Slow and steady can win the race

Some advice on setting goals and getting to where you want to be before it’s beach season — or wedding season.


We’re approaching a season that bodes many things: our busiest time of year, an exponential increase in the Island population, cookouts, hitting the beach … and weddings.

Having been a certified personal trainer (“been” being the operative word), I cannot tell you how many times I had folks coming up to me wanting to get into shape for an upcoming wedding ceremony. If compared to a military state of readiness, it was Defcon 2. The objective was to look their best for all the family and friends they haven’t seen in years (decades, even). Inevitably these best-laid plans to get into performative shape for one day began about two months before the “I dos” were to take place.

Two months. Way too many folks believe that there are healthy shortcuts you can take to get to your envisioned physical appearance destination. Five or 10 pounds in two months? Absolutely doable. Twenty or 30? Maybe. Beyond that, unless you’re undergoing liposuction or gastric bypass surgery, there’s a slim-to-none chance that you will achieve that goal through healthy means. And when I say healthy means, I’m talking the good, old-fashioned weight loss modalities of proper diet and exercise.

But wait, you mean I won’t be walking into this wedding in slow motion, Herb Alpert’s “Rise” theming my saunter and having people choking on their cocktail weenies and baby quiche because I look so devastatingly svelte?

Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

But wait, what about something like Ozempic? I heard that’s great for weight loss!

OK, here we go.

Maybe you’ve seen that commercial where that one-hit-wonder tune from the early ’70s, “Magic,” is used? Only it’s an updated version of that song — “Oh, Ho, Ho, Ozempic …”

Clever, no?

Actually, yes. Not all pop tunes would have the hook to grab your attention the way this one does, and considering a good lot of the 90 to 95 percent of the 37 million Americans who have Type 2 diabetes are over the age of 45, it was a sound decision to enlist that song as the jingle for Ozempic. Marketing is everything, don’t ’cha know.

Perchance you’ve not heard of Ozempic. In 2017, the FDA approved this once-a-week injectable antidiabetic medication for adults with Type 2 diabetes to improve blood sugar, along with diet and exercise, as well as reduce the risk of major cardiovascular episodes such as heart attack, stroke, or death. That is the on-label utilization of Ozempic (on label means that a certain medication is being used for exactly what is intended). Off-label use means a physician prescribes a drug for a different purpose from what the medication is specifically intended for. In the case of Ozempic, it’s become a widespread practice for doctors to write prescriptions to treat obesity.

Then the FDA approved a drug with an increased dose of the active ingredient in Ozempic, called semaglutide, to treat obesity in 2021, under the brand name Wegovy.

Novo Nordisk, which manufactures both drugs, declared in the latter part of 2022 that they experienced disruptions in the stock of various doses of Ozempic because of a combination of high demand and worldwide supply constraints.

The long and the short of it when it comes to Ozempic and Wegovy is that these drugs are specifically designated for folks who are either Type 2 diabetics (the former), or dangerously overweight. To employ them to help you look like you’re getting in shape for an action movie? Not ideal, and it justifiably invites the vanity label — especially when it is perpetrating shortages for folks who actually need it.

By the way, did you happen to notice the twice-mentioned super-couple thus far — diet and exercise? Taken together or apart, the very idea of becoming familiar with those two concepts can be incredibly daunting. As I mentioned earlier, I used to be a personal trainer between 2010 and 2018, and I was, and still am, fairly intimidated at the thought of altering my eating habits. I never was one of those shirtless “V-Shred” fitness winners. Like most people, I really don’t feel like parting with certain go-to snack foods. Subsequently, you’ll never see every sinew when you look at me, and I’m good with it.

Honestly, when it comes to losing weight, diet is where it mostly begins and ends. Most folks don’t want to admit that. But losing weight only happens when you learn what to eat, how to eat, when to eat, and why to eat certain foods. And since I’ve admitted that I’m right in there with you when it comes to favorite foods — stubborn — I enlisted two of the Vineyard’s premier registered dietitian nutritionists, Prudence Athearn Levy and Josh Levy of Vineyard Nutrition, to help us feel less overwhelmed.

When asked about how fearful folks feel when it comes to changing the way they eat, Josh started with two simple words: “Start small.”

“Choose one to three things maximum to work on each week, make realistic goals, and make a real plan to help make it easier to do them,” Josh says. “Recognize what you are ready to change (and capable of changing in your life) before starting. Make goals you know you can reach, set the bar low to start, then recognize your successes to motivate you to make additional changes.”

Prudence added, “There is no finish line, so don’t be in a rush to get there.”

It took a while to put on the weight, so it will take a while to take it off. Try not to get discouraged if weight loss is slow to start in the first few weeks (sometimes it will be, sometimes it won’t — it all depends on the person). With sustainable lifestyle changes, you are usually making great changes for your health even before you lose that first pound. Make forever changes. This is both a shift in your lifestyle (i.e. buying more fruits and vegetables, keeping them visible in the fridge, or moving treats out of sight) and a gradual shift in your mindset. It’s not that you can’t have that cookie, but do you really want to compromise your goals, and why? Is it a habit? Are you feeling sad or stressed? If at all possible, work with a professional to help change the language in your head.

