Fit Mom, Fit Kids -- with Michael Sena, CFS

By Michael Sena, CFS
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

How can today's busy mom meet her own health and fitness goals while helping her children develop good lifestyle habits of their own? If your busy schedule makes daily exercise and planning and preparing healthy meals seem impossible, Michael Sena, author of Lean Mom, Fit Family: The 6-Week Plan for a Slimmer You and a Healthier Family, will show you how to help everyone in the family look and feel better than ever while gaining healthy habits that will last a lifetime. He joined us Sept. 21, 2005.

If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR: Welcome to WebMD Live. Today our guest is fitness expert Michael Sena, author of Lean Mom, Fit Family.

Welcome, Michael. Where did you get the idea to focus on Mom as the leader of family fitness?

SENA: Most studies and research show that mom is the caretaker of the home. She's the quarterback, and we need a leader, and so mom becomes the point person because we know she is handling the grocery shopping, filling the cupboards and preparing the food.

MODERATOR: So you also target her to lead everyone in movement?

SENA: Right. My goal is first to improve mom's health and wellness as I coach her as if she were my client right in front of me. Then once mom is feeling great and looking great, she will be prepared, again with my coaching, to enable her family to take on the same process and look great and feel great as well.

MODERATOR: What are the first steps she takes to start the process?

SENA: The first step mom should take once she has the book in hand is to have an initial kickoff meeting. That's where the family comes together for 20-30 minutes, and mom let's them in on what she's going to be taking on, and where she tells them she wants them to be part of the support team and get involved themselves to improve their own health and fitness.

Because once again, so much research shows us that when more than two people in any household are living a healthy lifestyle, not only will they encourage each other's efforts to be healthy, subsequently making everyone healthier in the family, but we also see an increase in the closeness and the unity of that same family.

MODERATOR: Does modeling healthy behavior have a significant impact on the rest of the family?

SENA: One hundred percent absolutely. Again, we're finding out you can teach children to eat healthy, which in turn leads them to making healthier food choices and healthy habits on their own later in life.

MODERATOR: Once Mom has met with the family and they're committed to improving health, you have seven basic principles of family fitness. Can you please explain them?

SENA: Principle No. 1: get moving.

As we know, the heart, lungs, and circulatory system are absolutely the most important systems for a healthy body. So once we take care of our heart -- which is the engine of our car, our human body being the car itself -- then we know we can live a healthy life.

I encourage people, both parents and children, to not think of my expression "get moving" as just laboring with exercise and/or going to a gym. Quite the contrary, you never have to step foot in a gym, and yet can still be very healthy. Any activity that you enjoy doing -- and I stress "enjoy doing" -- as long as it raises your heart rate and feels invigorating, that constitutes movement and activity.

MODERATOR: You include some exercises in the book. The photos of exercises are clear and very helpful.

SENA: We purposely put start and finish photos with the same types of verbal cues that I would give to any individual who was working out with me, and put them in the book so you can actually experience what a personal trainer and/or instructor would be offering to you for safe and effective movements.

MEMBER QUESTION: What time of day is best for exercising?

SENA: That's a great question, often misinterpreted. Everyone's body has its own time clock, in addition to having its own hectic schedule.

Yes, it is true our testosterone levels rise in the morning hours, and that's because hopefully we have had a night of restful sleep, but it doesn't mean that's the only window for exercise. It is best to exercise whenever you can get to it during your day, a time when it's planned, scheduled, and usually won't be disturbed by other commitments.

Once more, what is truly important is the consistency over the course of the week and that the exercise occurs as close to the same time as possible each day.

MEMBER QUESTION: Michael, you seem to be concentrating on stay-at-home moms. How do you recommend a working mom include exercise in the routine when there's barely enough time to do laundry?

SENA: My book was intended for any mom or for that matter any woman who wants to improve her health and fitness. This book is designed to make it easy for even a busy mom to live a healthy lifestyle at the same time she is living life. In other words, there are two parts to living well.

  • Making smart food choices, and the key to that is knowing what to eat and how to prepare it as well as plan its preparation to fit into your schedule. So if Sunday night is a night you could spend time in the kitchen preparing several days' worth of food, meals or snacks, that's what has to be done.

    And I speak from experience, because I know how busy you are. Most of my clients are moms and some work outside the home and I, myself, am a busy person and although not a mother, for me to eat healthy I have to plan it in advance.

    So my point is, manage your schedule as best as possible, allowing yourself time to prepare some meals in advance.
  • The second part is movement/activity/exercise. That usually is the toughest thing to schedule. But never underestimate the power of being active for even small amounts of time, whether 10-20 minutes in the morning, a brisk walk during lunch, and/or another 10-20 minutes in the evening.

    Just think about it. If you were able to squeeze in 15 minutes in the a.m., a 10-minute brisk walk at lunch, and another 15 minutes in the evening, by day's end you would have 40 minutes of activity, and that's a perfect amount.

MEMBER QUESTION: How many times a week should I exercise for weight loss and my family's well being?

