Sunday, March 23, 2014

Wellness Tips for Stressed-Out Teachers (interview)
Debra Mazda, M.Ed., CPT, is the Wellness Director at the Lansdale Area Family YMCA. She is also the creator of ShapelyGirl Fitness, which specializes in plus size fitness. ShapelyGirl Fitness is about motivating and inspiring women of all shapes and sizes to look and feel better. The platform of ShapelyGirl Fitness is simple: “Fitness comes in many sizes.” Debra is also a motivational speaker and writer, and is currently working on a new book called Unpacking the Pain.

I know a lot of teachers who struggle with healthy eating and staying in shape. Why do you think it’s so challenging?

In a word, stress. Stress is powerful and if not managed will affect every area of your life. With a stressful job like teaching, I've seen teachers mindlessly pick up food on the run. When that happens we don't realize how many calories we're eating.

We eat a tremendous amount of food in this country; hence we are the fattest nation in the free world. At meetings, at parties, in the teachers’ lounge, there are always things like cookies, cheese danishes and muffins. Muffins may seem healthy, but if you think about it, they’re just small cakes that are simply loaded with sugar, fat and lots of calories.

There are even some teachers who stockpile junk food in their classrooms, which sets a really bad example for the kids. It’s important to provide better snacks, like fruit and veggie trays instead of all those bags of chips. 

I've been affiliated with a school whose principal set the tone for better nutrition by not allowing junk food for snacks, and the kids were only allowed to drink water with meals. He had a no-soda policy, and the students really didn't miss it after a month or so.

What else can teachers do to be healthier and to be better role models for their students? 

It’s important to make exercise a part of your life. Choose an activity that you will learn to enjoy, so it doesn't become something you have to force yourself to do. For example, I take power walks with my dog every morning. I put some good music on my iPod, and I zone out for a while. That’s my personal time, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.

Once you start exercising, you'll realize that endorphins really make you feel great. There are incredible mental, physical, and emotional benefits of exercise for everyone: any size, any shape, any age. I have 90-year-olds in some of my exercise classes—they’re still moving around and having a good time.

Teachers need to take your lunch period. Go for a walk if you’re in a good neighborhood. Or get some exercise as soon as the students leave. I started a yoga class for other teachers right after school, so they didn’t have to find time to go to the gym.

It’s important not to look for a quick fix. I’ve had good success with people who really want to lose weight and get in shape, but they have to follow through. It’s a lifetime commitment. You have to take it one day and one meal at a time.

But don’t try to be perfect. If you do 80% better, you’re way ahead of the game. Can you eat a donut once in a while? Sure. But you can’t eat donuts every day.

What does “mindful teaching” mean to you? 

To me, it means being aware of the moment and making better choices and decisions that affect you positively.

It’s important to have passion for what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean you never have a bad day, but if you're a teacher the students should see that you love what you do.

Teaching is incredibly demanding and stressful. You can’t go into it because you fantasize about having a shorter workday. Teachers know that isn’t true. Years ago I worked as a kindergarten teacher. I worked many nights and most weekends doing lesson plans and calling parents. Some days it was a never-ending job. It was then I realized that my true passion was fitness, health and wellness, and my passion is still going strong 30 years later.

You also have to be mindful of your own body and your own needs. If you’re working with kids all day and then maybe going home to kids at night, you have to figure out a way to get some time for yourself.

Do you have a mindfulness practice, and if so, how does it help you in your work?

Mindful eating, being aware of the present, is very important to me. Over 30 years ago, I weighed close to 350 pounds. I was depressed, sad, stressed to the max, and anxiety ruled my life. I finally got so broken, and I knew if I didn't swim upstream I was in danger of losing my life.

Up until then, I tried every diet program and nothing worked until I figured out why I ate compulsively. I’d been a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and I was in an abusive marriage. My husband and I were both addicts. He drank, and I ate. I finally realized with a good therapist that I was using food for the comfort that I needed.

Now I have my own ministry helping other abused women. I’m a facilitator at God’s Treasure House, where I teach self-esteem and lifestyle classes.

I’m a Christian woman, and I believe in the power of prayer. My belief in the healing power of God and how He has transformed my life has been a driving force in my personal walk to get closer to Jesus.

I pray for help keeping my body pure and clean. While I also have days when I’m stressed out, I always try to stay mindful of what I’m eating and what it’s doing to my body. The Bible tells us that our bodies are temples of God. We have to respect them and not abuse them and not fill them with food. I keep mindful of that every day.


  1. Nice to read your uplifting and encouraging comments. Also nice to see that Christ is your cornerstone. Thank you, Debra. AW Upstate New York

    1. Hi, Thank you so much and yes Jesus is my Lord and cornerstone. Thanks for the kinds words and support. Please stay connected on facebook!

      Hugs, debra

  2. Debra,
    I checked out one of your videos at the library (walking fit and fab) and just LOVE it! I have always been thin and very active. Running and more recently power walking are my passions. But I have been having pain in my hips so decided to do something different. To be honest, I didn't think I would get much of a workout with your tape but that was Ok because I wanted something "easy" to use. Well, was I in for a surprise! I really was sweating and huffing and puffing at the end of the session. Thank you for your inspiration and I will be ordering two of your videos soon! I'm glad too to see that you are a Christian. Me too!!!


    1. Hi Caroline, I am so happy to hear and yes, my workouts are not as easy as many think noting that larger women can workout harder and my girls did a great job. Thanks for the support! I am an exercise physiologist and would highly recommend that you rest and get that hip looked at by either a chiropractic or sports medicine doctor since you are an athlete and very active. God has been my navigator for over 25 years and he will continue to be that driving force in my life. I give him ALL of the glory for my life~ Have a blessed day, many hugs, debra

    2. That's a great point, Debra. Joint pain plus intense exercise doesn't sound like a good combination.

      Caroline, I agree that the Shapely Girl workouts are fun but deceptively challenging--I love the Let's Get Stepping! DVD, but I''m still not ready to add the risers. I hope you have a chance to try it once your hip is feeling better.

  3. Debra,
    Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful reply. I thank you so much for your concern too in regards to my hips. I forgot to mention that I have been using a Pilates video of very slow, gentle stretching movements and this seems to be helping. I don't think I'm having issues with the bones but rather with muscle tightness. Last night was my first pain free night and this morning I felt great too. I did my Pilates stretching first, then your ab workout and then the 32 min. walking workout. I will try to listen to my body and rest accordingly. I also forgot to say how much I enjoyed the ladies with you in the video - they are so encouraging with their smiles while working out so hard. :-)

    Thank you Catharine for your input. I will take what you both have said to heart. :-)

    Blessings, and yes, all Glory to God,

  4. Thanks for checking back in, Caroline. I'm very glad to hear that your hips are feeling better!