What Got You Started on the Road to Healthier Living--and What Keeps You There?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
We’re heading into that time of year when many people start thinking about making some healthy changes in their lifestyle for the coming year, and the blogosphere is full of interesting and inspiring success stories that help us see what’s possible. Here’s a good example, about a man named Adam Slack who managed to lose more than 375 pounds and dramatically transform his life.  His journey began after an emergency room doctor took one look at him at 585 pounds and offered to help him prepare his obituary.

This dose of pretty extreme and unorthodox “toughlove,” coming from a medical professional, apparently was just what Slack needed to get himself started. But it could just as easily have had the opposite effect, leaving him feeling shamed, threatened, or simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of his problem. Any of those reactions would probably make it harder, not easier, for him to actually accept and utilize whatever information, advice and support the doctor and other potential helpers had to offer. And as Adam himself said, this wasn’t the first time a doctor had made it clear that his weight and lifestyle was causing major problems. But this time, somehow, the doctor’s very blunt message clicked, and Slack was on his way to incredible changes.

Which raises a very interesting question:
Why was this time different? Was there something special about what the doctor said, or the way he said it? Can we identify what happened here and figure out how to make the same thing happen whenever we want to help ourselves or someone else move past whatever is keeping us stuck in unhealthy or unhelpful behavior patterns?

Over the years I’ve struggled with quite a few very unhealthy habits: heavy smoking, excessive beer drinking, and compulsive overeating, to name a few. I heard a lot of doctors give me dire warnings about what I was doing to my health, and tell me what I needed to change.  But that didn’t seem to help. After many failed efforts, I did manage to stop smoking cold turkey (1983), and cut my drinking down to a “normal” level (1990), but I honestly don’t know what made these attempts work when so many previous attempts had failed. I do know that my overeating got worse as I dropped these other habits, with the result that by the time I turned 50, my weight was up to about 400 pounds, I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs, and my physical exam showed I had many of the “lifestyle diseases” that came with the way I was living: type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, sleep apnea, back problems, and chronic depression.  My doctors weren’t quite offering to help me write my own obituary yet, but they were pretty clear I was digging myself an early grave.

But here again, this was nothing I hadn’t heard before, many times. I had been obese for many years and unhappy about it, and had even managed to lose quite a bit of weight many times, only to put it all and more back on again. Nevertheless, I set out once again to get the weight off and develop some healthier eating and exercise habits. That was about 11 years ago. Over the next two years, I lost 170 pounds, and I’m still at that weight today. I did regain about 40 pounds last year while dealing with several major health problems that had me in the hospital four times and unable to exercise for long chunks of time (and don’t get me started on hospital food). But I’ve now gotten back down to my goal weight and am back to my regular exercise and eating routines.

I wish I could say that I’ve finally figured out “the secret” to starting a successful and lasting lifestyle makeover.  Maybe the fear factor played a big role and maybe the doctors who kept telling me what I was doing to my body pushed me over the edge into getting serious about my efforts. But I don’t think that was the key ingredient. By the time doctors were involved, I had already become a true master of denial, rationalization, procrastination, pessimism, and several other techniques for deflecting any dose of reality the doctors could throw at me. But at some point all those tricks just stopped working. It was almost as if some part of me—a sort of inner voice I had not heard or recognized before--no longer wanted or needed them to work.

I do know that, even with that new part of me on the scene, it takes a lot of effort on my part to stay in touch and do my part in letting new behaviors and habits take the place of old ones. I still have to constantly check myself to see if I’m letting those old mental habits creep back into my daily choices, or really letting myself be guided by that inner voice that knows what I really need and want. This isn’t always so simple—it turns out my inner voice likes chocolate, too. But at least now I know that I really do like being physically active, eating healthy foods, and generally taking decent care of myself. When I start to think otherwise, I just need to stop for a minute and listen to my own experience. My body is not the enemy any more.

I think that’s where real “toughlove” comes in. It’s not so much about delivering the “brutal truth” as it is about making yourself take a minute to challenge the thoughts, feelings, and habits that keep you trapped in bad habits, so that something else can rise up in their place. Sometimes, that challenge can come from other people, like a doctor, a friend, or a fellow traveler; you can also learn to give yourself effective doses of toughlove when you need them.

Anyway, that’s my story. What’s yours? Was there some particular experience that set you on the path to change? What helps you stay there?