SENA: Based on age-specific recommendations, I'd say:

  • For children 12 and under, I'd like to see them moving as many days in the week as possible, somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes.
  • For teenagers, I'd recommend a minimum of four days a week, somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes.
  • For adults, at least five days a week, between 30 to 60 minutes.

It is important to recognize that both teenagers and adults, depending on their fitness goals, should have between one to two days of rest because the body will need it to realize the gains of your efforts. Children are in a growth spurt and can sustain activity every day of the week and still be able to recuperate and grow.

MEMBER QUESTION: What are some healthy eating habits we should develop?

SENA: That's principle No. 2: managing portion sizes.

In this day and age, we market food for value, not nutritional content. It's not just fast-food restaurants that are offering us dollar-value meals that are in excess of 1,200 to 1,500 calories. It's also sit-down, family-style restaurants competing for your money. They'll offer meals that can feed either you or two to three other family members several meals in a week's time.

We must learn, through our own body's awareness, what a portion size is, and then recognize what being satisfied is as opposed to being full. We all know the current advertising campaign that has a person yell out, "I'm full." That's exactly what we don't want to be.

By eating the right foods, which I'll discuss in a few moments, such as protein and complex carbohydrates, we will learn that these foods are satisfying and will keep us feeling satisfied much longer.

We also must be aware of what a serving size really is. For example, a serving size for children for beverages is 4 ounces. Now, that doesn't mean you are only to have 4 ounces at a time, but what that means is that for every 4 ounces you consume, you are consuming one serving.

So, drinking a 20-ounce beverage of the latest and greatest isotonic "high sugar" sports drink, gives your child five servings of a beverage they should not even be consuming.

This is what my second principle is about -- helping moms become aware of what a serving size is before she or anyone else in the family simply offers foods and beverages at random. The same goes for adults. Being aware of what a serving size is allows us to know how many calories, in essence, we are consuming. This helps us to prevent overeating.

MEMBER QUESTION: Is it better to eat three meals a day or to break it down to six small ones?

SENA: Six small ones would be my initial answer. However I do like to recognize breakfast, lunch, and dinner as the pillars of the day's food intake, and then the mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack as metabolism boosters.

But let me clarify. If I was working with an individual who wanted to lose weight, I would have them consume more of their daily food in the earlier meals as opposed to later in the day.

Dinner for all of us should not be a heavy meal, though often it is. This is where weight gain starts, because as the day winds down, so do we and so goes our metabolism.

As long as your meals are balanced with the right carbohydrates, proteins and fats, you will remain satisfied longer through the day and will not be ravenous at night because you'll have balanced your blood sugar and your satiety will be in check.

MODERATOR: Let's talk about the "right" proteins, carbs, fiber, and fats. Basic principles No. 3, 4, and 5 are all about protein, fiber, carbs and fats.

SENA: Principle No. 3: eating optimum amounts of protein.

Similar to how the nickname Staten Island has acquired is "the forgotten borough of New York City," I sometimes call protein the forgotten macronutrient.


"Water is the fountain of youth."

Remember this: out of the three macronutrients -- proteins, carbohydrates and fats -- the only macronutrient that repairs and develops muscle tissue is protein. Carbohydrates and fats are merely vehicles and energy sources for the body. It's protein that enables all of the soft tissue in your body to grow.

In particular, when muscle grows -- and I'm talking about tone, lean, sexy muscles on men and women -- your body requires more calories just to sustain its weight. So the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even sitting in front of your computer terminal.

I always instruct my personal training clients to ask themselves the question, "Where is my protein coming from?" every time they sit down to eat. Once we put the protein in the center of our plates and our meals, provided it's lean protein and not laden with saturated fat, you're already off to a great start in making good food choices.

Some examples of the protein I mean include:

  • Low-fat dairy
  • Boneless and skinless chicken
  • Fish
  • Lean red meats
  • Beans
  • Even protein supplements

These will also improve your energy because your muscles are repairing and you're feeling stronger. This is important whether you're going to work in an office, running errands around town and/or doing chores around the house.

One final note about protein: when you ingest it your body goes into what we call a thermogenic effect, which is the actual heating up of your body by raising your metabolism. And for every 100 calories that come from protein, it takes 25% of those calories just to digest the protein itself, which means you're at a net of 75 calories, and that's a good thing.

MODERATOR: On to carbs and fiber.

SENA: Principle No. 4: The most misunderstood thing about carbohydrates is what makes one good and another bad.

Bad carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, to name a few, are those we recognize as simple sugars. Simple sugars are found in candy, soda, pastries, and a whole slew of other products that show a high amount of sugar on the label.

The good carbohydrates are ones that contain fiber, such as:

  • Brown grains, like brown rice
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Dark grain breads
  • Sweet potatoes

These carbohydrates are known as complex because the fiber that's contained within them slows the absorption of their sugar into your bloodstream, which in essence allows your pancreas to increase insulin in small dosages. That's good.

When you eat a carbohydrate that contains no fiber, like soda or a candy bar, your blood sugar levels go through the roof, your pancreas releases way too much insulin to cap off that sugar rise, and in essence slams it down to the floor and that's when you become tired, stressed, overweight and susceptible to disease.

