I like food. I like enjoying food with friends. This has been the case for most of my life. Granted, the food I enjoyed eating was not always the best for me. Growing up, I didn’t always eat well. Lots of microwaveable foods. That’s not to lay blame on my parents. There is a lot we know now about food that we didn’t in the 80’s and early 90’s. Schedules were not always optimum for meals, especially for the years I was in a single parent household Plus, I didn’t like eating a lot of healthy foods.
And, what did it matter? I weighed roughly 135 when I graduated from high school. I could eat and eat junk food, and not put on any pounds. When I was a missionary, some of my coworkers were amazed at the food binges I would go through and still not gain any weight. One guy joked I was a camel because I’d put away all this food and go on like nothing happened. Another individual was entertained when I ate over thirty pieces of pizza. (Some context. It was Cici’s Pizza. It was buffet.) I could lose weight easily. If I didn’t eat, or was sick, I could lose weight drastically. In 2000, when I returned from a mission trip to Cameroon and Nigeria, I weighed around 120 pounds.
I knew at some point I’d have to get my act in gear with my diet, but didn’t give it much thought because I was single, I didn’t have much money as a missionary to buy groceries for healthy meals, I was active, and I could barely keep weight on. I made excuses, but it was fun for me to eat whatever.
After I got married to Jana in 2001, I noticed I was starting to put on weight. A combination of factors, but I didn’t think anything of it. In fact, I told myself it was probably good I was putting on weight. Jana was attempting to get me to eat better. Each year of marriage I would tell myself this is the best my diet has ever been, but it was nothing to brag about. When you compare your current diet to a previous diet of fast food, snack cakes, and sweet tea, almost any diet will be better.
In late 2006 I saw a picture of myself where I realized the weight was really starting to pack on. I was embarrassed by how I looked. I weighed around 220 pounds. I noticed I was getting winded easily when active. My job often had me sitting at a desk. Liam had just been born. I wasn’t doing much physical activity. I made a decision to drop weight in 2007. I didn’t do much except limit the food I ate, and by September of that year I was down to 160.
Dropping nearly sixty pounds over nine months may have been fool’s gold. It made me think I could drop weight whenever I wanted. I was aware I was getting older, and my metabolism was slowing down, but I still thought I could flip a switch whenever I wanted to.
For the next few years, I was doing well. I often weighed between 185-190. Slowly but surely, my diet was improving thanks to Jana. Still, there were a lot of things I was eating that weren’t in my best interest. I kind of knew that, but also didn’t care. Was I active? Well, I told myself fatherhood was my activity.
Looking back, I was lying to myself a lot. It was easy to look around and point out others who appeared a lot more unhealthy than me. I was quite the hypocrite. I was justifying my sin, but was also lying to myself about my own health.
You would think my dad’s heart surgery in 2014 would have been the catalyst for lifestyle changes in my life, but it wasn’t. It played a part, for sure, but it was a physical I had with my doctor that changed things.
My previous doctor had retired, and I hadn’t been to the doctor for awhile. As a missionary with no health insurance, I hardly ever went to the doctor. It’s not something I did a lot even when I got health insurance. My friend and mentor Steve Walters had mentioned he saw a doctor, Chad Reade, who attended Christ Community Church. He recommended him. My dad had recently started seeing him as well. I thought it would be good to check in with him, especially in light of my dad’s heart surgery and family cancer history.
My physical went well. I weighed around 190. Chad said I could lose a few pounds, but the initial results were good. However, my blood work hadn’t been done yet. When the results of that came in, the results weren’t so good. I was measuring prediabetic. My HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) was at a level of someone who is 500 pounds. Not so good. Some of it is due to genetics, but most of it is the result of my own choices. If I didn’t start making changes to my diet and lifestyle, I was going to be diabetic in a few years.
I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. If I did, my quality of life was going to decline. I would be putting my life at risk as well with my family’s medical history. That could mean Jana and the boys going through life without me.
I didn’t say anything about the diagnosis to anyone other than Jana, and even then I was somewhat muted about it. I didn’t want to hear any critical comments from people, or any “could have told you that” comments, but I doubt anyone would have said anything. I’m sure most people would have been encouraging and supportive. I was embarrassed, but I wanted to do something about it. Quietly, I started making changes. Chad made a few recommendations. Common sense stuff that I had put off, or hadn’t fully embraced. It was time, though.
I increased my physical activity. (“You want to have a walking meeting around the parking lot?”) I cut back on a lot of junk food and fast food that I would eat while working. I brought in healthy snacks to the office so it would be easier to avoid the various foods (cupcakes, muffins, candy) that are randomly available throughout the week. I reduced my intake of sugary drinks. One example with this was no more crazy coffee drinks like Starbucks blended frappuccinos. I started drinking plain lattes, and then went to regular coffee with some half and half. (Besides the health benefit, my coffee bill reduced by more than half.) Jana was doing things as well with the food she prepared for the family to help me out. Big and little changes all over the place, but would it make a difference?
People started noticing I was looking slimmer, which was nice. Still, what would my blood results be when I had my next physical?
I went in almost two weeks ago. My weight was down twenty pounds. Chad was happy for me, and encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. The blood results? Even better. I was no longer prediabetic. My total cholesterol level was now normal. My HDL cholesterol had improved from a 30(!) to a 38. Normal is above 40, so I have some work to do. Still, Chad said I should be able to get above 40 if I keep doing what I’m doing.
I’m grateful for my improved health, but I wish I hadn’t taken so long to address it. Not only that, my flippant attitude toward health, and others with good/bad health, was not good. Sometimes, it was sin. Thankfully, that has changed. I’ve been humbled.
After my physical I took my family to Des Moines so we could enjoy Zombie Burger (my favorite burger place) and the Iowa State Fair. I was able to sample some food that would be horrible to eat on a consistent basis, but for twenty-four hours it was great. (I had always wanted to try and deep fried Twinkie, and can now say I have.) Moderation is my friend.
Why bring this up now? Well, it’s part of my story. I’m proud, and relieved, of the improvements to my health. I’m glad to be wiser, and a lot more understanding, when it comes to my own health or someone else’s diet and/or health. I’m grateful to God for what has happened, and what lays ahead. And, perhaps someone out there needs to read this.
I have goals in place for this next year as it relates to my health, but overall I want to live a long, fulfilling life with my family. I want to grow old with Jana. I want to be able to keep pace with my boys as they get older. I want to set my boys up for good when it comes to their own health. And, I want to keep enjoying pizza. Just not as often.