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Here’s What I Learned About Weight Loss and Fitness From a Team of Experts

Thursday, June 23, 2022

By Zibby Owens

I recently spent two nights at a health, wellness, fitness, and longevity institute. I’d hit absolute rock bottom after a stressful year which had resulted in, among other things, gaining 20 extra pounds. On my 5’2″ frame, which was already pushing the boundaries of a healthy BMI to begin with, that was a lot.

Literally nothing fit. My doctor warned me that my cholesterol, for the first time ever, was high. Other health issues emerged. I’d lost all control and was just watching my body swell. The worst was that I felt so hopeless. I didn’t know where to turn or what to even do about it.

The larger I grew, the more impossible it felt to address. And I didn’t want to give up the joys of sugar and caffeine which sustained my busy work days, even though I knew I should.

I honestly didn’t know what to do. Everything was off track. And diets always failed anyways. So was I stuck forever? Would my clothes ever fit again or continue to collect dust on hangers?

Like an addict going to rehab, I canceled my planned vacation and, along with my husband, the ultimate trooper, checked myself in to a California clinic.

Once I got there, I was reluctant to go to the sessions on basic fitness and nutrition. I mean, come on. Didn’t I know everything already? The problem wasn’t knowing what to eat. I wanted to get to the root of why I wasn’t doing the right things for my health.

Turns out, I was wrong! Things had changed! Not only had I forgotten many of the reasons why certain healthy habits were so important, but new research had emerged since I’d last addressed my health, say, fifteen years and four kids earlier. The way the experts explained everything to me this time was far more impactful than any article or book I’d read about it and motivated me.

So here’s what I learned. I’m hoping it will help you. And while I’m not the expert, I did amass all this information from a top-notch team of nutritionists, exercise physiologists, trainers, counselors, and more. You’re welcome. 😉


My old approach: Blah blah blah. Drink six cups a day. Yeah, right. Not me, though! I could get along fine without much water. A few sips a day was all I needed. If I drank more, I had to run straight to the bathroom like one of those plastic dolls that peed as soon as you fed it a bottle. And I didn’t have time to be running to the bathroom all day. I was in meetings back-to-back! And water didn’t even taste good. Why bother? I was too busy drinking coffee anyway.

My new approach: The experts reminded me that, yes, water is important because it does things like make your hair and skin better and increases energy.

But most importantly, water could actually speed up my metabolism. I’d felt like my metabolism had been screeching to a stop like a record player running out of batteries, an album on its last loops. I felt powerless to change it.

Water was all it took?!?! I thought it was because I was 45 years old and that’s just what happened. Turns out, yes: drinking water boosts your metabolism. It revs up all the engines and gets things functioning quickly.

Also, I was peeing right after drinking because I was completely dehydrated. Dehydration, which can lead to colon cancer among other diseases, presents as feeling hungrier than you are and also as peeing as soon as you drink. But just drinking water alone throughout the day isn’t enough.

To get the water to do its job, it has to be consumed with food or even salt or a simple electrolyte tablet. The easiest thing? Drop one tablet of Nuun in a glass of water first thing in the morning. The electrolytes will help the water cling to the cells it needs to hydrate as opposed to slipping off their surface and missing them completely as if the awaiting cells were holding up tiny umbrellas and missing the rain entirely. Not using electrolytes or pairing water with food, which has the ingredients to help the body process it, is like having a lawn sprinkler go off all day on grass covered by a waterproof tarp. It won’t get through at all!

Verdict: It works! I can hold in water. I feel better already. And it’s so easy. Plus Nuun is great and comes in several flavors. I prefer mixed berry.


My old approach: I know I should work out. But I don’t have time. And it feels like 30 minutes on the elliptical does nothing anyway. If I’m going to take the time to work out, I better sweat, drench my clothes, or it’ll mean it didn’t work. Cardio all the way. But really, nothing should be fine. Maybe a walk. Maybe nothing.

My new approach: Cardio is so out. Turns out, cardio sessions, while great for the heart, don’t help with weight loss. As my 8-year-old daughter would say: “Mind. Blown.”

To lose weight, the best thing to do is weight-baring activity that builds muscles. The more you build your muscles, the more fat your body burns. Strengthening activities or sculpt or lifting or toning with challenging weights and incremental progress turns up the furnace of fat-burning whereas strict cardio just really activates the heart. Cardio mixed with weight-training activity is the best.

The holy grail of exercise? HIIT classes three times a week. Even for just 20 minutes. (I just did one on the Peloton app yesterday and was utterly exhausted afterwards.)

Also, 30 minutes to an hour of sculpting moves in a circuit like squats and lunges, upper body pulls and pushes, really makes a difference. And you don’t have to sweat!

Yes, you can work out with a trainer a few times a week. But if you can’t find one or don’t want to pay or prefer not to, you can make up your own moves or watch a short video on an app. (I don’t have one but I think it would be a good idea.)

So instead of allocating time to shower after (a deterrent to exercise for me), you can really do these things in the middle of the workday and make a big difference.

Verdict: So far so good! I tried an intermediate HIIT hip-hop class from Peloton and got a fabulous workout. I hiked up a huge hill for 30 minutes. I already feel better.

Heart Rate and Overall Fitness

My old approach: Whatever. If I’m sweating and huffing and puffing, it’s working. No need to measure my heart rate. And if I don’t work out, so be it.

My new approach: Not true! I had a fancy-shmacy assessment which indicated that my best heart rate zone is between 115 and 145 bpm. If I’m on the elliptical and my heart rate at 110, it’s a waste. (I mean, better than sitting on the couch, but it won’t help with weight loss.) If I work out over 145, it also isn’t optimal because of oxygen and carbon dioxide and some other scientific stuff. So basically keeping my heart rate in between these pillars will yield actual results.

