We all have heard about the so-called French paradox: it is claimed that the French have all that good food, drink plenty of wine, and yet obesity does not appear to be a problem in France.
Greater minds than mine have tried to figure that one out. However, I have just spent a few days in Paris and have my own observations to add to the debate.
Indeed, I rarely saw an overweight person as I was meandering the streets and museums and eating at restaurants (except for the tourists).
Paris is full of little bistros and brasseries, and on every corner there is a small kiosk selling baguettes with cheese and cold cuts. I did not see one ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ buffet style restaurant. There were a few McDonald’s but the golden arches were not allowed to compete with the Eiffel tower.
The main thing I noticed about the food at restaurants was the portion size. It was not out of proportion. When I ordered a scoop of ice cream for dessert, the scoop was not the size of a baseball but rather a golf ball.
And something else to notice when you ask for the bill: food is expensive.
Maybe the secret to the French paradox is not so complicated after all?
Today I want to tell you about a book that I checked out from our local library a few weeks ago. It is called ‘The End of Overeating’; its author is Dr. David Kessler MD.
When I discuss with people personal fitness training, the wish to lose weight is almost always on top of the list. The newspapers are full of articles about the ‘obesity epidemic’. There is no shortage of diet books and programs. It is a huge industry only topped by the food industry trying to get us to eat even more.
Whether it is the Atkins’, grapefruit or Ornish diet; regardless of whether you go to Weight Watchers or L.A. Weight Loss: all of these programs work because they have one thing in common: they reduce the number of calories consumed.
Given the number of successful programs, we should be a nation of skinny people. Something obviously is missing, and I found interesting answers in Dr. Kessler’s book.
The mechanism of ‘conditioned hyper-eating’ as he calls is well explained with light shone onto the food industry as well as the individual as he or she is responding to it.
This book was of particular interest to me as I have never been overweight, and yet, I desperately want to help those who are. I have a certification as a Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant from the American Council on Exercise (ACE). I can whole-heartedly recommend Dr. Kessler’s book to all who have tried every diet there is. It may just give that empowering knowledge to take up the fight one more time.
On a personal note: the fact that I have ideal weight has little to do with personal virtue. When I get stressed, food is the last thing I can - literally – stomach. And while I do not live in a constant state of stress, handling the over-abundance of food is simply easy for me.
If we all still lived in caves, I would no longer be alive; but then, if we still lived in caves, you would hardly need to read a blog written by a personal trainer.
Shoulders are a subject, which is close to my heart. I had surgery on both of them for something called impingement syndrome, and, on top of that, I had a frozen shoulder. This has made me an expert on my own shoulders. I have learned the hard way what to do and not do and want to share my lessons with you.
Most shoulder injuries are, I believe, avoidable if proper weight training or general lifting techniques are observed. But that is a mute point once your shoulders start hurting.
Once you have any kind of strange discomfort, maybe a twinge, in your shoulder: don’t ignore it. Shoulders do not get better by themselves. We move our arms so much in the course of a day, that the occasional twinge quickly becomes a nagging pain. It may begin to interfere with sleep. I hope at this point you have already seen a doctor and are in physical therapy where you are instructed in strengthening of the rotator cuff muscles and the shoulder girdle.
With proper strengthening as indicated in physical therapy, many shoulder problems can be treated very successfully, and yet I also see lingering pain and lack of improvement. I can certainly say for myself that I made all of the mistakes below which ultimately led to the need for surgery.
1.It does not get better overnight.
Patience is a virtue, and it is imperative when it comes to shoulder rehabilitation. Keep doing the exercises as prescribed even if you do not see significant improvements in the short term.
2. If it hurts, don’t do it.
As you go through the day, you may move in ways that hurt. Try to find a better way. Every time you need to say ‘ouch’ you have set yourself back in your therapy.
3. Some things never to do.
There are some movements which can easily aggravate a shoulder. Reaching into the back seat of the car to retrieve your pocketbook is one of them. The other one is pulling a roller board carry-on behind you when you travel. In both cases, you rotate your shoulder and reach back as you apply a load. Don’t do it!
4. Keep your elbows by your side.
When you need to push something, brace your elbows into your waist and push with your entire body. You are much stronger that way and protect your shoulders.
I also found out (the hard way) that those are exactly the same things that you need to do if surgery became necessary after all. So please: skip that step and look after your shoulders.
Even before I became a MELT instructor, I had an inkling that fascia, aka connective tissue, is something worth knowing more about. That’s what had prompted me to select sessions at the IDEA World Fitness Convention in 2009 that promised more insight. It was at that convention when I first encountered MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) and its creator, Sue Hitzman. I became an instructor for MELT the same year.
Since then, I have seen information about fascia more frequently and prominently, and not only because I am looking for it. The latest IDEA Fitness Magazine has a cover article called ‘Fascial Fitness’ by Thomas Myers; he is one of the first to study this in greater depth.
