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Dr. Pam Peeke on Living Healthier
Pam Peeke, M.D., is one of the hardest-working women in the field of fitness and nutrition in the country. She is the chief medical correspondent for nutrition and fitness at the Discovery Health Channel and is the doctor behind the Discovery Health National Body Challenge, a fitness and weight-loss campaign. Peeke is also a Pew Foundation Scholar in nutrition and metabolism and is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She is the author of the best-selling book Fight Fat After Forty, one of the first books to address the connection between stress and fat for men and women. Her most recent book, Fit to Live, focuses on a lifestyle approach to being healthy enough to survive in life. In this interview, Peeke explains how you can live a healthier lifestyle.
What does it mean to be "fit to live?"
I’m not asking if you’re fit enough to play basketball. What we’re asking people is: Are you fit enough to save your own life in a survival situation? Then, once you’re at that point, are you able to enjoy life so you can go above and beyond survival? Many people are incredibly sedentary. If you ask people to run for the bus, they are usually huffing and puffing when they get there and they have a finger on 911. I’m asking people now to get the memo here, get the awakening. Realize that you need to bank “body dollars” in terms of building up and storing energy in your body through diet and exercise. What you end up saving is enough extra energy to enjoy life.
Once you begin to do that, you realize you can do amazing things—like a breast cancer walk or a challenge to push your own envelope, because you’ve banked enough “body dollars.”
How important is moderation during the first 30 days of living healthier?
People binge on life. Being fit to live is all about balance. There is a great saying I like: “You have to do what you don’t want to do, to do what you do want to do.” You want to take a walk? Fine, get organized. Get your sneakers and put them near the front door. It’s a balance issue. What happens is people go on wellness binges. They say, “This weekend is when I’ll do it.” Then they go back on Monday and fall off the truck again. People are lacking balance in a major way. Moderation is somewhat difficult when you go to a restaurant or a diner and you get large amounts of pasta and you think it’s normal. People get confused when they’re not quite sure what is right and what is wrong. The same goes for physical activity—people overtrain, then they injure themselves. You have to pull back and do it in moderation.
What is important about the first 30 days of living healthier?
Flexibility is one thing you are learning to practice in the first 30 days. Lay out a blueprint for a healthy life, one in which you can teach yourself flexibility because you never know what is going to happen. Learn how to “regroup.” Life is full of endless opportunities to regroup. Even within the first day of whatever you want to do—let’s say you have quit smoking, and something happened and you had a cigarette. Do you stop your entire program? You have to have the mental flexibility to adjust, to have a Plan B, C and D. That’s where you can really show your stuff. Spend that first month embracing adversity. What I like to do is have reverse expectations—assume craziness happens in your life until proven otherwise. Get over it.
How are people’s finances directly related to healthy living?
It’s fine and dandy to go take a walk, but if you can’t afford the sneakers, you can’t do it. The same thing also holds for living long and living well. Last time I looked, living long costs money. Almost no one talks about this. This is the health/wealth connection. You’ll notice that people who take care of themselves are also hitting the nail financially. To buy the organic produce and get the right sneakers, you have to be able to afford that.
How does a person’s environment factor into a healthy lifestyle?
It’s stressful when you live in clutter and disorganization. There’s a problem if I walk into a living or work space and it looks like napalm hit it. If you can’t find your sneakers in that mess, you’re not taking that walk. You have to be able to reorganize your life. This includes work and living space, or your environment. The other piece of it that is very pivotal is looking at your ecosystem. There is this brand new science of eco-psychology, for which people go out into the environment during the day. It’s incredibly healing and reduces stress hormones. It allows you to feel more calm, peaceful and sane.
What are some of the fears that come up for people when they start on the path to living healthier?
The fears are “I’ve been here before” and “I’ve failed before.” Or “Been there, done that. I screwed up badly, and what makes this so different?” For those people, I say, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” What that means is there is a sense of readiness that is a big piece of what change is all about. How do you know when you’re ready? When the pain of being the way you are finally exceeds the pain of the work that it takes to make the change.
How many times have you heard, “I would love to drop some weight, however I can’t do that right now because I’ve got a really big project and if I were to give up my ice cream, what would I do? I would probably chew my nails and be a nervous wreck.” At the end of the day, it’s a bunch of whining. Once you go from the whining and excuses, and you start generating a solution, then you’ve got that change thing in motion.
How can someone get that change momentum going in the first 30 days of living healthier?
It’s the darnedest thing to put people in the state of change. Everyone says, “I saw a picture of myself at a wedding and I was horrified.” Sure, that works in getting people motivated. Frankly, there are a lot of other things that work too. My most successful patient was a woman who was 250 pounds and five feet tall. Her best friend was diagnosed with cancer. She learned two lessons. Her friend lasted a lot longer than doctors anticipated. Why? She was in great shape. My patient learned that even though you have a terminal illness, you’ll last longer if you’re already in great shape. It’s a very interesting idea that never occurred to her. But, her friend died at 39. The second thing she learned is that her friend never had a chance to live life, and there she was wasting hers. On a dime, my patient turned around and today she weighs 120 pounds. This is all because of this extraordinary adventure with her friend. She had seen pictures of herself in the past but was so highly dissociated. She never saw herself—just what she wanted to see.
What is the key to success after the first 30 days?
Write a contract with yourself for which you have to meet a measurable outcome. Say, “My goal this month is no less than half a pound of fat removed, and I’ll contractually agree to that.” “My goal will be two pounds a week, but anything between half a pound and two pounds is fine with me.” Write it down and watch yourself. Also, hold yourself accountable day by day. When you see that contract, you see that measurable outcome. Grab a tape measure and for that contract, measure yourself across the belly button, lower pooch area, then measure across your chest and take your weight. Now you have somewhere to start. Think like a financial planner—if you want to save money, how much do you have now? If you say you want to have $10,000, your goal is to save no less than $500 a month. Think of your exercise in terms of body dollars, and continue to bank those body dollars. The contract shows you week by week where the savings are coming from. You have to see it in hard copy.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
Life is change. I embrace it. I look for every opportunity to be able to change. When you’re ready for change, when it’s appropriate and associated with growth and transformation.
The best thing about change is…
…growth and the excitement of transformation.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Literally carving my own world, carving out my own position in the world by making it up as I went along. I didn’t go directly to medical school. Change is a constant theme in my life. Change was always rejecting many common and accepted models of entering the healing arts and expanding on my own and embellishing it.
For more information on Dr. Pamela Peeke, visit www.drpeeke.com.