Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Slimmer at Sixty

The Diagnosis

It started in late November of 2012, when my primary care physician, Dr. Martin P. Solomon, told me I had Type 2 Diabetes, with an A1C level of 8.2.  To be certain, the good doctor had been warning me for years, referring to my condition as “morbidly obese” (no one said he was tactful) and “pre-diabetic,” but I thought that all I had to do was cut back a little on sugar and I’d be fine.  I was, of course, kidding myself.

At first, I told no one other than Joni and Alex about my diagnosis, and I met with Michelle McKeehan, the Nurse Practitioner in Dr. Solomon’s office, who explained the disease and that all carbohydrates become sugar in your system.  She also explained that muscles process sugar more effectively than fat, and she told me I had two options: either go on medication (which has its side effects) or immediately start to lose weight and change the way I approached my life and my eating and exercise habits.  She also suggested that I meet with a nutritionist as soon as possible.

The Process

I scheduled an appointment with Marc O’Meara, a nutritionist at Brigham & Women’s hospital who specializes in diabetes and who explained that the primary way the brain knows that the body has eaten is through protein, so every meal should contain protein.  He also said that I need to exercise portion control, and that if I do eat any carbohydrates (even fruit or wine), I should eat at least an equal amount of protein.  This has been my approach to food since that first meeting, and I have completely cut out sugared soda and high-carb desserts.

In terms of exercise, I knew I couldn’t get started without some real help, so I worked with Eric Stutman and Amelia Kuhn at One2One Bodyscapes in Wayland, MA.  They taught me how to warm up and stretch properly, and how to exercise so that I was building strength in all parts of my body.  With their help, I lost a considerable amount of weight, but more importantly, I learned how to exercise properly.

Unfortunately, and through no fault of Eric or Amelia, I aggravated a 30-year-old spinal condition known as spondylolisthesis, so I paid a few visits to my chiropractor, Dr. Jim Dolan in Needham, MA.  I often refer to Jim as a magician because he uses gentle manipulation to realign me in a way that more traditional medicine seems to overlook.  In this case, not only did he relieve my pain, but he taught me a series of exercises that I still use every day to strengthen my body and protect myself from further injury.

By this point, summer was about to start and Joni’s rehabilitation from her extensive spinal surgery (they rebuilt her neck with metal rods and screws) was coming along nicely, but we both knew she would need a health club with a swimming pool to get to the next level.  In addition, I wanted to step up my exercise schedule, and the cost of both of us continuing to work with personal trainers would be prohibitive.  We did a weeklong trial membership at the Longfellow Club in Sudbury, and while it was fine, we didn’t feel that the pool was right for her situation.  So, we joined the Bosse Sports Club in Sudbury, where Marco Cosentino and his team have done a spectacular job helping Joni’s rehabilitation.

I also started going to the club 5-6 times per week and using their wonderful facilities (it really is an awesome club) to continue exercising.  By this point, I spend an hour per visit on the Cybex Arc Trainer (a kind of elliptical machine), which I now set for the highest level of “weight loss.”  I then continue by stretching and using the exercises I learned from Eric, Amelia, and Jim, as well as some of Bosse’s trainers.  After that, I take advantage of the Jacuzzi, sauna, and showers, which complete my two-hour (almost) daily visits.

I check in regularly with Dr. Solomon and Michelle, who both monitor my progress and are there to remind me if I start to regress.

The Results

So far, I have lost about 60 pounds (a number which varies slightly from day to day based on what I’ve eaten or drunk).  That weight loss hasn’t changed much since June, but I’ve been working to transform the fat I still have into muscle…this is a much longer process (at my age).  I’ve successfully reduced my A1C level from 8.2 to 5.8, which is in the “normal” range.  I still have much more to go, with my eventual goal being a total loss of 75-80 pounds, while continuing to improve my muscle tone and keeping the diabetes in check.

However, please don’t consider me the poster boy for good health.  I spent the last forty years being sedentary and gluttonous, and my weight had ballooned to 252 pounds (on a 5'6" frame—in other words, really fat).  Nine months of somewhat good behavior doesn’t excuse that, but hopefully, by writing this, I can encourage others who may be in a similar situation to try to turn their lives around as well.  I realize this will be a battle I fight for the rest of my life, and I hope I never lapse back into my previous transgressions.

