Choose to Live!

How did his waistline drop from 47 inches to a svelte 37? Just ask his wife!

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Posted in , Oct 17, 2014

Mary wraps a tape measure around Tom's newly slim waist.

Not again! My husband, Tom, in his usual spot—on his La-Z-Boy, remote control and a can of Coke at his side and a big bowl of ice cream resting on his belly. Even though it was December, he still ate ice cream.

Did I say ice cream? That doesn't do the concoction justice. There must have been a pint of chocolate syrup, a shovel's worth of whipped cream and half a dozen maraschino cherries staining the whole mess a nearly fluorescent red.

I tried to calm down. Tom works hard. He loves his dessert. He's too tired after a long day to go for a walk. But no matter what I told myself, I knew he couldn't go on like this. I couldn't go on like this. Tom was a heart attack waiting to happen.

Okay, I was lucky. I hadn't put on more than a couple of pounds since we got married. I exercised. Tom used to be pretty active too—mountain climbing, scuba diving and hiking.

But now his weight had ballooned from around 200 pounds to 273. Diets and exercise? He tried, but always fell off the wagon.

I wanted us to grow old together. Now I wondered if Tom would even make it to 50. What would I do without him? What about our two kids?

Look, Lord, I prayed, watching my husband dispatch the ice cream mountain, I've tried everything. You know that. So I'm turning him over to you. Just let me know what I can do to help.

Tom looked up. "Honey, we're running low on Coke. Can you pick up a couple of 12-packs tomorrow?"

Tom drank a minimum of three Cokes a day that I knew of. "Why not try drinking water?" I said. "It's better for you."

"I don't care for water," he said, finishing up his dessert.

"What's not to like? It doesn't taste like anything."

"Exactly," he answered.

"I don't know if I'll make it to the store tomorrow," I fibbed. Maybe he could go just one day without all those empty calories.

"Don't worry," he said. "I can go."

See, Lord? It's hopeless.

My Tom loved to eat. It made him happy. More than anything I wanted to see my husband happy. He made a good living and was a wonderful father. How could I deny him his greatest pleasure? But Tom was killing himself.

I sat down on the couch, collected my thoughts and began. "Tom, you get up at 4:30 a.m. to go to a job where you sit at a desk all day. Add to that the stress from all the overtime you put in. And you don't exercise.

"Your weight is a problem that's not going to go away. Honey, I don't want to lose you."

"I'm fine," he insisted. But he half-heartedly agreed to try a diet again.

A day or two later the phone rang. It was one of Tom's coworkers at Boeing. Tom was on his way to the emergency room. He thought he was having a heart attack.

I beat the ambulance to the hospital, I drove so fast (and prayed so hard). Thank God he's still alive, I thought when I saw the EMTs wheel Tom into the ER.

Tom was with the doctors a long time before they let me see him. I paced. And paced. Lord, I can't lose Tom. Can't you help him? I'd done all I could. I'd tried. I cooked healthy meals. Fresh, low-fat dishes.

Still, Tom had his bowl of ice cream every night. "That's how it was when I was growing up," was his excuse.

I'd talked him into joining the Y with me. He used the treadmill a couple of times. Then he quit. "Don't worry," he said. "I'll get back to it." He never did.

Tom's intentions were good. There was just never enough time. Or it was some other excuse. He has no self-discipline when it comes to his fitness, I finally decided.

A doctor came in to talk to us. "Good news," he said. "It's not a heart attack. But it is serious, something we call metabolic syndrome. It's a group of health problems, including high blood pressure, high triglycerides, blood sugar and a waist size measuring at least 40 inches."

We looked at Tom. "Today was a warning sign. Right now, Tom is at high risk for a stroke or heart attack."

I tried to be positive. Maybe this would finally get Tom's attention.

Tom's regular doctor recommended a popular high-protein diet. I went right out and bought a book about it. I skimmed through. My heart sank. Tom will never be able to stick with something so restrictive.

