John's Story

John O'Brien and wife, Debby O'Brien

I knew this was coming — for years. As my weight climbed, my primary care doctor gently advised me to talk to various health pros to lose weight. I lost some weight on my own, got down to about to about 269 pounds, and my doctor was happy to say, "You are no longer morbidly obese," maybe the most left-handed compliment I ever received. But she was sincere, and I figured I could let up a bit on losing weight with the new milestone.

I ate breakfast, often cornbread, sometimes pastries, doughnuts, whatever, usually late in the morning, and a good, sizable dinner. But in the evenings, it was time for salty and sweet. The ch's: Cheez-Its, chips, chocolate, with some Doritos, Fritos, licorice, pretzels, and like that. Nightly, this ritual continued.

Then Jan.  4, 2018, rolled around and my regular physical exam. I stepped on the scale in the office, and it was over 300. I was 5-foot-11 and age 70. The doctor gently but firmly read me the riot act. You are in prediabetes, and you should either talk to a dietitian to get a plan, or join classes at the YMCA called the Diabetes Prevention Program. One was to start at the Plum Y on Jan. 31, program coordinator Gretchen North said. So I joined the year-long program. I was relieved in a way, as I knew for a long time I had to do something effective to lose weight, and this was the time, with a new fear factor in play: diabetes.

Meanwhile, I started a diet, got up earlier and went to bed earlier, to make sure I could fit in three healthy, balanced meals a day -- fruit, vegetables, no-fat or low-fat products such as skim milk and yogurt, small portions of meat, fish, poultry and carbs such as hot cereal, potatoes, rice, stuffing, pasta. The diet came from what are called diabetic exchanges you can find all over the Internet -- all the foods you can think of are listed by portions and calories plus grams of carbs, proteins and fat.

When the Y program started, we began tracking, writing all of it down, counting fat, calories, etc. to keep particularly fat and calories at desired amounts per day. Fat is about twice as caloric per gram as carbs and protein are. I weighed myself daily. A retired newsman, I couldn't stand the suspense of not knowing my weight every day. Part of the routine is working out, at least 150 minutes a week. I use both weight machines and cardio machines, such as stationary bikes and ellipticals -- usually around 300 minutes total per week.

The Y program had a class of us meeting each Wednesday evening for 16 weeks, and it was six women and me, with Gretchen as facilitator, leading the way, and telling us that 71 percent of older people had been successful in the program. Then we had three more classes over six weeks, then six more once a month. We discussed our  methods and problems, learned techniques, and every single woman and I hit our weight-loss goals. My A1c blood level reading dropped and is in the safe zone, no longer in prediabetes, as I had reversed the trend away from diabetes, no longer toward it. Nearly 80 million people in the United States are in prediabetes and many don't know it. Not too many fewer than 30 million have diabetes, the effects of which can  be devastating to one's health, and double one's risk for diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Gretchen and helper Adia Effiong steered our ships toward better health. I lost 10 pounds before the Y's Diabetes Program started in January. We discussed our  methods and problems, learned techniques, and every single woman and I hit our weight-loss goals. The program's weight-loss goal is only 7 percent of one's weight -- say 14 pounds, if you start at 200 pounds -- and no one is required to lose more, as I chose to do.

Gretchen, Adia and my doctor, relatives and friends, all smiled and praised me for my steadfastness and self-discipline, which just fueled my resolve to keep at it, work out almost daily, eat healthy, be healthy, as I knew from the start I was in a very big fight to stop eating whatever I felt like any time I felt like it. Just quitting the junk food had the pounds falling off at first. Now I'm  still losing, as I want to lose about 10 more pounds before I go into maintenance mode. So in a sense, I'm just starting, with new, healthy habits, which I intend to keep up until I am 120 years old or so. Longer to watch my grandchildren grow.

John W. O'Brien


Locations: Sampson Family YMCA