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A doctor’s journey from fat to fit: Facing my own mortality

A lot of things have changed since I started making healthier lifestyle changes four months ago. Some are purely physical and others are harder to see, but just as important: 

  • I'm wearing pants I haven't fit into for more than a year.
  • I've dropped 17 pounds and built up muscle mass.
  • My stamina has improved and I can get through a workout without nearly puking.
  • I've prioritized getting enough sleep.
  • Instead of eating potato chips, I'm addressing my stress productively.

I feel proud of my progress and the changes I've made, but then, about a month ago, I had a serious health scare. I was driving into work one morning when the vision in my left eye suddenly started to go black, followed by numbness in the left side of my face. While I was at the emergency department getting an IV put in, I realized that my left arm was numb too.  

I immediately jumped to worst-case scenarios: I'm having a stroke at 30-something. I began questioning the life choices that may have contributed to being in the ED at that moment. Why didn't I treat myself better? Why didn't I eat better? Why didn't I start the blood pressure medication my doctor recommended?  

Thankfully, it wasn't a stroke. I was experiencing a less common type of migraine. I thanked my lucky stars (and the amazing doctors and nurses at United Hospital) that there would be no permanent side effects. Then I vowed, like countless others who have faced their own mortality, to commit 110 percent to healthier living.  

At a follow-up appointment, I learned that my weight and the anatomy of my neck and throat puts me at higher risk for sleep apnea. This gave me another reason to get my rear in gear. The doctor also reinforced what I already knew: the importance of dealing with stress, and she actually recommended that I go on a vacation. I said that I would, but not for a few months. She laughed and told me to get a massage in the meantime. So, I did. The masseuse compared the muscles in my neck and upper back to small rocks. I've always known I carry stress in my neck and upper back, but I hadn't done anything about that physical manifestation before. How I felt afterward was worth the pain. I'm scheduled to go back for another massage and I'm contemplating acupuncture.  

Another way I'm dealing with stress is by prioritizing sleep. It has been a hard habit to develop, but worth it. I feel better overall—mentally and physically. I'm following all the advice I share with my own patients:

  • cutting out caffeine by 3 p.m.
  • turning off electronics
  • going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
  • getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night

I continue to work out three days per week, but struggle to meet the recommended 150 minutes of weekly activity. I have replaced most processed foods with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and chicken. I'm drinking more water than ever; the only other liquids I drink are black coffee, tea and milk. Gone are the days of sugary coffee drinks and even diet soda.

My recent health scare made me reevaluate many things, but it also reaffirmed that these positive, healthy lifestyle changes are important. I'm taking control of my future by living healthy today.

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