August 12, 2012

The Power to Lift!

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Administrator @ 8:53 pm

Ellen Bittner    

By Ellen Bittner
Chapter 1: From Bench Sitter to Bench Presser

It’s been awhile since I wrote my last blog post (actually it’s been more than 2 years); so, I guess it’s time to update my fitness journey.

My last chapter, under the heading “Feeling Fab” was titled Going Public. At that time, I was just beginning to feel comfortable with my body and my physical abilities, and I joined Vadim’s small group boot camp classes. Working out with these “fitness fanatics” provided a different experience, helped me to look at exercise in a new way, and challenged me to do things I hadn’t done before. My boot camp buddies were fun and encouraging; and because they were also considerably younger than me, one of them dubbed me “The Cougar.”

The weekly boot camps provided me with a fast-paced cardio workout, but I still wanted the benefits that one-on-one sessions provided. So, I continued to train with Vadim once a week. These private sessions focused on improving my strength, balance, and flexibility. They included lots of work with the barbell – bench pressing and deadlifts (stiff legged, regular, & sumo), dumbbell complexes using handheld weights, and kettlebell exercises.

It was during one of these private sessions that Vadim told me about his recent experience at the Albany Strength Powerlifting Meet. He was so excited I thought there must be something pretty special about a powerlifting competition, aside from the fact that he won a trophy, and began asking lots of questions. I learned that unlike weightlifting (which is comprised of two lifts – the clean & jerk and the snatch; and requires speed and flexibility along with strength); powerlifting consists of three lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Each of these lifts has rules and regulations for what constitutes a valid lift – more about this in future blogs.

Either Vadim didn’t know the answers or he was tired of my questions, but he suggested I go to a powerlifting competition and see for myself. A few weeks later I drove to Pine Bush, NY and watched Vadim compete in the OC Powerlifting Championship. While I was there I saw that there were a number of women competing and spoke with several of them. Olga, Katia, and Billie Jo willingly shared their own powerlifting experiences with me, gave me much needed guidance on powerlifting clothing and gear, and helped me understand what was going on at this particular event. I also spoke with Frank, who was running this competition, and tried on a couple of singlets (what I called “onesies”) to see how they fit and felt on me.

Their excitement and encouragement, along with the realization that I had nothing to lose, motivated me to become a powerlifter, and so another transformation began. For the next few months Vadim and I worked to get me ready for my first powerlifting event – the New Jersey State Bench Press Championships in Princeton, NJ. Vadim worked to improve my bench press and get me ready for the technical aspects of the competition, and I worked on finding the right gear and singlet to wear.

And so, on a bright sunny day in July I found myself driving on I-95 to Princeton, NJ. The dividend to this adventure was that my niece Amy was a doctoral student at nearby Princeton University. This gave me the opportunity to have dinner with her and have some quality time together.

The next morning I met Vadim and Sharon for weigh-in and equipment check, before we had breakfast together. Vadim and Sharon competed in the three lift powerlifting competition (squat, bench press and deadlift). Since this was my first competition, I focused on one lift – the bench press. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering how I did – I won a GOLD MEDAL… and began the journey of becoming a competitive powerlifting!


December 7, 2009

Feeling Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Administrator @ 1:53 pm

By Ellen Bittner
Chapter 3: Going Public

As I wrote in Chapter 3 (Using Weights, Losing Weight) in my blog From Flab to Fab, physical activity had never been part of my lifestyle when I was growing up. The Phys Ed classes that I had in high school focused on individual calisthenics that were done in an assigned “spot” and usually consisted of jumping jacks, leg lifts (aka “the hydrant”), and doing sit-ups while a partner held your feet down.

Now, imagine an uncoordinated and overweight teenager trying to do these exercises in a one-piece school-issued gym suit (short sleeves and baggy shorts that ended somewhere mid-thigh). Self-conscious, uncomfortable, & awkward are a few words that describe how I felt about myself during those Phys Ed classes.

