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For better health, adjust your definition of fitness

There are sound reasons to be concerned about excess fat around the belly, reasons that have nothing to do with how one looks in a bathing suit.

Repeated studies suggest that this kind of weight distribution is associated with a host of medical problems that aren't as common in people who carry their extra weight around their hips and thighs.

But plenty of other studies have shown that you cannot choose which part of your body you want to target for weight loss. Try as we might, we aren't all destined to have washboard abs and 25-inch waistlines.

So, how can we deal with this seeming contradiction between the desirable and the possible?

The key is to focus on what we can actually control, and let go of the rest.

By having an active lifestyle, avoiding long hours in front of the television or computer, keeping our muscles strong and eating nutritiously, we can have the best body nature intended for us. Beyond that it's futile to insist on change that our genetics won't allow.

Too often people sacrifice their health and happiness by being pointlessly preoccupied with areas of their bodies that they perceive as unacceptable. More than once I've encountered individuals who said they could not accept themselves because they were too short, had a round face or had hair that was too curly for their taste.

I'm not talking about people who just wished these things were different, but people whose refusal to accept their perceived faults actually made their lives miserable.

Everyone — no matter how perfect others might think them — has something that they wish was different. It's also true that there are plenty of people who are short, round-faced, curly-haired and entirely happy with their lives.

When you allow a physical flaw to consume your thoughts, you — and no one else — are standing in the way of all the good things that life has to offer, such as love, friends, fun, and, most importantly, inner peace.

If you're ready to get unstuck, here's a list of things to work on:

• Stop rigid thinking. Overall fitness, not perfect proportions, is the healthy goal that can add years to your life.

• Don't jump to conclusions. Just because you read about a negative medical finding that seems to fits you, it doesn't mean you're doomed.

• Focus as much on your emotional health as on your physical health. The two together are powerful life changers.

• Do it for the right reasons. People who focus on health over appearance tend to make more realistic and effective choices, and get better results in the long run.

• Take it one day at a time. Rather than worrying about the long term, engage in healthy behaviors every day, and your body will reward you by becoming leaner.

• Focus on stress, instead of your middle. Excessive stress has been shown to encourage the body to put on unhealthy fat around the belly. Try yoga, meditation, whatever helps you to destress.

• Just say no to finding fault. The more faults you look for, the more you will find and the more preoccupied you will be with them. Make a conscious effort to focus on something more productive.

• Ditch pointless worry. Next time you're fretful, ask yourself if you have any control over the thing that's worrying you. If not, you're wasting your time.

• Look at your friends. Chances are you are drawn to people who are happy and confident, not those who always whine about their waistlines. Emulate those good qualities.

Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D, is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at

For better health, adjust your definition of fitness 08/27/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010 3:39pm]
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