In this article, he calls the fascia the ‘Cinderella’ of body tissues as it had been overlooked for the longest time – much as you throw away the bubble-wrap. Except, it appears now more and more clearly, this ‘bubble-wrap’ has a rich inner life and contributes significantly to the functioning of the body.
In Europe, scientific conventions are dedicated to the fascia, and Sue Hitzman was in Munich, Germany, last year to present her creation of MELT as a practical application. While treatment modalities for connective tissue have been available in massage therapy and Rolfing, MELT is the first method to make it accessible to more participants because it teaches the SELF-TREATMENT.
It is exciting to be on the cutting edge of this development as it is beginning to emerge into the consciousness of a wider audience.
A physical fitness program for golf must include flexibility, balance and core strengthening. Sounds like a perfect match for MELT.
Why stretch when you can MELT?
MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) is the only structured self-treatment technique for the connective tissue. Connective tissue is the limiting factor in flexibility, not the muscles themselves. When connective tissue is rehydrated using the specific MELT techniques, this limiting factor is properly addressed, and the MELTer notices an immediate improvement in range of motion.
Some basic MELT techniques should be in the exercise toolbox of every person. Those are decompression modalities for the neck and lower back as well as a mobilization for the mid-back.
The MELT Hand Treatment offers assistance with wrist flexibility and grip strength. The MELT Foot Treatment is ideal to improve balance and hamstring flexibility. It is also a powerful weapon in the fight against plantar fasciitis.
Other MELT lengthening techniques address tightness in the hips and lower extremities as well as the shoulder girdle.
MELT Strength – a contradiction in terms?
One of the MELT principles is to improve core strength, particularly in conjunction with a differentiation between the movements of the rib cage versus the pelvis. Being able to engage the core muscles is the first things you learn when you MELT.
There is an additional MELT segment, which teaches, in addition to the core muscles, stability in the hips and shoulder girdle. Improving those areas in terms of strength and timing creates a solid foundation.
After I complete a MELT session, whether in a class or with a private client, I always encourage that the participant should drink plenty of water afterwards.
Why is that?
Picture a dry sponge; it is usually hard and only has some elasticity where it is moist. This is an analogy to dehydrated connective tissue.
In MELT we are teaching techniques that lengthen connective tissue and create fluid exchanges on a cellular level. Connective tissue can be dehydrated, and with all the lengthening, shearing, gliding and rinsing that we do during a MELT session, we are making good progress towards the reversal of this process. Drinking water afterwards is a way of assisting the body in the re-hydration process. It is just like keeping the sponge moist throughout.
This week, I was at the store Foot Solutions in Cary, NC, and gave a MELT Foot Treatment demo. This store has a reputation for being able to help people with foot problems, and MELT is a perfect partner.
We had a full house, standing room only. I had brought my pink rollers as balance assistance during the foot treatment. After having rubbed and rolled and pressed and prodded, all participants were standing in front of me with a happy smile on their faces because their feet and their bodies felt better than before.
Foot problems are no laughing matter. When it hurts to put one foot in from of the other, it is not only the exercise regimen that suffers. It becomes a quality of life issue. While the MELT Foot Treatment is not a cure-all, it can vastly help with problems like plantar fasciitis and even improving sensation in cases of peripheral neuropathy. Usually, there is also an immediate improvement in hamstring flexibility as the connective tissue rehydration 'travels' up the lines. I had people tell me after the foot treatment alone that their backs were feeling better.
I love to demonstrate the MELT Foot Treatment because it is deeply gratifying to see people feeling better in a matter of a half hour. I can sense the atmosphere in the room becoming lighter, happier, and more hopeful.
Strength training has become an essential component of any well-rounded exercise program, and yet it is also the one where problems, particularly to the lower back and the shoulders, are known to occur. I make the claim that this is avoidable if some concepts of stabilization are observed.
The human body as a building
The musculoskeletal system of the human body is an amazing construction. It may well be compared to a building; it has a foundation and essential structural elements that give it internal strength. The integrity of those structural elements constitutes the ‘health’ of the building. Once this structure is in place, the rest of the building is added on. However, what you can add for your final building depends on the strength of the foundation.
Let’s use an example: you want to install a 125-gallon aquarium in your living-room. When filled, it will weigh about 1400 lbs. Personally, I would make sure that the floor can support such weight. And if it cannot, I would do one of two things: 1) reinforce the floor properly so that it can carry such weight, or 2) settle for a smaller aquarium.
The building of a human body
The same concept applies to our human body. We all have a built-in foundation of stabilizing muscles and depend on their strength for healthy and pain-free movement.