The same feelings of discomfort returned years later when I tried to keep up during the large group aerobics and step classes at a “women’s fitness center”. I began to realize that the best way for me to exercise would be to do it in a private setting; so, I decided to look for a personal trainer who would tailor an exercise program to fit my abilities & needs. That’s when I found Vadim Vilensky.

Working one-to-one with Vadim in the privacy of his Fitness Studio, I was able to focus on form and technique without feeling the pressure of keeping up with others. If I had difficulty with balance, resistance, or weight only Vadim and I knew.

After working with Vadim for a few years my strength, stamina, and balance improved and I began to feel more confident in my physical abilities. So, when Vadim offered a small group “boot camp” I decided to give it a try.

Even though I felt stronger and more fit; since I had been working out in isolation, I had no idea what my fitness level was. Vadim explained that the “boot camp” circuits were timed and I could complete each exercise at my own pace. However, I still wondered if I would be able to keep up with my fellow “soldiers”. So, the first time I walked into “boot camp” I was very nervous.

There were four of us, and six different exercises in a circuit. The gauntlet of exercises required strength, stamina, and balance. Vadim paired us off so that we would go through each of the exercises in the circuit in teams of two. As Vadim promised, I was able to work at my own pace and use weights that were appropriate for me. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was I able to keep up; but while there were exercises that were more challenging for me, there were those that I was able to do with relative ease.

I found that I was enjoying the friendly camaraderie of my fellow “soldiers” in the “boot camp” so much that when another group class was started (a mixed martial arts self-defense class) I became one of its charter members.

Vadim continues to train me in an individualized fitness program; but now I also enjoy the challenge and friendship of exercising “in public” in several different group settings.

March 3, 2009

Feeling Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Tags: , , — Administrator @ 5:29 pm

 Ellen Bittner

Chapter 2:  Taking it Off :  One Step at a Time

In Chapter 2 of my blog “From Flab to Fab” I wrote about the frustration I felt over the slow pace of my weight loss.  Despite that frustration, I believed that as long as I wasn’t gaining weight, I was still better off.  I continued to exercise and followed the eating plan that the nutritionist and I worked out.  Now that I’ve lost nearly 50 pounds and have a healthier lifestyle, I’ve started a new blog – “Feeling Fab.” 

In the first chapter of “Feeling Fab: A New Vocabulary” I wrote about the new words I heard as my body and fitness level improved.  This second chapter of “Feeling Fab” relates the story of how I lost a baker’s dozen (13 pounds) in a year – One Step at a Time.  

The prevailing advice usually given to people who are trying to increase their activity level and lose weight is to walk more.  The research suggests that everyone should walk 10,000 steps a day.  Typical of most sedentary people, during my sedentary days, I made it a practice to look for a parking spot that was as close to the store’s entrance as possible. 

Once I adopted the goal of 10,000 steps a day, I began parking my car at the far end of the parking lot, away from the entrance to the store.  I also began using the stairs to and from my apartment, instead of taking the elevator.   

When I made the commitment to myself to make “walking” part of my daily routine, I began wearing a pedometer and kept a record of the number of steps I walked each day.  To my surprise, the pedometer I was wearing only “clocked” about 5,000 steps a day, even with this additional activity.  

In order to maximize my daily step count, in addition to using the stairs, and parking at a distance from my destination, I began walking on the treadmill.  At first, I had difficulty walking for only 15 minutes at a speed of 2.0 miles an hour.  Eventually, I was able to work my way up to a daily “walk” of at least 3 miles, at a speed of 3.4 to 3.6 miles an hour.    

Once walking had become part of my daily routine, I decided to challenge myself further, and change my original goal of “10,000 steps a day.”  Gradually, I increased my personal goal to 11,000, then 12,000, and now 13,000 steps a day.  

Last January, Vadim and I created a chart and we began to keep track of the average number of steps that I walked daily.  At the end of each week Vadim recorded my daily average and my weight.  Some weeks my weight remained the same, but not for more than three weeks in a row, and Vadim noticed that although my weight loss was slow it was steady, usually 1/4 pound at a time.  By the end of the year I lost a total of 13 pounds.  

