My big fat story: Healthy eating, exercise key to improved lifestyle

A before and after picture shows the extreme weight loss of William Fowler, 23d Civil Engineer Squadron environmental compliance supervisor. Fowler lost almost 150lbs with a new outlook on exercise and a healthier diet. (courtesy photo)

A before and after picture shows the extreme weight loss of William Fowler, 23d Civil Engineer Squadron environmental compliance supervisor. Fowler lost almost 150lbs with a new outlook on exercise and a healthier diet. (courtesy photo)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- One day after coming home from work I sat on the bed because I felt like my heart was pounding out of my chest. I felt extreme chest pressure and I was scared.

My wife took me to the Chest Pain Clinic at South Georgia Medical Center where I was kept overnight for a cardiac catheterization. Fortunately the damage was not severe enough for surgery, but the damage was there and would get worse if I didn't change my lifestyle. Over the course a year, I returned to the South Georgia Medical Center Chest Pain Clinic several times with chest pains, but the real wake up call for me was the worry and fear on my wife's face each time she took me to the hospital. I love my family, so why was I doing this to them?

My story is like so many others -- no exercise and overeating caused me to gain weight. From childhood to adulthood I've always gone up and down with my weight, but in 2007 I was the largest and heaviest I had ever been. I was a wearing an XXL shirt and size 58 pants. I developed high blood pressure (HBP) and an enlarged heart caused by the uncontrolled HBP. I weighed nearly 300 pounds.

A change needed to be made and the biggest change I made was to stop eating sugar, and I stopped eating any meals after 6 p.m. I started a food diary by writing down everything I normally ate for seven days. I was really shocked at how much I was eating. I ate 4,000 calories on a good day and over 100 grams of sugar! Once I got over the initial shock I decided to make my own make my own daily menu. I chose foods I enjoyed eating that was low in calories, carbohydrates and simple sugars. I developed a 2,200 calorie meal plan that included three meals and two small snacks.

My idea was to figure out how many calories I was eating each day and then reduce calorie consumption. I started by eating 500 calories less per day for four weeks followed by 1,000 calories less per day for four more weeks. I continued reducing my calorie consumption every four weeks until I was comfortable eating 2200 calories per day. I did not drastically change what I ate at first because I knew it could sabotage my eating routine. However, I did quickly eliminate processed sugar. This simple change helped me lose about 10 pounds in 30 days.

Like many others, I was raised that you come home to nice big dinner and do not move out your recliner except for potty breaks, snacks, and occasionally to reach for the remote control that had fallen on the floor. The other change I made was to eat a heavier lunch or breakfast and keep my evening meal very low in calories: 250-300 calories. I also kept the evening meal very sensible, with lean meats and fresh, steamed, or stir-fried vegetables. I did not want my body store starchy carbohydrates and sugars as fat when I went to bed.

The next thing I did was to start consistently walking around the Valdosta Middle School track. I could only make it around the track once before feeling like an elephant was setting on my chest. My wife walked with me and helped me to stick with it by talking with me as we went around the track. She would give me a gentle nudge or push when I looked like I wanted to quit. Walking or exercising with someone helps the time go by easier.

After a few weeks, I started to enjoy the evening walks. Soon I started walking at lunch and every evening after supper. I started to see the pounds come off every week, so I kept at it.

I often thought to myself one doughnut won't hurt, but then I remembered the many times I heard that little voice and remembered that's how I got here in the first place.

Changing your lifestyle is difficult and it takes work and commitment to get it done. Many people say they don't have the time to do all of this, but your health and the health of your family is the single most important element of your life and it requires your attention.

I suggest partnering with a friend or family member. Husbands, wives and couples have great success when working together toward a common goal. Participating in fitness classes is very helpful because it helps you develop a habit of exercise and it allows you to change your environment for at least an hour and be around people who have the same motivation and goals you do.

A new study researched at the University of Wisconsin's La Crosse Exercise and Health Program and recently published in Fitness Matters, a publication of the American Council on Exercise found that people who participated in fitness classes such as the ones offered on base and at health clubs were able to burn a minimum of 600 calories per session and work to 77 percent of their maximum heart rate - the real fat burning zone.

I am not an expert on weight loss, but I know what works for me. Today, I am now down to 158 pounds. I do believe that changing eating habits, starting a fun exercise routine, and staying active must be combined together for a successful lifestyle change. For me and many other there is no other option because the actions that we take impact ourselves and especially our families.