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Physical Excellence, Part 1: Getting Started

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #34, 2000.

First of a series on how to get your family in the best physical shape of their lives.
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Mary Pride

Are you brisk and bouncy, fit and trim, firmly muscled, and radiating with energy? Can you snap off push-ups and sit-ups like nobody's business? How about your kids?

I thought so.

Yes, some of you reading this are farmers and ranchers. Others are heavily involved in demanding physical sports. But if homeschoolers are like the rest of the U.S. population, a good solid (and I do mean "solid"!) 50 percent of us are overweight, with almost half of these being really overweight.

It's not that we sit around eating like pigs all day. It just sort of crept up on us, as we sat around our air-conditioned houses, trailers, or apartments on our teeny-to-nonexistent patches of land. When your suburb is designed without sidewalks, it's tough to go for a walk. When your city park becomes the favorite hangout of muggers, you'd better be able to run fast if you plan to jog! And, whatever your environment, if you have babies and toddlers, getting out to the health club or even out for a walk around the block can be nigh impossible.

Let me tell you my personal story and see if you can relate.

My husband Bill has lost 50 pounds of fat and gained mucho muscle in the last six months.
How I Got Fat

I was a slim toddler, then a fat child. The private school I attended for four years specialized in starchy food and gloppy desserts, but the real bane of my young existence was the "you must clean your plate" rule.

This all changed in eighth grade of public school, when a boy I had a crush on made a comment about what I looked like in orange stretch pants. (Something about "the moon rising over the mountains" . . .) This motivated me to lose a lot of weight quickly. I ate nothing but oranges and hard-boiled eggs (I had heard they both consume more energy to digest than they give back), drank lots of water, and spent hours every day progressing as quickly as I could through the levels of The Royal Canadian Exercise Plan for Physical Fitness.

I kept up a similar regimen - not quite a starvation diet, but close - adding more low-cal types of food and eschewing all sugary and carbohydrate foods, all through college and into my early marriage. I kept up the exercise plan, too.

When I started having children, my eating pattern changed. Suddenly I was making my own whole-wheat bread, followed by such healthy goodies as soy-wheat pancakes, homemade yogurt, lentil soup, and so forth. The More-With-Less Cookbook was my guide, which helped, since we couldn't afford "meat" protein most of the time.

I still exercised in the morning, and I still had a figure - for the first five kids.

Then, computers entered my life. Cue sounds of ominous mood music: "Dum, dum, de dum . . ." So did projects with deadlines. More ominous theme music: "De DUM de DUM . . ." To make a long story short, we bought into the "high fiber" diet, started eating occasional junk food to keep energy high during all-nighters, experienced the stresses of starting and running our own business, made a habit of skipping breakfast and sometimes lunch to get more work done . . .

And I ballooned like crazy.

At 180 pounds, I joined my first health club.

At 200 pounds, I joined my second health club and we signed up for the neighborhood swimming pool.

At 220 pounds, I sweated through mile walks every day as well as trying to keep up at the health club.

At 275 pounds, I discovered the Atkins Diet, and lost 35 pounds. Ecstasy! Until I discovered that a pre-existing gallstone problem had become so severe I could no longer use this diet.

Now here I was. A professional dieter, with a resistant metabolism. The only diet that had worked for me in 15 years was no longer an option. I was exercising ten times as much as the thin gals who lay around the pool and never entered the water, and not eating anything for most of the day. And now Bill was getting fat, too!

Does any of this sound familiar?

A Prayer Answered

While I wasn't exactly in despair - more like a state of discouraged resignation - I did pray that God would show me a way out of this pit. Face it, when you're that overweight, just plain living is tough. I was experiencing scary heart pains, had no energy, and couldn't even bend over to tie my shoes. Plus, I had gained back all the weight I lost on the Atkins diet, since now I had no idea what I was supposed to eat any more.

This is the state I was in when I saw Body for Life at the bookstore. I was drawn by the before-and-after photos on the cover. But then, we've all seen diet scams with before-and-after photos. I did, however, pick up the book and start browsing. What the author, Bill Phillips, said seemed to make a lot of sense. I knew for a fact that what he said didn't work, didn't work. It was clear this was not a scam, so I bought the book.

Just like most of you, I have never read "muscle" magazines. So this was all new to me. Basically, Bill Phillips stated that for what he calls a physique "transformation" (making yourself over into what you'd like to look like), you need these ingredients:

  • Cardiovascular exercise (walking, biking, etc.)
  • Weight training (now this was something I'd never done!)
  • Supplementation (more on this later)
  • A controlled diet (no strange recipes: he gives simple directions in his book)
  • Six small meals a day - it turns out that the surest way to gain weight is to starve yourself all day and eat a big dinner
  • Lots of water to drink (I recommend spring water, preferably brought to your door in huge bottles, not distilled)
  • A new attitude about the possibility of not being a physical wreck the rest of your life

This was it. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired - and rather scared, if the truth be known, that I would not be around long enough to teach my kids everything they needed to know. So, abandoning our usual frugal policy, we went out and bought an expensive exercise bike, a not-terribly-expensive exercise station from Sears, a weight bench, and some dumbbells. (Bill Phillips claims you really only need the bench and dumbbells, but since some of the exercises in the back of his book required leg-extension and pull-down stations, I didn't want to mess up my chances.)

So far, my husband Bill has lost 50 pounds, and my children Joseph and Sarah lost 30 pounds very quickly, while I've only lost 27 pounds in six months. However, unlike every ineffectual exercise and diet program I've tried in the last 15 years, I have actually gained muscle strength and tone. Heart pangs and insomnia went away. Most importantly, I now understand how fitness works . . . and I'm still losing body fat!

Next issue, I'll share with you what I've learned about exercise equipment, muscle development, and the best way for children of different ages to exercise. For now, I want to start by helping you moms and dads. First, you need a copy of Body for Life. There's a reason this book is now a New York Times best-seller! We sell it for $26 plus $3 shipping (1-800-346-6322, www.home-school.com). The book gives all the diet and exercise details, plus shares Bill's philosophy and many inspiring stories. Bill Phillips' company, EAS (1-800-297-9776, www.eas.com) also sponsors 12-week fitness transformation challenges with great prizes. If you enter, he'll send you a free video with the experiences of previous winners and you'll get a 20% discount on the supplements his company sells. We've tried supplements from other companies, and still prefer Myoplex Lite (for weight loss) or Myoplex Deluxe (for muscle gain), both available from EAS. You can get fancier with additional supplements, but these are fine to start. The point is, do start. Do it now! Your kids need you.

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