Ann Davis, 45, a cardiologist in Naperville, IL, talks about the moment she started taking her own get-healthy advice to heart.
For years I didn't follow the advice I was giving my patients about losing weight and protecting their hearts. I was very overweight but in total denial. Little sleep and lots of stress during medical school, my residency and on-call shifts had led me to make bad food choices and skip exercise. A typical day of eating for me was no breakfast, pizza for lunch, a sugary pastry in the afternoon and a late-night fast-food dinner of a burger and fries. Deep down I knew my health was suffering, but I justified my habits by saying I was too busy.
In 2008, a number of physicians I knew who were all 50 years old passed away from a sudden heart attack. I couldn't help but wonder if I was next. "Get busy living or get busy dying" really started to ring true.
I was overwhelmed at the idea of cooking and planning meals with my unpredictable schedule, so I chose to do Jenny Craig (now called Jenny) to kickstart my weight loss for the first few months. I also signed on with a personal trainer for two sessions a week. I told her I knew how to treat heart attacks, but I didn't know how to lift weights! I walked on the treadmill for 15 to 20 minutes, and then we did a few exercises with small weights. After four months, I had lost 50 pounds and transitioned into making my own food. I focused on eating small, frequent meals throughout the day, made up of complex carbs, protein and fats (like a whole-grain English muffin with turkey and avocado slices for lunch). I started working out on my own, too. Change is hard, and at first there were days when I would struggle, but habits really do become easier the longer you do them (and dropping sizes is a great motivator to keep going). I began jogging for short bouts, and as my running sessions got longer, I signed up for and ran a 5K. This past fall I even ran the Chicago Marathon!
My weight-loss journey has made me a better doctor. I have a lot more energy, and I'm able to counsel patients in a more empathetic, passionate way since I know first hand how powerful diet and exercise changes are. As I'm advising patients on the habits they need to adopt, I weave in bits and pieces of my own experience, which really resonates with them.
I'm a busy working mom who hadn't been exercising or eating so well—when they see that I did it, they know they can, too.
I knew that if this new life was going to last, it also needed to involve my husband and two sons (ages 9 and 6). I didn't want all of us to think, Oh, Mommy's on a diet, because that would make healthy living seem like a short-term thing. Not only was I setting a good example, but having my family join in also meant I was more likely to stick with it. My sons learned to read food labels along with me, and my husband took up running.