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20K every day

Posted by on Thursday, March 3, 2011 in Features, March 2011.

By Kathy Rivers

It’s 10 a.m. and Tom Christenbery has already logged 7,381 steps on his pedometer. He isn’t bragging. He has worked hard to shed 90 pounds and keep it off for the past five years. He thinks some of the things that have worked for him, can work for others, too.

Christenbery’s journey to good health started with a conversation with his mother.

“My then 85-year-old mother was concerned I was going to have heart problems,” said

Christenbery. “She was still in good health, so I thought maybe I should pay attention.”

And the walking man walks. Tom Christenbery logs 20,000 steps a day on his pedometer.

He joined the Dayani Center’s Weight Management program in 2005 and started his journey to better health. He didn’t have a specific goal. He just wanted to lose weight.

“I told myself that these people are experts in the area. They know what they are doing. They know the latest science, so I need to surrender and follow their directions,” said Christenbery. “I realized that there was no easy way out, I had to work for it, and the Dayani team was there for me.”

The five-month Dayani & Health Plus Weight Management program included regular group meetings with the health psychologist, registered dietitian and personal trainer on topics such as making healthier food choices, customizing a physical activity program, addressing common issues that undermine motivation, and emphasis on making health a priority. It also included access to the Dayani Center for individual and group exercise.

“I like the non-judgmental approach of the staff,” said Christenbery. “They taught us to take the judgment off ourselves, too. If on a particular day, you didn’t get done the recommended exercise or slipped and had a donut, you could start over at any time—even that afternoon. So, you didn’t carry around that guilt and that garbage with you.”

The program gave Christenbery and fellow group members a set of tools to achieve their individual goals. A few things in particular clicked for him.

“They had us write down our calorie counts for two weeks, but I was ready to stop after just one. I had no idea I was taking in that amount of calories!” he said. “That was really where the alarm went off.”

Pushing beyond

During the program he responded to the personalized workout program that included both aerobic and weight work. The team emphasized the need to build muscle because more muscle meant more calories burned. They also gave everyone a pedometer. Christenbery set a 10,000 step-a-day goal for himself based on the Centers for Disease Control recommendations. When he reached that goal, he pushed beyond and set a goal of 20,000 steps a day which he still maintains.

After graduating from the weight management program, he had lost 48 pounds and 11 inches from his waist. He wasn’t winding down. He was revving up. He continued his healthy habits on his own and kept his follow-up appointments with Dayani staff.

“I bought into the routine, and I never let up,” he said.

Christenbery continued to lose weight by setting small goals that collectively would make a big impact. One example is his philosophy on walking, even on cold winter nights.

“Recently, I went walking on a 35 degree night to make sure I met my daily step goal,” he said. “I realized that I didn’t freeze to death and nothing bad happened. So, the next night I walked again, and it felt a little better. I guess you can do just about anything, if you do it one time, because the next time, it gets a little bit easier.”

For the past five years, Christenbery has been working on sustaining his good habits. He has adapted his lifestyle in several ways. Instead of the traditional coffee break, Christenbery takes “walk breaks” two or three times a day. He has different routes mapped out around the Vanderbilt campus that take around 15 minutes to complete. It increases his steps and helps him tackle the next project on his to-do list with a clear mind.

He also attends yoga classes three times a week.

“When I started the weight management program, I would see people in the yoga class at Dayani, and I would think ‘if I can just lose enough weight’ I could go in there,” he said. Yoga classes are now as much a part of his routine as lifting weights three times a week and walking.

Other things that work for Christenbery include weighing himself six days a week on the same scale. If he notices a 1- or 2-pound gain, he typically adjusts his eating. As far as his day-to-day diet, he eats throughout the day, not just at meal time and doesn’t eat after dinner. His menu includes whole grains, fruits, chicken, fish and vegetables and he rarely, if ever, gets hungry.

Thinking cheeseburger—occasionally

He’s also learned a lot about himself. While many health-conscious eaters can still indulge in a brownie here and there, Christenbery knows he cannot.

“I wouldn’t take a bite of a brownie,” he said. “Others could do just fine and stop there, but I would want to have that brownie and 10 more, so I just don’t do it.”

But that doesn’t mean he goes without. Christenbery plans one meal each week that he refers to as his indulgence meal.

“I don’t want to be a person who can never have dessert or never have a cheeseburger at J. Alexander’s and think poor, pitiful me,” he said. “It’s OK for me to indulge, just not every meal in the same day.”

Christenbery feels good about his transformation and so does his now 91-year-old mother. His health care provider took him off two anti-hypertensives and one statin. Christenbery, 56, has also had a lot of fun running the Music City Half-Marathon for the past four years

For all the progress he has made, Christenbery is not an idealist. He’s a realist.

“I am very clear in my mind that I could be back at that place at a drop of a hat for whatever reason. Even though I’ve lost weight, I’m still working at it,” he said.


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