“Sauce on the side” at restaurants + healthy eating at home do not = weight loss. Exercise has to be a part of it.

At the gym, June 27, 2011

I say that with some conviction but am well aware that scientists and even no-nothings like me continue to debate the issue. Just plug the phrase diet vs. exercise into any search engine and you’ll see.

But I know that I tend to do better with both. My first experience with exercise was in the mid-1980s. I’d bulked up nicely in all the wrong places since college graduation. For a bunch of 20somethings on their first jobs, going out to eat and drink was entertainment. Chi-Chi’s, with its endless basket of tortilla chips, was a hot ticket in Wichita, Kan., where I lived. Our annual tour of outstate Kansas almost always included a stop at the Brookville Hotel in Abilene, Kan. The menu consisted of a home-style fried chicken dinner with all the trimmings. This included a coleslaw for which I bought the recipe. A batch used 2 cups of whipping cream and a cup of sugar.

Enter an aerobics studio named Body by Schliebe. It was run by a young couple named Tim and Beth Schliebe, he a compact muscled guy and she of the shiny aerobics tights and fabulous leg warmers. They were Wichita’s own Jane Fonda, if those words can actually be used together in a sentence. (I was delighted to see that Tim at least is operating a Body by Schliebe in Bend, Ore.) He looks pretty good in the picture on the website.

The first time I went, I nearly fainted. About 10 minutes of knee-slamming aerobics (low-impact was not yet de rigueur) left my head spinning. But the music was hot, and the class seemed to be having fun. I stayed and probably lost 25 pounds without much modification in my eating habits.

Since then, I’ve been in and out of exercise as my moods and my relationship status changed. Skinny when single; porky when hooked up. I’d kind of fallen off the wagon hard in 2006, when my dad’s health issues put a strain on the whole family. What happened next was not fun. On a vacation in Sicily, I had a meltdown.

When I returned to the states, my doctor diagnosed depression and anxiety, put me on an antidepressant, recommended a counselor for talk therapy and said, “Get some exercise.”

I took all to heart. In the early days before that recipe kicked in, the depression and anxiety had my body surging and sweating. But when I got on the treadmill for a run, I could feel the surge build to a crescendo and then drain away. The exercise was pumping tons of beneficial chemicals to a brain that sorely needed them. I exercised at least once a day and sometimes twice.

After a year of that routine, I felt good enough to take the next step: joining Weight Watchers. The combination of eating right and exercising melted the pounds away. I lost 8-10 inches in my waistline.

Even today, having gained a couple of inches back, I have a better week when I exercise. I alternate days between free weights and cardio, usually the eliptical machine or a recumbent bicycle, and some yoga.

The exercise burns calories, of course, but it also dumps tons of good endorphins into my brain. That in turn helps with the depression, anxiety and all the little stresses that can drive folks like me to solve them with…a bag of peanut-butter stuffed pretzels.

So get yourself off the couch and do something.