I threw the book aside. We'd tried all this before. But then Tom would skip breakfast, eat Jelly Bellys at work and grab lunch at a fast-food place with his buddies. Once he was out the door, I had no control over what he put into his mouth.

I was scared of pushing Tom away by nagging, but I was terrified at the thought of losing him. That's why I had turned him over to God in the first place. Except it seemed God was giving him back to me.

For so long I had worried about Tom changing his ways. Now I realized I was going to have to change along with him. It would take both of us, and I would have to be as committed as he was, maybe more so. Okay, Lord, I can do this. With your help.

"I'm going to get up and make you breakfast and lunch tomorrow," I said that night. "You've got to stick to the program this time."

"You should just sleep in," he said. "I'll be all right."

I dragged myself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and into the kitchen. I made Tom a small bowl of oatmeal, and packed a light sandwich, low-fat yogurt, a piece of fruit and a bottle of water for lunch. Then I headed back to bed.

I'm not a morning person, but since I was able to go back to sleep for a half hour or so till the kids got up, I made do. Then, after a week or two, I saw Tom's lunch sitting on a table by the front door. Oh, no. He forgot it.

I knew he'd probably be back at the fast-food joint that day. From now on I'll get up and just stay up. That way I could be sure Tom ate his oatmeal and took his lunch. He would see how much this meant to me.

As for dinner, I got a copy of The New American Heart Association Cookbook. The recipes were even healthier than what I was used to cooking.

For dessert, I bought sugar-free Jell-O and pudding. No more ice cream. No more Coke. I banished it all from the house. If Tom could do without it, so could the kids and I.

Saturday, though, was "Reward Night." Tom picked the restaurant and could have anything he wanted. At first he pigged out. I wouldn't say anything, just a silent prayer. Then, as the weeks passed, Tom ordered more sensibly.

Exercise was another key. "There's an orientation class tomorrow night at the Y," I told Tom one day. "Let's go see what kinds of exercise programs they have to offer."

"Okay," he said. "I can't promise I'll be able to commit to any exercise regimen."

"Just try, Honey. That's all I ask." In January we signed up for a 12-week personal fitness class. Twelve weeks, they said, was how long it took to make regular exercise a habit. I had my doubts.

For the next three months, we lifted weights and learned a complete aerobic exercise routine side by side. The trainers made us both responsible for sticking to it. They wrote comments on our workout logs and gave stickers for working hard.

The night Tom got his first sticker, he gave a little whoop and put his fist in the air. I hadn't seen that Tom in a long time.

"You're doing great, Tom," I said, wrapping my arms around him. I could tell too. There was a little less to hug.

"You know something," he told me on the way home. "There's no way I can be disciplined on my own. For the first time in all my diets, I've been praying. I think it's working."

Before my very eyes, a miracle happened. Not a loaves-and-fishes, parting-of-the-Red-Sea miracle, but a miracle all the same. Tom stuck with his diet!

He lost two to four pounds a week. I was so proud of him, as proud as he was of himself. In mid April I went to a gift store and bought a bunch of balloons. One of them had a big "50" emblazoned on it. "Fiftieth birthday?" asked the cashier.

"Oh, no," I told her. "Fifty pounds. That's how much my husband has lost this year."

By last July, Tom had lost 80 pounds. He's maintaining his weight at 193, though he would like to drop five pounds or so more. That waistline of his? A svelte 37.

Almost every day someone tells Tom how great he looks. "They want to know my secret," he told me one morning while I was making his lunch (that's become a permanent part of our days). "I tell them I didn't change my diet. I changed my life. And you can't do that all on your own."

It was a test of faith, all right. Not just Tom's, but my own. Sometimes I think back to that night with the ice cream and how scared I was. Scared of not being able to help Tom, scared of growing old alone.

I don't have that fear anymore. That's how I've changed. Tom changed on the outside, all right. More importantly, he changed on the inside too. We both did.

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