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Conquer Your Weight

Episode #72: Exercise Motivation with Guest: Dr. Sara Ionescu

Show Notes

May 8, 2024

In today's episode, we are discussing setting and achieving your exercise goals with our guest, family medicine physician Dr. Sara Ionescu.

Dr. Sara Ionescu is a board-certified family medicine physician, wife, mom of 4, and exercise enthusiast. She is passionate about wellness, preventative care, and exercise and loves to inspire others to move. She strives to stay physically active daily as she sees massive physical and mental health benefits with this and wants to help, inspire, and encourage others to do the same!

You can find her at:
Instagram: @drsaraionescu
YouTube: @DrSaraIonescu

For more information about Dr. Sarah Stombaugh or to join her medical practice, please visit


Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: This is Dr. Sarah Stombaugh, and you are listening to the Conquer Your Weight Podcast, episode number 72. Announcer: Welcome to the Conquer Your Weight podcast, where you will learn to understand your mind and body so you can achieve long-term weight loss. Here's your host, obesity medicine physician and life coach, Dr. Sarah Stombaugh. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Hello everyone and welcome to today's podcast. As promised, I have a special guest with me today, Dr. Sarah Ionescu. She has a family medicine physician. She's a busy gal, she also has a family with four children in it. She is an exercise enthusiast and she is coming on today to talk to us a bit about her own exercise journey, finding the motivation to exercise and sharing some of those tips with you because I think so many of the people who come into my practice, we're setting some of those goals of how do we move more, how do we incorporate exercise? And it can be really challenging to add new habits into our life. And so Doctor, I ask you, I'm so excited to have you with me today. Thanks for joining us. Dr. Sara Ionescu: Yeah, thank you so much. I'm so glad to be here, and thank you for the opportunity to help your audience out. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Yeah, absolutely. So I know I gave a little brief introduction for you, but I would love to tell us a little bit more about yourself and your exercise journey. Dr. Sara Ionescu: Sure. So I, growing up was a competitive athlete. I was a swimmer through college, so exercise was kind of planned and built into my life every day. And then life happened, I got a job, then I ended up going to med school, did med residency, which is our training, and then started having all these babies. And life just changed. It got so busy and I was so used to the exercise being just already scheduled for me that I really ran into some roadblocks with how to set it up for myself. And so over the years with each baby that I've had, I've kind of figured out some tips and tricks along the way that have helped me be able to become really consistent with exercise. And when I started thinking about it and talking to some of my patients about it, it was like, okay, I think I maybe have some helpful things for some people because being a physician, being a mom of multiple kids, there's not always a lot of extra time, but I've been able to figure it out a little bit. And so that's why I started doing what I'm doing on social media, talking about exercise and how I've become consistent and just some things that I've overcome that I think can be really helpful for others in terms of their exercise journey, how they think about their eating, all of that type of stuff. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I'm so excited to talk about that because I think everybody's busy. I don't think I've ever met a patient or anyone probably who's like, yeah, I just have all this time and I have no idea what to do with my time. We all maybe sort of dream that that would be the case, but the reality for most of us is we've got a lot of these different things going on, and you're not just going to have an hour or more or less, whatever you've decided. You're not just going to have this time sort of magically appear in your schedule and nobody's asking for your time during then, and it just, everyone sort of bows down and the world goes quiet so that you can have that exercise time. And so it is that really intentional carving out of, so I would love tell us a little bit about some of those tips for consistency that you've implemented. Dr. Sara Ionescu: Sure. So I think for me when I look back, the biggest most important one was me teaching my brain and just reframing what exercise is. So I think for me being an athlete, exercise was always defined as at a minimum an hour, oftentimes two hours. It was a really vigorous type of situation, like lots of sweating. And so then when I became a grownup basically and was in med school, if I didn't have that amount of time and that amount of energy to dedicate to my workout, then I just didn't do it because I thought, well, I can't meet this level of intensity that I think exercise is, so I'm just not going to do it. And so for years it was either I would maybe once a week or a couple times a month be able to fit that in, but otherwise it was like whatever, I'm not doing it. And when I started to realize that my phase of life was just different now, I had additional responsibilities, I had training, then I had work and children and all the house stuff and everything. I started to realize, okay, this is never going to work if I keep this mindset, I need to adjust and reframe. And so I basically just adjusted. And it was funny because I was telling all my patients that struggled with exercise, can you find one minute a day to move? And of course, almost every single patient would always say, sometimes begrudgingly, but they'd say, yeah, I could find one minute. And it'd be like, okay, so get up and do something for one minute. You don't even have to have shoes on. Just stand up, march