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CATNAP6291 9/28/2020
good article Report
What a great article, Dean. Thank you for sharing it. I was particularly moved by my physician the one time she seemed to really care about my answers and comments during a physical. So many doctors just go through the motions and are not really paying attention to their patients or giving them actual "care". It's great that you ran into one that took the time to reach out to you. Report
NENEBFIT 3/29/2020
Thanks for sharing your amazing journey. Congratulations on your accomplishments! You are truly inspiring! Report
CECELW 11/12/2019
aging is what keeps me motivated to stay strong and eat healthy. I do have cheat days though. I work out 5-6 days a week Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
My Dad raised us to eat healthy due to some medical problems he encountered. Because of healthy living and fitness, I can say I am blessed not to have a lot of problems people my age have. This keeps me going, feeling good and looking better. Report
Thank you for being an inspiration. Report
good points Report
A bit over five years ago I was told by the family dr. to either lose some weight or lose your feet. I didn't need to be told twice. For the past year I am no longer classified as being diabetic or obese, but now I have a new problem: big C. C'est la vie! And sometimes it isn't fair. Report
Having to increase my blood pressure dosage :( My goal is to be rid of the medicine by eating healthy and exercising consistently. Report
Thank you for sharing your journey with me and so many others! It is inspiring! Report
Being shocked that I needed a hip replacement at the age of 55. I thought it was a back problem. Keeping my weight down and a healthy lifestyle are really important for my joint health. Report
I work at a hospital and saw just how many of my patients suffered from the complications of Diabetes. The amputee, dialysis, heart attack, keto acidosis that they suffered from was going to be the future of my diabetic self. Once that reality hit me, nothing could stop me from changing course to a healthy life. I dropped 65lbs on spark by eating right and exercising. I still have 50lbs to go but I have the tools and the reasons to succeed. Report
What got me started? Mid-life crisis. What keeps me going? The feeling I get when pedaling away on my exercise bike: that somehow, if I can just fly fast enough, I can out-race mortality. (Ok, that's just a fantasy. But I do FEEL as if I'm at least turning the clock back!) Report
A bit over two weeks ago I realised I was overweight. I knew I had gained some weight, but when that has happened before it has just meant I was in the higher part of normal BMI instead of the lower, so I did not really think about it. Then I stepped on a scale and realised I weighed nearly as much as towards the end of my pregnancy. I checked my BMI and, right enough, it was right in the middle of the overweight category.

Over the last year I have had a less comfortable relationship with my body (mainly not vanity-based) as well as various health troubles that I knew was linked to overweight and my diet respectively. As soon as I figured out I was overweight all of that made sense.

I had been using sparkpeople for years and years - for working myself out of over-eating and changing my diet in other ways, mainly, so I was familiar enough with the tools to be able to not hestitate or procrastinate. My mother and boyfriend are along for the ride, so I can both give and get plenty of support.

I feel really lucky to have discovered this while it was still managable and before shame had time to rear its ugly head, and before I had moved over into obesity (as I certainly would have with the way I was eating, and fast too). I know plenty of people get out of that too, but still, I just have to acknowledge my very, very good luck here. Report
Very inspriational! Congrats for all your accomplishments. I know you've kept it going. What keep me there? Different things. Wanting to be a healthy role model for my family, the drag to the gym and the results of working out, good reports from doctor visits, having energy, building confidence, etc. Every day is not an easy day, but it's another day that you've been given to better your health.

Wishing you continued success. Report
You are inspirational! Report
Thank you for the encouragement Report
Congrats on your loss and getting your head on straight!!! It is amazing how important that "head stuff" is!!! I have asked myself the same question this time around....WHAT has made me get it right this time? I am 63 years old and have lost weight many times...and gained it back. This time I was flirting with early diagnosed diabetes...methinks that was the key, but not sure. I know that having the support of SparkPeople has made an enormous difference....I have lost 121 lbs and am approaching my ninth month of maintenance....I exercise 5-6 days a week, which is AMAZING for me - AND my diabetes is not a factor!!! I just know I will stay here now!!!! Report
Dean, your story was inspiring to me! Congratulations on your weight loss road to recovery. I was not the one with all the lifestyle habits, ie. smoking, drinking, etc. But food was an addiction and I'm not sure why. No emotional hang ups. Turning 53 was my "aha" moment. I had been told by doctors for years that I needed to lose weight, exercise more. But all attempts failed. The 53 was the trigger for me, b/c that is the age my father passed away from a heart attack and I realized I could be the next to go. I immediately had to do something. Fortunately, I have a grown daughter who had been encouraging me to stop with the excuses (meds keeping weight on, etc) and start eating healthier and encouraging me to get out and walk. So that is when I contacted my SIL who is also on this site and asked her what the name of this website was. April 10, 2010 was my "start date" for Sparkpeople, and the group I joined helped me all this past year and a half and I am now 2 lbs to my goal!! I plan to be there by Christmas. I want to encourage you to continue to tell people your story and help inspire them to get on this lifestyle change. That is what it has been for me-not a diet, but a healthy lifestyle! Thank you for sharing your story with us! May God bless your efforts and may you have a Merry Christmas! Kat Report
ToughLove!!! This is sooooo amazing! Thank GOD, you found the right person, at the right time, and place for you to hear "HIS WORDS!" I am a firm believer that we "hear what we want, but it is SAID more than once, until we HEAR HIS WORDS of help!" Report
You really inspire me Dean!
I think my moment of truth came when I realized I was the "Fat Aunt", but that I wasn't jolly enough to wear the role. In my family Aunt June was everybody's favorite person to be around. She was big, but she was always laughing and making everyone around her glad to be near her. She was a real extrovert.

