‘Lose Weight or Die’
Commentary by Steven A. Smith
These are my numbers:
This week I will engage in something I rarely do. I am going to shamelessly brag.
But I write this column to discuss things that are important to me, and this news is too good to ignore.
In January 2022 I wrote about my experience spending a Saturday in the Sacred Heart ER. I had gone in because of an erratic heartbeat and dangerously high blood pressure. It was scary. But the care was excellent.
While being examined, the terrific ER doctor asked if I had a cardiologist he could notify with details of my care. But I did not have a cardiologist or any specialists, only a primary care physician, an internist.
“Get a cardiologist, and get one now,” he said. And he gave me a name. “Call as soon as you can,” he told me. “It can be weeks before they can fit you in and you need to get in much sooner.”
With advancing age there have come any number of medical conditions. None are life threatening, but they do require management with various medications. Still, to that point in January 2022, I had managed it all with my primary care doctor.
My Next Step
The following Monday I called the recommended cardiologist. I told the receptionist my situation. She knew the ER doctor and knew he was no alarmist. I was able to see the heart doctor two days later.
The examination was thorough and the diagnosis alarmingly clear. I had been suffering atrial fibrillation, an erratic heartbeat. The risk of a stroke was real.
I had checked in at 318 pounds. I was already on medication for high blood pressure, for cholesterol control and for pre-diabetes. I was about to start medication to stabilize my heartbeat and blood thinners to help prevent a stroke.
The doctor rolled his stool to within a foot or two and looked me in the eyes.
“Lose weight or die,” he said.
That is the sort of medical advice that catches your attention.
I have been weight-challenged my whole life. For many years, I managed my weight by recreational running. Sometimes I would train more than 50 miles a week, more when marathon training. I mostly trained on the street, often on hills.
But after 20 years, the pounding on pavement had ruined my spine. I quit running and the weight started to come. As a runner, I ate whatever I wanted. As a sedentary man entering middle age, I did not change my diet or my eating habits. Ice cream. Cake and cookies. Nighttime snacks of chips and nuts. Big portions. Pizza every Friday. Buckets of pasta.
I would go on a periodic diet, of course. Weight Watchers was successful. So was no-carb. But I had no discipline to sustain a loss. I always thought I had the time to take it off. “Later,” I would tell myself as I ate my double bacon burger and fries.
The Time Was Now
“Lose weight or die.” Amazing what advice like that will do for self-discipline.
I started in February 2022. No more nighttime chips or nuts or those bags of chocolate chips I snuck from the pantry. No more ice cream. Much smaller portions. More fruit and even some veggies. Less pasta. No Friday pizza.
My favorite breakfast had been peanut butter on toast – four slices – yogurt, a banana and maybe eggs. No more. Breakfast now was a banana and protein bar.
Most Americans have experienced what I describe. And most do as I had done, yo-yo up and down the scale.
So, it was important that I not really diet. I satisfied my appetite but with healthier choices. And when I needed a snack, a few saltine crackers worked.
Men tend to lose weight faster than women, especially in the first weeks of a diet. By the beginning of March 2022, I was down about 25 pounds. And I just kept going.
At the same time, I added specialists to my medical team. The cardiologist, a urologist, an orthopedist, an arthritis specialist and even a podiatrist. Each helped me develop better habits.
Working Toward Better Health Is Paying Off
The result: As of last week, I weighed 233 pounds, 85 less than my starting weight of 318. That is a weight loss of 27 percent, the equivalent of 17 five-pound bags of sugar taken from my body.
And I am down six sizes in pants.
When I went to the cardiologist last month for a six-month checkup, I unexpectedly ran into him in the hall. He passed me by without a word, saying later he did not recognize me. Trust me, it is a good thing when your cardiologist does not recognize you.
Of course, I cannot just keep losing. My goal is 225, the weight I carried in 2000.
I must say I did not do this alone. My dear wife, Carla, worked tirelessly to modify our diet, supported me every step of the way and insisted I indulge in an occasional treat. A double bacon burger and fries is always good.
And I must acknowledge my privilege. I have Medicare and good supplemental insurance that pays for those specialists. In our country, with a broken health system, not everyone has those benefits.
There is one downside. My old clothes look like tents. Years ago, I gave away boxes of skinny clothes. So, now I must buy new things, but not too soon. What I buy now will not fit if I hit that 225.
Finally, my doctor thinks it is possible I can go off blood pressure, cholesterol, and pre-diabetes meds this summer.
So, I take this moment to brag a bit. But also to pass along the realization that if I can do it at 72, anyone can do it.
The doctor told me, “Lose weight or die.” It was the best medical advice I ever received.
Steven A. Smith is clinical associate professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho having retired from full-time teaching at the end of May 2020. He writes a weekly opinion column. Smith is former editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. As editor, Smith supervised all news and editorial operations on all platforms until his resignation in October 2008. Prior to joining The Spokesman-Review, Smith was editor for two years at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, and was for five years editor and vice president of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Newspaper Management Center Advanced Executive Program and a mid-career development program at Duke University. He holds an M.A. in communication from The Ohio State University where he was a Kiplinger Fellow, and a B.S. in journalism from the University of Oregon.