I struggled with being overweight my whole life. Three different times I’ve lost weight, as a senior in High School, in my mid-30s, and again in my mid-50s. I tried virtually every diet known; Atkins, low-fat, low-protein, Weight Watchers, all with the same result. I would lose weight and then gain it all back again, plus more. After each diet, I weighed even more than when I started. Dieting made me gain weight!
My increasing weight gain was not my only health concern. I also had a congenital prolapsed mitral valve heart murmur that was getting larger, and in 2010 I was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation. At which point, my health began to rapidly deteriorate. My heart enlarged, I had high blood pressure, swollen legs (edema), shortness of breath, chronic back pain, overall fatigue, and insomnia. And, before I forget to mention, I was taking 11 different prescription medications to manage all these health issues. To make matters ever worse, in addition to my poor health, I was now morbidly obese; I weighed 266 lbs. with a BMI of 40.4 and a 51-inch waist
It seemed that all my cardiologist wanted to do about my “conditions” was wait, watch me and just keep giving me more prescriptions for my ever-growing array of symptoms. So, in the spring of 2014, I decided to get a second opinion from a new cardiologist. After examining me, this new cardiologist said, “We can keep giving you poisons, in the name of prescriptions, to mask your symptoms.” Then he pokes me in the belly and says, “But it won’t matter because you’ll be dead in less than 10 years anyway!” His words impacted me like being hit by a two by four. He then asked me if I was serious about changing my life and becoming healthy. Staring at my own mortality, I realized I was at the crossroads. I decided on my Personal Transformation Change Process- a permanent lifestyle change.
I began my personal transformation journey. Unfortunately, by the fall of 2014, my journey was interrupted quite abruptly, as the leak in my heart valve had gotten so worse that the only alternative was open-heart surgery to repair the mitral valve. I watched a You Tube video of the operation. Valve surgery really is open heart vs. coronary by pass. I was scared! But my new cardiologist promised, we can get you off all those drugs after this surgery, but you have to make a lot of changes in your diet and lifestyle.
On October 21, 2014 I had Open Heart Surgery for my Mitral Valve repair at NCH. It was supposed to be a 2-3 day in hospital, but it became 10 days at the “Hotel California”, “You can check out, but you can never leave!” For the first 6 weeks it was a gradual and grateful recovery from surgery. I couldn’t sit up by myself, I had to use the ‘heart ‘ pillow, and it only hurt when I breathed, coughed, sneezed, laughed or turned over, other than that it was fine!
From December 1, 2014 to March 6, 2015 I was in Cardiac Rehab. I started at 5 min on the treadmill at 0% elevation at 1.0 MPH, 3 days a week. I learned the 3 legged stool of fitness: cardio, flexibility and strength. As I went through the long recovery and cardiac rehabilitation from the surgery, I felt like I was given a second chance, but could I take it? Did I have the determination to make a permanent lifestyle change and keep the commitment to maintain it for the rest of my life?
Here’s the challenge that I faced. First, the bad news: Only 4.3% of open-heart patients maintain lifestyle changes in smoking cessation, healthy eating and physical exercise after 1 year. That’s what we call real resistance to change! NY Times (May 2, 2016) The Biggest Loser, Season 8, six year follow-up study from 2009-2015, all but one of the 16 original contestants have regained most if not all of the weight they originally lost, and 4 of them now weigh even more than they did originally. The UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink study of 76,704 obese men and 99,791 obese women from 2004 to 2014 reported in the American Journal of Public Health (September 2015) about ½ % to 1% attained normal weight (1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women). For those that were morbidly obese who were 100 or more lbs. overweight, the success rate was about one-tenth of 1%, 0.001, maintain loss permanently (>5 yrs.), 1 in 1,000 people (1 in 1290 for men and 1 in 677 for women).
Then, the good news: 70% to 90% of most cardiovascular (heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, CHF) disease, the # 1 killer in the world, diabetes, and cancer is preventable by an overall healthy lifestyle, which includes the following six practices: eating a whole food plant based diet, maintaining an optimal body weight defined as a BMI of 24.9 or lower, vigorous exercising (70-85% of max. heart rate) for a minimum of 30 min. per day, 5 days per week, not smoking at all, little to no alcohol consumption, and getting 7-9 hrs. of sleep every night. But, only 2.3% of adults in the USA do all six every single day.
How was I going to be any different with odds like this? I needed to make a new paradigm shift about my body. I learned not only that diets don’t work, but also that dieting actually made me gain weight! -“yo-yo dieting,” is just a temporary project vs. being a permanent process, resulting in a lifetime commitment to make and maintain a complete change in lifestyle. I realized that the goal is being healthy vs. losing weight, again! (a necessary, but not sufficient, step in the process).
I have spent the last several years doing research and reading on-line: medical journal studies (JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet), TED talks, web seminars, Drs. Joel Fuhrman, Denis Burkitt, Caldwell Esselstyn, Michael Greger, Mark Hyman, William Li, David Ludwig, Dean Ornish, Neal Bernard, Dean & Ayesha Sherzai, Andrew Weil, – Lifestyle Medicine, Blue Zones Project – Dan Buettner: Five places where people live longer and healthier lives – Ikaria, Greece, Loma Linda, California, Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, and Nicoya, Costa Rica, (Naples, FL).
The key for me was to set short term goals that I could succeed at and also set more challenging long-term stretch goals. Which I did! Here are my results today: I do not take any medications at all, I have a normal heart rhythm and blood pressure, no edema, no breathing issues, no back pain, no fatigue, lots of energy, and I sleep well. My weight is now 140 lbs, I lost 126 lbs! My BMI is 21.3, my waist is 32 inches, the same as when I was a freshman in college more than 50 years ago! I exercise for 70 – 100 minutes per day 6 days per week with 20 min. stretching, 50 min on the treadmill at 5 -7.5% elevation at 4.0 MPH, and 30 min. with 10-15 lb. weights 2 to 3 times a week, and I look forward to it every single day.
My new cardiologist helped me to save my own life. I am forever grateful to him. But in the end, it required me to make a complete change in my total lifestyle.
Because I want to live a full and happy life, I am dedicated to maintaining my health. It requires me to be personally accountable and totally consistent in my behavior every single day, without exception, to control my destiny. I attended the Mayo Clinic Wellness Coach Training Program, and I am now, after an eight-month program, a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach, and also a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach. My personal journey over the last several years towards better health and a longer life has been one of continuous learning, occasional disappointment, and much accomplishment. I’m now focused on maximizing my health and wellness, being with my family and friends, having fun and sharing what I’ve learned to help those lucky people who really want to dramatically improve their health and wellness by permanently changing their lifestyle.