Mind is what matters: local experts agree proper mind-set key to making resolutions stick

Dr. Linda Hodges, of board certified obesity physician, talks to a client at her business Exceptional Weight Loss & Solu
Dr. Linda Hodges, of board certified obesity physician, talks to a client at her business Exceptional Weight Loss & Solutions, 1350 Boyson Rd., in Hiawatha, Iowa on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Ara Ispentchian was a lifelong athlete, playing a number of sports in high school and even college. But when his mother died, the grief overwhelmed him. He coped with food, and as a result saw his weight balloon to close to 300 pounds.

One New Year’s Day, he decided enough was enough and it was time to lose weight and become active again.

Ispentchian is far from alone. An estimated 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and topping the list are goals to eat healthier and get more exercise.

But how can people ease into these changes without throwing in the towel by springtime? Local experts agreed — a healthy body starts with a healthy mind-set.

Proper Mindset

Dr. Linda Hodges, owner of Exceptional Health and Weight Loss Solutions clinic in Hiawatha, said the No. 1 area she focuses on is mind-set work.

“I help people take a step back and realize that if they’re having trouble losing weight, it’s not a character flaw. There’s a lot of genetics and DNA involved,” Hodges said. “People need to maximize the things that are within their control and stop feeling guilty for things they can’t control.”

Hodges has written a book emphasizing this focus on mind-set — “Weight Loss that Works: Secrets to Restoring Confidence and Reclaiming Your Body” — with an e-book edition available at

“You’re not going to have long-term progress without cultivating the right mind-set,” she said.


Nichole Carlson, operations manager for Elite Fitness with locations in Center Point, Marion and Lisbon, agreed.

“You can’t start off thinking, ‘I want it all and I want it right now,’” Carlson said. “I tell people, if it was easy, everyone would be able to lose as much weight as they wanted.”

Carlson advises clients to start out with something they enjoy. If they like exercising with friends, consider joining a class. If they like to read, try walking on a treadmill while reading. The next step is to track their progress. Doing something they enjoy and noticing victories along the way will help people stick with it, she said.

Ispentchian, an engineer who also teaches spin and boot camp at the YMCA in Cedar Rapids, started the No Regrets Project with friends Travis Richardson and Brad Groothuis with the goal of “helping people be the best version of themselves,” no matter what point they’re starting from. He also emphasizes having a proper mind-set when you first start exercising.

“Don’t worry so much about the future. See what you can do today and build on that,” Ispentchian said. “And, never forget where you started.”

Performance Health and Fitness in Coralville is holding a 31-Day Wellness Challenge with a free downloadable work sheet ( There will be a new challenge each month of 2019. The January challenge is Commitment — finding some area of your life, whether it’s exercise, drinking more water or getting more sleep and commit to doing that daily.

“You don’t have to join a gym to get started. You can start off with home workouts, or just be more mindful of increasing overall movement in general,” said Lynde Weatherford, a health coach and director of training services at Performance Health and Fitness. “We tend to overwhelm ourselves with trying to achieve perfection. When it comes to wellness, you have to take it one step at a time.”

Setting Goals

Dacey Waldron, a certified wellness coach with MercyCare Business Health Solutions, tells her patients to set goals to stay motivated. Goals should be realistic, have a time frame attached to them, follow the “80/20” rule and be shared with others for accountability and support. She also encourages people to make a dream board with pictures and quotes that inspire them and remind them what they are working for, then put it in a place where they can see it every day.

Ispentchian also encourages members to create a “vision board.” He advises having daily and two-week goals. To keep from getting bored running, he suggests adding variety — change your route, vary your speed, find ways to challenge your body. He said it’s also important to have a weight routine as you get leaner because you need to strengthen your muscles as well.


“It is amazing what the mind can do for the body,” Ispentchian said. When you feel like you’re stuck in your bad habits, “the way you can snap out of it is setting goals. Whether it’s fitness, diet, lifting, whatever, have small goals and victories.”

