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Oh, No! Only 9 Weeks Till Swimsuit Season!

April 20, 1998|KATHY SMITH

It's that time of year again, when trees bud, flowers bloom, spring fashions are displayed in department stores and ads for health clubs advise how many weeks remain until bathing suit season arrives. Yes, the countdown begins.

In my experience, few women are not struck mute with terror at the prospect of having to expose a little more skin to accommodate the weather. After a cold and wet winter of turtlenecks, wool and raincoats, suddenly comes the moment when the sun is supposed to shine on our more lightly clad bodies. But, alas, over the past six months they've become bodies that show a little extra pudge around the edges and dimples on places other than cheeks.

As if that's not bad enough, the sadists who build department store dressing rooms equip them with overhead fluorescent lighting. So as we try on that new spring outfit (or bathing suit), revealing our arms and legs (even thighs!) for the first time since October, every imperfection seems grossly magnified, and pale flesh is now tinged the green of Frankenstein's monster. Ouch.

Well, there's not much to be done about dressing rooms. But if the image their mirrors reflect back to you is larger than you'd like it to be, maybe you'll use your displeasure as motivation to begin exercising regularly and eating right. If that's what it takes, great. I'm a big believer in seizing opportunities wherever they're found.


True, you're probably not going to transform yourself into Cindy Crawford over the next nine weeks. But you can lose from 10 to 15 pounds before the summer begins in earnest. You can tone, shape, sculpt and redefine your silhouette so that, come July, you don't have to resort to chemically induced diets or near-starvation to feel comfortable in sleeveless shirts and shorts.

And you can do it realistically, with a sensible plan that works even when you don't have a great deal of time to exercise. Better still, it offers you choices.

Simply put, the idea is to balance calories in with calories out. One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories, so if your goal is to lose a pound a week, you need to consume 500 calories a day less than you burn. But if you rely solely on dieting to achieve that equation, you can kiss just about everything you like goodbye. No doubt, you'll feel chronically deprived and hungry, which inevitably leads to failure.

Similarly, if you rely solely on exercise to burn those 500 extra calories, you'd have to work out a full hour every day doing aerobic activities like running, cycling, rowing and walking.

If, however, you combine some exercise with simple food exchanges, you can master the 500 calories with relative ease. Example: 30 minutes of walking or running will burn 250 calories (and if you add some weight training a couple of times a week, the new muscle will boost your metabolism while helping to define your arms and legs). The other 250 daily calories can be spent by cutting back on portions; reducing the amount of fat you use for cooking or on salads; and watching your snacks (remember, a single candy bar can be 250 calories).

As you can see, the program doesn't require an all-or-nothing mentality, nor a complete lifestyle change, nor superhuman devotion. Following it, you'll at least get closer to where you'd ideally like to be, and you won't kill yourself in the process.


You also might want to start using this season of modified panic to rethink the whole feast-or-famine mentality and its impact on your life. Instead of returning in October to the kind of idleness that makes you now have to mark off the days on the calendar in a race against time, resolve to change the attitude that got you in this do-or-diet position.

How? Let this be the year that you grant yourself permission to actually enjoy the process of getting in shape. By changing your mind-set--that is, choosing to appreciate these activities and allowing yourself to take pleasure in them--you'll make it possible for your exercise regime to build momentum. After nine weeks and 15 pounds, you won't necessarily want to give it up.

You may even investigate a more thorough or comprehensive exercise plan. And next year at this time, you won't be feeling that panic or facing incredible deadline pressure.

Then, if someone suggests a weekend getaway to Palm Springs or a trip down to Nordstrom for some spring shopping, you won't have to reach for a tranquilizer or a diet pill.

Now, if you could only do something about those fluorescent lights.

Copyright 1998 by Kathy Smith


Kathy Smith's fitness column appears weekly in Health. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her book "Getting Better All the Time." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number with your question.

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