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Positive Reinforcement

Posted Jan 15 2009 7:50pm



I mentioned recently that I have begun a weight loss program. When I started I was about 20 pounds over what I think I should be. I'm down just over 7 pounds and 7 inches (!) in two months. The first week on this new eating plan was very difficult, but once I had the first week under my belt, so to speak, it got easier. And once I was able to get on my bike again, the results started to show.

I have never really tried to lose weight before this. In university, admittedly during the last Ice Age, I ate 4 meals a day, and more junk than you could carry in a bag. 20 some years later and my activity level has slowed down somewhat, but my eating didn't. Over the years I have tried a number of physical activities and sports to be more physically fit (though not to lose weight) and at one point just gave up on finding something I liked and could stick with. I never experienced a runner's high (even when I was running cross country back in school), I never felt that "good" tiredness after aerobics class, and I never looked forward to going to the gym to sit on a stationary bike. In essence I never had the positive reinforcement from my body's activities that most athletes and many people get from physical activity.

Once MS hit, I didn't think there would ever be some sort of physical activity that I would enjoy because of the overheating issue. After all, if you don't get the heart rate up (and a little sweat on your brow), you're not exercising enough to be of benefit to your cardiovascular system. What's a girl to do?

The boyfriend took up biking so he could participate in the MS Bike Tour. I offered to train with him which meant going to the gym for a couple of months to loosen up all those muscles that had been asleep for so long, then buy a bike, then get out on the trails. The gym was the hard part. Aside from feeling like Mork, a stranger in a strange land, it just wasn't fun. But when I got on the bike and did 13 kilometres on my first ride, I was elated! This was the fun I was looking for. I loved to ride my bike as a kid, but it never crossed my mind as a 40 year old that this would be something fun and beneficial. As an adult, I thought of biking as either a method some people used to get to work or I thought of it in terms of racing, like the Tour de France.

And there in lies the crux of the exercise/fun dilemma. If it's fun, you're more likely to do it. If you receive positive reinforcement in the form of a sense of accomplishment or just plain enjoyment, you'll do it. There is one trail in my town that I go on for short rides if time is not on my side. There is one small hill on this trail that the first few times had me stopping two or three times before getting to the top. The first time I made it to the top without stopping, I had such a feeling of elation, you'd think I'd just peaked Mt. Everest. And that's when I realized I could gauge my fitness progress by the landmarks I was biking on or by. First it was 5 k rides after work, then 10, then 15. On weekends or days off, we can easily do 20-25 k, and a couple of times, more. After my first 20 k ride I was ready to bike more. Last year, after riding 100k over two days at the Bike tour, we rode all week long on vacation. By the end of August I was in the best shape I'd been in since my twenties. I hadn't lost any weight, but I was physically fit.

This year, I had a 5 week hiatus from the bike. I was just itching to get back on it. And then the opportunity to take part in a weight loss program presented itself. I'm doing the LA Weight Loss program through work. (I'm also doing testimonials for the product, so keep that in mind.) The combination of a healthier diet and the exercise is what is getting me results.

There was a recent study out that showed that keeping a diary of what you eat is an effective method to lose weight. Simply being more cognizant of what you consume leads you to eat less. Learning what a serving size is is also important as we are not good judges of amounts. So the key is keeping track of what you eat, learning what is a true serving size, and physical activity. Simple, eh? Ha!

I have watched the reality based shows about weight loss from time to time and not thought too much about them or the people who participate. I have a new found respect for those people now. And a new found respect for the benefit of positive reinforcement, whether it comes from inside or outside, it's a big part of the reason you keep going.

S.
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