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It Wasn't a Matter of If, But When

There is a long history of heart disease in my family. My grandfather died at a very early age, my father had a quadruple bypass in his 50s, and my younger, healthier brother had a heart attack at 40. I was immune only by luck.

 

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However, I was overweight and I was unhealthy.

My doctor asked (told) me to lose 25 pounds. Now, I knew I was overweight. Each year I would gain 10 pounds and lose 8 or 9. Sometimes I’d gain more; sometimes I’d lose less.

I always thought, however, that all I needed to do was lose 10 pounds. Maybe if I lost 20 I’d be in great shape, but 25?! 

Looking in the mirror, I knew I was overweight.  What I couldn’t rationalize was just how overweight I was; nor could I conceptualize how I got there or how I could lose the weight.

Enter my cardiologist. I may be lucky, but I’m also no dummy.  I was getting expert advice on how to avoid my familial fate. This, of course, was a genetic issue that could be solved by medicine. I just had to keep the schedule to take the pills. Wrong!

I knew better. I really did.  I ate well, I just ate too much. I didn’t really exercise, although I pretended that the occasional leisurely walk was enough. I’d seen the impact on my family, but I couldn’t see it in myself.

Thankfully, during my cardiac checkup, my doctor and I had a conversation that truly resonated with me. When he asked me to lose the weight, he said ‘With your family history, it’s not a matter of if, but when.’

It was a very frank statement, but one I needed to hear. And it worked.

I had always known what to do.  I’ve been an advocate for the American Heart Association for years. I speak with our elected officials about enacting health olicies throughout the state and country.  I train students on advocacy and promote healthy initiatives in schools. It was time to practice what I preach.

My plan was a simple one. Cut the empty calories from my evening cocktail(s) (unless I was out) and start to exercise. A simple, easy to do, exercise: walking.

So, in late July last year, I started to walk. First 20 minutes, then 30, then more. As the time increased, I added more distance.

And the pounds came off.

I lost the first 10 without even knowing I did it.

Then I started to change my diet; just a little.

It was summer, after all, and there were plenty of fruits and vegetables available at the local farmers’ markets.  My goal was simple: put more color on my plate.

I love fruits and veggies; it was just never a priority, I never had the ‘plan’, to ensure they were ALWAYS on my plate.  Now they are.

I’d get up every morning and take a walk.

I’d eat my more colorful meals throughout the day.

And the weight continued to come off.  My strength improved, as did my stamina.

I slept better at night and looked forward to my morning walks.

I needed to buy better walking shoes.

I kept adding miles; kept adding time.

It was just as much a mental health break as it was a physical one.

And the weight kept coming off.

I’d lost 20 pounds, then the 25 he asked me to, and I kept going.

Somehow, not only was that ‘extreme’ number attainable, but I wasn’t at an ideal weight yet.

There was more to lose to become healthy.

25 became 30, 30 became 40, 45, and finally 50 pounds.

50! I’d lost 50 pounds for my 50th birthday.

That wasn’t the goal, my goal was 25.  During this time, my goal shifted from weight loss to feeling good.

I’d not only become healthier, but I’d also become more self-aware. More aware of what I was eating.  I was surprised to find sugar added to my healthy Cheerios, so I switched to whole grain oats and fruit.

I was surprised at how many ingredients I didn’t know were in my food, so I paid more attention to what was on the label to make sure I knew what I was eating.

I was surprised at how much weight I’d lost, not because I’d lost it, but because of how much extra I had been carrying around.

I became more aware of my body, and how I slept. I became aware of my blood pressure remaining low, without increasing medications.  I became aware of my neighbors and communities as I walked, not with my head down, but with my eyes open.

I met new people and noticed new things, all in my backyard.

It’s not a matter of if, but when.

8 simple words that helped me change my life.

I know what I do will not work for everyone.  I know it’s incredibly difficult to make exercise, and health, a priority.  I know not everyone wants to add veggies, or cut sugars, or drink more water, or any one of a thousand things.  I’m not preaching, I’m sharing.

Find what works for you.  For me, it was those 8 words and the recognition that I wasn’t ready for the ‘when’.  I’m still not and hope to avoid it for a very, very, very long time.

I’m healthier today than I’ve ever been in my adult life.  I’m grateful for my renewed energy and passion for health, but sad that it took so long to figure it out, to be more self-aware, and to take action.  I’m not one to dwell on ‘should haves’, nor do I tend to have regrets, so writing this, sharing my story, hopefully inspiring others, makes it all worth the wait.  Had I not had the struggles, not gained the weight, not been blind to my own physical condition, I would not have this message to share.

It’s not a matter of if, but when.

This is true for all of us.  There is a natural end to everything, there is no if, but when.

For most of us, we want that when to be a long time out.

We don’t have control of everything, but we should take advantage of what we can control.

It’s certainly not easy to look at yourself with a critical lens, but don’t let that stop you from attempting to do so.  Self-awareness is important beyond your physical health.

It’s not a matter of if, but when.

With Heart,
Scott Saxe

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