Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Feel Your Pain - Part 7 - The Final Chapter That Isn't

At the end of this week I’ll be up to my neck in the 24 Hours of Moab race, and my team is now down to just three riders. It makes my desire to trim 10 pounds before the race look like a good decision, and I’m happy to report that I’ve achieved my goal. But now that I’ve shed the pounds, what happens next? Unfortunately for most, keeping the weight off is just as difficult as losing, and for me it will be no different.

Twenty years ago I was 45 pounds heavier than I am now. College, medical school, 3 years of residency, and a new solo family practice caused me to seek reward and comfort with food. My busy schedule also became my excuse for not exercising. The result was evident not only on the scale and in my clothes, but also in the way I felt mentally, physically, and emotionally. I wasn’t proud of myself, and I also felt like a hypocrite professionally. My recommendations for patients to lose weight carried no impact when I wasn’t following my own advice.

Then one hot, muggy Missouri day after cutting my lawn, while struggling to push the mower back into my garage, I had my personal epiphany. As I looked at the street I saw my 5- and 8-year-old sons energetically riding their bikes, and I realized that I would not be able to keep up as they grew older unless I made some lifestyle changes.

The possibility of such lost opportunities was a personal tipping point that pushed me into action. That evening I went shopping for running shoes, and the next day I started a dedicated exercise program. At first I could only jog a block before having to walk a block or two, but it wasn’t long before I could jog a full mile. I can still remember the day I extended my usual 1 mile route, running under a highway overpass that had become my “boundary.” I felt freed, and gradually began extending my distance until I was running 5 miles at a time, several times per week. I placed importance on my exercise sessions – as important and necessary as showering or shaving before work. I found that just like being a couch potato is addictive, so is being physically active. I went to great lengths to be certain I didn’t miss my workouts, regardless of my schedule or other obligations.

At the same time, I started eating differently. No more snacking on junk food. I also began eating more unprocessed foods naturally high in fiber and low in fat. My physical activity became a large motivator to eat properly, because if I strayed for a day or so with my nutrition I could tell a dramatic difference in my workout performance. Over the ensuing 6 months I lost 45 pounds, and began feeling 15 years younger.

There wasn’t a medical reason for me to lose another 10 pounds pre-race. I did it to enhance my physical performance, and therefore my enjoyment. It wasn’t always easy for me to stick with the weight loss plan that I have been sharing with you over the last 2 months. Now that the pounds are off, I’m determined to watch my maintenance plan closely, so that I don’t have to go through the process again.

Losing weight is just the beginning. In order to have long-term success, there needs to be a strategy for maintenance. Statistics show that most Americans gain 2-3 pounds every year. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the reason many middle- aged adults find themselves 50 pounds overweight. It‘s important not to become complacent about extra pounds. It doesn’t have to be a natural part of aging to gain weight and it can become a slippery slope leading to obesity and chronic disease. To avoid this, an ongoing regimen of proper eating combined with regular physical activity is important. What works for me is eating foods that naturally contain fiber, avoiding high-calorie, low-volume snacks, and putting importance on daily exercise. This plan has given me success for over 20 years.

Moab won’t be my last endurance race. Staying lean and fit allows me to play the way I like, and keep up with my adult sons and grandson. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Men don’t quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they stop playing.”

The author submits this blog posting as a health educator and not in any other capacity. You should seek the advice of your physician regarding a personal health condition or before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.


  1. Your attitude in writing is always so refreshing: positive, yes, but also realistic and tough-minded. Bravo for committing to your own health, even as you work so hard for others.

  2. Gena - thanks for your encouragement and kind words! There's many who are committed besides me - I know you are also one of them. It's nice to have good allies in the quest to make a difference.