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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  • Margaret Graham

    Louise, I love that you’re diving into this adventure. I hope you discover many dimensions of yourself and that this enriches you in ways that you crave.

  • Louise Kennedy

    Wow! I’ve been offline for the holiday and just came back to see all the new comments — thank you all for the suggestions and, yes, inspiration. I checked in here because i’m working on my next post and feeling a bit daunted — so your kind words and useful advice came at just the right time. Onward! And the post will be here tomorrow.

  • alexafleckensteinmd

    Great idea! “Supersize me!” – in reverse!

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

    P.S. You may be overweight, but you are a swell writer – you already have our attention!

    P.P.S. If I were your doctor (and feel free to ignore my advice): I would start with eliminating all dairy. It is inflammatory, and probably a big part of your aches and pains.

  • lindam313

    Hey Louise, You will learn a lot about yourself and even if you don’t like some of what you find out (as no one does) you will embrace it and keep on going! This is such a wonderful opportunity for you or for anyone and for us – thank you for being so courageous to do this. Maintaining one’s desirable weight I have found to be an enormous struggle because I like to eat too much, but on the plus side I like to exercise and found that when I exercise enough, it keeps my hypertension under much better control, so fighting the fight about food and keeping on exercising has definitely been worth it. Seeing the results is sometimes enough to just keep trying every day. I hope you learn what you want to learn from this experience! Go!

  • Pam Hamilton

    Dear Louise,
    Thank you for doing this. Your post is written about me and a million other women,
    I know what I should be eating and doing, yet I’m too busy, too tired and yes, sometimes just too lazy to do anything about it. It’s overwhelming to figure out where or how to get started. This may be the ticket!!

  • Amy T

    Wow — good for you, Louise! And good for us too, I think! What an inspiring post. I look forward to participating in your journey.

  • 99veggies

    An easy improvement in the arena of self-care can be stepping up your water consumption… check out the free app Waterlogged – helps a lot! Provides a handy chart to show how you’ve done over the days/weeks. (I’m in no way affiliated w whomever makes the app, I’ve just been finding handy.)

  • susan peppercorn

    Louise,

    Thank you for sharing your path. Women have particularly difficult time giving themselves what they need. I wish you the best of luck and look forward to your future posts.

  • http://myitchytravelfeet.com Donna Hull

    Good for you and good luck with your healthy life changes. I embarked on a One Healthy Change a Month in 2013 and will continue in 2014. It’s documented here http://myitchytravelfeet.com/one-healthy-change-a-month/ (hope it’s okay to leave a link). The idea is that lots of changes at one time can be overwhelming and ineffective. Good luck to you!

  • Janette Hillis-Jaffe

    This just made my day! Thank you, Louise, for taking this on and being brave enough to share it with the world. I am a health coach and author of the upcoming Everyday Healing: Daily Steps to Take Charge and Get Your Health Back. I am so looking forward to learning from your journey. May 2014 be a year of deep connection and healing for you!

  • Jeanne

    I could use a few coaches… I work full time an hour from home, have a husband with serious health issues and a mother that just lost her right to drive. With everyone wanting a piece of me there is little left to care for myself. Good luck to you, Louise.

    • Louise Kennedy

      And good luck to you, Jeanne. It is so hard for women especially, I think, to find time for ourselves when, as you say, everyone wants a piece of us. But I’ve come to see that we just have to take care of ourselves — if for no other reason (and there are many) than to keep taking care of the ones we love.

  • Sarah Grant

    I can’t wait to follow your journey! I am a mother of 4 and was told that at my age – 42 – arthritis is normal and so is being tired. In October I was diagnosed with fibro; in November I found out I can’t have eggs and dairy anymore; in December I was told I have IBS. (Who knows what January is bringing!) My new habits include eating more vegetables, getting more exercise, and trying to get better sleep. Thank you for sharing your path… I’m sure it will help many people and I am so excited you’ll be chronicling it here!

    • Louise Kennedy

      Your new habits sound just right to me, Sarah. “Eat more vegetables” is my current mantra — I think it may be the simplest way to improve my food habits quickly. Good luck with your journey, too.

  • eat_swim_read

    Um, please use a Twitter feed for this. At a bare minimum, post annotated links for blog posts to Twitter. There are tools that automate that for you.
    I am too busy to scroll thru blogs, scanning for new posts.
    Tweet it, baby.
    @investigate_cps

    • careyg

      Sorry, should have mentioned! Follow Louise at @LouiseWBUR and CommonHealth at @commonhealth, and we’ll be using #projectlouise — and we’ll be sure to tweet every post.

    • alexafleckensteinmd

      Using too many social media might be one of the causes of too little time in the day …

      Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

  • Laura White McAughan

    Thank you! As an integrative health coach, I’m so, so thrilled to see you take on this project – not only that you’re recruiting lots of support to make better lifestyle choices but that you’re choosing to share your writing talent with others in a way is sure to make what’s sometimes quite an intimidating process more approachable to other people as they consider their own health goals for 2014!! I look forward to following your journey and seeing you emerge with better health and more energy & vitality, as well as a lot of valuable information about the specific behavior change processes that work for you.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thanks, Laura! I’m glad you’ll be following along, and I hope you’ll offer feedback when you think I’m getting it right — or wrong! It should be a great year!

      • Marie

        how do we follow if we don’t use twitter? will there be a FB page?

        • Louise Kennedy

          I’ll be posting right here on CommonHealth every Monday. I hope you’ll check back in next week!