In addition to the personal benefit that I’ve experienced – improved health - my walking also benefits others. Several times a year, I participate in fund raising walks for a variety of causes – The Heart Association, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and Multiple Sclerosis.    

 To be continued…                                                                          






December 28, 2008

Feeling Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Tags: , — Administrator @ 4:10 pm

  Ellen Bittner

Chapter 1:  A New Vocabulary

An interesting phenomenon happened as I focused on my new healthier lifestyle.  While my weight decreased and my muscle mass increased, I also noticed that my vocabulary was expanding.  

Some of the words that I used frequently in the past, and wrote about in previous blogs, were:

  • Frustration – describing how I felt when I wasn’t losing weight or couldn’t meet a physical challenge
  • Plateau – what my weight did for months at a time, and was the focus of From Flab to Fab Chapter 2: Battle of the Bulge
  • Injury – which resulted in limitations in the use of my shoulder & required modifications to my work-out routine (From Flab to Fab Chapter 5: Injury)
  • Fear – of water, heights, speed, almost anything new (From Flab to Fab Chapter 4: Fear)

Some of the words that I’m hearing from other people, who have observed my weight loss and physical changes are:

  • Sexy at Sixty – describing how I look and feel
  • Skinny – describing my new shape
  • Wow!! – what people say when they hear how much weight I’ve lost; and how I feel when I’m able to accomplish a physical challenge that eluded me in the past  
  • Awesome – another word people use when I tell them how much weight I’ve lost
  • An inspiration – what people say to me when I tell them about my weight loss/fitness journey
  • Determined - how people describe me; and how I feel about maintaining this healthy lifestyle    
  • These are just some of the words that reflect how my attitude, as well as my body, has changed. 

    In future blogs, I hope to share how this new attitude and “Feeling Fab” has impacted my life.

    To be continued…      


November 2, 2008

From Flab to Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Administrator @ 2:55 pm

  Ellen Bittner

Chapter 5.  Overcoming Obstacles - Part 2: Injury

Please note: This blog relates a personal experience and is not meant to replace medical advice.

I had just begun to change my lifestyle and was looking forward to a healthier and more physically fit body.  I was now swimming regularly and had found a personal trainer, Vadim Vilensky, to work with.  Vadim’s nutritionist also helped me create a more balanced eating plan.

My new fitness regimen was just a few months old when I began to feel an ache in my left shoulder.  This pain was different from the soreness I sometimes felt after a workout.  I tried various treatments – heat, cold, stretching, massage, and electric stimulation.  Although they provided temporary relief, nothing managed the discomfort for an extended period of time.  In fact, the “ache” became more intense, and the range of motion in my shoulder gradually became more limited. 

Since I was determined not to let this situation interfere with my resolve to “get healthy” I continued to swim, using a modified stroke, and kept up my workouts with Vadim.  He worked around my “injury” and created circuits that were challenging, while avoiding activities that would aggravate my shoulder.

Following several weeks of trying to alleviate the situation on my own, I made an appointment to see an orthopedist.  After examining me, he gave me a cortisone shot and prescribed physical therapy.  The shot and physical therapy gave me some relief, but after a month of physical therapy sessions there wasn’t much improvement.  When I went back to the orthopedist he ordered Magnetic Resonance Imaging (an MRI) in order to get a more detailed view of what was going on with my shoulder. 

The MRI revealed “minimal degenerative changes of the AC joint…, thickening of the supraspinatus tendon…, and a tear of the inferior surface of the supraspinatus.”  I now knew the root of my problem, and was relieved to know that my injury was most likely the result of many years of repetitive movement (writing on, and erasing a chalkboard), and was not caused by the challenging physical regime I had embarked on.

