Wrestling with demons becomes desperate | TheUnion.com

Wrestling with demons becomes desperate

Eileen JoyceMilt and Mitzi Schmidt take their dog Scotty for a walk near their Morgan Ranch home Aug. 2.
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Editor’s Note: This is part of a series in which The Union tracks an experiment in lifestyle change through eating differently and exercising regularly. The subject, Carole Carson, 60, of Nevada City, has lost 60 pounds.


by Carole Carson

“Francis”–as in “Francis, The Talking Mule,” a movie from the ’50s–was my childhood nickname. This unsubtle reference to stubbornness captured a most obvious trait. During this year-long fitness journey (“ordeal” might be more apt), obstinacy has served me well.

At no point was my resolve more tested than in the past month. Wrestling with temptations daily, I’ve needed every bit of willfulness I could muster.

Three changes unleashed the demons. First, house guests arrived for extended visits, resulting in palate-pleasing menus, later and bigger dinners, plus fancy desserts. Responsible for three meals a day, I was preoccupied with food-planning, shopping, and preparing. With unlimited opportunities to indulge, I was challenged to stay focused.

Worse, my exercise schedule disappeared. Gym equipment that earlier screamed “Exercise on me!” went unexpectedly silent. Instead, clothes, appliances and furniture yelled, “Launder me,” “Dust me,” and “Vacuum me.” I responded to the immediacy of their voices.

As others’ needs increased, I quickly abandoned my own, even to getting enough rest. Watching my new health habits dissolve was distressing, even as I was thoroughly enjoying the company.

The second set of temptations arose from travel. Taking a break from guests, my husband and I drove to the coast for five days. Irregular eating hours (I would get too hungry and then overeat) plus my love of recreational eating (dinner out with wine, appetizers and desserts) nearly did me in.

Eating late before retiring wasn’t a good idea either. Exercise was a “catch as catch can” proposition, so I didn’t always work off my favorite breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns.

When I finally reined myself in, I encountered unexpected obstacles. Breakfast at the motel-muffins (sugar-based), fruit juice (with added sugar and no fiber), and coffee (with caffeine)-didn’t seem like a good choice.

Later at a restaurant, when I ordered eggbeaters, a fruit cup, and dry toast for breakfast, I was served dry toast only. The other two items, while appearing on the menu, were unavailable. Watching my husband eat his 1,500 calorie breakfast while I nibbled on toast was difficult.

Limited choices (French fries were always on the menu, while fruit was seldom available) combined with super-sized portions and lack of planning on my part made eating healthily difficult.

The third obstacle involved injury. Eager to begin exercising after my hospital stay, I tried jogging. In the first 15 minutes, I tripped on a root and fell, tearing a hamstring. At least for a month, strenuous exercise was contra-indicated. After struggling to get well enough to resume exercising, the unexpected delay was frustrating.

No wonder so few people succeed in keeping weight off. Complacency is dangerous. More determination, rather than less, is necessary to maintain well-being.

Entertaining, traveling, and injury-the three events nearly did me in. Days of self indulgence culminating in a decadent dinner with not one but three desserts resulted in a six-pound gain. Watching the numbers climb, I felt helpless. At the rate I was going, I would gain back everything I had lost in six months. Would I even stop there? Was all my work for naught?

The turning point came at 3 a.m., when I awoke in despair. In the silence of the sleeping house, I faced my self-defeating behavior. Any remaining morale could be scraped off the bottom of the floor. Desperate for relief, I asked for help. In that instant, I realized I’d have to arm-wrestle each personal devil to the ground if I wanted to recapture my freedom.

I spent the next hour reassuring myself that all was not lost, that I needed to be both patient and compassionate. Condemnation, self-judgment and blame were unhelpful. I was human and to be human is to make mistakes. Moreover, getting fit involves learning, and learning can be painful. The opportunity existed for me to make corrections, both quickly and joyfully.

Also reassuring was the thought that I couldn’t violate my eating and exercise standards without major distress. The “rules” were internalized now. This was great news! To live peaceably with myself, I’d have to live consistent with my self-imposed regimen. When I didn’t, the emotional discomfort would be so great, I’d be forced to return to the straight and narrow path. Temptations would never go away, but personal devils could be overcome. Next time, I wouldn’t underestimate them.

“Where the mind goes, the body follows” is an anonymous quote that serves me well. I’m back to my former weight of 122-124 pounds. I’ve got a plan for our next car trip in September. And my hamstring, thanks to Dr. David Hay’s acupuncture, is 90 percent healed.

How I wish the journey had not taken such a difficult and painful detour! On the other hand, I wouldn’t trade the learning for anything. “Francis” is back in charge.

# # #

Profiles in Courage-Fitness for the Second 50 Years

Milt, 73, and Mitzi Schmidt, 71, of Grass Valley will be married half a century in January. Mitzi’s unhappiness over excess weight prompted a decision to enroll in a nutrition class at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. The experience led to a decision to eat more carefully-and to exercise regularly! For their anniversary, they purchased a fitness club membership, pre-paying one year to prevent themselves from dropping out.

