Carole Carson struggled with her weight for most of her life. At age 60, she decided to embark on a diet and fitness plan that got her whole town talking. Since then Carole has lost over 60 pounds, authored two fitness books and become AARP’s online health coach. We asked her for some advice on how to go from fat to fit:
You made radical positive lifestyle changes just before your 60th birthday. What inspired your turnaround?
Approaching my 60th birthday, I stepped on the bathroom scale naked so my underwear wouldn’t add an ounce or two. My 5-foot-1-inch frame registered 179 pounds before the scale broke. In that instant, my system of denial broke as well. I was fat. The message was clear: it was time for me to get fit and lose weight. Given my track record of failure (40 years of frustration), I knew I’d need to take a different approach. This time, I would make the journey fun, I would make it just right for me and I would get help. Today, I am in better shape with more energy and flexibility than I had in college. Clearly I agree with Dr. Harry Lodge, author of Younger Next Year, who asserts that as long as we are alive, we have the possibility of realizing our fitness goals.
Your weight loss was covered in a newspaper column that encouraged over 1,000 of your neighbors to start thinking about their health. Were you surprised by the community turnout? What do you think it was about your weekly message that inspired so many?
I live in a small northern California community in the Sierra foothills. Seniors are reluctant to drive at night, especially during winter storms, and parents have children to feed and bathe on school nights. Consequently, I expected a few dozen participants would show up for the Nevada County Meltdown. To say that I was surprised when over 1,000 people tried to crowd into our local high school theater on a cold, wet school night is an understatement.
My own story along with the stories I shared of friends and neighbors demonstrated that ordinary people could make extraordinary changes in their lives. I never told readers what to do: I showed them what was possible.
You are currently coaching AARP’s Fat 2 Fit online health community. What initial behavior changes do you recommend to new members?
Our community has two rules: begin and continue. In terms of concepts, here’s how I suggest members get FIT:
- Fun: Focus on foods you enjoy that won’t pack on pounds and find ways to exercise that make you feel like a kid again.
- Improvise: Individualize your program so it meets your unique needs. Integrate your new eating regimen and exercise routine into your lifestyle.
- Together: Team up with others. You may need the help of your doctor, a physical therapist, a trainer or nutritionist. Or you may need family members or an online community to support you.
What advice can you offer those who are overwhelmed by the idea of exercise, thinking that it may be too taxing or uninteresting?
Many of us equate exercise with a boring walk on a treadmill or worse-a painful, unpleasant exertion. Exercise should be just the opposite. Do you remember how it felt when you were in grade school and the bell rang for recess-how you ran outside eager to play? You need to keep looking until you find a form of exercise that constitutes adult play. If I had time, I could list hundreds of exercise activities from dancing to whitewater rafting. Just as there is a lid for every pot, there’s an exercise that’s perfect for each person.
Your book From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction encourages balanced meals where meat encompasses only about a quarter of one’s plate. What then, should be the focal point of our dinner plates?
As a former farm girl from Iowa, I grew up with the traditional meat-and-potatoes meal plan. I also ended up very fat. Rather than forbid or demonize any food, I recommend a simple approach for those seeking to lose weight:
Before eating, load half of your plate with salad, fruit or non-starchy vegetables (such as broccoli or zucchini). Divide the other side between protein (such as beans or legumes) and a starch (such as potatoes, rice or corn).
Those who follow the half-plate rule can reduce calories without measuring (assuming, of course, that they don’t eat a second and third helping). This guide is handy even for calorie counters in situations where calories are difficult to measure, such as at a restaurant or in someone’s home.