As a result of this diagnosis, the orthopedist referred me to an orthopedic surgeon in his practice for a more thorough examination.  After a brief consultation, this surgeon recommended that I have arthroscopic surgery as soon as possible to repair the partial tear.  The idea of surgery did not appeal to me, and after only a month of physical therapy I felt it was too soon to give up on alternative treatments, so I decided to see a different orthopedist for another opinion.

This second orthopedist had many years of experience and took a more conservative approach.  After examining me and reading the results of my MRI, he decided to prescribe further physical therapy, rather than opt for immediate surgery.

In the meantime, Vadim introduced me to Rachel Riendeau, a massage therapist who was trained and certified in Orthopedic Massage at the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This treatment is an option for pain relief that involves injury assessment and the treatment of tendons and ligaments.  During my treatments, Rachel worked on my shoulder, breaking up the scar tissue that had formed, and performed stretches that increased my range of motion.  I must admit that these procedures were somewhat painful, but the results were remarkable.

The orthopedist monitored my progress regularly, and after about six months of this three-pronged approach – physical therapy, resistance training, and massage therapy – he and I saw amazing results.  The pain in my shoulder had dramatically decreased, and my range of motion had considerably increased.  I was also notably stronger.  Although there was vast improvement in my shoulder, the orthopedist felt that I had made as much progress as this line of treatment would allow. 

The moment of truth had arrived.

It had been more than six months since my first cortisone shot, and the orthopedist decided to give me another cortisone shot as a last resort.  If this shot provided the hoped for results, I would be “home free.”  If not, the orthopedist would now recommend surgery. 

Well, it’s been four years and I haven’t had any surgery. I continue to work out with Vadim and my shoulder has gotten even stronger and I have full range of motion.

My health/fitness journey continues in “Feeling Fab”…  







July 29, 2008

From Flab to Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Administrator @ 6:26 pm

  Ellen Bittner

Chapter 4.  Overcoming Obstacles - Part 1: Fear 

As a child, I was considered a “dare devil” and often got myself into situations that would lead to injury.  On one occasion, I decided to slide down the support pole of the slide in the playground.  This resulted in a gash on my chin.  (I still have the scar.)  There were also several instances when I fell off my bike.  Chances are, if I had been riding it in the conventional way I wouldn’t have cut my foot open (which also left a scar), or broken my front teeth.

My daring ways were not limited to dry land.  I also enjoyed exploring and playing at the beach and in the lake, undeterred by the fact that I didn’t know how to swim.  That adventurous spirit continued until one day when I was playing at the lake and almost drowned.  I had jumped off the pier and a passing speed boat created a wake that pulled me under the pier, where I was caught in the undercurrent.  Not knowing how to swim, I panicked.  The more I struggled, the deeper I went into the dark, murky mass of seaweed.  That experience left me with a fear of water that lasted nearly four decades.

As I wrote in Chapter 3, my high school had a swimming pool.  However, although Swimming was part of the Phys Ed curriculum, I didn’t learn to swim there.  Because I had developed a fear of water, and was a “non-swimmer”, I was a part of the class that was “taught” by a student assistant.  This meant that while the teacher taught the “swimmers”, the student assistant supervised the “non-swimmers” in the shallow end of the pool to make sure none of us drowned.  In order to pass the course at the end of the semester, the “non-swimmers” had to jump into the deep end of the pool and grab onto a pole that had been inserted into the water.  The teacher, who was holding onto the pole, pulled us towards the stairs and we climbed out of the pool.  Not only did I not learn how to swim, but this experience exacerbated my fear of water.  And so, for most of my life I shied away from water, unless I was in a swimming pool where my feet touched the bottom and I could stand along its edge.

As I neared retirement and was looking for ways to become more physically fit, I wished that I could swim.  I knew that swimming was good exercise.  It was aerobic and there was no impact on the joints.  However, the few times that I did try a water aerobics class, my fear of being swept away into deeper water kept me from fully participating in the class.

