Better than Good

When I was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease last April, a new saying came to define how I had to live my life. The charge was for me to be “better than good”. This was not necessarily a new concept for me, I have always been the type of person to go for it, not aim for mediocre, and always do what is necessary to exceed any expectations set in front of me. The idea that “better than good” was the new goal simply put a frame around the concept and specifically to focus on my health and living well. The idea was simple enough, you have heart disease, your numbers are good, your weight is good, your health is good, but you have to be better than good. At the hospital after the stent placement, I weighed 210 pounds, my cholesterol was a little high, but within normal range, blood pressure was around 130/90, but nothing incredibly out of the ordinary. The goal set before me was to lose about 15 pounds, aim to be somewhere around 195. I remember the first time they said this to me I thought there was no way that’s going to happen. I had been active, running regularly and eating what I considered to be well for at least two to three years, but I had weighed 205-210 the entire time. I had run 3 half marathons, a full marathon and trained for a 1/3 triathlon at that weight. This was just my build, I thought.

Heather had been dairy free because of milk allergies with each of the girls when they were born, and each time we went down the dairy free path, we did it together. We did the Forks over Knives diet, would focus on fruits and vegetables and most importantly we paid attention to what we ate. In my opinion we ate well before all this happened. Losing weight was never something that happened though, at least not in any significant amount. I just seemed to maintain the same build and fitness levels. I remember thinking there is no way I will be in the 190’s, its a good goal to have but I don’t know that is a very realistic thing to aim at.

The idea of going through cardiac rehab was a key for me to get started along a positive path towards change. I was excited about the possibility of being guided down this healthy path, and starting Cardiac Rehab, a 12 week course that would be the catalyst for my healthy lifestyle improvements. This rehab program focused on cardiac exercise, nutrition, stress relief, and emotional strength. The program was phenomenal and taught me more than I ever anticipated. In addition to the rehab, I adopted a focus on four elements, these being what I would call the key to my success and the key to Living Well.

Information, Inspiration, Hard work and Dedication. These four words became the cornerstones of my success. As soon as I returned home from the hospital I learned all I could about heart disease. I surrounded myself with Information. I wanted to know what caused this disease, what do people do to combat it, what can I do to get better, etc. I read probably 4 books within two to three weeks on the subject. I read medical books, inspirational books, science based books and most importantly I spent time learning that heart disease can be a preventable, curable, and potentially reversible condition that is affected by our lifestyle and diet. This was great news, because it was something that could be affected, so I set out about the path of being better than good. I had to learn about the disease, nutrition and exercise. I had to learn recipes that were good for you, what was not and how to tell the difference. I spent a lot of time learning.

I spent any free moment being Inspired. I would listen to podcasts on the way to and from work, to and from rehab, to and from the grocery. Any time I was in the car I was listening to stories about people winning. It didn’t matter what they were winning at, if they were inspiring, I wanted to hear their story. From Dave Ramsey, to Zig Ziglar, to watching movies or tv about people transforming their lives, I took any opportunity to learn about people succeeding and funneled that towards my own success. I would constantly surround myself with stories of success and would mentally note the threads common among them.

Success does not come without Hard work. It didn’t feel like hard work at the time, but looking back it was definitely work to change how we ate. It took effort to say no to snacks that were not healthy for us, it took effort to cook meals that were good for us, and it took effort to go through the rehab program. Heather was shouldered with the burden of watching the girls while I spent one hour each evening, three days a week for 12 weeks on the way home from work to get fit and go through the program. Not that she didn’t love doing this, because I truly believe she did. She is a great mother and is the rock of our family, but I do not overlook that there is a level of effort necessary to watch and raise a 1 and 3 year old every day while your husband is running on a treadmill. Her ability to work hard for us, allowed me to work hard for us in the program and together we achieved great success.

Lastly, the key was Dedication. Once this goal was set, there was no option for not succeeding, so no matter the amount of effort, this was something we were doing. I remember talking with Heather about if she was ok with the rehab plan and with all of the changes that would come our way. There was and is no doubt to her level of dedication to our family and to our future. She simply said this is what is best for our family and we will do it together, no questions asked, we are doing this. What an amazing woman! The other element of dedication is fighting through the challenges, because they were everywhere. Constantly tempted with “bad food”, skip that workout, you can catch up on that later, don’t worry about packing your lunch today, you can pick something up on the way. Dedication to the overall goal of being better than good is what kept us going when it would have been easy to slide back into the old patterns of our previous life.

So over the course of 5 months, from April 28, 2015 the day the stent was placed to September I lost a total of 35 pounds, I currently weigh 175 pounds…175! I passed the 190 mark in June and the rehab team was so supportive! Never would I have ever imagined that was a possibility. Once we met that goal, we set the next; let’s aim to be really healthy, not just healthy enough; and so we did, and so I am. My blood pressure, cholesterol, and all other cardiac indicators are in great shape, well below any range of risk. The key was simply eating right and exercise, nothing more, nothing less. There was no special diet plan, no meal plan,  no exercise regimen that is officially licensed and on sale anywhere. I simply ate fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, limited meats to fish (mostly salmon) and occasionally chicken, and exercised regularly. I would run three times a week for about 30-45 minutes at a time. When I was hungry I would eat, when I was energized I would exercise. The key in my opinion was what I was eating and portion control. We stopped using the big plates in the cabinet and did our best to keep portions into their recommended serving sizes. We reduced/eliminated sugars, cheeses, most dairy and processed foods, focusing only on “real food”. I don’t want to minimize the impact of this change in our lives, but it truly was as simple as that. We did not simply stick to the cardiac, low sodium regimen, we instead dove head first into the healthy eating category regardless of marketing label plastered on a package. It wasn’t an overnight transition, and it took a great amount of effort, but over time it worked and the weight has stayed off too. I wasn’t worried about the yo-yo affect of a diet, because I wasn’t on a diet, we simply had changed our lifestyle. We decided that it was time to be better than good, so along with some information, inspiration, hard work and dedication we are a much healthier family. I cannot help but believe that had I not gone through that journey last year, this current battle with cancer would not be as optimistic as it currently is.

Today, I find myself gearing up for this new battle, again gathering information and inspiration, preparing to do the hard work of radiation and chemotherapy treatment and focusing on the dedication towards the goal of our bright future together!