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Summer can be time to re-make yourself

Published June 06. 2015 09:00AM

Every now and then when I'm reading research, a phrase just resonates, and I find myself more intrigued by the images and ideas it evokes than the results of the study overall. As a result, the article you're about to read features the former and not the latter.

The phrase: "an opportunity to re-make yourself."

The speaker: Chad Jensen, a psychologist at Brigham Young University.

His words were in reference to a study he did with his students at BYU and that was published last January in the journal of Childhood Obesity. Their research detected a pattern when overweight teens successfully lost weight.

Now teens typically tend to be egocentric, meaning they see the world as revolving around them. While it makes many of them seem selfish, the mindset is a phase of natural development, a seemingly necessary byproduct of puberty. As teens enter into adulthood, however, most come to see themselves as just a part of the whole and gain perspective on their place in society.

But because egocentrism is the prevalent teenage mindset, psychologists just assumed teens who successfully lost weight did so as a way to say, "Look at me" or to impress their peers or to score points with their parents.

Not so.

After interviewing 40 formerly obese or overweight teens, all of whom lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least one year, the BYU researchers found that more than six out of 10 claimed their primary motive was not improved looks, enhanced social acceptance and status, or to please mom and dad.

The primary motivation for the majority was simply a desire for better health, a decision they reached solely on their own.

While that finding is newsworthy, what Jensen said to Medical News Today as part of the back story is what really got my brain going. "There were periods," he said, "like a transition to high school or to college, where we saw groups of teens who lost weight in those important periods ... There's a lot of change going on, so some teens decide to make a change to be healthier.

"It's sort of an opportunity to re-make yourself."

Now maybe this phrase affected me for it was on my first day of college that I decided to experiment and follow the tenets of a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (an eating pattern I follow faithfully to this day nearly 35 years later), but I also recognized a more universal application for it. All students' lives change significantly with the start of summer vacation. Many parents' work hours and schedules and commitments change as well.

Doesn't that make the summer the perfect time for you to clean up your diet, get serious about exercise, and as Jensen suggests take the opportunity to re-make yourself?

Now if that sentiment makes sense to you, here's what you do: decide the end result. You're about to embark on a metaphorical trip, but still it's best to have a concrete destination.

Such a concrete destination not only gives you a specific goal, but also comes replete with additional health benefits.

Let's say, for example, you've done a few 5k races in the past, got somewhat bored with them, and as a result are not running nearly as far or as often as you used to. You're expanding middle section as well as your lack of energy in virtually all things are reminders of that.

Now the one thing that always intimidated you when you were doing races in the past was recognizing that many runners could hold your race pace at the next typical racing distance, the 10k. It kept you from ever trying that event, and that may be why your running regiment fizzled.

So what if you, so to speak, re-make yourself by devoting your energies not to "racing" a run at the 10k distance, but to completing a longer one, possibly a half-marathon.

Such a dramatic re-make certainly takes the pressure of performance off of you and will certainly engender other health benefits. The combination of eating healthier to prep for the endeavor along with the additional miles will surely create a loss of fat. The synergistic effect of exercise will produce more, not less, energy for other tasks.

Your sleep should become deeper and more restorative, and if you're truly committed to your goal, you'll make sure you get more rather than less of it. Which has been found to improve mood and better regulate your weight.

While the aforementioned hypothetical situation may have adults in mind, if you're a teen you should be able to learn from the pattern and adapt it to your situation.

If you're a bit heavier than you'd like to be and spend most summer mornings sleeping, why not wake up earlier than your friends, do a workout you find enjoyable, and then join them for whatever the group decides to do that day?

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