Aniela and Jerzy Gregorek live with their 4-year-old daughter Natalie in a Zen garden in a modest redwood sheathed house in the Glens in Woodside. Creeks and waterfalls cascade from all corners and small buildings peak out from under the trees. It is an oasis in already tranquil neighborhood.
In about 7 months I lost 78 lbs and achieved a level of fitness that, when factored with my age, is actually the fittest I have ever been. I have been stronger and fleeter but I have never been as integrated as I am today. Like many of us I tried a number of different techniques to get off the couch and to eat less. I kept losing my way because I repeatedly saw the process as just that, a process, something to be endured. I now see that the exact techniques are secondary and success comes not from a short-term set of practices but simply the commitment to become the person you think you want to be. What I mean is that many of the techniques for weight loss work and there are any number of exercise routines that will make you fit but they really only make a long term difference if you surrender to the idea that this is the way you are going to run you life and not something just tacked on as an expedient. A critical element is that exercise and diet are all of a part. Diet plans that don’t integrate exercise, and the reverse, rarely have much effect. I say it isn’t about technique but at The Happy Body there is certainly technique and it very specific.
Most people go because they want to lose weight but if you think that you will just be given a diet program you will soon be disabused of that. When I first showed up Jerzy took a look at me and it was pretty obvious I need a remodel. But why would I listen to him? On my arrival I saw a rather gorgeous woman leaving. “Who is that I asked, she can’t be a client she looks way to fantastic.” Oh, she is a client and if you do exactly what I tell you, I guarantee others will be saying that about you.”
People go to THB and for many reasons. Some need help with arthritis, others are just feeling old and some are accomplished athletes who want to be at peak fitness. My long time friend Jim went to increase his muscle mass. He has never had a weight problem. He is ramrod straight and he has an excellent diet. With this training Jim felt that he could perform later into life with a higher level of general fitness and here is someone who knows a great deal about the subject having been a driving force in the senior fitness movement for many years. He is approaching 80 and he looks to the future with optimism and enthusiasm. We used to jog together but I was to slow for him. I still am.
Barry is bit more typical. He needed to pull back 50 lbs and did it as planned. He shares with me the practice of working out regularly and keeping his eye on the scale. He and I discovered the same thing. Food wasn’t the enemy. In fact, quite the opposite.
I recently had lunch with Roger and Betty (he had the Caesar salad with chicken, dressing on the side, she the stuffed artichoke) both very active folks about my age and they had been down a similar path as me with regard to trying all sorts of different programs. Betty tried Jenny Craig, Nutrasystems and the gym scene. All this proved to be ineffective and one day Betty ran into a friend who was in the “you look terrific phase” so she signed up and soon her husband was in going too. A couple going through the Happy Body program is ideal of course. Roger and Betty are financial advisors and so quite often are desk bound but Roger is also a lacrosse referee and can now run enthusiastically back and forth for 50 games a year with his newfound fitness. They have a certain glow, which is once again plain old optimism about the future.
If you have a dramatic weight loss the reactions are predictable from: “Hey, you look good” to “Wow, you look terrific!” to “Whoa, are you dying?” Many of us have known people who were losing weight due to a serious illness and when half the people think you are one of them then you know you have your ideal weight. I am not kidding. When you are heavier and maybe 30 or 35% body fat, your face is fuller but get down to 10 or 15% and all the lines show up like cracks in a dry creek. They say that when you hit 40 you can pick your face or your ass but let me tell you at 60 you get neither so you had better focus on muscle, blood pressure and cholesterol.
The Gregorek’s have a new book coming out titled The Happy Body: The Simple Science of Nutrition, Exercise and Relaxation about how they deliver the goods. They tell you all about how they have become the dynamos that they are. Their personal goal is to be at the highest level of fitness for their entire lives and so far they are right on track. They are glad to share their path and the book will be available here as soon as it is printed. In it they tell you all about their exact strategy to become and stay fit and I can tell you if you follow the book it is guaranteed to work. But who really does what they tell you to do in books? The fact is that the human touch is what we all need and that’s why attending their program is where the fat hits the fire.
At THB they stress above all youthfulness. Youthfulness is an attitude not an age. I can honestly say that two years ago I felt as if I was nearly used up. Today I see no horizon at all and am eagerly looking for the next engrossing project.
Jerzy and Aniela happen to compete on a world stage in Olympic weightlifting so naturally they love this path and many of the exercises they give you are based on their this discipline. I have modified some of the exercises but building on the core instruction I have found my way to a work out I now do for 50 minutes a day, six days a week. I use dumbbells, a rubber tube, straight bar and let gravity do its derndest. I never thought I would like crunches and sit-ups but I do a wide variety of them as well. I used to work out in a gym for years but it always seemed like an obligation, something to get through like a kid forced to chew through a pile of spinach. Until I was introduced to the gradual increasing approach at THB I generally resented working out. But ever the contrarians Aniela and Jerzy use some techniques that a few coaches object to. Their work out doesn’t involve much sweating, hyperventilating or any endurance at all. Object if you will but look at them; they positively radiate fitness. In the end the best workout is the one that you will do day-in-day-out so if you like the marshal arts or yoga or running I say, terrific.