Then, one day I saw an article in the newspaper about a program for people with aqua phobia – a fear of the water.  The article described a new course, SOAP (Strategies for Overcoming Aquatic Phobias) and Water ( created by Jeff Krieger (  Jeff, who was a guidance counselor and Red Cross certified swim instructor, had originally designed the program for children, in anticipation of the summer camp season.  His unique approach made use of his guidance background to deal with the phobia, before beginning to teach swimming techniques.  I called the number provided, and was impressed with Jeff’s compassion and understanding when I told him about my swimming history and near-drowning experience.

When anxiety took over, and I missed the orientation meeting, Jeff called to encourage me and persuade me to join the first class.  When I arrived, there were four other middle-aged adults.  (To Jeff’s surprise so many adults signed up for the program that he had to divide the class into three groups.)  We sat in a classroom and talked about our experiences, our fear of water, and our expectations of the program.  The pool, the focus of our fears, was nowhere in sight.  After about a half an hour concentrating on our fears we went into the pool area, where there was a large metal tub with five yellow “rubber duckies” floating in the water.  Jeff had us sit in the tub and choose a rubber duck.  We used “our” duck as the focus of a “positive” water experience.  Then, keeping that image in mind, we put our face in the water and blew bubbles.

During the ensuing five weeks, Jeff took us from that large metal tub, and taught us how to be in control and feel safe in the water.  Using foam noodles, he showed us how to relax and float; then he taught us to float and tread water without the aid of a noodle.  A major accomplishment for me was being able to put my face in the water and learning how to breathe.  Jeff also dealt with the emotional aspect of our fears by having us write about our experience in a journal after each class.  (I still have that journal.)  His responses to my entries and his encouragement were very powerful, and played a major part in my progress.  One of Jeff’s favorite sayings was: “Setbacks, no matter how large are temporary; Progress no matter how small lasts forever.” 

Jeff eventually had me feeling comfortable enough in the water that I could swim to the bottom of the pool to retrieve water toys that had been scattered around.  At the end of the six-week program there were several of us who wanted to take the next step and actually learn how to swim.  Jeff put together a “post-graduate” course and created another six-week program for us.  During that time, Jeff taught me a variety of basic swimming strokes and how to dive from a diving board.

It’s been five years since Jeff helped me overcome my paralyzing fear of the water and gave me the tools to be able to “take care of myself” and enjoy the experience.  Since then, a fellow graduate of his SOAP and Water program and I have been swimming regularly at a local Y.  I look forward to meeting her each Monday morning to swim laps.  We continue to motivate each other, as we try to swim faster and further each time.  I have not only overcome my fear of water; I have learned to enjoy swimming and now reap its fitness benefits. 

   To be continued…  

June 25, 2008

From Flab to Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Administrator @ 11:32 pm

  By Ellen Bittner

Chapter 3. Using Weights, Losing Weight

Growing up in New York City, I went to school in a pre-Title IX era.  (Title IX, enacted in 1972, was the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in educational institutions.  Its major impact was on high school and collegiate athletics, providing girls with equal access to physical education and sports activities.)

My high school phys ed classes consisted of calisthenics, which included doing sit-ups while a partner held your feet at your ankles; and exercises with mantras such as “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.”  Folk Dance, Jazz Dance, and Swimming (that’s another chapter) were some of the other courses that were available to women at the time.  Girls who wanted to participate in high school sports could become cheerleaders, which emphasized learning chants and dance routines.  This was also a time when women with muscles were considered “unfeminine” and sweating was thought to be “unladylike” (I still have an aversion to sweat.)

The gyms that I joined in later years were not that much different.  These women’s oriented fitness centers emphasized cardiac fitness (which is very important) over strength training, once again conveying the message that women should avoid developing muscles.  Fitness schedules at these gyms included step classes (beginner, intermediate, & advanced), and aerobics classes (low impact, high impact, dance, and hip hop).  I often felt uncoordinated and became discouraged with all of this choreographed activity.  Keeping up with the instructor and the music in these large group classes was frustrating, and I easily became bored with the repetitive routines.

