Mind & Spirit

The family wellness makeover: Part 2

The family wellness makeover: Part 2

Author: Canadian Living

Mind & Spirit

The family wellness makeover: Part 2

In the October issue we introduced the Morfidis family (George, 40, Despina, 42, Ria, 14, and Stefi, 11) of Bowmanville, Ont., as they started a yearlong health makeover program with Canadian Living Magazine. Working with dietitian Fran Berkoff, personal trainer Sue Forest and life coach Cassandra Gierden, and with a thumbs-up from their own physician, Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, the family identified individual and family health-and-wellness goals. Then each coach provided information and a regular helping hand.

Talk about a new, healthier lifestyle. For a four-day vacation in Niagara Falls, Ont., between visits to the Maid of the Mist and other area attractions, the Morfidises swam in the hotel pool and worked out in the fitness room -- Despina on the elliptical machine (which mimics walking), George on the weight machine, Ria on the treadmill and Stefi on a mat doing her conditioning program. Despina, feeling more confident than ever before about her body, even climbed up the three-storey waterslide and slid down. "I've never done that before," she says. The Morfidises walked everywhere -- including the long hill leading up to their hotel several times a day -- and no one complained. Not once! (In the past, Despina was always exhausted by such activities.)

At the breakfast and lunch buffets, George filled up on healthier choices before selecting a few sweet breads (which he never finished); Despina tried not to go up for seconds and avoided cheese altogether. They snacked on fruit, granola bars, bottles of water and their own homemade nut mixture. At dinner the girls ordered their favourites (pizza and pasta) while George and Despina asked for extra vegetables instead of rice or potatoes and didn't look at the dessert menu. To cut calories from wine ("I love my wine"), Despina switched from red to white-wine spritzers.

It's a far cry from the family's lifestyle four months earlier, when Despina didn't exercise at all, George ate whatever and whenever he wanted and the girls weren't as active. There have been hurdles, but life has changed for the Morfidises: Despina has lost 18 pounds and George has lost 14 -- and the family is well on its way to better health and wellness.

Exercise and a more nutritious diet have helped George and Despina lose weight and led to significant decreases in resting blood pressure, resting heart rate and body mass index, says

Dr. Suzanne Buchanan. The couple have also lost inches, which means they're toning their muscles. Keep going, says Buchanan, both for the personal gains and the role modelling that this provides to the girls. While the Morfidises now know how to make healthy food choices, the more challenging part is making regular aerobic exercise a part of their daily lives. "That's key to long-term change and success," says Buchanan.

Challenges: Before the makeover Despina didn't exercise at all and George was inconsistent about it.

Successes: Within weeks Despina embraced her three weekly resistance training sessions with enthusiasm, often meeting coach Sue Forest at the gym at 5:45 a.m. (Click here to see Despina's progress report.)

George now does weights at the gym three nights a week. He also started walking daily (his goal is 45 minutes to one hour), often during breaks at work. (Click here to see George's progress report.)

The girls are more active, too. Ria continues to jog up to five times a week. Stefi signed up for competitive gymnastics, which consists of three 3-hour practices a week.

Forest also recommended that the family start doing activities together; they went to a class a few times at GoodLife Fitness Club, walked around their neighbourhood and participated in two walkathons.

Strategies: Forest works one-on-one with Despina (three times a week) and George (once a week). She focuses on resistance training because it increases lean muscle mass, which makes the entire body more efficient at burning fuel (calories) -- even at rest. Once a week she works with Ria on running techniques and with Stefi on flexibility training.

George and Despina had success with resistance training but fell short in the cardio department, Despina in particular. In the months to come, it's important that Despina does more cardiovascular exercise on her own, says Forest. (The original program included 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity, five to seven days a week.) Aerobic exercise still hadn't become a habit for Despina. "I had lots of excuses," she says. "I had a problem with my foot, the weather was overly hot, and I was already weight-training three times a week, which I thought was great, considering I did nothing before." It was, but, Forest points out, Despina needs aerobic exercise as well, which can be done all at once or broken into three 10-minute or two 15-minute sessions throughout the day. So Forest is adding a stronger cardio element to Despina's gym session. She also suggests that Despina use the treadmill or elliptical machines at the club and that she find a reason to walk every day (for instance, take the stairs or leave the car at home whenever possible).

Forest lowered an overly ambitious goal of three family activities a week to one or two (perhaps a walk after dinner) because everyone is short of time. And the family plans to go downhill skiing together at a nearby club -- an exciting first for Despina, who will take lessons.

Challenges: While the family was excited about the makeover, they were also a little apprehensive. That's where life coach Cassandra Gierden helped. They identified the area that each person needed to improve: George had trouble motivating himself to change his lifestyle; Despina felt time-starved; Ria procrastinated on homework; and Stefi needed to know how to deal with feelings of frustration because of being so busy.