My friend Ilona has a great take on her time at THB. She has always been quite fit but twenty pounds beyond ideal. She felt that the workout she was doing didn’t make her happy and much of the food she ate wasn’t fulfilling. She heard that Jerzy and Aniela were telling people that they could tune you up to peak performance so she went. Now years after her last session she tells me that she credits much of her physical and mental integrity from her participation there. As she become healthier and more confident her daughter took notice. This 13 year old had a less then happy body image with a weight problem that bothered her. Ilona didn’t want to push her but the girl’s food choices were leading her down a dark path. Based on her mother’ success her daughter decided to go to THB and as a result she was able to reach for the brass ring and today is self posed 17 year old who likes the way she looks and how she feels.
So think of the things you did in the past and try to recall if your trainer ever said to you “Just do exactly as I tell you and you will get the body that you imagine for yourself. You will earn it, you will own it and (baring illness) you can keep it all the way to the finish line.” At The Happy Body this can happen to you.
If you think this is too good to be true or is some sort of advertisement, well it isn’t. I know some folks will go there will not succeed. But I tried a number of ways to come to peace with my body and it worked for me.
If you picture a kindly old sawbones with a stethoscope in one hand and a lollypop in the other dispensing tried and true homilies about common sense and good health under a chestnut tree on the village green you might want to swing that around to 2009 where you will find instead a small focused practice where good common sense is dispensed for sure, but tempered with the latest advances in both science and service. Behold, the concierge practice that is the Village Doctor. villagedoctor.com.
First a note on how this works. Retainer fee or concierge medical practice is basically an agreement between a doctor and a patient whereby the doctor sees fewer patients and the patient pays more for the basic office services. Frankly some will say it is too expensive for them and others will see it as appropriately priced. The fact is that the annual fee is not covered by insurance. But with the decoupling of insurance, the physician and the patient are freed from the hustle that has become a part of medicine and which can (not necessarily will, but can) create an adversarial relationship between a patient and a doctor.
The three doctors include the founder, Dr. Eric L. Weiss, a long time emergency room doctor who is also a medicine travel specialist. At one point he was the doctor for the San Francisco International Airport. As a result The Village Doctor is recognized as a top travel clinic for the nation. Dr. Prerana Sangani is an internist with a public health background and Dr. Raquel Burgos has an extensive background in pediatrics. The other staff members ensure that scheduled visits start on time and route you to your doctor at any time for emergencies. There is a lot of talk about wellness as opposed to treatment but let’s face it, unless there is time to actuate the specifics then it becomes just more jibber jabber.
In addition to the regular practice The Village Doctor has taken the wellness formula and rolled out The Wellness Studio that is open to the whole community and is separate from the medical practice. This from their website: “Incorporating selected complementary alternative medical (CAM) therapies and successful fitness programs, The Village Doctor now offers a truly integrative approach to wellness. Specialists are able to work independently or collaborate in creating a highly comprehensive personal healthcare program. The Village Doctor Wellness Studio, a newly remodeled eco-friendly studio, is conveniently located off 280 in Woodside. Patients of The Village Doctor Concierge Medical Practice receive the unique benefit of their primary care physician’s inclusion and oversight of their individualized wellness programs; however, the Wellness Studio is very much open to the public.” wellnessstudio.com The Center provides classes in Yoga, Contour and Pilates. There is acupuncture, physical therapy, massage and nutrition counseling. Hummm, I feel better already. Dr. Weiss has also included a healthy item on the Buck’s kids’ menu. A kid’s chef salad. Check it out.
I made a commitment to try the practice for a year and see what happened. I am now 60 years old and for the last three years I have been a patient of The Village Doctor. I’m not there a great deal but I have come to see it a bit like a traveler crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. The actual time I’m on it is not that much but it is a great way to get where I’m going and I have been going two places. First I have needed to be sent to specialists in a couple of areas focused around injuries. It is a typical and not very interesting story.
The second thing and this has been the really vital (vital is such the perfect word here as I means “related to or the characteristics of life”) Dr. Weiss took my vitals during the first checkup and said, “Hey, you fat slug. Get fit or die.” Actually he didn’t say this but this was the message I heard. He let me know in his gentle way what I already was pretty sure of, being way overweight and staring at the universe from my vantage point on the couch was a life threatening reaction to a long-term problem.
So what to do? He suggested that I give The Happy Body folks a call. Now I had done that already about a year before and got some fellow on the phone who sounded a bit scary. He basically said to come see him if I was through being fat and lazy…well I wasn’t. And, unlike Dr. Weiss, he really was that direct.
Anyway Eric said I should probably go see them and I did. But that’s another story. Now when I go in for my check up I am happy with my vitals. My numbers are in the normal range and my blood pressure is actually low. It turns out that a guy in his younger years celebrates great biceps and abs. As he get older it’s more about good knees and a solid back and as he, and of course she, gets up there, it’s blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose that become very interesting to you.
So there may be no spreading chestnut tree but there is good medicine at The Village Doctor.