in place, climb your stairs, whatever it is, and you'll start to see if you incorporate that over time. Once you're up and moving, it's like, oh, well, I guess I could do this for another minute, or now I can do it a couple times a day. And I thought to myself, one day I just thought when I was saying it a patient, why am I not listening to this advice? Why am I not doing this myself? And it was like this odd moment of, oh, I guess this might be actually helpful. And I started doing that. It was when I was postpartum, pretty newly postpartum, just back to work with my first baby. And I thought, okay, I'm just going to try to do this when she's taking a nap. I'm going to move for a couple minutes. And that reframing of the definition of exercise kind of moved me into all these other things that I started doing and just allowed me to have that ability to recognize the phase of life and be able to celebrate what I was doing, even if it wasn't what I was doing in the past. So that was my biggest aha moment. Other things that I do are kind of more like detail, nitty gritty stuff. For example, I always try to be prepared so when I have my workout time, when I know it's going to be either the night before or a few hours ahead of time, I'll make sure I have my clothes out, my water bottles ready, my sneakers are out. So that a lot of times for me, my moment to do that is during nap time. And for other people it might be lunch during work or whatever it might be, but having the stuff ready to go, as silly and simple as it sounds, it just eliminates those extra minutes and those extra barriers to getting there. So then you have the stuff, it's all in one place, you go, you got it ready to go. Being flexible, so a lot of times I might have a workout planned and for whatever reason it doesn't work out. I run out of time, I wake up late, a kid wakes up earlier than I expected, I pivot. I always have a backup workout workout plan so that if something unexpected happens, I just go to something else and I give myself grace, like, okay, I can't do what I wanted to do, but I'm showing up somehow in some way, which is huge. And the last thing is really celebrating every win, which is something that in the beginning, even when I was postpartum with my first, it was like I was doing those minutes of exercise, but somewhere in the back of my mind it still wasn't good enough for me. I kind of was like, well, you're doing something, but it's not what you want to be doing. It's not what you would've been doing before. And when I had my second, I realized, wait a minute, whoever I was before was awesome, but here I am now and I'm going to applaud myself for what I'm doing every day, even if it's walking for a minute, even if it's getting the family out to walk the dog. And that's all we do. Just paying attention to those moments of when you're taking time for yourself or helping your family be healthier, it just helps your mindset encourage you to keep going. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Wow, that is...Okay you have laid out four really amazing tips, so I just want to review them. One is just taking a couple of minutes, if it's one minute, if it's two minutes building in that habit and seeing is it something I can incorporate, even if it's just a couple of minutes here or there, having that preparation so you don't like, oh, my clothes are dirty, or oh, whatever, I'm not going to be able to do this. Having this backup plan of, okay, I'm not going to be able to go to the gym today. What could I do at home instead, I'm going to have a shorter amount of time and we going to change up my exercise and then celebrating those wins because our brains love thinking about all of the bad stuff. And especially when this is a shift and for someone, we all have sort of ideas of what does exercise, what does that look like in the past? What does that mean? And so instead of focusing on the parts of your body that hurt or the parts of your body that aren't looking exactly like the way that you want them to, what are the wins there? Because there are often so many that commitment and seeing the shift a lot of times in our strength and in our movement or just our stress relief. I know personally a lot of times when I'm thinking through something, I just have this pent up energy that I just need to get out of my body. And so celebrating that, I love, love talking about prep, I'll share. There was a period of time that I would work out really early in the morning, and the only way that I could get myself to do it was by sleeping in my exercise clothes. So I wouldn't even say, I would literally put on my gym clothes. I had to have totally fresh gym clothes each time, and I would sleep in them as my pajamas. And so the next morning, all I literally had to do was brush my teeth and put my contacts in and put shoes on, I guess. But depending on your type of exercise, you may not even need shoes. But it was literally like I was so ready to go, that was all that I needed to do. And it works! Dr. Sara Ionescu: Yeah, that is hilarious because that's another tip that I gave patients when they would be like, well, you say get ready for a minute, but then getting dressed takes a minute. And so that's what I would say. So go to bed with your exercise clothes on because typically they're pretty comfortable anyway, and then you're dressed and ready to go. Yeah, Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Totally. It works. I'm weird to say it works. I love this all or nothing thinking I think sometimes comes up in so many different aspects of our life. And you kind of alluded to that too, of if I can't do this one hour or two hour all in sweating really intense workout, then I'm just not going to do a workout at all, because that was what your definition of exercising was. And I think it's interesting even for someone who has whatever their perspective is, if they've planned, okay, I'm going to do a 30 minute workout, and then all of a sudden a call came up that was really important and 15 minutes has gone by and they only have 15 minutes left, sometimes it's like, oh gosh, well, I'll do it later, but later never comes. And so I think drawing those boundaries around your exercise time is really important. But when the unexpected happens, because it does life of life and things happen and you can't draw boundaries for everything and there's things that you're going to choose are important enough to bring in during that time. And can you still exercise for the 15 minutes that is remaining? Probably yes. Dr. Sara Ionescu: Right. Absolutely. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Yeah, I love that. Tell me a bit, you and I were talking and you shared that your exercise journey has had a lot of ties to weight gain and weight loss. Tell me a little bit about how exercise has played a role for you in your weight and in your health. Dr. Sara Ionescu: Yeah, so I think when I was thinking about this, my biggest lesson over the years with the different weight fluctuations I've had is I really was the experiment for myself and realized what people say is true. Your weight is much more tied to your intake than your exercise. And I think for me, just recognizing you can't outrun a poor diet, you just cannot, you sort of need both of those pieces decently in place if you're working on weight loss. And so when I started college, I was an athlete, I was a competitive swimmer, but I also was in college and my diet was very different from when I was at home. And so I did end up gaining quite a bit of weight, weight even though I was that athlete that was vigorously exercising for sometimes two or three hours a day. And so when I graduated college, I realized, wait a minute, I was doing all of this activity, but I still was able to gain weight. And that's because my output was not above my intake. And the same sort of on the flip side during many of my postpartum periods, because at this point I've had four, I was not necessarily exercising vigorously. I was active, but not in the way that I was in college, but I was paying attention more to what I was putting in my body. And a lot of that had to do with wanting myself to be healthier for my kids. I wanted to be that example for them. I was doing things like breastfeeding, and so I was really paying attention to how I was fueling my body, and I did have weight loss there. So I thought to myself, okay, I'm not doing that wild two, three hours a day of crazy exercise. I'm just focusing on eating things that are nutritious and fueling me in a healthy way. And I was able to almost organically, naturally kind of lose that pregnancy weight. And so that was just kind of my lesson there with weight gain and weight loss that it's not necessarily I must get out there for two hours a day and be sweating like crazy. The exercise is an important piece of that, but also what you're putting in your body can either be a barrier or helpful in that process. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate you saying that because I think one of my mentors a long time ago said, you lose pounds in the kitchen and ounces in the gym. And I thought that was a really interesting way to describe it. And I've often described weight loss in that way sense because our body, we think about the energy that it needs to fuel it. And then we look at exercise. If you've ever had the experiences, I'm sure you have, and most of my listeners have, you get on a treadmill or an elliptical or something and you have this really hard session and you're sweating and you feel like, oh man, I bring so much energy. And then you look at the thing, and I know these are estimates, but they're like, you burned 350 calories, and it's like, oh, all of that 350 calories is a cookie. It's not a meaningful amount of calories. And then because I've exercise, a lot of times our body, especially when we've done really intense cardio type exercises, our body needs fuel and will oftentimes ramp up hunger in order to make up for that energy that you've burned during exercise. And so a lot of times it ends up being sort of calories and calories out ends up really being like a net even, which is really, really interesting. And the role of exercise is certainly important because it allows our body to have more metabolic needs, allows us to fuel more hunger and fuel our body. But when we think about the biggest role, I think is how it shifts our muscle, just our different shifts, our different muscle mass, our body composition from being more fat mass to more muscle mass. And that then creates a situation where your body is shifting in composition and you have this overall really improved health. And so I really love being able to think about how your cardiometabolic health is your pulmonary health, is your heart strong? Is your lung strong? When we think about building your muscle strength, building your bone strength, some of those are really what is going to create the best impact on our health rather than just using it of how many calories did I burn and then how can I make up for that in the kitchen or try not to make up for that in the kitchen. Dr. Sara Ionescu: Yeah, absolutely. