This is how I lost 125 pounds to get heart healthy

February 02, 2016 | by Ann Davis, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Each of us has moments when we think about our own mortality. I see things in my practice as a cardiologist every day that remind me of how precarious life can be. There are consequences for good choices and bad choices. A few years ago, I realized I had to do something about my own life choices.

In 2009, my “aha” moment led to a weight loss of 125 pounds and a new, active lifestyle, including my first marathon in Chicago in 2011, and several more since then.

That “aha” moment was an accumulation of several moments. If I saw one more 30-year-old with a heart attack, or one more parent or grandparent succumb to sudden cardiac death, or hear about another 50-year-old doctor who died suddenly in the prime of their life, I was going to scream.

As luck would have it, I was not only fat, but I don't have the greatest family history for heart disease. I have a wonderful husband, Steve, and two super awesome boys, Benny, 12 and Sammy, 9. I knew I wanted to be around for them. But back then, the pressures of job, family, stress and two babies left little time for me to think of myself. Sound familiar? There are a million excuses, but one day I realized where plan A was taking me and it wasn't a good place.

You have to make time for lifestyle changes. It takes effort, but with childhood and adult obesity, diabetes and heart disease the way it is, there really is no alternative but to stop what we are doing and get healthy. How did I do it?

I started eating small frequent meals throughout the day to increase my metabolism. I brought all my food to work. It really is all about calories in, calories out and exercise. But you need to make the calories you eat count for something. Make them healthy, nutrient-dense food that leaves you feeling full and also increases your metabolism.

I also pulled from the bottom of my purse a piece of paper I had torn from a placemat at a greasy breakfast place with the number of a personal trainer. I pulled it out and looked at it (with pancake syrup stain and all ... and no, I did not lick it, thank you very much) and called her. I left a garbled message on her cell phone and when I finally met with her, she said with a serious face, "So I hear you are really fit?" I started laughing and said "No! I said I'm really FAT!" and I need your help! We both started laughing and I was on my way.

I had never planned any time to exercise. I never had  time — or so I thought. But I'm telling you, you can make time to do anything if you want it badly enough. You may have to exercise first thing in the morning or after work, but truly there is no alternative. If there was, the epidemic of childhood and adult obesity would not exist and we all would be healthy, fit and strong.

I always remember that quote from the "Shawshank Redemption"..."Get busy living or get busy dying." You may not be able to see it or even think it's possible, but I'm here to tell you that anything is possible and in your reach, if you try. You just have to take the first step.

I'm so glad we have all the high technology to save people from heart attacks and heart failure and try to give them a good quality of life. But do you really want to use those options? Maybe a little low-tech is in order. Like diet, exercise, weights, resistance training and stress relief.

It's never too late to change your life. When you feel good, you don't want to feel bad and success breeds success. Have a little faith in yourself and your abilities. Stop the negative self-talk and take charge of your life again. You will never regret it.

Here are some tips for healthy weight loss and a healthy lifestyle:

  • Eat several small meals daily to prevent swings in blood sugar and to help keep your obesity hormones (e.g., leptin and ghrelin) in balance. Include some complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
  • Choose good fats, found in olive and canola oils, avocado, seeds, nuts and dark chocolate.
  • Avoid trans fats, and limit saturated fats and simple carbohydrates such as white flour and white sugar.
  • Emphasize unprocessed foods. These include fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains, lean meats, fish, poultry, and non-or low-fat dairy items such as Greek yogurt.
  • Choose foods dense with nutrients. For breakfast or dinner, I enjoy quinoa, an ancient seed, similar to a grain. It supports weight loss with levels of protein and complex carbohydrates that keep your stomach feeling full for hours.
  • Select your family's treats on your own terms. For example, I choose cookies with healthy ingredients such as whole grains and dark chocolate.
  • Get in touch with why you're eating. If food is your tranquilizer, it's time to look at other options for comfort. If you think of food as your reward, remember the real reward is being healthy, fit and happy. And a happy, positive outlook may also decrease your risk of heart disease.
  • Believe you can start a more active, adventurous lifestyle today, even if the process is gradual. Make cardio and weight training part of your new healthy life.

Life is very precious and precarious. Anything can happen on any given day, so take life on to the fullest. Enjoy your gifts and get going!

Do you have a healthy weight loss story to share? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Learn more about cardiac care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Find out if you’re at risk for heart disease.

Ann Davis, MD, is a board certified cardiologist with Midwest Heart-Advocate Medical Group and Edward-Elmhurst Health, and Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Edward Hospital

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