By CHARLOTTE SUTTON
Getting healthy is a daunting task.
Even once you've made the decision to lose weight and shape up, next comes a dizzying number of experts and options, all promising the very best way to reach your goals.
With so much information about what you should do — and what you absolutely, positively must never do — it's tempting to crawl back under the covers with a fistful of cookies.
Or you can follow Sharon Davis' lead and go to school.
Last year, the Tampa woman had already taken a major step toward better health by quitting smoking. Then, inspired by her baby granddaughter, she wanted to do more.
So she signed up for an intensive education program at her local YMCA to learn about making healthy changes a permanent part of her life. It's called the Diabetes Prevention Program, but though Davis was just 13 pounds overweight and not particularly concerned about diabetes, the step-by-step lessons it teaches all sounded good to her.
Today, Davis has maintained her goal weight and at 63 is so fit that she has no trouble lifting and chasing her 18-month-old granddaughter around the park. Recently, she blazed through a 3-mile charity walk in 55 minutes.
Now the same kind of YMCA program that Davis uses in Tampa (she still attends monthly maintenance meetings) is signing up participants in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.
Davis' advice to anyone considering joining: Go for it.
"This program is for anybody that really wants to educate themselves and change their lifestyle to become healthier and live longer. It's not just for a young person, an old person, a man or a woman. It's for anybody,'' she said.
And you will be educated: The YMCA program has serious science behind it.
Alarmed by the rising tide of Type 2 diabetes, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teamed up to fund the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program a few years ago. That study found that people at risk of diabetes (and that's many millions of Americans — take a look at the program criteria and see how many apply to you) slashed their chances of developing the deadly disease by losing just 7 percent of their weight and increasing their activity.
Those test subjects had one-on-one coaching. But subsequent research at Indiana University School of Medicine duplicated their success in group classes conducted with the Indianapolis YMCA.
It's a powerful plan — if you put in the work. The one-year program starts with 16 weekly classroom sessions, covering topics like finding hidden fat in food, defeating negative thoughts and staying motivated. Then comes a series of monthly meetings for weigh-ins and support.
The main goals: Lose 7 percent of your body weight and spend 150 minutes a week being physically active.
It takes commitment, both in the classroom and outside of it. Davis said that of the six people in her group, just two still attend monthly sessions.
More advice from the veteran: "Stick with it. Stick with the group. Support and accountability are very important. Be honest and true with yourself. And be patient — sometimes you'll lose a few pounds, sometimes you won't, but be kind to yourself.''
The Y program was challenging, but a lot easier than quitting smoking, Davis reports. Still, she remains diligent.
"It's not to say I'll never have another cheeseburger, because I will. But when I do I enjoy it without guilt because I know that the next day I will go back to counting calories and fat grams.''