The other questions I had for Prudence and Josh had to do with all these seemingly miraculous weight loss programs, water intake, and the whole concept of “going on a diet.”

“Research shows most people who go on a crash diet regain all, if not more, weight than where they started at after the diet is no longer sustainable,” says Josh. “I mean, there are over 50,000 diet books on Amazon. If one really worked, why are there so many?”

Prudence added, “It’s healthier and more sustainable for life to slowly lose weight than lose it fast and then regain it. Up and down swings in weight stresses the body and will make it physically harder to lose weight the next time, and it also messes with your head. By nature, diets promoted to ‘lose weight fast’ are too restrictive — in calories or specific food groups or both. They keep you in the diet mindset. Restriction promotes eventual hunger for the foods you ‘shouldn’t’ eat, and it sets you up for failure.”

Both Prudence and Josh emphasized how most people feel some degree of hunger when they are dehydrated.

“Maybe we just want something in our hands or mouths, and water (or herbal or noncaffeinated tea) is the best and most convenient replacement for eating foods we shouldn’t. Water also has the added benefits of increasing energy,” Prudy says. “Even slight dehydration can sacrifice energy and stamina. Increasing water intake is a realistic goal to set, and it increases awareness of exactly what you are drinking. Dehydration is just stressful for the body, causing it to adapt in ways that sacrifice optimal metabolism, and thereby can slow weight loss.”

Now we come to the yang of the previously established yin — exercise.

If you truly want to double down and essentially Simoniz the exterior of your chassis (or something like that), then working out is the only answer. Actually, please allow me to clarify: Working out safely and logically is your only solution. If you’ve never been especially active, let alone gone to a gym, you really need to be careful when it comes to how to proceed.

For the purpose of this article, I’m focusing on the gym environment. Having worked in the fitness industry for a time, I can tell you with complete certainty that anyone who can read and remember things can become a personal trainer. There are a lot of yahoos out there who have absolutely no business being in any position of influence when it comes to helping people get in shape. The only reason I became certified was because I’d had enough of watching mouth-breathing “fitness consultants” — with no sensitivity to physical limitations — just torture and injure people in their charge. That, or they are on automatic pilot and have their clients do the same thing every session.

Honestly, it just appears that the fitness industry as a whole is all about numbers and money. Get the clients, and keep them re-upping their sessions — even if they’re not reaping any discernible benefits. So I excused myself from that business and never re-certified.

That said, there are two certified personal trainers on the Vineyard who don’t fit into that template. Heather Neal and Craig Yuhas, the owners and trainers of B-Strong in Oak Bluffs, were the only fitness professionals I knew (and I know plenty) who could give me answers to the questions many folks who are considering beginning a fitness regimen might have.

When asked what they would say to someone who is completely overwhelmed at the thought of beginning a workout program, Heather, representing both Craig and herself, immediately responded, “First thing? Write down and address all the excuses you know you will use, and think of other possible roadblocks before you even begin an exercise program; don’t put a time limit on your weight-loss goals. There is absolutely no reason to put added pressure on yourself to meet some arbitrary timeline that you will just beat yourself up over if you don’t achieve it. Begin exercising with the understanding that it is just something we all need to do. You will do it for the rest of your life. Maintaining health is a constantly changing, never-ending process that you have to be an active participant in. The better you become at exercise, the more enjoyable it becomes. Persistence, patience, practice, and consistency. The worst program performed consistently will get better results than the best program performed sporadically.”

It’s a given that one of the reasons I chose to include the B-Strong proprietors in this is because they share a general disdain for so-called fitness “influencers” who are more in it for themselves than to truly help others. Misleading the public about achieving their fitness goals is not only irresponsible, but just dangerous. Also, when you see these shirtless wonders on YouTube — especially if you’re not in your best mental state — it’d be almost impossible to not compare yourself to the way they look.

“As the saying goes, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy,’” Heather says. “It’s all about persistence, patience, practice, and consistency. Baby steps and all that.”

So what exactly is the benefit of engaging a reputable fitness professional to help them achieve their overall fitness goals?

“Most people need a map, and most importantly, they need to know where they are on that map at any given moment, and then to be pointed on a specific route to get to their destination,” she says. “A good trainer can assess their starting point and give them the best route to that destination. It may be the longer route, or the slower route, but it is the route most appropriate for that person so they get there in one piece, without any accidents. There may be an expected detour involved, but they will get where they want to go.”

Speaking from personal experience, it’s absolutely vital to do your due diligence about whatever trainer you engage to help you with your fitness goals. It doesn’t matter if a trainer has been doing it for 30 years, they could have been “dialing it in” for the past 15.

The other thing that everyone needs to be mindful of is where they are in their life, and to proceed according to that timeline. For example, I’m 60. If I tried to do now what I did when I was 20, I would end up in the emergency room.

“You have to meet yourself where you are, and consider your ability and time necessary to recover from workouts or specific exercises. I’m not saying you shouldn’t work out intensely, sometimes very intensely,” Heather said. “I’m just saying we need to know when and how to create that intensity without increasing risk of injury or an inability to recover from a specific workout. Basically, you have to know when to hit the gas pedal, and when to hit the brakes.”

As we were wrapping up our conversation, Heather added, “And don’t forget to sleep. Adequate sleep is essential for recovery.”