So everyone out there participating today, hear these words very strongly: Carbohydrates are good and should never be misinterpreted for being omitted from our nutritional plans, but always choose the right carbohydrates for health and weight management.

MEMBER QUESTION: Is it really necessary to count carbs, as seems to be the trend in dieting right now?

SENA: Great question. Please read my lips: never, ever, ever diet!

Dieting or the word diet, in my book, comes from the root word of deprivation. The minute you deprive your body of one of the macronutrients you're setting yourself up for failure 100% of the time.

Don't get me wrong, you can overeat "good food" like complex carbohydrates and protein. However, the low-fat, no-fat, no-carb, low-carb crazes, are just that: crazy.

I'm often very disappointed at my peers who come out with "diet books" which are misleading the people of this country into believing that suddenly changing your eating habits drastically will equal sustained weight loss. There's just one problem there. No one has told the brain that this is the way it works, because our brains control our satiety levels, and when you deprive your body of a much needed nutrient, your brain will never reach satiety and therefore you will always want more.

So please, do your body justice and eat balanced meals all the time, be active, and you will never have a weight problem again.

MODERATOR: What are the "right fats"?

SENA: Principle No. 5: choose the right fats. We know saturated and trans fats are the bad fats which are directly linked to obesity, diabetes, and certain cancers, not to mention how toxic they can make your entire system. The right fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. We find them in foods such as:

  • Canola oil
  • Nuts
  • Avocadoes
  • Sunflower oil and seeds
  • Olive oil

We want to eat as many of those as possible because overall, we know that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower our triglyceride levels, our cholesterol, and improve our blood sugar, which again, stabilizes our hunger.

MODERATOR: While popular diet books have focused on carbs, proteins and fats, they seem to have ignored Principle No. 6: calories still count.

SENA: What we don't recommend in my book is for you to count calories. No one has the time in the day to do such a thing. And in fact, my explanation of this principle is covered on one single page.

We want you just to be aware of the foods you're eating and understand that when you're eating the right balance of nutrients with the right portion sizes, coupled with activity, you will not have to count calories. This is what we want people to know.

Additionally, since 90% of a dollar is spent on processed foods in this country every day, we want people to be aware that when labels say "no fat, no carbs" they still contain calories -- empty calories -- loaded in those products. So you don't have to count calories, just be aware of eating the right foods.

MEMBER QUESTION: What is the general amount of calories for a stay-at-home mom who is semi-active?

SENA: Unfortunately, it's impossible for me to answer that question without knowing your body weight, and exactly how active you are. Everyone is different and everyone has a different percentage of muscle to body fat.

Remember what I said earlier: The more muscle you have on your body the more calories you burn even at rest. So again, not specifically knowing what you do for activity and what you weigh, it's hard for you, me, or even a nutritionist to figure that out.

Although I appreciate your question, I want you to remember that you cannot only be concerned with calories. Even though my principle says calories count, it's actually a play on words in many ways -- to say eat real food, make it balanced, and be active. That is truly the message of calories.

A health professional in your area might be able to do a better job answering your question once they know about your lifestyle. However, my job is to teach Americans to stop worrying about calories, enjoy life and keep moving.

MODERATOR: The final principle you offer is "You are what you drink."

SENA: You are what you drink; truer words were never spoken.

One of the examples I referred to before was a 20-ounce sports drink, for a young child who, in essence is not running around like Michael Jordan but who is marketed to want to be like Michael Jordan.

Remembering that a child's serving size is 4 ounces will help mothers understand the amount a child should consume, especially of any drink other than water and milk, which are my two favorites. Of course, skim milk or 1% is what I recommend. Fruit juices are OK, provided they are 100% fruit juice.

A great ways to get kids to drink more water, milk and real fruit juices is to remind them that their favorite sports heroes and people they look up to, like their moms and dads, drink lots of water and milk all day, which makes them feel great and healthy and strong and be better at their school work and their sports.

For adults, going down to our favorite coffee house in the middle of the afternoon and ordering a five-to-seven word coffee drink by name and adding that to their favorite treat in the showcase, can literally add up to 800 to 1,200 calories in a two-minute transaction, which is very often more than half of the calories they should consume daily.

So the point of this principle is to be very aware of what you're consuming and the amount of what you're consuming and remember that beverages can be as calorie-dense as food and can often be part of the problem, when someone is trying to manage their weight.

Finally, remember this: water is the fountain of youth. Water comes from the fountain of youth. So drink up!

MODERATOR: Once you have the principles, you are ready to put them into a family fitness action plan and your book gives great detail and guidance on how we can do that.

Michael, do you have any final comments for us?

SENA: I want to thank everybody at WebMD and those who joined us today. It has truly been my honor to share with you my vocation and passion in life. My one goal truly is to see the American family return to a healthy state of well-being and to reverse the downward spiraling health trends we're seeing across the board today for adults and our children.

I also want to say to our moms and to our dads, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health agencies, tell us our children may have a shorter life expectancy than their own parents -- which has not happened in more than 50 years -- I can only say look at my book as one of the solutions to keep your children growing and living a healthy, active, and fulfilled life.

I wish everybody the best of health. Thank you.


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