How My Personal Journey from Fat to Fit Applies to You and Your Pets

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Updated: November 11, 2015
Published: January 24, 2012
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Last reviewed on November 11, 2015

Now that the New Year’s Eve dust has settled, it’s time to officially set the tone for a positive 2012 by incorporating more exercise into your and your pet’s daily regimen (see Make 2012 Your Pet’s Best Ever, With Three Reasonable New Year’s Resolutions).

Some of you may think, "who has the time to exercise when our days are spent working and taking care of our families and pets?" Actually, we all have the same 24 hours each day to better our health. Unfortunately, "under-exercisers" don’t prioritize physical activity as highly as those of us who have experienced the life changing effects brought about by consistent exercise.

I live my life abiding by the holistic health principles of a whole food based diet, daily exercise, and elimination of known toxic substances. This message translates into my veterinary practice, as I strive to educate my clients on the benefits of creating wholesome diet and weight management strategies for their pets.

How severe is the obesity epidemic in our animal companions? An estimated 51 percent of dogs and cats (roughly 89 million pets) in the United States are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). Life altering afflictions that affect the cardiovascular (hypertension, etc.), immune (chronic inflammation and infection), and musculoskeletal (arthritis, traumatic injuries, etc.) systems are common sequelae of carrying excess weight.

The evolution of my commitment to fitness stems back to childhood. My "still-kicking" parents are my role models, as they regularly exercised and motivated my brother, sister and me to do the same. As a kid focused on playing with my Star Wars action figures, I was not always receptive to their seeming fitness fanaticism; I vividly recall my sister dragging me kicking and screaming during a one mile "fun run" when I was around six years old. Needless to say, I didn’t yet appreciate the healthful habits my parents were striving to instill in me.

Initially, their push to be active had the opposite effect, as I was a chunky child, into early adolescence, with moderate self-esteem. More choice childhood memories include the afternoons my mother and I spent shopping for husky-sized Toughskin corduroys in a variety of seasonally appropriate colors. I didn’t like the plus-size connotation, which gradually fostered the impetus for change.

Inside my slightly corpulent exterior was a fit person ready to emerge. I gravitated toward sports to which I felt a natural connection. Playing mid-field on my soccer team during intermediate school motivated me to get fitter, so I started running regularly in the mornings with my mother, shaped up, and performed better during games.

During non soccer season, I discovered tennis. I loved the individual nature of the sport and played competitively during my high school years. Upon moving to New Jersey during my junior year, I found myself giving into the Garden State’s tempting bagels slathered with cream cheese. I was still very active, but my bagel weight slowed me down on the court. I finally realized the effects diet had on my fitness level and ability to compete.

My burgeoning interest in animal rights and the inception of my plan to become a veterinarian motivated me to go lacto-ovo-vegetarian. Armed with a healthier (i.e., reduced bagel) diet and consistent runs or Nordic Track sessions, I quickly slimmed down.

The results were astounding; I felt physically better and experienced improved self esteem. I dedicated myself to staying fit and healthy regardless of my busy academic or work schedule, or the various challenges life presents. If extenuating circumstances interfere with exercise plans, I focus more highly on eating fresh produce and being observant of portion size. I don’t count calories or deprive myself of occasional treats (I love a glass of Resveratrol-rich red wine, as I am 50 percent French).

How does my journey apply to you and your pets? The principles are astoundingly similar and as practical for humans as for our canine or feline companions.

  • Dedicate time to exercise with your pet every day and make the subsequent day’s session unique and slightly more challenging. Wake up an hour earlier to complete your activity before the busy day gets in the way.
  • Reduce the portion size of your pet’s meals to decrease total daily calories consumed. Provide an appropriate volume of food divided into two or three feedings.
  • Incorporate moisture, fiber, and nutrient rich produce into every meal. Both dogs and cats can eat a variety of fruits and vegetables under the guidelines of your veterinarian.
  • Keep a mental or written record of your active versus less active days. Monitor progress by noting positive physical or behavioral changes in you and your pet at seven day intervals.

Prioritizing health and fitness every day will have innumerable long term benefits for all participating human and animal household members. If you are striving for a healthier lifestyle, make a sustainable plan and bring your pets along for the experience.

Cardiff and me hiking above Bob Hope's house in Palm Springs.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Cardiff and me hiking in Los Angeles' Runyon Canyon.