Health Focus: Weight Management
George and Carolyn Schott motivated each other to shed pounds and adopt a fitter lifestyle

By Kelli Rosen

George & Carolyn Schott
Status: 43 and 42, married, 2 sons
Professions: Plant manager; elementary paraeducator
Issue: Keeping weight off and staying fit as they age Gaining a few pounds as you get older may seem inevitable—and relatively harmless. At least that's what some people, such as George and Carolyn Schott, once believed. But those few extra pounds, adding up year after year, may have serious health consequences down the road. In fact, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, the weight you've gained since your 20s directly influences your risk for developing many diseases and conditions, including stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. Unfortunately, about a third of Americans—some 58 million people—are overweight. And there are no quick fixes or miracle pills that melt the inches away permanently. What is needed to shed and keep off the extra pounds is a change in lifestyle. The Schotts began their journey to good health the old-fashioned way—with a little sweat and some smart dietary choices.

Make The Decision To Change
When the Schotts moved to Colorado in 1997 so their kids, Corey (now 12) and Dylan (now 9), could ski, hike, and bike, losing weight was not initially one of the couple's goals. But George and Carolyn hadn't anticipated how the extra pounds they'd accumulated over the years would affect their new lifestyle. Two years after the move, the kids had taken to the slopes, wanting to ski harder and faster, and their parents simply couldn't stick with them. "I quickly realized that if I was going to keep up with the boys, something was going to have to change," says George. "I was out of breath just bending over to buckle up my boots." Carolyn, too, reevaluated her goals. "I knew that once we made skiing and hiking a family priority, I'd have to get in shape and lose about 20 pounds," she says.

Before you create a plan for losing or maintaining weight, it helps to know if your weight is a healthy one. You can determine this by calculating your body mass index (BMI). Here's how: Divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches; divide that result by your height in inches again; then multiply that number by 703. The American Heart Association (AHA) defines overweight as having a BMI of 25 to 29 and obesity as having a BMI of 30 or more. At
5 feet 9 inches, George was nearly 190 pounds, which put him in the overweight category. George became determined that his extra pounds were not going to hinder him any longer and set out to slim down.

Watch What You Eat
Instead of going the fad-diet route, George and Carolyn made the wise decision to simply watch what they eat—and neither has felt deprived. The AHA approves of taking a gradual approach to weight loss, rather than trying to lose weight quickly, because people tend to stick to an eating plan if it's realistic. So far, this approach has worked for the Schotts. "Instead of eating potato chips with my sandwich at lunch, I opt for carrot sticks instead—and I hardly ever eat ice cream after dinner like I used to," says George.

To track what you're consuming, suggests the American Dietetic Association (ADA), write down what you eat for three to five days. That way, it's easy to figure out what changes you need to make—for example, choosing whole-grain carbohydrates, such as whole-grain bread, brown rice, and whole-grain cereal, or cutting down on sweets.

Fiber helps regulate blood sugar, but it also traps fat and moves it out of the body. In addition to eating lots of fruits and vegetables and choosing lean meats or plant sources of protein, the Schotts might want to eat foods high in fiber, says Jill Stansbury, ND, a Battleground, Washington-based practitioner and author of Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997). "Fiber helps regulate blood sugar, but it also traps fat and moves it out of the body, making it more efficient in waste removal." Fiber-rich foods include whole grains, nuts, broccoli, string beans, and prunes.

Lowering caloric intake even slightly can also help burn fat. "By cutting back just 150 calories per day, you can lose 15 pounds in one year," says Mitzi Dulan, RD, sports nutrition consultant for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. So instead of giving up all of the indulgent high-calorie foods that you love, try eating less of them; that way, you might not feel deprived. Another way to make healthy eating easy? "Have healthy food readily available, especially at work, so when you're starving, you have something good to eat," says Elson Haas, MD, author of Staying Healthy with Nutrition (Celestial Arts, 1992). Stash some organic raisins and nuts in your desk drawer at work, keep fruit on your kitchen counter, and store vegetables at the front of the refrigerator so you're more likely to grab these healthy items first when you're having a snack attack.

Add Exercise
Simply reducing calories was not enough for the Schotts to lose the weight and keep it off. The American College of Sports Medicine estimates that merely 10 percent to 30 percent of those Americans who lose weight only by eating less maintain that loss over time. For long-term success, the Schotts needed to incorporate regular physical activity into their lifestyle.

George began his new fitness routine with some evening sit-ups but realized he'd have to do more than target his abdominals to reach his goals. So he began to run—and quickly became hooked, plugging away almost every morning before work until he could run for miles. He completed his first 10K just a few months after he began running, and soon afterward colleagues at work asked if he'd join their team for the Colorado Outward Bound Relay, in which each member of a ten-person team helps log 174 miles from Idaho Springs to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Don't worry if you can't imagine running long distances. "When I first started running, I couldn't run a quarter of a mile," George remembers. "My progress really excited me, but it was the weight loss that was always the driving force [behind my running]."

But George didn't need to train for an endurance race to reap the benefits of increased activity. Believe it or not, a mere 30 minutes a day is the recommended amount of daily activity. In fact, the American Council on Exercise says that even shorter bouts of exercise accumulated throughout the day are as beneficial as one lump sum. Simply cleaning the house or taking a walk during a lunch break can make a difference.

Get Encouragement
Having a partner to encourage and motivate you to shed pounds and maintain your weight is also beneficial, as it was for George and Carolyn. In fact, a 2002 study done at Indiana University showed that couples who went to the gym together—even if they engaged in separate activities while there—had a 10 percent dropout rate, whereas married couples who worked out separately had a 50 percent dropout rate. A study at the University of California, Berkeley, revealed that for older married couples, the leisure-time physical activity of the partner was the most significant predictor of the leisure-time physical activity of the study participant (Journal of Aging and Health, 2002, vol. 14, no. 4). So if one older partner goes walking or hits the weight room, it significantly increases the odds that his or her spouse will do the same.

Carolyn encouraged George's passion for running—and in turn, George's new interest in fitness motivated his wife. "I was supportive and so proud of him, but I often felt sad that this wasn't something we were doing together. I guess I was a little intimidated by the whole thing—like he was going somewhere without me." So a friend of Carolyn's suggested that she start running, too, and eventually coaxed Carolyn out on the trails. Before too long, Carolyn signed up for and completed a ten-mile race.

Today, you can find the entire Schott family out exercising together on Sundays. After George runs eight miles solo, Carolyn joins him and runs eight miles by his side, while Corey and Dylan accompany their parents on bikes. Overall, the boys seem nonchalant about their parents' accomplishments, but do give them the credit they deserve. After all, George ran all 26.2 miles of the Chicago Marathon last fall and now weighs in at 148 pounds—a loss of about 42 pounds—and Carolyn has completed two half-marathons. "They used to sit on the couch a lot," says Corey, "but now we all take bike rides and go for hikes on the weekend instead." Adds Dylan, "I know I can ski anything, even the black diamonds, because my parents stay with me. I'm really proud of them."