Editor’s Note: Fit County Success Stories are an ongoing feature of the Jacksonville Daily Progress and the FitCounty Cherokee initiative.
Do you have a healthy lifestyle “success story?” Email email@example.com or call 903-586-2236.
You don’t have to have lost 100 pounds, you just need to have made a positive lifestyle change.
It’s easy to let other people do the thinking for us. It’s easy to blame everyone else for our misery. There is just something about it that makes us feel so … irresponsible. Not too many years ago, I was a young man in his twenties with a number of growing problems. One of them was my waist line – it sat right at about 42 inches. I weighed in close to some 270 pounds, depending on whether I was wearing flip-flops or tennis shoes. I had high blood pressure, severe sleep apnea and a host of other health problems that I quite honestly paid no attention to. I continued to eat what I wanted, because I could. I was an American, and I was free to do whatever I wanted … even if it meant slowly killing myself, I guess. But I had no idea what I was doing to my body. I smoked every once in a while, but it just never stuck with me fortunately. I worked as a hospital dispatcher by this time and the only exercise I had, was lifting the phone to my ear every few seconds when I couldn’t find my headset.
One day, things went south. My appendix nearly ruptured and I spent Christmas Eve in the hospital. I was supposed to go home the next day, but a change in outcomes left me in the hospital for nine more days, having undergone a second surgery. An unforeseen complication had put a nasogastric tube down my throat, and left me pale, tired and very weak. I lost nearly 60 pounds by the time I got home and neared the end of ‘recovery.’
A few years went by and I began having digestive problems. The foods I loved seemed to be causing pain all the time. After rounds of antibiotics and one diagnosis after another, I woke up in terrible pain one night that sent me to the emergency room. It turned out that my gallbladder was full of gallstones and could not be saved. Another surgery loomed over me, and this time, I was very much afraid of what was going to happen next.
Fortunately, though this procedure went well. I did however, have to change my diet. I noticed that fatty foods were less appealing, as were large amounts of food. As I began reading up on my health, I quickly realized that I was the problem. No exercise, poor diet, sodas, processed foods, stress and a number of other variables had taken their toll already. I needed to do something, and fast.
Taking charge of my health and well-being was harder than I ever thought it would be. I didn’t love vegetables, at least not more than I loved sweets. I learned that it takes almost 21 days or so before our taste buds actually begin to ‘accept’ new foods. So I began to make little changes. Allow me to share with you what worked for me.
My first task was simply to shrink my portion size. I still eat three meals plus small snacks every day, but I decided to use a smaller plate, eliminate “upsizing” anything, not going back for seconds, and using the suggested serving size as often as I could. With those small changes, I began to notice the pounds start to drop.
Then, I substituted foods that were a little better for me. I used Greek yogurt in place of cream cheese, or cucumber and yogurt veggie dip in place of creamy ranch. I’ve almost eliminated sodas, with the exception of an occasional diet soft drink. I began to like vegetables more and made sure that I put them in place of processed foods when I could. I reduced the amount of red meat in my diet to once every 1-2 weeks.
One of my most important successes was that I began to treat every day like it was a new day. I didn’t beat myself over the head for what I ate the day before. Everything occurred on a 24-hour basis. This helped me focus on things and not become anxious about the ‘what if’s’ of my new plan. I would have to say, this may even be required to maintain any kind of success.
One of the most fun changes was to let myself have a cheat day. I pick one day each week and don’t even think about calories. If I want a double-bacon cheeseburger, that’s what I order. Of course the problem is that now, I don’t really have cravings for them anymore. The more I researched and learned what was in my food, and how far off we’ve gotten on portion size, misleading preservatives and everything else, the less I’ve wanted to eat – period. And that was hard, because I love to eat.
The last big change for me was the most difficult. In high school and early college, I was very active, playing sports for multiple hours per day, six, sometimes even seven days per week. One day I got a job and all that activity came to an abrupt end. I went years with limited activity, and it began to show. These days, I decided that the gym membership was worth it. And my local gym matched the rate my insurance company offered to go somewhere else, so it was an easy choice. I spend about one hour at the gym two to three days per week. I stick to a comfortable regimen – two miles of run/walk time on the treadmill, followed by a series of arm, leg and abdominal exercises and weight training. On days I’m not at the gym, I walk the dogs, play basketball with my oldest son and his friends, or baseball with my other three kids, just to burn a few calories. The theory I try to adhere to, is to eat about 500 fewer calories than are recommended for my height and weight, and to use exercise to burn 500 calories, each day. That’s a 1000 calorie impact, every day. It adds up.
Why did I decide to do it? Well, there are a number of reasons I suppose. I wanted to feel better for one, I wanted to stop taking some medications, I wanted to have a better chance of being around to see my daughter graduate college, but most importantly, I wanted to be the best ‘me’ I could be.
I hope that you will take a moment and evaluate your health and well-being. I was so proud that my mom quit smoking after 50 years. But now, the damage has been done. She is trying to live an active lifestyle, but emphysema has her on an inhaler, struggling to breath, coughing constantly and tired all the time. She was quick to say that the ‘freedom’ wasn’t worth the consequence. Don’t wait that long to take charge of your life.
I hope that maybe you will be encouraged to evaluate how you use the ‘freedom’ we’ve been given. Just because we are free to eat anything and everything we can afford to put in our mouths, doesn’t mean we should. Why is it that we are more than happy to take care of people we love, but are rarely willing to take care of ourselves?
Please take the time to share your success stories with the FitCOUNTY Coalition. We want to hear what you’ve done to take your life back, or encourage someone else to.
To your health and happiness,