Just six years ago, I was a classic case of a woman who was penny-wise and "pounds-foolish." Focused on the demands of running my own company while heading a single-parent household, I put personal needs on hold. I had two clear financial goals: Provide for my family and save for retirement. To realize those goals, I worked hard, sometimes taking two jobs. The results were predictable: As my portfolio increased, so did my waistline. Adding a pound or two a year, I loaded 60 surplus pounds on my 5-foot-1-inch frame. I was hopelessly out of shape.
Soon the effects of those pounds and my sedentary lifestyle began catching up with me. I had recurring chest pain, suffered from repeated infections, and had several expensive hospitalizations that should have been wake-up calls but weren't. Instead, I treated my doctor like an auto mechanic, with my body filling in for the car in the service bay. Later I learned that my family medical history and lifestyle placed me at a 90-percent risk of future heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. If I had continued on that path, my fate would have been sealed. What a cosmic joke it would have been if I didn't last long enough to enjoy my nest egg—except the humor would have been lost on me.
A humiliating but fortuitous accident caused me to make changes while I still could—before the consequences of my habits disabled or killed me. On an otherwise ordinary morning, I stepped on the bathroom scale and, when it reached 179 pounds, it broke. When I weighed myself the following day on a new (and more accurate) scale, the message was even worse: 183 pounds!
I wasn't fat; I was obese. In that moment, I decided to get fit once and for all. Past failures at dieting loomed large. Swallowing my pride (at least it had no calories), I made two decisions: I would get help, and I would invest in the care of my body, just as I had invested in my business and family.
I hired a personal trainer, went to the local health club, bought sports gear and began playing tennis. I met with a lifestyle counselor at a local hospital's wellness center and decided to chronicle my week-by-week experiences in the local newspaper, complete with photographs and measurements (see Carole's story). Six months later, what I saw on the scale was as shocking to me as what I had seen there all those months ago: I had lost 62 pounds—and regained my self-respect.
My example had an unexpected effect on my neighbors and friends. When I invited the community to join me in getting fit, hundreds of people responded with a resounding "Yes!" Together we became known as the "Nevada County Meltdown." More than a thousand people met each week for two months in the pursuit of fitness. We had tons of fun while we lost tons of weight. Our total loss—7,509 pounds—was the equivalent of one school bus with passengers. Just as important, by working together to tackle obesity, we restored civic pride—the Nevada County Meltdown put the "unity" in "community."
Like me, you can stop being penny-wise and "pounds-foolish" before your options run out. Here are three easy steps to making changes today:
- Create a "living will": List all the actions you will take to keep your body well maintained. Be as specific as possible and include everything from hygiene and safety to eating and exercising. Examples: "I will exercise an hour a day." "I will floss my teeth daily." "I will get eight hours of sleep." Your efforts will result in a master plan for your self-care.
- Maintain a daily balance sheet: Each day, post your weight, the hours you exercise, calories consumed, and your outlook. Find one word to express your state of mind, such as "optimistic," "overwhelmed," or "content." The purpose of this daily record-keeping is to keep you balanced and focused on your commitment to your health.
- Create an investment club: Find people around you who want to focus on fitness and form a well-being investment club. Share your "living wills" to trigger additional actions you can take. Also share the results of your research on fitness, whether from your reading or directly through insights from the changes you are making. Encourage each other when setbacks occur and celebrate the successes.
Just as we monitor the state of our financial portfolios, we must also monitor the health and well-being of our "physical portfolio." Let's smarten up and lighten up so we can all enjoy and share the health.