Project Louise: An American Everywoman Sets Out To Get Healthier

Louise Kennedy, WBUR

Louise Kennedy, in her office at WBUR. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

You may know Louise Kennedy for her longtime drama coverage at The Boston Globe. These days, she heads WBUR’s community engagement efforts, and has gamely agreed to become a sort of a travel writer for CommonHealth: In the coming year, she’ll undertake a quest to break her bad habits and get healthier, exploring the realms of exercise, diet, stress reduction and behavioral change in search of what will work for her — and perhaps for you, too. Here is the prequel:

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

The hosts of CommonHealth have given me a marvelous and slightly intimidating gift. They’ve invited me to work with a coach, a trainer, a nutrition expert – whatever I need, really – to improve my health over the next year, and to share this adventure with you. By writing about it. Every week.

That’s the intimidating part – and also, I think, the part that’s likely to make it work. If I know nothing else about myself, I know this: I don’t get much done unless I have a deadline. And I also know that my pride won’t quite let me report in every Monday saying, “So, this week, I didn’t get to the gym at all, I had Cheez-Its and chardonnay for dinner every night, and I feel pretty miserable about all that but I’m not about to change.”

So, clearly, the weekly accountability is a big part of the gift for me. But I’m hoping – no, I’m promising – that it will also be a gift for you. If I do this right, Project Louise will not just be about Louise. It will be a shared record of the struggles and rewards we all discover as we muddle our way toward a healthier life: the quick tips, the long-term strategies, the surprising obstacles and, I hope, the keys to slow but lasting change. “Biggest Loser” this is not.

Every single one of these conditions would improve with regular exercise and a better diet. So why don’t I change?

Project Louise begins in earnest next week, just in time for the new year. Before we dive in, though, you might want to know a bit more about me: what my health challenges are and why CommonHealth picked me to write about them.

In a nutshell, they picked me because I resemble many of you. I’m a middle-aged woman with a full-time job, two kids, and a fair amount of stress. I have trouble finding time to work out, I eat too much fat and not enough produce, and I exceed the recommended one daily glass of wine a little more often than I should.

Unsurprisingly, given all that, I am overweight. Next week I’ll tell you exactly what I weigh – that’s part of the whole accountability thing here – but since we don’t know each other that well yet, for now I’ll just say that I have a BMI of 29.4. That body mass index – which I found in a few seconds by plugging in my height and weight at the handy National Institutes of Health calculator – puts me at the very top end of the “overweight” part of the chart.

Unfortunately, I have plenty of company: In 2009-2010, about a third of U.S. adults were overweight, like me, and about another 36 percent were obese, with a BMI of 30 or more.

My BMI also indicates that I’m at risk for a slew of health problems, from diabetes to heart disease. Both of those are particular concerns of mine, because they run in my family, and my cholesterol is already high – again, like many of you. One bright spot: My blood pressure has always been low. For years, it was 110/70, but recently it’s crept up to 118/80. While that’s still normal, I don’t like the trend.

What else? Fibromyalgia, which for some can be debilitating but for me just means a lot of aches and occasional bouts of extreme fatigue (hard to distinguish from the regular fatigue of a middle-aged woman with a full-time job, two kids, etc.). A bit of arthritis, which a shiny young doctor told me a few years ago is “normal at your age.” (Thanks, whippersnapper.) Acid reflux. Seasonal depression – or is that just normal for all New Englanders? And just a touch of low self-esteem. (Thanks, BMI, middle age, fatigue, and, no doubt, New England.)

Every single one of these conditions, I know as well as you do, would improve with regular exercise and a better diet. So why don’t I change? And is there any way I can?

I have a few ideas of my own about that, and I know the experts I’ll be meeting over the next few months will have many more. I’ve already met one, a delightful management coach and consultant, and next week I’ll start to share what she’s teaching me about setting goals and developing a strategy to meet them.

I’m also hoping that an essential part of this project will be . . . you. I invite you to join in with your own stories, your own suggestions, your own struggles – and to tell me when you think I’m getting it right and when I’m veering off course. Instead of just reading some more advice about diet and exercise, let’s talk about what really works for us, and let’s do it.

I’m ready, I think. After all, New Year’s is the right time to make a solid resolution to change. What about you? What health changes are you contemplating for 2014?

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