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  • My health & fitness goals for 2009

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    I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that one of my goals for this year is to lose weight and promised to talk more about it. That time has come.

    But first, let’s review 2008: I didn’t have any concrete weight loss goals, but I did want to make exercise a habit and eat more fruit and vegetables. I did pretty well with the first goal, since at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t exercising at all. And by the end of the year, I was exercising three to four days per week. Plus, I ran a 5K in November for the first time ever. (That was such an awesome feeling of accomplishment!)

    Also, I joined Weight Watchers last summer. I had great success at the beginning, but then hit a major plateau, got discouraged, and went back to my old habits. I’m still down almost 10 pounds from my initial weigh-in, however, so I’d still call that a success.

    And that brings us to 2009. I’m still doing Weight Watchers, and I’m still exercising regularly. Mostly because of Weight Watchers, I do have a firm weight loss goal in mind for the year – I want to lose 15 pounds. After that, I may want to lose another five, but we’ll have to see how I feel 15 pounds from now.

    I also want to run another race – I’m thinking of an 8K, since there’s one in April not too far from home. That’s 4.9 miles, which would be a good distance for me – it’s realistic but difficult enough that I would have to push myself to train for it.

    And perhaps most importantly, I want to develop better eating habits. I realize that this is something I didn’t do when I first started Weight Watchers. I thought I’d changed my habits for good, but it really didn’t take long for me to revert to my old ways. My downfalls have always been portion sizes and sweets. So it’s important to me that this year, I learn to regard sweets as a treat, and learn to be satisfied with less food in general.

    For me, these are all very realistic goals, and if I achieve them all, then I’ll be pretty close to being a poster child for healthy living. My weight will be in a healthy range, I’ll be in good physical condition, and I’ll be eating a nutritious diet. What more could I ask?

    Your best financial investment may be your good health (but you should also practice sound money management)

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    I came across an article titled Medical Debt Sending Many Over Financial Brink. The gist of the article is that most people manage to get along financially until there’s a crisis of some kind, which causes them to fall behind in payments, eventually leading to catastrophes like foreclosure and bankruptcy. The article claims that half the time, the precipitating crisis is a medical one.

    This quote was how the article ended:

    “I don’t know if we have enough working years left to buy a house,” Donna said. “That’s pretty heavy punishment for having gotten sick.”

    My instinctive reaction was to think, “Well, could you have done anything to prevent your illness?”

    And that made me think: Investing in good health could really be worth thousands of dollars in the long run.

    Of course, there are many other reasons to want to be in good health, but if money is what motivates you, then by all means, use it to get in shape, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, eat less meat and saturated fats, eat lots of fruit and veggies for the antioxidants and flavonoids, etc. No one can guarantee that you won’t end up with huge medical bills at some point, but at least you’ve reduced your risk (and increased your quality of life).

    As it turns out, Donna had uterine cancer, which I honestly don’t know much about. But her husband had “serious artery disease,” which sounds to me like the average heart/cardiovascular problem that’s common in older men. The really disturbing part of their story is that they were “technically fully insured” throughout their medical crises. But, reading between the lines, I gather they didn’t have much savings and that’s why they couldn’t pay the annual out of pocket maximum under their insurance plan. The max was $9,000 – obviously a lot of money, but not exactly an astronomical amount.

    I’m not judging Donna and her husband – for one thing, I just don’t know enough about them to form any kind of opinion. But I can speculate and point out that a lifetime of sound money management would probably have left them in a position to pay that $9,000. The article doesn’t say how old they are, but since they have grown children, I am going to guess they are at least in their late 40’s, and probably more like in their mid-50’s. If they had: (1) carried their mortgage as their only debt; (2) saved for retirement; and (3) built up an emergency fund, they would not be in the situation they’re currently in.

    Of course, doing these three things is not easy. But I know it can be done, even on a very low income. Thanks to the internet and especially blogs, I read such success stories every day. It’s just a matter of prioritizing and acting according to those priorities. And if you don’t prioritize and act accordingly, then at some point, you have to pay the price.

    Image credit: Indiamarks.com.

    Frugality vs. health (or, I’m joining Weight Watchers)

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    I’ve tried losing weight on my own. Many of you can probably relate. I am less than 10 pounds heavier than I was as a teenager, but I was not a svelte teen. In other words, I’ve struggled with my weight for most of my life and I’m sick of it. I’ve made some good changes in the last few months, most notably making time for exercise again. While I’m not working out every day like I was back in the spring, I do exercise 3 to 4 times per week. And I can run 2 miles without a problem.

    However, I could use some a lot of help with my eating. I’ve tried FitDay and even SparkPeople after some readers recommended it. But I have to be honest, I fall off the bandwagon pretty quickly.

    I’ve thought about joining Weight Watchers many times. I considered the online program but felt my attitude towards it wouldn’t be any different that it was toward FitDay and SparkPeople. Yet as a mother of two young boys who works full-time, it’s impossible to find a minimum of 1 1/2 hours each week to attend a meeting without sacrificing something that’s very important to me.

    And then I discovered that there’s a weekly meeting held in the office building where I work. I attended an open house session on Monday, and discovered that I liked the leader. The jury is still out on the other members – I was at least 10 years younger than the person closest to me in age, and more like 20 years younger than most of them, so I felt quite out of place. However, about halfway through the meeting, a woman about my age who looked fabulous came in, holding pictures of herself from two years ago, to show just how far she had come. It was inspiring, to say the least.

