From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Slow and Steady

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

SirWinston Churchill

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” my doctor said, poring over my chart, “but you know about those warning signs for stroke and heart attack?Well, you have them all.” In that moment, my life changed. I had avoided going to a doctor for years for just this reason. I was afraid to hear these very words. Now I had finally found the courage, and I was forced to face my worst fears.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew there had to be problems. I was clearly overweight. I had been taking medication for high blood pressure for years. I was smoking and eating every bit of junk food I could lay my hands on. I was fifty-four years old when it caught up with me.

I could have received the doctor’s verdict as a death sentence. Instead, I took it as a challenge. There I was, already faced with the weight and blood pressure issues, and now I had high cholesterol and borderline diabetes to deal with as well. Some changes had to be made immediately.

I started thinking about things that I needed to stop doing. Smoking was first. That stupid habit, always more of a social thing for me, was finished. The diabetes demanded that sugar had to go. That was a problem. I had always loved my sweets, and I still do. I could cut down on my fat intake, including red meat, and maybe give up white flour in the bread I loved so much. Some exercise wouldn’t hurt, and perhaps a vegetable now and then would do me some good. I hated all green food.

I had tried the various popular diets. I’d done Scarsdale, Atkins and Nutri-System. They all worked, in that I lost a lot of weight on each one of them, but I gained it all back. It was clear to me that a diet wasn’t what I needed. I needed to change the way I thought about my life in general, and my eating habits in particular.

I’ve been around long enough to know myself pretty well. I know that if I deprive myself of all of the things I love, I will quickly revert to form. I had to find a solution that would help me regain my health while still allowing me to enjoy one of my great passions, eating. It was a short drive from the doctor’s office to my home. By the time I got there, I had a plan.

My plan was not low-carb. I’d done that, lost some weight and become bored. It was low-fat. That just made sense to me. It began with oatmeal topped with one half of a banana in the morning, followed by about thirty minutes of exercise. I knew that if I made the exercise routine too strenuous right off the bat I would find excuses. I needed something I would be willing to do every day. I created a little routine that involved yoga and some work with an exercise ball. Though it had some difficult features, most of the workout was about stretching. In other words, it made me feel good.

I ate a lot of chicken and turkey. I grilled some salmon once or twice a week. I filled the vegetable requirement with lots of salads that included raw vegetables. I stayed away from white bread, though I did supplement my meals with a snack of a wheat bagel now and then. I switched from sandwiches to wraps, and only wheat wraps at that. If I had tuna, I mixed it with some good olive oil instead of mayo. I tried to stay away from salt to help with my blood pressure. I developed a sensible, healthful diet that I could live with.

I don’t have a scale in my house. The only way I know if I’m losing weight is by how my clothes fit, and after a couple of weeks on my new eating plan, and everyday exercise, my pants were already feeling looser around my waist. There is nothing like results to keep you on your path. If anything, my will to get healthy only intensified as the results became more apparent. I surprised myself by not only resisting temptation, but not even feeling it.

It’s been about six months now. As of my last doctor’s visit I had lost thirty-five pounds. I’m doing it slowly and healthily. My blood pressure is under control, my cholesterol has been cut in half and my blood sugar is close to normal. I still monitor all of these things very closely. I don’t smoke, and I exercise every day.

I know that I can’t go back to my old lifestyle. It’s not an option for me, so there’s no sense wasting time thinking about it. I feel good, and friends tell me that I look good, too. I’m not going to say that anyone can do this. In my case, it took a virtual death sentence to break me of a lifetime of bad habits. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could turn it all around now, before having to hear those dreaded words from your doctor?

The key, at least for me, is moderation. Crash diets have been proven time and again to be ineffective. I needed to create a plan for myself that I could live with. I know what’s good for me, and what’s not. I go slow. I enjoy the way a deep stretch feels in the morning. I challenge myself and then exceed my expectations.

Ken Shane

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