From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

A Second Chance at Life

If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.

Catherine Aird

Set a goal, follow the course and you achieve your dream. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Over a number of years I’ve gained five pounds here and another five pounds there; all of it seemed to settle between my waist and my knees. Part of getting older, I told myself. I could lose this weight, I thought. I did exactly that . . . many times. Whenever I quit dieting, back it came, along with a few more pounds. I finally hit on the perfect rationalization. The only way to keep this weight off is to diet for the rest of my life, and I’m not willing to do that— perfect reasoning for someone who loves to eat and enjoys cooking and baking. My goal was too tough to achieve. I dismissed it with a shrug and continued eating the good things I craved.

Then my husband, Ken, threw a curveball at me. The man who had low blood pressure, low cholesterol, was Mr. Easygoing and only a few pounds overweight had a heart attack on the golf course one clear February day. Golf buddies rushed him to the clubhouse and called an ambulance. Off he went to the emergency room where he was stabilized and transferred to a tiny little helicopter for a fifty-mile flight to our state capital and a larger hospital. By the time I arrived at the hospital, the cardiologist had performed a heart catheterization followed by angioplasty. He implanted a stent into the main artery of Ken’s heart when this critical artery showed a 99-percent blockage. Ken came ever so close to not making it. Needless to say, many prayers of thanksgiving were offered by me, by our family and our friends, and by the patient, too. After a short hospital stay, the cardiologist dismissed him with instructions for a brand-new lifestyle.

Diet and exercise became the key words in our vocabulary from that day on. Our goal? Simply that we both live a long and full life. To do that, we had to change our way of eating, our exercise habits and our attitudes. Easy enough to do, we thought, when living is the prize. I’d been given the diet instructions, which turned out to be pretty simple. Think low-fat. Think low-cholesterol. Most important of all . . . have small portions of all things, always!

I subscribed to magazines with light recipes, checked out low-fat cookingWeb sites and spent time revising old-favorite recipes. I filled our plates with far less food than ever before, remembering how the doctor had emphasized the importance of small portions. I baked only occasionally and used canola oil instead of butter when I made cookies or muffins. At restaurants, we ate half of what we ordered and brought the rest home. The whole new lifestyle was easier than I’d feared. I could ignore a grumble or two from Ken about how I was starving him.

And then, the first distraction arose. We hesitated, and we slipped back a little bit when we were invited out to dinner. There before us lay a table laden with forbidden foods and a hostess urging us to fill our plates and have seconds. I suddenly had a brief glimpse into what Adam and Eve must have felt in the garden. We ate more than we should have, and we felt miserable. Our stomachs were no longer accustomed to such rich food. At home, and back on track once again, we continued on the prescribed diet—fruit in place of cookies and cake, carrot and celery sticks instead of chips, four ounces of steak rather than eight. The longer we practiced the diet, the easier it became. The pounds we shed encouraged us to keep going.

Another distraction slowed us down. This time we were tripped up by a three-week vacation on a river cruiser. Meals were gourmet offerings, including lavish buffets, scrumptious desserts and delicious breads. No doubt about it. We ate far less than most of the other passengers, but we also ate far more than we had been doing at home. We continued to exercise daily, and when we arrived back home, we went right back on the program.

Yes, we slide occasionally, but only a little, and over four years later our new lifestyle has turned into a habit. Ken has lost forty pounds, and I shed twenty-eight.We’re both down to our college weight, and we feel great. Maybe a distraction will slow us now and then, but we won’t collapse in a heap and shed tears. No, we’ll keep taking care of ourselves: today, tomorrow and forever.

Nancy Julien Kopp

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