, is founder of Les Effrontes, a Laurier Ave. style and image agency that helps clients put “wow” into their wardrobes. Looking good is all in the details, she says.

No more impulse purchases. Only buy clothes that co-ordinate well with what’s already hanging in your closet.

Sew missing buttons and torn clothing. Don’t wear anything with even the smallest stain.

Throw out socks with holes and hosiery with runs. Ditto for shirts with worn collars or frayed cuffs.

Discard anything you haven’t worn in a year.

Don’t keep your best clothes for special occasions. Wear them now.

Keep an emergency grooming kit at work, complete with lint brush, sewing kit, mouthwash, stain remover and extra pantyhose.

Bad-fitting underwear will ruin every look.

Get a haircut every five to six weeks at the least. Never let the roots show between appointments with the colourist.

Instead of trying to conceal your flaws, highlight your assets.

If you can’t afford to invest a lot in your wardrobe, at least update your accessories.

Wear the right size.

Don’t wear sweats outside of the house or the gym. Not even to walk the dog.

Hair should not be allowed to grow from any visible orifices.

How to get fit

Larry Hunter is a personal trainer at the Montreal Athletic Association, on Peel St.

Start slow. It’s unrealistic to expect to go straight from couch potato to five-days-a-week at the gym. Make a commitment you know you can keep, even if it’s only twice a week to start. Be realistic. Then be sure to commit.

Have fun. Choose an activity you like doing. If it feels too much like work, chances are you won’t be doing it for long. The gym isn’t for everybody. If half an hour on the treadmill seems like an eternity, try an exercise class or laps in the swimming pool, even a half-hour of walking with your children or your dog.

Be consistent. Choose the time of day that works best for your energy level and your other commitments. Then try to schedule exercise during that time. Sporadic workouts are easier to abandon.

It’s OK to slip up. Just get back to it sooner than later.

How to relax

Jennifer Maagendans, a yoga teacher, is owner and manager of Centre Luna Yoga in Old Montreal.

Sign up for a once a week (at least) yoga class. Often, there’s too much distraction at home, whether it’s the phone or a sink full of dishes.

Concentrate on your breathing. Lie down with your back flat against the floor, with feet up against a wall. Don’t move for five to 10 minutes, or until your heart rate slows and your mind is focused. Do this at the end of each day to stretch and de-stress.

Before bed, think of five things for which you are grateful, even when you’ve had the most miserable day.

Sit up. Good posture is good for the body and the soul.

Stay in the present. Avoid multi-tasking.

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