For football fans glued to today’s NFL divisional championships, waiting to see who’s headed to the Super Bowl, winning by inches can be excruciating.
But for Nilou Jones, more than halfway to her goal of losing 100 pounds before her soldier husband returns from Iraq, winning by inches is exhilarating.
Jones has been watching her measurements melt away. The Charlottesville mother of two young sons wants her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Jones, to get a wonderful surprise when he comes home and sees her with a lot less backfield in motion. She embarked on her own program of fad-free healthy eating and sensible exercise in July and invited The Daily Progress’ readers along, and this month, there’s plenty to cheer about.
As the old year ended, Jones was taking a frustrating but necessary six-week break from her daily exercise regimen to recover from outpatient surgery. As the new one begins, she’s getting her gym groove back. She just finished her second full week back at Gold’s Gym, where she has been adding activity back a little at a time to return to her former routine of cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
“I got back to my level a whole lot more quickly than I thought I would,’’ Jones said. “It was physically hard, because my body had been resting.’’
The hard work Jones has done since starting her lifestyle improvement project already is paying off, because resuming her routine has been much easier than starting from scratch was last summer. Although she was disappointed that her surgery required six weeks away from weightlifting and strength training, Jones followed her doctor’s instructions and resolved to make the best of it, following recommendations to add back gentle activities “as tolerated.’’
“I kept it calm,’’ she said. “For about three weeks, I walked around the neighborhood.’’
Jen Cote, her trainer at Gold’s Gym, stayed in touch with her throughout the break. They’ve become good friends, and Cote joined Jones for some walks to help gauge her progress.
“”I think the rest was really good for her,’’ Cote said. “I would say, in the last two weeks, she’s picked up her intensity level.
“We need to listen to what our bodies have to say. Just be wise, take baby steps and take your time coming back.’’
When Jones returned to the gym, she started slowly - going twice, then three times a week, just to walk on the treadmill at “a very calm walking pace, and no weights at all,’’ she said.
Adjusting her eating plan - spreading out meals and snacks over the course of the day to keep her metabolism stoked - helped her keep from gaining weight back. Jones actually lost a pound, bringing her total so far to 56 pounds lost.
Adjusting her attitude to stay upbeat and focused during her hiatus got a welcome boost when she tried on clothes that used to be too snug and liked the way they fit.
She treated herself to a new pair of jeans in November shortly before her surgery, but she hadn’t been wearing them because she didn’t like the way they looked around her midsection. One day early last week, she took them out again, decided to wear them home from the gym - and was thrilled with the new silhouette.
“They actually fit,’’ Jones said with delight in her voice. “They looked good, and I got comments from people that they looked good.’’
The trim jeans that flatter Jones’s figure now are a size 14-16. Her favorite old standby pair from before she began her weight-loss quest is size 22-24. The tale of the tape also brings encouraging news: Jones said she has lost a total of 18½ inches from her chest, waist and hips.
Instead of gaining weight during her break, “I think she’s actually made a little progress,’’ said Kate Bruno, a registered dietitian and personal trainer with On Track Nutrition and Fitness Consulting who has been working with Jones.
Jones is grateful for Bruno’s perspectives as a dietitian and an athlete. “Kate has been an absolute lifesaver this month,’’ Jones said.
Staying positive during the hiatus was tough. Although Jones enjoyed her holidays, she deeply missed her husband. While Christmas present turned into Christmas past, she and sons Cyrus, 3½, and Arman, now 18 months old, felt cooped up in the house, their routine crumpled by school holiday breaks, snow days and recovery time.
“Most of my issues were after the holidays instead of before,’’ she said. “There were definitely days in there when I wasn’t at my best.’’
Still, she resisted the urge to ease the frustrations and disruptions with food - another indication that all her hard work is working for her.
“I guess this month has been about refocusing and getting back where I was,’’ Jones said.
Despite the break, Jones said she has more stamina these days to keep up with her energetic sons. During playtime on a recent morning, while the boys danced and jumped exuberantly to a concert video, Jones was able to join them.
“I’m looking forward to the summer, and running around with my kids and not running out of breath - and not looking out the window watching my husband play with them outside,’’ Jones said.
Cote, her trainer, said she is confident that Jones will reach her weight-loss goal - and even could surpass it if she decides to do so later.
“I haven’t met such a motivated person in such a long time,’’ Cote said.
“She’s going to stay the course. She’ll be able to go beyond her dreams if she continues to work out. It’s just a long-term lifestyle.’’
Cote said the crucial quality that will help Jones succeed is “consistency over your life - that’s where you’re going to see and reach your goals.’’
Bruno, the nutritionist, agrees.
“The thing that I’ve been focusing on recently with her is consistently getting her body fueled,’’ Bruno said. “That’s what’s important - consistency.’’
Bruno has been helping Jones tweak her eating plan to help her adjust smoothly from time off to time on the treadmill. She still wants Jones to spread out calories throughout the day to keep her metabolism roaring, but now it’s time to tweak some of the numbers at snacks and meals to make sure she eats enough to fuel her workouts.
She also suggested that Jones change the order in which she tackles her workout tasks. Instead of doing her cardiovascular exercise first, Bruno recommended that Jones start her sessions with strength training.
Doing her weightlifting first takes advantage of her body’s ready stores of glycogen to fuel muscle activity, Bruno explained. That way, when Jones starts her cardio workout, she’ll be burning less glycogen and more fat. When she begins with cardio, she blasts through the glycogen, and then gets tired during the strength training because she has burned off her muscles’ favored fuel.
“We’ve been talking about using the fuel more efficiently and getting her body into the fat-burning mode at the gym,’’ Bruno said. “It’s important to have real scientific knowledge out there instead of all the myths.’’
It hasn’t been easy for Jones to jump back on the treadmill, but putting one foot in front of the other is paying off inside and out.
Keeping a positive attitude when resuming a fitness program helps defeat “that fear of what a bad workout means - and a bad workout means nothing,’’ said Laura Jones, who is certified as a health/fitness instructor by the American College of Sports Medicine and writes a fitness column for The Daily Progress. (Nilou Jones and Laura Jones aren’t related.)
Laura Jones said Nilou Jones’s slow-and-steady return to her old activity levels is the wise way to go.
“There’ll always be a next time, so you are building reserves for the next time,’’ she said.
When many athletes returning to their practice routines after surgery or illness and feel sluggish and stiff, they fear that they won’t get back to their former performance levels, she said.
“The pain is pretty bad, but what it represents is worse,’’ Laura Jones said.
It’s tough for fast-paced people who expect a lot from themselves to slow down long enough to heal, but concentrating on today’s workout instead of what might or might not happen tomorrow can help keep recovery on track, she said.
“If you focus on the day-by-day [effort], that’s the best pitfall-addressing tactic,’’ she said.
To illustrate the idea, Laura Jones offers a playful example from the dog world.
Think of the border collie’s workaholic tenacity as being like the discipline that keeps people working out and eating sensibly from day to day, and the golden retriever’s delight in the sheer joy of play as a reminder of the importance of living in the moment and embracing each day as it comes.
After all, one of the best reasons to get fit is to have enough energy left after your work is done to have some fun.
When it’s time to let up on yourself, “be the golden retriever, not the border collie,’’ Laura Jones said. “Eighty percent of the time you have to be the border collie. But sometimes you just have to say, ‘I’m going to chase the ball.’ ’’