Michele Stanten helps nonexercisers to build self-efficacy, to believe in their ability to achieve physical success and to make meaningful behavior changes for better quality of life.
Michele Stanten, a walking coach and ACE Certified Professional, has been motivating people to be more active for over 20 years. As the former fitness director of Prevention magazine, she created a marathon walking program that helped thousands of readers to walk full and half marathons and, perhaps more importantly, to transform their lives. Now a freelance writer and walking coach, Stanten is the author of Firm Up in 3 Weeks and Walk Off Weight, coauthor of Walk Your Butt Off! and creator of MyWalkingCoach.com. Her work has been featured in Prevention, Self and Weight Watchers magazines, and she has appeared as an expert on the Today show, Good Morning America, The Biggest Loser, The Early Show, Good Day New York, CNN and NPR. A member of the ACE board of directors and Every Body Walk! Collaborative, Stanten has also completed several distance events, including a 60-mile walk over 3 days, a full marathon and many half marathons.
ACE: How have you personally seen the obesity epidemic affect your friends and family, or clients you come in contact with on a regular basis?
Michele Stanten: Both of my parents have been overweight or obese since I can remember. I’ve seen the detrimental effects that it’s had on their health. My father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
in his 40s. Because he chose to ignore his doctor’s advice (and my pleading) to eat healthier and exercise, he eventually had to go on insulin and had a heart attack followed by quadruple bypass when he was 60. That still wasn’t enough to motivate him to make changes. He continues to suffer from ailments related to excess weight, including having a total knee replacement.
My mother, on the other hand, was inspired to make changes when she was diagnosed with high cholesterol. She started to eat healthier and walk for exercise, completing a 60-mile walk for breast cancer and walking both a full marathon and a half marathon with me. Those changes, along with cholesterol-lowering medication, have helped her to avoid any serious health problems. At 75, she’s still picking up my 6-year-old daughter and running around the backyard with my 13-year-old son.
I’ve observed similar effects with colleagues and clients. We live in an environment where it is all too easy to be sedentary and overeat. The con-
sequences can be deadly, but everyone has the ability to choose an alternative lifestyle—a healthy, active one—and the benefits can be amazing!
ACE: What role do you feel the media have played in communicating the rise of obesity and its impact on various segments of society?
Michele Stanten: The media have played both positive and negative roles. We can’t deny the importance of the media in terms of helping us get the message out about the dangers of obesity and ways to combat it. Unfortunately, those healthy messages sometimes appear alongside ones touting high-calorie, high-fat foods or products that contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. Also, media reports or articles often focus on a single study or solution without providing context. This can leave the public confused and frustrated when they see another report that seemingly contradicts the first. Or people follow the advice without getting the desired results, possibly because it’s not part of a comprehensive approach. Too many times weight loss is portrayed as being easy. If it were, we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic.
ACE: As an experienced member of the media, what is your advice on how to sift through the myths on weight loss and how to achieve a healthy lifestyle?
Michele Stanten: There is no magic bullet out there, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. When you’re reading articles, look at them through the lens of your life and your body. For example, if you have joint problems, CrossFit® or running workouts may not be for you, despite articles touting them as the best workouts or quick fixes. But those articles might provide inspiration or training tips that could help you to start a more appropriate exercise program, like walking or yoga. Space or time issues and reader attention spans usually limit coverage, so you’re often not getting the full story. Keep this in mind when you’re reading or hearing about a specific weight loss solution. Success rarely comes from one thing. A multifaceted approach that addresses and customizes physical activity, diet, psychological and emotional issues, and other lifestyle factors such as stress and sleep is what people should be seeking.
ACE: What misconceptions—if any— do you believe our society has about people who may be struggling either with their weight or with adopting healthy habits? Why is it important for us to overcome those misconceptions?
Michele Stanten: Sadly, too many people are judgmental of those who are overweight or obese. Not everyone who is overweight or obese sits around all day eating junk food. I’ve coached clients who’ve lost weight but are still overweight or even obese; they exercise and eat a healthy diet. They are healthier than they were before, and some are more fit than their slimmer peers. Go and watch a marathon; there are runners and walkers of all shapes and sizes. We need to embrace this diversity and help people to be the best that they can be, instead of letting them feel like failures because they are unable to achieve the unrealistic body types we often see in the media. Years ago, a fellow trainer shared a quote from Theodore Roosevelt with me that I think about often when I’m working with clients: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
ACE: In what ways do you feel health and fitness professionals can improve on reaching people impacted by obesity and leading them to long-term, healthy change?
Michele Stanten: For the 20+ years I’ve been in the fitness industry, much of the programming has focused on keeping people who are already exercising engaged by offering bigger, bet-
ter, faster, harder workouts. While that is important, we’re missing the other 80% of the population, including many overweight or obese people, who aren’t meeting physical activity guidelines. For them, traditional fitness programs and health clubs may be intimidating, or they may feel embarrassed exercising in front of others. Going back to basics like walking can be a great starting point for this population.
Walking is easy, and everyone knows how to do it. This builds self-efficacy, the belief in one’s ability to do something, which has been found to be a key determinant in making behavior changes. Achieving early successes— such as walking every day or hitting a step goal—boosts confidence and motivates people to continue.