Linda Melone – Real Health for Real Life

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Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science to Slim podcast. I’m very much looking forward to today’s show. We have a woman with a diverse background, so someone who I definitely have a soft spot for in my heart. Having a diverse background myself, she had a brief stint in the food world as a pastry chef, bakery owner, sounds like someone we know a.k.a. the lovely Carrie Brown, my podcast co-owner.

She also then spent over 15 years working as a personal trainer, so she’s got one foot in the delicious dish arena. She’s got another foot in the personal training arena. She has also written for every magazine in the world, we’re talking Glamour, AARP, Oxygen, Shape. She is just a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to eating and living and enjoying yourself. Linda Melone, welcome to the show.

Linda: Thank you so much Jonathan. I appreciate you asking me to be on.

Jonathan: Linda, you have a diverse background, how did this happen? How do we go from little Linda to the Linda of today?

Linda: Well, they say there are two types of people. There are people who find a career early in life, stick with it their whole lives, and then there’s people like me who kind of jump around, always finding things that, maybe there’s something more exciting that I can do or something different; and the interesting thing is that it all comes together where I am now. But, I started with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition, and I thought I wanted to be a dietitian.

I quickly found out that that was a little bit too dry for me, I’m very creative, and so I ended up working as a recipe development specialist; and a lot of the back of the box recipes that you see for… say you pick up a bag of rice, and it has a recipe, how to use the rice, that’s the type of thing I did for seven years. I found I had a talent for desserts, and so I became particularly interested in that and it was more from the creative aspect. I really didn’t have a huge sweet tooth, but I loved to make beautiful things, and so I ended up just pursuing that realm and going into becoming a pastry chef.

I worked at a restaurant for a number of years, and then just decided I want to open up my own bakery. So I did that for about three years. Then I just kind of followed that whole path. I don’t know, I got bored with it after a certain amount of time and just decided, well I’ve always been into fitness which was always sort of a conflict for me anyway. I would leave the bakery and go to the gym and people would say, “Who smells like cupcakes?” and it would be me. I just decided you know it was too much of a contradiction, and I was getting bored with the bakery business so I just went all out into the fitness world and that was in 1995. I did that and it was in-home personal training mainly that I did. I enjoyed it for a while, but I tend to burn out. Then I ended up getting into writing just because well I did that for long enough, and now it’s time to switch gears again.

Jonathan: You mentioned one of the things that you enjoyed about baking and your dabbles in cooking was the creativity involved. One of the things is, I can empathize with that because I like being creative too, especially with cooking. I’m curious if you’ve seen that it is, for example, in poetry like when we place constraints upon ourselves like you want to write a Haiku.

That sometimes can actually make you more creative rather than less, so the existence of constraints can actually prompt creativity. Sometimes when people try to live a healthy lifestyle, they see it as a set of constraints; and then maybe they can’t be as creative in the kitchen but it seems that if you have a set of constraints that might even encourage creativity in the kitchen. Is that a stretch? What do you think about that?

Linda: I guess it could be that way just because I tend to… I focus on healthy recipes and healthy cooking myself but then after a while if you’re eating the same thing or preparing the same thing, you will just, I think, naturally look for ways to kind of expand on that and the problem is if you do that and you end up adding… For example, I had a former personal training client who started, I think it was just yogurt in the morning and some fruit, and then she started adding cereal to it and then she started adding nuts to it.

It was creative but then you’re also getting out of what the whole purpose of your original plan was, which was to have a healthy diet. I guess it can perpetuate creativity, but you need to be careful about how creative do you want to get and what are your goals with whatever it is you’re doing. Does that make sense?

Jonathan: Oh, it absolutely makes sense. It reminds me of my dear mother who was just a wonderful, wonderful woman. She will talk on Sundays, and she will tell me, “Jonathan, you’ll be so proud of me. I had a vegetable smoothie” which is something that I’m a big fan of and I’m like, “Oh mom, that’s great. What was in your vegetable smoothie?” and she was like “Well I have some ice cream” and then she was like “I put three leaves of spinach in it” so there you go.

Linda: Right, so that counts.

Jonathan: Oh, I love it and Linda, one area that you differentiate yourself is you tend to focus on working with individuals who had spent a bit more time on this earth. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Why you’re interested in that, and how you customize your approach based upon that?

Linda: Well, it’s interesting because I started doing personal training when I was in my 30s, and I found that a lot of people who would sign up to work with me did so when they hit the age of 50. That seemed to be the point, as one of my former clients said, “I realized I had more years behind me than I had in front of me.” It was sort of a wakeup call. And so people, particularly women will decide that you know the kids are now out of the house, it’s me time.