Mitzi’s problems began when, as a 19-year-old, her mother asked a doctor to help her daughter lose weight. During summer vacation, Mitzi took prescription drugs that speeded up metabolism and simultaneously made her manic. Although she succeeded in losing 30 pounds in three months, Mitzi inadvertently destroyed the thyroid gland. Today, thyroid replacement prescriptions make her susceptible to weight gain.

Mitzi also battles rheumatoid arthritis and faces cataract surgery. If that isn’t enough, Mitzi loves to read-a sedentary hobby. But even with medical problems and a disinclination to exercise, Mitzi’s hanging in there.

Milt, on the other hand, is a natural athlete-a former football player and coach. Except for a knee operation following a sports injury, he’s been healthy all his life. New to the community after a career in education (Milt spent the last 17 years of his career as director of personnel for the Mountain View/Los Altos School District), the two are carving out a new life. Together, they reinforce each other’s commitment to a long and healthy senior life, and another 50 years of marriage!

# # #

BODY LANGUAGE-The Practice of Pilates

by Carole Carson

Injury or illness makes getting into shape extremely difficult–even dangerous! The same is true for the sedentary person who decides to get fit.

What exercise can safely be done when rehabilitating, recovering or beginning?

For both men and women, the non-impact exercises of Pilates may be the answer. A German fitness expert, Joseph Pilates, developed the system over 80 years ago for disabled World War I veterans to restore and improve range of motion. The practice took hold with dancers and movie stars but remained expensive. As equipment became more affordable, Pilates’ popularity spread.

Through breathing and specific movements, Pilates exercises work to lengthen and strengthen deep muscles. Improved breathing and alignment, more graceful movement, increased body awareness, and expanded range of motion result. A relaxed digestive system, more energy, less pain, more oxygen reaching muscles, and steadier balance make daily life easier.

Practitioners of Pilates can be found in studios such as the Alternative Fitness Center in Penn Valley; Center of Movement in Grass Valley, and Wild Mountain Yoga Center in Nevada City. Fitness centers also offer their own version of Pilates exercises: South Yuba in Nevada City and Courthouse Athletic Club in Grass Valley.


by Carole Carson

What you eat obviously affects cholesterol levels. Does how often you eat impact them as well? The British Medical Journal (Dec. l, 2001) reports the results of research on almost 15,000 women that found a link between frequency of eating and cholesterol.

Surprisingly enough, the people who ate five or six times a day had 5 percent lower total cholesterol as well as low-density lipoprotein (the “bad” kind) than the people who ate three meals. More amazing was that the “snackers” consumed more calories and fat than the group who ate less frequently.

Although the results are surprising, they are biologically plausible. Evidently animals that gorge (eat large but infrequent meals) produce more fat from the sugar they absorb and show an increase in cholesterol production. Perhaps frequent snackers are reaping metabolic benefits.

Following this research to its logical conclusion, non-stop eating could make us thin as a rail! Before you go overboard on snacking, though, remember that caloric input still matters. The research does suggest, however, that for the greatest impact on metabolism, spread your calories across five or six mini-meals rather than a few large meals.

Source: July 2002 Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource December l, 2001


by Carole Carson

PILATES– Free Introductory Session. Caroll Christy, instructor.

Beginner class for adults all ages. Thirty-45 minute orientation with machines and mat. Wear comfortable clothes. Alternative Fitness Center. For appointment, call 432-8985.

OUTDOOR HIKING: Gayle Lossman, personal trainer. Two hours.Level and shaded. Free. Meet South Yuba Club 7:15 a.m. Sharp, Aug. 17. Finish 9:30 a.m. South Yuba Fitness Center, 470-9100

KIDS’ RUN: Includes track, cross country, stretching, and nutrition. Sierra Trailblazers, sponsors and instructors. All levels. All ages. One hour. Newcomers welcome. Annual membership $15. Tuesdays, 6-7 p.m. Nevada Union High School track. Contact Peggy Davidson, 265-5588, or

PILATES-Free introductory session. Lou Ann Martin, instructor. Basic levels. Mat exercises. At 9:45 a.m. beginning Tuesday and continuing Aug. 20 and 27. Bring small towel and wear comfortable clothes. Other beginning classes available. Courthouse Athletic Club. Sign-up, 274-3481.

CLYDESDALE CLASSIC WALK/RUN: Nevada County Fairgrounds Sept. 22. Five K and 10K. Pre-registration forms at local sports stores and fitness centers. Pre-registration fee ($20) includes T-shirt, refreshments, and entrance to 16th annual Draft Horse Classic and Harvest Fair. Registration on race day ($25) begins at 7 a.m. Race begins at 8. Questions: Annabelle Loucks, 530 273-9268 or

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