“Determine what you can commit to now, then build on that step by step until you can achieve that bigger picture,” health coach Weatherford said.

Exercise Starters

For someone just starting a fitness routine, Elite Fitness’s Carlson says cardio is the best place to start. “Walking on a treadmill is underrated,” Carlson said. It will get you moving, build muscle strength, and raise your resting metabolic rate, which tells you how many calories you burn at rest, she said.

Carlson also says machines are a good first step for strength training. There’s a machine for every muscle, and they ensure you use good form so you don’t injure yourself, she said. There’s also an explanation on the machine for how to do the exercise and what muscles it targets, so you don’t have to be intimidated into not trying it.

Weatherford suggests using resistance bands, body weight exercises like squats, lunges and pushups, and ab workouts. These help with daily functional movements, core strength and improve posture alignment.

“You don’t have to kill yourself to see benefits,” Weatherford said. “Go by how your clothes feel, those non-measurable victories. Are you happier? Do you have more energy? Are you sleeping better?”

Looking to start running? The No Regrets — Running group was formed as an offshoot of the No Regrets Project and has more than 500 members who plan runs and support each other through a private group on Facebook. Whether your goal is to run a half-marathon, a 5K, or just get off the couch, anyone is welcome

Eating Healthier

Judy Fitzgibbons, the Johnson Avenue Hy-Vee dietitian, gives complimentary supermarket tours, where she points out healthier food choices. For those wanting more guidance, Hy-Vee dietitians do individual consultations, which can involve writing menus and creating an eating plan. The grocery store also offers Begin, a 10-week class with six to 12 people that meets weekly and teaches a variety of healthy eating topics.

“A lot of people know what they need to do. For Americans, it’s portion size and getting off high-calorie liquids,” Fitzgibbons said.

Fitzgibbons tries to find out where people have been and where they’re trying to go with their weight loss in order to help them.


“I have them think about what was successful before and what fell apart in the past,” Fitzgibbons said. “If they can’t follow a certain plan, what’s the point?”

Fitzgibbons encourages people to keep a food diary. There are several smartphone apps — such as MyFitnessPal and FatSecret — that make it easy for people to track what they eat now, she said.

“We’ve known for a long time now that calories count …. you need to come up with a plan so you are burning more than you take in,” she said.

For long-lasting results, “what works is what they can stick with,” Fitzgibbons said. “Be proud of yourself when you hit goals. ‘Wow, I ate my five cups of fruits and veggies today.’ ‘Wow, I kept my food diary.’ That’s something to be proud of.”

“Also realize that if you want to lose weight, you need to be prepared to be a little hungry,” she said.

Hodges has clients track what they currently eat and what their routines are for a few days to create a baseline. She then helps them adjust their carbs, fats, etc. to align with their goals.

“I approach food like people approach money. If you have 100 carbs for a day, you can spend those carbs on whatever you want. But if you spend them on candy, it will be gone faster than on healthier choices,” Hodges said. “I don’t outlaw anything. Everything is fair game because I want patients to have the wedding cakes, the treats, but it has to be budgeted.”

Hodges stresses that plans must be individualized because people’s physiques, schedules and obstacles are all different.


“It’s all about routines, and schedules are huge when it comes to weight loss,” she said. “Patients actually struggle more in the summer than with the holidays because they are off their routines, with backyard barbecues, kids out of school, alcohol consumption.”

• Eat skim or 1% milk or light yogurt (if good quality brand). Do not use nut or seed milks unless you have an allergy.

• Eat 5 cups of fruits or vegetables daily. If trying to lose weight, choose less-calorie options. Go heavy on items with lots of color.

• Use healthy oil (fats) with 50 to 100 calories each meal, like canola oil, or nuts.

• Eat any kind of meat as long as it’s lean and portion managed. Cutting out fat doesn’t work well, people get hungry and don’t stick to their plan.

• Eat whole grains — 100% whole wheat or oats. Try to get 2 to 3 servings a day.

Source: Judy Fitzgibbons, Hy-Vee dietitian

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.