    The cost for workplace meetings is different from plans held at Weight Watchers centers, so I’ll be paying $208 for 17 weeks, or $15 per session. That seems a little steep, but let’s be honest, nothing else has really worked for me. I’ve never done Weight Watchers before, and it’s obviously worked for other people, so I feel I have to give it a try.

    Good health is one of those things I believe in spending money on. So I hope that this will be money that is more than well spent.

    I was talking with a friend who is currently doing Weight Watchers and she mentioned something I noticed at the open house meeting: there’s an encouragement to eat whatever is low-calorie, even if it is fake or processed. Not surprisingly, the meeting leader was selling Weight Watchers food products, including nutrition bars and snacks. I was more surprised when she said she carries spray bottles of butter and salad dressing with her when she goes out to eat, and that she only buys low-fat, reduced calorie snacks for her children.

    That’s not something I plan to do. I just need help learning to eat a few bites of cake instead of the whole piece. And I would rather have a few bites of the real thing than a big piece of fake cake. I also think the weekly meetings will serve as a huge motivator for me, which is what I need most of all. It’ll be a chance to re-commit each week to losing weight, with some guidance on how to make that happen.

    One thing this means for CFO is more recipes. I don’t plan to change what I eat, except to add more fruit and vegetables, so I will have to focus on cutting back on how much I eat. And that means measuring, and that means I’m more likely to write down a recipe instead of just throwing it together like I usually do. I will probably also make more Cooking Light recipes, since I find them to be pretty reliable.

    In the meantime, if you’ve done Weight Watchers before, I would love it if you would share your tips on making the most of the program in the comments. Thanks!

    Sunscreen isn’t enough protection – you need clothing too

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    Since my kids looooove spending time outdoors, and especially love being in the pool, I was rather disturbed by a report today that sunscreen isn’t that effective in preventing sun damage. A study by environmental group EWG shows that the most popular sunscreens (Coppertone, Banana Boat and Neutrogena) are the least effective, and that the best protection is clothing. So, I’ll be buying new sunscreen for the family, probably the CVS Sunblock with Zinc Oxide, which is on EWG’s list of recommended sunscreens.

    Am I overreacting? Probably, but we do have a bit of a history of skin cancer in the family, and we are all extremely fair. I’d much rather be safe than sorry. And even though we don’t need new sunblock (I bought a couple of sticks last week during the Coppertone deal at CVS), at least their store brand is less than $5. And there is a deal this week for buy one, get one 50% off on CVS brand suncare. Plus, there is a $2 off CVS brand skincare coupon and a $1 off CVS suncare coupon that that can be used for the transaction.

    Thanks to Mommy Making Money for the coupon links!
    Image credit: CVS.com.

    Workout Tip: Change your clothes when you get home

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    It’s been nearly three months since I decided I had to make some drastic changes to improve my health and appearance. I’m disappointed to report that there isn’t much outward change. But,
    I’m working out almost every day and I’m eating better. Baby steps, right?

    One thing I do to make exercise easier is change right into my workout clothes when I get home from work. I make dinner, do the dishes, bathe the kids, and do book time and bedtime, all in my workout clothes. As soon as the kids are in bed, I can jump on the treadmill or turn on a yoga DVD without having to think.

    So that’s my Works For Me Wednesday tip: Change into your workout clothes when you get home so there’s nothing to slow you down when it’s time.

    For more tips, head over to Rocks In My Dryer.

    Alopecia areata

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    What is alopecia areata? It’s an autoimmune condition that results in hair loss. Why am I discussing it? Read on . . .

    Recently, Tyler and I were in the car and when we stopped at a red light, I began pulling my hair into a ponytail. As I reached back with my left hand, I thought my scalp felt funny. And then I realized that I had a bald spot. It was about the size of a quarter and hidden by the rest of my hair, which is presumably why no one had ever noticed it before. I panicked! I called my primary physician and got squeezed in that same day. My doctor assured me that the condition wasn’t indicative of anything serious and that the only possible cause he could test for was my thyroid, and told me to see my dermatologist.

    The thyroid test came back normal.

    A few days ago, I saw my dermatologist, Dr. R. He diagnosed the bald spot as alopecia areata. While typically occurring in children, the condition can occur at any age.

    Dr. R said that alopecia areata occurs when white blood cells congregate under the skin, cutting the hair off from nutrients, which results in it falling out. He injected my scalp half a dozen times with a very diluted cortisone solution, which he said would dissipate the white blood cells in the area. Dr. R said that without treatment, the alopecia areata might spread. Yikes!

    I had (of course) Googled “random bald spot” immediately upon my discovery of the bald spot and concluded that it probably was alopecia areata. The articles I read said that one of the potential causes was stress, and I had been very stressed out since the holidays last year due to a situation with some family members. But when I mentioned stress to Dr. R, he was somewhat dismissive. He said stress was a possible trigger, but it wasn’t the actual cause. He likened stress to the trigger of a gun, and the cause to a bullet. The bullet is the actual cause of death; the trigger is just what got the bullet going. He said that genetics are the likely cause, but I got the impression that no one knows the cause of alopecia areata for sure.

    For the time being, I am optimistic that my hair will start growing back within four weeks. If it doesn’t, Dr. R said he’ll give me another round of shots. And I don’t want that – the shots really hurt!

    If you have alopecia areata, you have my sympathy. While not a serious health condition in the sense that it doesn’t seem to impact anything but hair growth, it’s still no fun. And my bald spot is in the best place it could possibly be, where no one can see it. Others aren’t so lucky.