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Revamped diet and short walks might help a tired commuter improve her fitness

For Martha Souder, the problem isn't what she eats, but when she eats.
For Martha Souder, the problem isn't what she eats, but when she eats.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Martha Souder can't help but watch the time. Her alarm wakes her up at 4 a.m. so she can power shower and get going on her two-hour-plus commute to her Rockville office. At the end of the workday, she has to keep an eye on the clock again to make sure she's on the train that'll have her home by 7 p.m. Exhausted and with just two measly hours before bedtime, Souder ends up nixing exercise completely.

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And time has been catching up with her. "At age 43, I feel old," Souder says. She's constantly out of breath, her back and knees hurt and the pounds have been piling on. She knows exercise is the answer but hasn't figured out how to work it into her schedule.

My job was to find an hour in Souder's day to fit in some movement. She usually gets to her administrative job a half-hour earlier than she needs to, so between that and two 15-minute breaks, she can walk nearly an hour a day. Add in some quickie strength training at night (with her dumbbells and a selection of DVDs I gave her) and longer workouts on the weekends, and that's a pretty sensible plan.

But as we talked, it became clear that Souder wouldn't be able to go through with it. At least, not on her current diet. The problem isn't what she eats, which is fairly reasonable, but when. She doesn't touch food until about 8 a.m., then snacks all morning until she has lunch a little past noon. After that, she fasts until she gets back home, where dinner is a sandwich.

Registered dietitian Elizabeth Blumberg, who runs Rockville's EB Nutrition, agreed with my concerns. Souder's breakfast, Blumberg says, needs to come earlier, preferably within an hour of waking. Even something simple, such as a Luna Bar she could grab on her way out the door, will keep her from starving and give her the boost she needs to spend that free 30 minutes on her feet instead of at her desk.

"And while she's correct in front-loading her calories, she's taking it to the extreme," Blumberg added. A better redistribution would be shifting some of the morning snacks (such as a cheese stick and piece of fruit) to around 4 p.m. to keep her metabolism humming. The protein-carb combo should also boost her energy level so she won't finish her commute totally pooped.

"I know when I'm exercising, it feels great," Souder says. "But my excuse is I'm too tired." Let's see if by rejiggering how she eats, she can change that.

-- V.H.


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