The best part about Sharon Gentry’s recent life transformation hasn’t been the nearly 70 pounds lost within nine months, although that’s been nice. Nor has it been entirely about her descent from a size 16 to a size four, although that’s been fabulous too. Instead, the primary benefit has been acquiring a new mindset about healthy living in order to spend more time with loved ones.
If this time of holiday overconsumption gets you down, Gentry’s story may serve as inspiration, and her advice might be just what you need to turn yourself around or keep yourself on track too.
“Looking at my students was like a kick in the chest,” admitted Gentry, an assistant professor in the University of Findlay’s Physician Assistant Program. She was referring to a wake-up call during one particular wellness class she was teaching. At that point, she was wearing extra-large clothing, and was having difficulty keeping up with her grandchildren. One student evaluation noted she always seemed out of breath when she arrived to class. With 36 years of experience as a physician assistant, 10 of those as a wellness teacher, she should’ve known better, and did, but she had not yet come to the full realization that changes were necessary. “I still thought of myself as thin, like I was when I was in my 20s, but my body was definitely not,” she explained.
Gentry reached out to someone who was helping others reach wellness goals. “It was a humbling moment,” she said. “I’m knowledgeable about the right things to do, and yet I wasn’t doing any of it.” For instance, each year for Thanksgiving, her favorite holiday, she made traditional dishes and ate like many of us – to the point of discomfort. She reveled in what she calls Chocoholiday, the period of excessive eating that begins at Halloween and doesn’t end until after Easter. And when she got stressed at work, usually around mid-afternoon, her go-to snack was always candy to combat her anxiety.
So, “I became a student again,” Gentry said. Her lifestyle changes have involved switching to a mostly “lean and green” low glycemic eating plan (although she doesn’t entirely deprive herself of chocolate and other goodies), which involves partaking of three meals and three snacks throughout the day. She also began an exercise regimen, although the weight loss was mostly attributable to her food intake changes. Her experience has been so positive that she now also serves as a health coach for a company. It has become her “passion,” she maintained.
Some of Gentry’s words of wisdom: You have to want to get healthy in order to succeed, you can’t begin such a journey with the mindset that you might fail, and “blame, shame and guilt” do not work as motivators.
The real motivators, Gentry claimed, are actually the wins that don’t involve a number on a scale, such as the first time someone comments on how well you look, or when you have to get a ring resized.
Gentry said anyone can accomplish what she has, and stick with it. Here are her top tips for doing so:
- Prepare yourself in advance of a big eating event. Make something healthy for a potluck that you know you’ll enjoy. Have a small healthy snack before a meal so you’re not ravenous. Drink 8 ounces of water before you start eating. Be aware of unhealthy hors d’oeuvres. If you’re the hostess, keep the menu simple and healthy.
- You can’t outrun your fork! Make mindful choices about the types of food you’ll enjoy. Don’t deprive yourself, but limit high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar items to 1-3 bites, which is all it takes for your tastes center to feel satisfied. Watch portion sizes. Balance your consumption with whole foods. Savor the bites, but really savor the relationships by eating slower and focusing on the people you’re with more so than the food you’re eating.
- Move all you can. Take walks before and after big meals. Stand during commercials. Park far away when you shop. Limit screen time. Take an extra lap up and down a flight of stairs.
- Don’t go it alone. Make accountability a factor by telling someone else about your plans and committing to check back in with him or her. Link arms with one or more who are attending the same event and devise a signal system for when you need a rescue. Consider yourself a role model for children. Each meal event is one of many opportunities to make better choices.