As I aged, so did my body.  Along with peri-menopause came the usual weight gain and other physical changes associated with this “change of life” phase.  In order to avoid the characteristic loss of bone density and diminish the negative affect of my family’s genetics that I wrote about in Chapter 1, I decided to take action to improve my health and extend my longevity.

I had already tried the large fitness centers and knew they hadn’t worked for me.  I also knew that I wanted a fitness program that would help me counter the loss of bone density & metabolic changes that came along with menopause – a program that would involve resistance training.  I came to the decision that these needs would best be served by a personal trainer.

After doing some research on the internet, I went to visit several one-on-one fitness centers.  I spoke with the trainers there to get a sense of their fitness philosophies and approach.  I also wanted to be sure that the trainer I ultimately chose would take my current physical condition into consideration, and not use a “one size fits all” packaged routine.  When I met with Vadim Vilensky at his Fitness Studio, I explained my goals, and told him that I wanted to be healthy, not become a “weight lifter.”  His slogan “Fitness for the Real World” and his experience working with cardiac patients were contributing factors in my decision to work with him.

Most of the fitness centers that I had visited were full of machines.  But, the walls of Vadim’s studio were lined with resistance bands, free weights, kettle bells, barbells, stability balls, and mats.  There wasn’t a machine in sight.  These objects were all so new to me.  At first, I found all of this apparatus intimidating.  Before long, I realized that my body was the machine, and that I would be using my own body’s weight, strength, flexibility, and stability with the equipment.   Once I learned how to use them properly, I bought my own set of free weights and a stability ball so that I could “practice” what I was learning at home.

It’s been 4 years, and I have become much more comfortable and skilled with the equipment.  I have also become more fit, flexible, and athletic.  In terms of “Fitness for the Real World”, some of the lifestyle changes that I am enjoying are:

Then, I would take an elevator, no matter how short the trip;  Now, I bypass the elevator and routinely use the stairs.

Then, I had difficulty reaching my own feet to tie my laces;  Now, I easily squat down (& get up again) to tie the laces of 4 year olds.

Then, I needed to use a shopping cart to carry even a few shopping bags;  Now, I easily carry several shopping bags, or a case of water, in my hands.

Oh, and the business of not wanting to become a “weight lifter”, there have been times when I’ve considered entering a Power Lifting competition.  Who knows, maybe some day I will.

          To be continued…  


May 13, 2008

From Flab to Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Administrator @ 1:42 pm

   By Ellen Bittner

Chapter 2. The Battle of the Bulges

I knew I would need help in beating the odds of my genetics, and creating a longer lifespan for myself, so I decided to find a personal trainer.  I met with Vadim Vilensky, and told him what my goals were.  I liked his philosophy – “Fitness for the Real World” – and began working out with him.  I also adopted what I considered to be a healthy diet.  I ate sparingly (small meals with small portions), used artificial sweeteners, ate fat free and salt free products, and replaced the diet soda I was drinking with water.  (I made this last change after learning that carbonation in soda could be detrimental to bone health.) 
After working out with Vadim for several months I began to notice some very pleasant changes in my body.  My waistline was beginning to reappear and I could look down at my feet and see my toes again.  These changes also led to smaller clothing sizes, a welcome turning point because I now fit into a “Misses” size and no longer had to pay more for “Women’s” size clothing.  I also felt different – I had more energy and, as friends noticed, began to develop a “spring” in my step.
  With all of these positive changes, I was disappointed that the scale wasn’t reflecting the amount of work and effort that I was expending.  I rationalized that this was partly due to my increased level of fitness.     Regular fitness assessments showed that I was gaining muscle mass, and bone densitometry tests showed that my bone density had increased.  Nevertheless, I was feeling frustrated and wanted to know why I wasn’t seeing a more dramatic weight loss.  
Vadim suggested that I make an appointment to meet with his nutritionist.  She told me to keep a food journal for one week, and then we would meet to analyze it.  Imagine my surprise when she told me I was eating too little!  Although the formula for losing weight requires that you take in fewer calories than you expend; she explained to me that, by eating as few calories as I was eating, I was putting my body in a defensive “starvation” mode.  This meant that I was actually holding on to more calories than I needed, rather than metabolizing the calories I was taking in.  She also explained that I needed to incorporate some fat, healthy of course, in order for my body to properly absorb the nutrients it needed.  She made a few more adjustments to my daily food plan and recommended that I add two small snacks to my daily intake.  This discussion also left me with a better understanding of how to read food labels more effectively, in order to create a more balanced food plan (note that I’m not using the word diet).