When we engage in strength training, we are asking our body to do just a little bit more than it is used to, and the result is that we get stronger. The general recommendation is to increase the amount of resistance when the exercise begins to feel very easy, even if you increase the number of repetitions. The process works well but it sometimes happens that movement patterns sneak in ‘under the radar’. You may not even be consciously aware that you are engaging additional muscles. Those enlistments can easily go undetected because our bodies are great compensators. We may be flattering ourselves that we can handle more and more resistance, but the end result over time can be, at best, a faulty movement pattern, or, at worst, discomfort or even injury.
Start with good posture
Your body should be well aligned before you place any stress on it. Your spine has its natural curves, your shoulders are relaxed and your head rests with ease on top of your body and is not pushed forward.
If this is not the case, begin with exercises to bring your bodies into better alignment. Strengthen the core muscles (lower back and abdominals) and the stabilizing muscles of the shoulders. I can help you find the right exercises for you.
Become aware of ‘bad posture’ and make a conscious effort to correct it. Often enough, bad posture starts as a bad habit.
Train from the inside out – stabilize first
As you work out, become aware of the body parts that move and of those that stabilize. The following observations apply whether you use free weights or machines, and they apply to all exercises.
- Does your lower back arch as you move?
- Do you elevate your shoulders during the movement?
- Do you jot your chin forward?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you are probably using more resistance than your foundation can handle and your body is compensating. I suggest you do the following:
- Stand, sit or lie in good alignment.
- Use a weight that you can handle without engaging in any of the compensations that I have described. In some cases, that may mean not using any weight at all.
- Consciously engage your abdominal muscles. Support this core muscle engagement through exhalation and be mindful that your lower back remains stable.
- Notice whether you hike up your shoulders immediately as soon as you begin the intended movement. I have seen this happening even for lower body exercises. Become aware of the difference between lifting your arms and lifting your shoulders.
- Make a conscious effort to elongate your neck and stand, sit or lie as tall as possible. Try to relax your jaw.
Become a mindful exerciser
If you want to re-model your house, you give very careful thought to all the changes you want to make. Your body deserves no less.
- Look at your foundation first. If it needs to be reinforced, start there.
- Learn to differentiate between the moving and the stabilizing parts.
- It is the quality of the movement that is important, and not the quantity or the amount of weight you use.
- Listen to you body. If it does not feel right, pause and investigate. Do not push through pain.
Come January 1, New Year’s resolutions abound, and getting started on an exercise routine and losing weight are on the top of the list.
Unfortunately, the road of good intentions is booby-trapped, and the lack of preparation for the avoidance of those traps in combination with unrealistic goals often lead to aborted efforts which only re-confirm the belief that ‘it’s all no good’ or ‘cannot be done’ or – worse yet – ‘I always fail’.
Here are my top 4 recommendations for making realistic lifestyle changes and staying the course:
- Set realistic goals
If you have not at all exercised lately, do not plan to ‘exercise an hour each day’. Instead, look at your life and your schedule and allocate 3 times a week for 30 minutes. True, this is not perfect, but if you can stick with this plan for a few weeks, you can always add more time later.
2. Something is better than nothing.
Do you find that the allocated 30-minute time-slot has shrunk to 20 minutes? Then do the 20 minutes and pat yourself on the back that you have still adhered to your plan. Maybe you will have some time later in the day for the extra 10 minutes.
- Do things you love to do
Running may be the best way to burn calories but if you hate it, you are not likely to continue with it. Find an activity you enjoy and start with that. Try to expand your ‘movement horizon’. There are many options: exercise classes, videos, indoors and outdoors, yoga, Pilates, MELT, cardiovascular machines at home or at a gym.
- Listen to your body
If you have not exercised in a while, start carefully and do not push yourself into an injury. If a little is good, then more is not necessarily better. Try to vary what you do.
You can always consult a fitness professional. The IDEA fitnessconnect site gives you a good starting point to look for qualified professionals.
And now: what are you waiting for? Let’s get moving. Happy New Year.
On Sunday, December 12, 2010, I completed the last available MELT (Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) course with Sue Hitzman and am now an Advanced MELT Instructor.
The entire curriculum is comprised of 'The Science of the Human Body' to become a MELT Hand and Foot Instructor and learn the foundation behind the creation of MELT. That is followed by the MELT Instructor course which focuses on the MELT Length techniques using the foam roller. And now I have completed the MELT Strength and MELT Advanced Core courses which use only the rollers and sometimes therapy bands to create resistance.
The main focus of MELT Strength is to create stability in the shoulder and pelvic girdle. Those are the 'forgotten' muscles in the traditional weight training world; they form the foundation of proper movement and functioning. Without correct timing and strength, shoulder and low back / hip problems are often the result.
I have come to think of myself as a movement educator rather than a fitness instructor or a personal trainer in the traditional sense.
As you may have noticed: my blogs are very much about this subject. To me, MELT is a key stone to all the other personal training modalities that I employ while training my clients.