I was finding more and more people, particularly women, who would start working out with me at that age; and then I would hear all their similar complaints, you know, “I can’t seem to lose this weight,” and just a lot of frustration as to getting in shape at that age and getting into the whole routine of working out and it made me think what happens, is this something that naturally happens?

Am I going to gain weight when I hit 50 or menopause? And so I’ve sort of been my own guinea pig, and now that I’m 54 and I’ve been there, done that kind of thing, it makes me realize that there are some things you cannot control, but there is a lot that you can. And that’s what brought me to where I am now, which is helping women in particular over 50, especially menopausal women get in shape and lose weight after this age when it is a little harder.

Jonathan: I appreciate that message, Linda. I hate to keep busting my parents out here. They just visited for two weeks. so I had many experiences with them. They’re delightful people, and one of the things that my parents you know they’re talking about “Oh, we’re older so we can’t do this and that and other thing.” Then we sat down at dinner, and I said, “Mom and Dad, if I recall the Secretary of State is your age and many presidents are your age, and this idea that just because an individual is over 50 that they’re somehow on the downswing. It actually seems like the opposite might be true. It seems like when the most powerful and most robust and influential people in the world are those who have crested the 50-year mark.”

Linda: I agree. There have been studies that even show people are happier. I’m not sure if it says people are happier after 50, or just as we age, we tend to get happier. I think there are a lot of things that don’t bother you anymore. For example when I was younger, I thought you know I’m listening to my client’s and they’re telling me, one woman in particular, I remember. She said “You wait until you hit 50. Men aren’t going to look at you anymore, and you’re just going to be invisible.” It was pretty upsetting to me actually at the time, and now I realize it’s really an attitude. There are people over 50 who act much older, and then there are people like myself. I just don’t really think that much about it, and I’ve never been happier or more satisfied with my life as I am now. I know there’s a lot of other people my age who feel the same way. It’s individual as the person themselves but, in general, people I think are happier, especially if you have kids and they are now out of the house.

Jonathan: Well, what have you found to be some unique lifestyle practices that really optimize around individuals in that stage of life?

Linda: As far as exercise and…

Jonathan: Anything, to live, to feel great.

Linda: Well, you definitely have to keep moving, and it’s not so much just structured exercise; but so many people ,myself include, we have desk jobs now and sitting at the desk all day does a lot of damage to your health in ways that are not as obvious. You’ve probably heard of some of these studies. It creates inflammation. For example, as I am talking to you now, I’m standing up. I have a desk that I bought, a cheap, stand up desk that I got in an office supply store, and I propped up my laptop on it so I can spend some time standing during the day as well as sitting at my desktop computer.

I think staying active, even if it’s just standing when you’re on the phone, that sort of thing, keeps you healthy in a lot of ways but for one it burns twice the calories as sitting down, so right away you have a calorie burn, and also it is important to have a regular exercise program. It doesn’t have to be that you go to the gym. A lot of people don’t like the gym, just going out for a walk, getting outdoors, socializing, maintaining ties with people. We get so caught up in social networking now that it seems face to face meeting seems odd; and it’s getting rarer, and I know with my own friends.

I think one out of ten people that I make plans to meet with face to face that ever comes to pass. We just don’t seem to make the time anymore. Those are a couple of things, and then eating fresh and limiting fast food and processed food sounds like a no brainer, but a lot of people still will go for the convenience and there’s just a lot of sodium, fat, and all kinds of stuff that is not good, especially as you get older.

Jonathan: Linda, you mentioned the importance of staying active, and have you found that staying active, meaning walking, standing, taking stairs, things I might define as just being a person — like I believe people, we have legs for a reason that they are intended to be used and conflating that with exercise. The reason I make that point is, there’s has been amazing studies done in terms of, for example, resistance training, changing the molecular signatures in our body such that it reduces age.

It’s literally reducing age at a cellular level, but I see a lot of people who they’re like, “I walked around today, therefore I exercised.” So it’s this conflation of activity with exercise where I often define exercise as something you do very intentionally and is actually unnatural. Like, it’s unnatural to do resistance exercise, or it’s unnatural to go ride a bike with the intention of exerting yourself physically versus the intention of just enjoying the fresh air. They’re both important, but do you see people sometimes conflating the two?

Linda: In other words, it sounds like it’s not as much fun. You do have to make your intention to get up and move around and to exercise and maybe you don’t want to call it exercise. That’s one of the tips that you hear about for kids, especially that as soon as you call it exercise, it becomes work. I think maybe what you’re saying is you need to find a way to enjoy what you’re doing because that’s definitely important, or find a different reason to do it other than “Hey, I want to… I’m going to go to the gym and lift weights,” because that is a means to an end, maybe isn’t enough for people? Is that what you mean?