I was eating more healthfully and the scale was beginning to show the results.  In the first few months I saw substantial weight loss, but then it stopped.  While I wasn’t gaining weight, it seemed to take forever for the next drop to occur.  Then, I’d hit another plateau.  As much as I was frustrated, and tempted to give up, I continued with my exercise routines and followed my food plan.  Why?  I still felt better and could move more easily; so I figured as long as I wasn’t gaining weight I was ahead.  Interestingly, I recently read an article in the Mind & Body section of The Journal News (May 9, 2009) that explained what was going on. The article, by Nanci Hellmich, actually recommends that you “Reach a ‘set point’ to set yourself up for dieting success.”  She wrote that it’s healthier and more effective to try to lose 10% of your body weight and then stop losing for a while.  The article suggested that you try to keep that weight off for at least six months so that your body could adjust to this new “set point” before attempting to lose the next 10%.  Imagine that, my body was doing this – much to my frustration – all by itself; or maybe that’s what my healthy eating plan is all about.

To be continued…







April 30, 2008

From Flab to Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Administrator @ 11:05 am

   Ellen Bittner

Chapter 1 – Nature vs. Nurture

The lyrics in the opening scene of the Broadway show Wicked (by Cristy Candler) pose the question – “Are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”

This “nature versus nurture” debate concerning the relative importance of an individual’s genetics & innate qualities (“nature”) versus environment and personal experiences (“nurture”) in determining a person’s physical and behavioral traits has been going on for years. 

For me, the conflict between “nature” and “nurture” has to do with my physical health & life expectancy.  Although some of their ailments were the result of life style choices, both of my parents suffered from heart disease and had experienced multiple strokes and heart attacks.  My father, who also had glaucoma & emphysema, passed away when he was 73.  My mother, who died at the age of 77, also had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, & lung cancer.  Based on this family history and my genetic make-up, my quality of life and life expectancy would most likely be limited.  

Since I had reason to be concerned that I may have inherited a predisposition to some of my parents’ life threatening diseases (I also had several aunts and uncles who passed away in their 70s or early 80s), I decided to adopt what I considered to be a healthy life style.  I wasn’t a smoker and I followed a diet that was low in calories, and was salt and fat free.  I also followed an exercise routine that included walking & swimming.

Wanting to know more about the way “nurture” can affect life expectancy, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Nir Barzilai.  Dr. Barzilai is the Director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  His lecture focused on how behavior & environmental factors affect (“nurture”) longevity.  Some of the aspects he discussed related to spirituality, physical activity, interest & involvement in the arts, and participating in social situations.

At the conclusion of the lecture, one of Dr. Barzilai’s colleagues asked me if I would be interested in being a part of his research.  Since I was curious and wanted to learn more about these studies I said, “Yes.”  I later learned that I would be a part of the study’s “Control Group” because of my parents’ relatively short life spans.My real wake-up call occurred a few weeks later.  After I completed a survey, which included questions dealing with life style activities and choices, I was given a medical screening.  This screening included blood tests, height & weight measurements, and physical response tests. 

Despite what I had considered my “healthy” lifestyle, these tests showed that the hereditary factors were winning, and at 56 years of age I was at “high risk” in a number of categories.

After receiving these results, I became even more determined to shift the balance by “nurturing” myself more effectively and beat the odds dealt me by my genetic make-up (“nature”). 

To be continued…



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