Strategies: The Morfidises met as a family twice with Gierden: first, to do communication exercises; and second, so each person could identify a personal, meaningful theme. Despina's was active passion, George's was accomplishments, Ria's was independence and Stefi's was adventure.

Successes: George realized he was slow to get motivated. "I was the heaviest I'd ever been and I wasn't feeling confident about myself," he says. He worried about how he was going to get healthier, lose weight and still be a good father and role model. Gierden helped him see that he really wanted to set a good example for the girls. Helpful exercises included an affirmation about self-confidence. They also discussed the benefits -- and empowerment -- of having a nutrition plan. "Now I set goals about eating, tell people about them -- and then do it," says George.

Gierden and Despina looked at how to create small reserves of time in Despina's life so she wouldn't feel so depleted. Despina made a list of 10 Daily Habits for Energy and Fun, which included cuddling with the girls and treating herself to a bath. They also realized that to fit exercise into her day, Despina had to go to bed earlier so she could get up earlier to work out. She's still stressed and short of time, but she feels better physically and continues to work on strategies to help her fit everything into her schedule.

For Ria's procrastinating, Gierden introduced a tracking system for each assignment that would help Ria control her time better; she writes down information such as the due date, amount of time to do the assignment, and if it didn't get done, why not. Her daily habits list included keeping in touch with her parents about school.

To help Stefi deal with her frustration, Gierden provided coping suggestions, such as taking a break.

The family members have all been supportive of one another, encouraging fitness and better food choices, says Despina. They discuss meal plans, the girls keep watch over their parents' eating and activity habits, and they're all becoming more aware of the role they play in the household.

Challenges: While Despina loves healthy fruits, vegetables and whole grains, her diet overall was too rich and high in fat. George, on the other hand, was a junk-food junkie and often ate fast-food snacks and chocolate while sitting in front of the TV at night. The girls' diets were fine; they ate regular meals that included fruits and vegetables. They liked their treats, too, but didn't overdo it.

Successes: Despina cut back on fat and stopped her after-dinner snacks. George stopped snacking after dinner, too. The girls are more aware of their own food choices as well as those of their mom and dad. For example, when George brought the sweet breads to the breakfast table in Niagara Falls, the girls questioned his choice.

Strategies: "For a family with a busy life, realistic goals and expectations around healthy eating and weight loss are key," says dietitian Fran Berkoff. Rather than recommend any type of strict eating plan, she talked to George and Despina (who loves to cook) about food choices and reducing the amount they ate. She also asked The Canadian Living Test Kitchen to redo some of the family's favourite recipes (see below). Here are some of Berkoff's other healthy eating strategies.

• Measure out food to get a sense of how much you are eating.
• Keep a food journal for one or two weeks -- it makes you think about what you're eating.
• Eat breakfast. George and Despina, who formerly skipped breakfast, now start their day with a low-fat cereal; they have more energy and are less likely to snack indiscriminately. On the mornings Despina goes to the fitness club, she eats a banana or a yogurt on the way.
• Pack healthy snacks (homemade trail mix, yogurt, fruit or cherry tomatoes) for work and eat them at set times (for instance, mid-morning and midafternoon) to keep from getting hungry and overeating. Stefi also packs healthy snacks (mainly fruit) for her after-school gymnastics practices.
• Plan lunch. George takes his lunch to work and helps the girls make theirs. On the days that Despina doesn't make her lunch, she goes to a grocery store or restaurant and orders healthy choices, such as salad with dressing on the side.
• If you can't resist a high-calorie treat, have a taste. Despina recently rejected a whole serving of a fabulous lemon-curd dessert, but did enjoy a spoonful. The family keeps good quality dark chocolate in the house; when George or Despina have an urge, they have a little piece.
• Stock up on healthy snacks. There are still chips in the cupboard (which they allow themselves occasionally), but there are also whole wheat fig cookies and mini oat cakes, which George eats with a little jam.
• Serve healthy snacks. When the girls invited some friends over, Despina made fruit and vegetable platters. If kids are hungry, they'll eat what's there, she says.
• Rather than go back for seconds at dinner, distract yourself for a few minutes (by reading the paper, for example). "Then I usually realize that I don't really want seconds," says George.
• Avoid temptations. When George shops for groceries, he no longer stands around in the bakery department. If he's hungry, he eats a nutrition bar (between 120 and 130 calories). At the gas station he pays at the pump rather than go inside where he might be tempted by unhealthy treats.
• Change habits to avoid snacking. George now goes to the gym three nights a week instead of sitting in front of the TV and snacking. When Ria wants a snack, she eats fruit first, then if she's still hungry, she'll have a cookie or other sweet treat.

Recipes to try:
Lemon Oregano Chicken with Tomato Salad
Balsamic Vegetables
Roast Garlic Mashed Potatoes


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Mind & Spirit

The family wellness makeover: Part 2