Keys to Success

Today is my 60th birthday; hence the title, “Slimmer at Sixty.”  I would have preferred “Fit at Fifty,” but alas, that didn’t happen. So, I’ve considered the factors that have worked for me so far, and I will share them here:

·   Be the general contractor for your body’s renovation.  Just as a building general contractor hires the plumber, roofers, siding/windows specialists, etc., you have to decide which professional resources will best help you along your journey.  As you saw from my process, that may include a wide range of medical and exercise specialists.  This should be determined by your situation.

·   Allocate your resources as needed.  It’s amazing how much money you can save on food by eating healthy, and how much you can spend on exercise and other options.  You have to decide where to spend money and where to save it.  In my situation, I’ve allowed the trainers to “train” me, so I don’t have to be tethered to them permanently, but I joined a more upscale health club because I realized I would need to spend a lot of time there.  However, some people really benefit from having a trainer who can prescribe exercises and vary them as needed.  In the end, each of us should determine how much money to spend and where to spend it.

·   Build a support network.  Whomever you live with has to be on board, supporting you in your effort.  You don’t want people around you who will constantly sabotage you by suggesting you try a dessert or a martini.  In my case, I was very lucky that Joni, Alex, and most of my friends were so supportive.

·   Find food options that work for you.  When Marc suggested I eat Greek yogurt, I said, “yeah, right.”  Then I found Sofia’s Greek Pantry in Belmont, where I could buy yummy, homemade Greek yogurt and sweeten it with stevia (an all-natural, calorie-free sweetener).  This is just one example of finding ways to build your diet around what is best for your situation.  People will tell you how they lost weight or how they think you should eat, but aside from your medical professionals, the best advice you can get is from your own body…it will tell you what it needs.

·   Try not to eat late.  I know that’s easy to say, but it’s not so easy to do when your body feels like it is starving (or you’ve had a few glasses of wine).  All I know is I rarely lose weight when I eat after 10:00 PM.  The best approach is to drink a lot of water (even if it makes you go to the bathroom every 10 minutes).

·   Don’t stop exercising.  When people ask me how I feel now, I usually answer “sore.” Let’s face it, exercise can do that.  But it’s important that you don’t keep putting it off.  I rarely feel like going to the club, but I feel really good afterward, knowing that I’ve done it.  That’s why, if you’re going to join a health club, it should be near to your home.  Of course, like everything else, exercise should be done in moderation.

·   Keep your mind occupied while exercising.  Just because your body is stimulated, it doesn’t mean that your head is into it.  Some people hate exercising indoors, in which case they should find outdoor options.  Personally, I appreciate the consistency that a club can provide, so that works for me, as long as I have my music and headphones.  I’ve provided a list of workout songs that I use at my blog at  I also bought (Bose) Bluetooth headphones (which I use with my iPhone) so I don’t keep hitting the wire with my arms and throwing my iPod/iPhone on the floor.  Bosse also allows me to view one or more TVs, which I usually set to CNN and/or ESPN, so I can watch the scrolling news at the bottom of the screen. (Some people watch the Food Channel, which I find immensely disturbing during exercise.)  However, many people bring their tablet devices and read or watch movies, and of course, there’s always a good book.

·   Don’t be discouraged when the weight doesn’t come right off.  If nothing else, I’ve learned that the body will lose weight when it’s ready to lose weight.  Sometimes, I look at the scale and think, "How could I have not lost (or gained) weight, given what I ate yesterday?"  The key is to take a long-term view of your process and know that if you change your approach to eating and exercise, the improvement will happen.

·   Don’t view it as a “diet.”  People think of “diets” as temporary processes to reach a desired weight.  If you view your approach as such, you will gain the weight right back.  I have tried to view this as a long journey toward restructuring my body and keeping it as such.  However, if I ever lapse back to my old ways, I hope that Joni will remind me of what I’ve accomplished and still have to accomplish on a daily basis.

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