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Yeah, tell me. For me, I've always been a very active person. I like moving, as I was saying before, being active when I'm stressed and I have this energy I need to get out. I've always had that I'll pace sometimes or I'll pop on an exercise bike to just empty my brain. But in terms of having a really consistent regimen that had weightlifting and things that would support me, I've really gone in and out of exercise over the years. And it was only in really the last six months that I made a major shift to realize why I wanted to exercise. And so I don't really care. I'm happy with the current size of my body. I've done a lot of work in understanding my relationship with food, understanding how my body is functioning. So I'm happy with a size. I don't care to be particularly strong or buff. I can throw around my children who the heaviest is like 43 pounds, so I'm moving some muscle, moving some body weight through time and building some muscle with that. And so the idea of really being in resistance training has honestly been kind of hard for me because I'm like, eh, what's it really doing for me? So it'd be sort of in the habit then I'd get out of the habit, then in the habit, then get out of the habit. And it was only in the last six months that I realized I don't really, my health body's functioning for me right now in the way that I needed to. But what I do know is that I want to be 70, 80, 90, maybe even a hundred if I can, and be strong, be walking independently, be picking up my grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren one day if I'm traveling, that I can take a suitcase and lift it overhead. These things that I know that I can do now, and the only way that I'll be able to do those in three or four decades is if I'm working on those goals now and reducing my risk of osteoporosis, reducing my risk of osteopenia that decreased bone density. And so I call them my old lady goals, and I want to be a strong and healthy old lady. And I talk about this on social media. I share this with my patients. I want to be an old lady, and I know a healthy old lady, and I know that the only way I can do that and just an old lady, I want to do everything I can now to promote living long, to promote my health, to promote my strength. And so I've finally found this thing that's important enough to me to actually get my butt into the gym. And so tell me a little bit about that for you and how motivation has played a role. Dr. Sara Ionescu: Yeah, so I mean, I think that's wonderful and I absolutely agree. I think ultimately your why is really what powers you to motivation because the like, oh, I want to lose five pounds. It's so fleeting. And then when you get there, I mean, then what happens? You have to retool and figure out what is the motivation now. So for me, I think in the moment when I was having those struggles of I can't exercise for an hour, so I'm just not going to exercise at all, I was having moments where I would carry my toddler up the steps and we'd get to the top and I would be kind of huffing and puffing and a little bit out of breath. And even things like getting outside with her when she was more obviously walking and running and things. And it was like I sort of felt limited with my cardiovascular level at that point. And that was really when I thought, okay, I want to be healthy and active with my kids and be able to have the stamina required to do the things that they are going to need and want to do as very energetic toddlers. And that why kind of expands to really being healthy for them in terms of taking care of them and then also being a role model because I am very passionate about the fact that the entire family unit works on their health and exercise consistency together. And so they're going to see what you're doing, and I involve them in my activities so that I know they're learning from a really young age how to take care of themselves and that it's not just about the weight, but that it's about mental health and it's about inspiring others and all of that. And so I think for me, it's really about being there for my family. And like you said, as you get there, you get to those older lady goals where you want to be there for their kids and maybe for the generation then goes on. So I think for me, that's it for me. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: Yeah. Oh, I love that. And I couldn't agree more. I think my favorite thing about being a mother, and most of my listeners know I also have three young children, and being able to share with them, model for them, sort of fill their brains with the stuff that I think is so important, and being able to teach them how to be active in really fun ways like bike rides and scootering and walking through the woods to look for frogs and stuff and all of that, which we have woods right in our backyard, so we've got frogs and lizards, and so we go on these adventures and it's exercise, right? But it's not just in that traditional grueling, I have to go to the gym way. And so I love being able to model that for them. Well, Dr. Ionescu, let me ask you in the last couple of minutes here, anything that we haven't talked about that you'd really like to share with my listeners today? Dr. Sara Ionescu: I think for me, for the listeners, the biggest thing is just remembering that you can do it. It doesn't have to be something super complicated. It doesn't have to be a really fancy regimen. It can be as simple as just get your sneakers on and move and just walking in place. Even if you can't get outside for whatever the reason, just walk around your house, do a lap around your kitchen. Any movement is better than no movement. And so you can start with those tiny achievable goals and then you can expand them as you get more confident and have those mindset changes. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: I love that. Thank you so much. And if people are looking for you, they need more exercise inspiration, where is the best place for them to find you? Dr. Sara Ionescu: Sure. So I have a website where people can go to sign up for my free newsletter, which is all about exercise, motivation, tips, support, accountability, and it's doctor, and then my name Sara, S-A-R-A, Ionescu, And then I am also on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. I'm Dr. Sarah Ionescu everywhere. So just my name. Dr. Sarah Stombaugh: I love that. And for those of you who are like, wait, what was the spelling? We'll have all of your information in the show notes, so you can definitely look for it there. Thank you so much for coming on today. That was really, I had a great time. Dr. Sara Ionescu: Absolutely. Me too. And I hope everyone listening can maybe learn something and start to implement it.
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