Q&A With 'Shape Up Sisters' Author Linda Fondren

The mayoral candidate and new author chats with us about her crusade against obesity and offers totally-doable advice for staying lean and fit for life.

April 18, 2014

Watching a loved one lose their health might inspire some people to make healthier choices for themselves and their families, but not Linda Fondren. After losing her obese sister, the Mississippi mom had much bigger aspirations: to upgrade the lifestyle of her entire hometown. And upgrade she did -- since launching her grassroots initiative Shape Up Vicksburg, Fondren has helped the citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi drop more than 7 tons of excess flesh!

We chatted with the mayoral candidate and author of the new Shape Up Sisters: What It Took for My Town in One of America's Fattest and Poorest States to Lose 15,000 Pounds about her motivation, her mission, and her best tips for shaping up:

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Can you talk a little bit about why seeing your sister's obesity battle inspired you to help others manage their weight?
My sister passed away from cancer, and while I was sitting at her bedside, she told me that obesity robbed her of living her life to the fullest. I felt that no one should go to the grave with that regret, so I decided to do something for her and my hometown -- at that point Mississippi had been one of the fattest, if not THE fattest, states in the nation.  

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Many overweight Americans know they're heavy, and know that their diet is poor, but still can't seem to get healthy. Why do you think that is?
There are so many reasons for this, but most people are not clear about their health. Not seeing clearly can lead to inaction, inactivity, and resentment. For my hometown of Vicksburg and so many other towns like it, it’s also about access to resources. That was why our first step with Shape Up Vicksburg was to build awareness and educate people about healthy living from the ground up -- what a healthy portion of food REALLY looks like, exercises you can do anywhere, the importance of knowing your numbers like weight, blood pressure, etc. Through our outreach, we tried to recreate the “norm” of what healthy living looks like.
 
Through your campaign, you've helped your hometown lose more than 15,000 pounds! Why do you think community support is so important in our country's obesity battle?

We are all in this together, and a community is the key to winning the war. We couldn’t have accomplished what we did with Shape Up Vicksburg without the support of the town. Everyone from the elected officials, to local merchants, to health clinics, to grocery stores, to local churches got involved and lent their expertise. Clinics offered free screenings, Wal-Mart gave free weigh-ins and nutrition tours, and so on. This was about reframing the culture of our town -- to do that we needed every player to be involved and on board.

And on a more micro level, the challengers leaned on each other for support. We still have hundreds of folks that come out for our monthly Shape Up Vicksburg walks. People come out because they’re getting healthy, but also because they’re seeing their neighbors, friends, and co-workers, and having fun.
 
Why is it important for women to encourage each other's healthy lifestyles, and what are a few of the best ways women can help support each other to get and stay healthy?
Just as obesity and unhealthy habits are contagious, so too are positive habits. The women in my gym, Shape Up Sisters, would constantly tell each other about their weight-loss successes, or the healthy meal they made for dinner. This kind of sharing encouraged others to make healthy changes.  
 
In your book you talk a lot about self-care and the mental and emotional aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Why is self-care so critical?
Women are caretakers by nature. We stretch ourselves to the limit looking after kids and spouses and aging parents, making sure everyone has what they need. But who is taking care of the caretaker? My grandmother used to say, “Self-preservation is the first law of nature.” When you take care of yourself you’ll be more productive, confident, and positive -- and that positivity will spread to your loved ones.
 
What, would you say, are the top 3 things every American -- regardless of their fitness level or environment -- can start doing TODAY to improve their health?

1. Know that any changes you make are a marathon, not a sprint. Start with small achievable goals and work your way up from there, but whatever you do just START.

2. Think of exercise not as confined to the gym, but the gym of life. Incorporate movement in your everyday activities -- park at the end of the parking lot and walk the rest of the way to your destination, pretend that every elevator and escalator is broken and take the stairs, jog in place during TV commercials, etc.

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3. Increase your awareness. Be aware of your meals and the portion sizes (1/2 of your plate should be fruits and veggies). Be mindful that you’re taking care of yourself and taking time to rest amidst times of chaos.  
 
If we opened your fridge right now, what would we find?

Bottled water; avocados, tomatoes, and bagged lettuce for salad fixing; strawberries and blueberries for smoothies; apples and oranges to keep the doctor away; cheeses and boiled eggs for protein fixes; Greek yogurt; baby carrots; soy milk; whole wheat flour; edamame; low-sodium chicken broth; and leftovers.

For more of Fondren's realistic, everywoman fitness and weight-loss advice, check out Shape Up Sisters: What It Took for My Town in One of America's Fattest and Poorest States to lose 15,000 pounds!

 

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Check out Fondren on April 18 at 4 p.m. E.T. on The Dr. Oz Show