I also took a VO2 max test which shows your biological age versus your actual age based on the stress test on a treadmill. (I was hooked up to a bazillion wires and wore an oxygen mask. Very sexy.)

It turned out my biological age was between 44–48. (I’m 45.) But, if I increased my fitness level — which won’t be hard since I’d been doing nothing — I could decrease my biological age into the 30s. Even the 20s. In other words, I could live longer if I got more fit. If my fitness continued to decline, my biological age would increase in which case I would be on track to die sooner.

So. If I got back in shape, I could prolong my life and avoid a whole host of possible life-threatening things. My goal is to get my biological age down to the thirties in the next year. (And for my body-fat percentage to drop 5–10%.)

The good news is that I used to be really fit and athletic. Apparently, the cells remember that even though I barely do! It’s like they’re all inside sitting on the hockey bench waiting to be called back onto the ice. Retrieving prior fitness levels is easier than becoming fit if you’ve never been fit before. This was a consolation for me because I thought I’d lost my fit-ness forever. So the more I work out, the more little guys get off the bench and back on the ice. Apparently, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit here.

Simple tweaks to my fitness routine like including HIIT workouts can literally save my life years down the road. Now that’s worth it.

Verdict: I need to get a heart rate monitor. But at least now I’m conscious of it. And I’m all in on committing to health goals and picking the low-hanging fruit. Here’s to longer life spans!


My old approach: Not gonna happen.

My new approach: Stretching muscles before a workout makes them more capable of engaging in the actual workout. It would be like rolling out a towel before laying out in the sun. (I know, I know, I shouldn’t do that either.) If you only roll it out halfway, you’ll get sand all over your legs and it won’t really work. If you stretch the muscle, you work out more of it. If you work more of it, you build even more muscle and then the furnace burns brighter on fat-burning. So it is worth it.


My old approach: If I just master this particular trendy diet, then I’ll be able to lose weight and conquer my issues forever! Oh wait, it failed after three weeks and I feel completely discouraged. Better gear up to try again soon.

My new approach: No. More. Diets. I’m done. I’m not even going to aspire to track my food by writing everything down like I did for five straight years when I was younger. (Seriously. I still have the notebooks.) No more weighing and measuring my food either. Here’s what I’m doing as prescribed by the nutritionist I saw.

Breakfast: Yes. Eat it. Include protein. And carbs. For me, I’m going to alternate between: scrambled eggs/egg whites with veggies, whole grain toast and fruit; banana slices with sun butter (about two spoonfuls); oatmeal with fruit and a few nuts. Oat milk in my coffee, per usual.

Lunch: Eat it. Sit down. Take time to swallow! Salad with protein and fruit. Healthy carbs okay! Or protein with veggies and a healthy carb carb and fruit. Pureed soups! A couple squares of dark chocolate.

Afternoon snack: Have one. An apple and almonds. (Don’t count them! Just eat a few.)

Dinner: Protein, veggies. Choose between alcohol, bread/whole grain carb, and dessert. Try to pick one. Which one is most worth it that day!?

Dessert: No need to eliminate sugar completely. (For me, that would be the quickest recipe for failure.) Shoot for two treats per week. And enjoy them. If I want to write down anything I eat to help keep track of things, only record the treats. Or don’t!

Mistakes: Don’t exist. Last night I had half of a warm, white roll at dinner. I started beating myself up about it in my head instantly (“I’ve ruined everything already!”) but then reminded myself that I can’t ruin anything. I’m trying to eat as many good things as I can. Eating something that doesn’t necessarily fuel my body is okay as long as it doesn’t become the bulk of what I’m eating. I’m trying to eat the good stuff about 90% of the time. If I can.

And the rest? Don’t worry about it! Enjoy! Reward myself for eating half of one roll instead of two rolls. Progress, not perfection. No stress.

Verdict: I feel so much better already. Balanced. My cravings have almost gone away. My moods are more even, too. I’m sticking with it.


My old approach: No more than three cups a day but stretch them out with a variety of to-go cups and devices so I’m sipping coffee literally day until about 3:00 pm. Definitely first thing in the morning.

My new approach: Wake up by drinking water (see above) with electrolytes first. Then, drink the coffee. Try not to drink it non-stop all day. Work on why I’m so exhausted. Drink water because water increases energy, too.

Verdict: So far, so good! I’ve needed less caffeine on this new plan.


My old approach: Go to bed around 10:30 p.m. Get woken up by the kids all night. Get up with the one who wakes up earliest, usually by 5:00 a.m. Then start working immediately. Catch up on sleep every other weekend. Don’t worry about the fact that any chance my body found to fall asleep, it would. Like during the theater. or in a car. Boom. I’d be asleep.

My new approach: I can’t necessarily change all my kids’ sleep habits, although I’ve been trying and trying and will continue to try. But I can go to bed even earlier. Take planned naps if I need them. Force myself, when I wake up super early and want to get up and start working, to try to go back to sleep.

Say to myself: “I can feel that I want to get up and work right now. But this isn’t the best thing for my body. I can feel that I want to check my phone in the middle of the night or start reading again. But that isn’t the best thing for my body.” Give myself permission to sleep knowing the work will still get done. And that I’ll be more efficient.

Plus lack of sleep makes us all more likely to overeat anyway. And being tired affects our moods a lot. So try, try, try.

Verdict: The past two nights, I’ve forced myself to go back to sleep when I wanted to jump out of bed. It’s going to take time to break this habit. But I’m trying.

I know these tips aren’t rocket science. However, for me, they are life changing. Understanding the why behind what I’m doing helps. The new science helps. Reframing my health helps. I hope it helps you, too! Now I’m off to go for a hike. Low-hanging fruit, watch out.