Jonathan: Oh no. I just think it’s a fascinating distinction. I think the importance of again, back to my mother who was a very wise woman. It certainly we are all about having fun and enjoying ourselves here, but she mentioned to me you know not everything in life is supposed to be fun; and having heart disease is certainly not fun, being diabetic is not fun, being overweight or obese is not fun.

If everything we do with our body, if we only do things with our body that are fun, it seems we might be short-changing ourselves. For example if anyone who knows how to play the piano, when they first started playing the piano, it probably wasn’t fun; but then it might be their passion because they overcame that hurdle. I’m just curious because you have so much time with the mainstream media of this idea of it has to be fun immediately, do you think that might make some people stop physical activity at the point beyond just like walking around, because once you get past just walking around, it’s not fun anymore?

Linda: Right. No, I hear what you’re saying, and I do agree with you. I think that no, it’s not always fun. I get up at four in the morning so that I can get to the gym by five because for one, I’m crazy but for two, because most of my editors are on the East Coast so I try to get up early, and it’s not fun. I don’t like when that alarm goes off, but I have found that I feel better. There are other benefits besides the fun, but part of it is that people who work out that early develop a camaraderie, and I look forward to seeing friends of mine at the gym and they always give me grief if I miss a day or something.

It’s not that I look forward to the fun, but I found other things that I enjoy about it. I think that if you… initially as you’ve said you may have to kind of force yourself to do it. But once you start seeing and feeling the benefits of it, of the exercise or whatever it is you decide to do, and you change it around enough where it doesn’t get boring or you get into a rut, you can keep going. I think it’s an individual thing, you know, at some point it does take self discipline, and at some point has to come from within you to keep going.

That’s one thing when I did personal training, I would often have people around holidays, they would buy gift certificates of sessions with me for a spouse that never worked out. I can’t remember anyone… and this happened. It amazed me how people would just waste all of this money and they would buy a few sessions with me, and I would never hear from the person who received the gift certificate, very rarely. You can’t force somebody to exercise if they don’t want to, is my point, but you can sort of show an example or there has to be something in it that enables you to enjoy that on some level. Maybe it’s not fun but maybe it’s a social aspect.

Jonathan: Linda, are you encouraged, one of the things that I found in you most encouraging and funny, so I don’t like exercise. I hate exercising, I do not enjoy exercising. I like to sit behind my desk. I like to read. I like to work on the computer. I’m like a total a geek. I’m happiest behind a desk; and I get so encouraged by a lot of the research around interval training and low impact so anyone can do it at any age especially resistance training, which is especially doable at any age given that it is no impact.

Oftentimes people don’t want to exercise because walking on the treadmill for an hour is boring, and it’s an hour of exercise, like five days a week, that’s a lot. But doing things, like at-home isometric training or at-home resistance training can take ten minutes maybe twice a week, maybe three times a week. We could do anything for ten minutes a couple of times a week. What do you think?

Linda: I have mixed feelings about those studies. I think, they’re effective, but the studies that I’ve seen talk about intense workouts like HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training. The intensity level varies depending on your fitness levels, so in other words, on a scale of one to ten, what you perceive as an eight is different from what I perceive is an eight, that type of thing. But for someone who’s just starting out, it’s a lot and I don’t know that it’s safe, at least some of the things that I have read. You really have to be sort of fit to start a program like that.

If it’s enough to get someone started I say, “Hey, anything that gets people going is great.” But, I think that it is sort of like taking medicine where, if you’re on blood pressure meds or you’re on medication for some other health issue, and you take it a couple of times a week, how much is that really going to help you? At some point, you need to realize that even if it’s not “Okay, I’m going to the gym today, or I’m running around the track or being on the treadmill,” just change it up every day. I guess my point is that if a couple of times a week works for you and that program works for you, that’s great, but in the end I think that you need to do something in between those workouts, too.

Jonathan: You think that’s the staying active, like there’s a baseline of activity? You always need to be moving. If you’re not moving that’s bad, so you’re moving. Then I love what you said about the High Intensity Interval Training like that’s something you might just want to jump into, but what are your thoughts on resistance training because especially with osteoporosis and increasing bone density and resistance training? Especially if we do it intensely, we become sore. We can’t do it as frequently, because we’re already sore; but isn’t that a good thing?

