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New Haven Couple Weighs in on Habits for the Holidays

Stephanie Held
December 20, 2018
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The #mActivityPeople interview series focuses on the mindful lives and health routines of mActivity’s inspiring community. Submit your own on Instagram—post your mindful mActivity (tag us @mactivitynh!) and include the hashtag #mActivityPeople for a chance to be featured on our blog.

THE holidays. Grateful families and friends love to stop by to leave cookies, cakes and candy. Bills are a bit higher. Aunt Louise is staying for a week. It’s all delicious festive delight until it turns into feelings of guilt and overindulgence – we’ve all been there. In the spirit of giving, husband and wife, Chris and Sara Lamar-Sterling shared their own journey in and out of indulgence. The vulnerability and depth of Chris’ experience is reported here with respect.

On a diet of 4,000 calories a day, he struggled to find a balanced relationship with food. As much as his habits were a physical concern, the emotional implications were hard to address, too. Sara knew she couldn’t fix Chris’ problems, so she supported him through healthy leadership. Here’s how they lost a collective 50 pounds this year and plan to stay on track throughout the holidays and into the New Year.

Food Dependency

“Sara married me when I was very heavy. It’s usually the other way around with couples. In my early twenties I was very active. I was a gymnast, never worried about what I ate and was always in good shape. Into my late twenties and thirties I was eating 4,000 calories a day. I’m 5’5” and ballooned up to 250 pounds,” said Chris.

He habituated into eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk or Häagen-Dazs ice cream every night. It  became a source of comfort and dependency after a long day at work. “Maybe this is better than drinking whiskey, I thought. But I was going out of my way to make sure I had enough on hand, and sometimes I would sneak it when friends were around. It took me a while to understand I had a problem,” he said.

It upset Sara. “He was on a path to live a shorter life than I was. If nothing changed, I would have to get comfortable knowing that I would be living a big chunk of my life alone. But, I love him and I wanted my husband to be around for a long time,” she said.

Midlife Appetizer

Despite Chris' struggle with food, they had a healthy midlife crisis as a couple. They didn’t have affairs, didn’t buy a sports car, but they did evaluate their lives and asked themselves hard questions about the things they wanted to change.

“I knew that I could only control myself and make healthy choices for me, not for the both of us. If Chris wanted to include me in his struggle, I would be there, but I could not police him for eating a pint of ice cream every night. We needed help, but I knew I needed to help myself first,” said Sara.

The Gym as the Entrée

Sara joined mActivity. Soon after, Chris followed her lead. They loved the energizing atmosphere and started working with personal trainer, Kevin Mangini, who inspired them to keep coming. Even over the holidays, they are sticking with their twice a week training session with him, “We just clicked with Kevin. He’s so encouraging, incredibly kind and helpful. He teaches us something new every session. I’m amazed that we keep evolving,” said Chris.

“It has been an extraordinary and motivating experience to work with Sara and Chris on their fitness journey. Their consistency, focus and effort sets the standard. Anything is possible in the world of fitness if you put your mind and heart to it,” said Kevin.

The Second Course

Chris’ progress helped him realize that he couldn’t keep going to the gym and not address his eating habits. Kevin suggested they might enjoy meeting with Liv, mActivity’s nutrition coach and owner at LivFitFuel. “She encouraged me to reflect on why I was eating the way I was. And to think about what I really wanted out of life,” Chris said. “We had meaningful conversations about my hopes and dreams. One day, I told her I dreamt of  becoming an actor. That was interesting – it had nothing to do with nutrition, and everything to do with my happiness.”

Focusing on happiness and new habit forming made the biggest difference in their weight loss. Hunger is now their trigger to eat. They stop when they feel satisfied and not overly stuffed, and have learned how to balance their meals without restricting their favorite foods like pizza and ice cream. This way they have been able to achieve sustainable, healthy caloric intake. Also by allowing themselves to explore their identity, they have been able to let go of nonessential lifestyle choices prohibiting them from achieving their dreams.

“I enjoy eating too, especially all of the decadent drinks and treats at parties, but there are little tricks I have learned that help me from over-consuming,” said Sara. “I have learned to keep moving around and to not be so extreme; I can have a little bit of something decadent and enjoy it rather than a lot and feel guilty.”

Liv’s nutrition strategy is unorthodox. Her goal as a nutrition coach is to get to the root of why someone is overweight. She believes that it usually has nothing to do with the food itself and everything to do with a person’s habits, behaviors and mindset around food.

“Research shows that 95 percent of people who lose weight on a restrictive diet eventually gain it back. There is so much contradictory nutrition information out there, ‘carbs are bad,’ ‘fat is bad,’ ‘only eat in an 8 hour window,’ ‘eat small meals every 3 hours.’ No wonder so many people don’t know where to begin. Diets don’t address intense cravings, emotional eating, boredom or binge eating. Restrictive diets are a band-aid approach – it only temporarily covers up the problem. Eventually unhealthy habits come back, as well as the lost weight.

For Chris and Sara, I combined the latest in nutritional science, habit change and behavioral psychology into a system that was practical, sustainable and simple. This approach makes it easy for clients to cement new habits into their lifestyle. By building a healthy relationship with food, changing their habits and supporting one another through this lifestyle change, Chris and Sara have become an even stronger team,” said Liv.

Dessert

Today, Chris and Sara are thriving on the kind of existence that provides them with substantial energy. “It’s great to actually pursue what makes me happy rather than just placating my immediate desires. It’s also OK to have a couple of cookies, but once I do, I want to get back out there. Life is ultimately more interesting than old indulgences,” said Chris.

They’re going to Paris for Christmas. Planning to enjoy chocolate croissants, they have also have made sure to walk everywhere and stay active. It seems their new approach to food is filled with balanced joie de vivre – pleasure of mind, body and soul.

“We grew because we no longer make superficial choices. We are serious about the present moment and very aware that life is happening right now, not later. Our advice for people struggling with nutrition this time of year is to stick to a routine,” said Sara.

“I am so proud of the progress Chris and Sara have made this year. Holidays and traveling used to make them feel out of control around food. They would say “screw it” and eat until they felt sick, then guilty. Now, they eat enough to celebrate food and feel satisfied. They have left their intense, compulsive eating habits behind and are focused on living their best life,” said Liv.

Why did you choose mActivity?

“I look forward to the feeling I get when I’m at mActivity; we’re proud to be part of it. They are very active in the community. When we were ready to make some serious lifestyle changes that would inspire the rest of our lives, mActivity provided the resources, experts and a great community to make that happen. We’re not alone anymore,” Chris said. “I hope my story helps anyone else who might feel alone in their body or food struggle.”

Members can sign up at the front desk for a complementary 60-minute starting point personal training session. 30-minute, complementary nutrition sessions are available for both members and non-members to discuss goals, health challenges and roadblocks for a more nutritious life. Click here to sign up with nutrition coach, Liv Hallstein.

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