Linda: Well, it’s a good thing, but it depends on the soreness. Is it normal soreness or is it because you did something too much? I’m a huge proponent of resistance training. I’ve worked out. I am a gym rat. I love the gym, so that’s like it, and I have worked out in gyms for over 31 years; and so I do it a couple times a week. I think you have to start out… I strongly recommend that you hire somebody or at least have some sort of guidance to get you on a program, because the biggest mistake people make is they wing it.

They’ll go to the gym, or they’ll take advice from their friends who are not qualified trainers and just sort of jump in to a program without rhyme or reason; and that’s how you get hurt. You want to start out with some sort of guidance to give you a basis and a foundation, and it takes a couple of weeks before your nervous system adapts. And until that happens, you’re going to feel sore with just a lot of biochemical changes that happen. Your muscles are saying, “Hey, what the heck? What’s going on here?” And so after you get past that point, you really shouldn’t be sore with every workout unless you do something different or way above and beyond what you’ve been doing. It’s not something that… I mean, I’m not sore unless I do something new. It’s not something we should expect every time, and it shouldn’t be what keeps you away from resistance training because it’s an important part of a workout, an overall health program.

Jonathan: I appreciate your recommendation around not just winging it, because exercise is extremely powerful. It’s almost medicinal, and when we think about its effect on the body as almost like medicine, you certainly wouldn’t just go to the pharmacy and be like, “I’ll take that one!” and just grab it, right?

Linda: Exactly.

Jonathan: Well, Linda, what are some tips you think for individuals who are topping the 50 plus age range and are finding it hard to stay active and finding it hard to intentionally exercise, so going one step above just walking around and actually doing deliberate, planned guided, at some point, exercise. How can they get started?

Linda: I strongly recommend finding a group that like there are walking groups. There are biking groups for seniors. Well, I hate using the term using seniors because I’m over 50 but I don’t consider myself a senior, but for people in your age group and this could actually be for any age group. If you find like-minded people, there’s just so many studies that show you’re more likely to stick with it; so that’s one thing I’d recommend.

You want to start out slow, and a lot of people have the mindset of all or nothing. Okay, either I’m doing the High Intensity Interval or I’m just not doing anything, and that’s a guaranteed scenario for injury and for not being able to stick with something. Start out slow. Find a group. Try a few different things. Maybe one type of exercise you don’t like, but maybe there’s something else and experiment. Through the years that I’ve worked out, I’ve run the gamut of in-a-group exercise, spinning, and now I don’t do either of those things; but I find other things that I do like.

Those are important, along with the group exercise. If you don’t like group exercise, find a friend that is willing to do it with you, especially if it’s someone who is more motivated than you. You don’t want someone who’s lazy. If you need motivation, you want someone who will say, “Yeah. Hey, we said we were getting off the couch this morning, and we’re going to the yoga class or whatever.” Those were the top tips I would recommend.

Jonathan: Linda, what would you also recommend the individuals — because when we talked about this a little bit earlier — was give it a little bit of time like if the first time you do it, it isn’t a home run. That doesn’t mean you’ll never enjoy it just like the first time you drank wine, you may not have been like “This is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had in my life,” yet you may enjoy it very much today. How long do you think we should give something before we make that decision?

Linda: I’d say at least give yourself 60 days, and maybe that seems like a lot, 30 days maybe, 30 days and then try something else. Just don’t give up because there’s just too much to gain and so much to lose if you don’t get yourself on track; and there’s just so much beyond the health implications. You’ll feel better.

There’s studies that show your memory is sharper. You’re sharper with your memory… and, now I’m losing my memory talking about memory and I forgot one. But brain activity, and it sharpens everything you know from mentally to the physical and there’s just so much to it. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not just going out and doing something. It’s the way you live your whole life.

Jonathan: It’s literally like bathing your soul. It is literally going to improve just about every aspect of your life, and there are very few things which are that powerful, so it’s pretty exciting, I think.

Linda: Exactly.

Jonathan: Well Linda, what’s next for you?

Linda: Well, I’m pursuing more. My business is going more in the direction of helping women over 50 in particular, because as I mentioned earlier it just seems there’s a big demand for that and I have a lot of questions from friends of mine who are over 50 who ask me all the time about different methodologies, How much should I work out? How much cardio should I do? How should I eat? My career is going more in that direction; and I’m still going to be doing all the freelance writing I do because I enjoy that, too, so as long as it has to do with health and fitness, I’m there.

Jonathan: She’s there. Well, Linda, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute joy chatting with you and certainly motivational. Folks, if you want to learn more about Linda, please check her out online at lindamelone.com, last name spelled M-E-L-O-N-E. Linda, thank you so much for joining us today.

Linda: Thank you Jonathan.

Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did, and please remember this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.