In my generation I got the June role, but I'm not June. I'm an introvert. My beautiful sister, and my creative sister, both fit the mold, but I found that I wasn't able to be the life of the party, so the party was leaving me behind.

A much better way to embrace June's legacy was to embrace life, not an extra 75 lbs.

Spark was on the web waiting for me when I was finally ready to look for it. I'm so glad I did! Report
Congratulations on this amazing accomplishment and I wish you all the success in keeping it up! The 1st big weight loss of 187 lbs between 2005-2007, I was motivated to leave an abusive relationship I spent 5 years in. This time around, I have 93.8 lbs off from November 2009 to the present, motivated by a man that showed me there are males in this world who want to marry and have a family. He is my support and it makes all the difference. He gives me incentives to reach small goals. Report
The thing that got me here on Spark and living a more healthy life was watching the movie "WALL-E", strange but true. Report
I´ve always wanted to be a jogger again, which motivated me to join Spark, and ove the last perhaps 7 years I´ve gone from 215 to 173, but the last truly motivator was realizing that at my now 64 yrs I´d betterjust do it. Suffer from high cholesterol and pre diabetes if I´m not careful. The doctor who also believes in honesty told me that all my health problems stemmed from overweight. I made a committment to walk any race that comes up in my area of Ecuador, and am excercising more frequently and VERY aware of the need to eat healthfully to reach goals of jogging again and excellent health.
Glad you're back, Coach Dean! Report
My defining moment was when the doctor told me I would probably die in a couple of years. I had all the same medical issues that you had. I had went to see him for help in getting a electrical cart to get around in. He told me if he approved that , I would die in that cart and he didn't want that to happen.
I had given up on myself, so had my family, but he hadn't. I thank him every day.
Earlier in my life I too had given up smoking, cold turkey. Quit drinking. no problem. But my food addiction was out of control. I was 333 lbs and needed to get down to 136. That was 23 months ago. I am now 137 and feel like a million.
Going to celebrate my 70th birthday this month. I might be 70, but feel like 45.
Life is good.!!! Report
Great blog, Dean! I knew that you used to weigh more than you do now, but I had no idea that you weighed 400 pounds at one point!! Your story is an inspiration. I have a little bit more than 170 pounds to lose (186 to be exact), but drawing strength from myself, you, and others on the SparkPeople site I know that I will reach my healthy living goals. By the way, that was totally hilarious when you wrote "it turns out my inner voice likes chocolate, too." So does mine! But thank goodness our inner voices know what is an appropriate amount of chocolate to eat and can guide us to make good choices...even when we indulge in some chocolate. Thanks for sharing; sparkle on!

Kim McCright Report
My aha - was dual - my sister joined a weight-loss study and I thought "great she's always been thinner, now I'll REALLY be the beached whale on the beach when we go next time" then I found my own weight-loss study and the second was the thought that these people are doing research - important research and I'm part of it, I can't let the study down. And I didn't - they call me their poster child. What was cool was they taught me the same things as sparkpeople!
What keeps me going - I keep old pics of me on the fridge and even more so I couldn't stand all the looks I would get from the people who have been telling me they are proud of me, I don't think they'd say they are disappointed, but I'm sure I'd read it in their eyes and that would devastate me. Report
My moment was when my grandchildren seen home movies of myself when I was a teen. I was in pretty good shape and at a healthy weight. They asked my daughter their mother, if she remembered me that way and she said she did many years ago. My sons only remember me has Big Momma!, so this was my moment of awareness that I needed to do something. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired! Report
Thank you for this new blog, Coach Dean! It is always inspiring to read your well thought and well written articles.
My best motivation came from my grandchildren. They were lots of fun, but it got harder and harder to carry or pick them up. I was afraid of appearing old and decrepit... so I started strength training, walking and exercising at CURVES. Now they are big enough to join in on hikes and I was thrilled to be called "Extreme Grandma" by my 10-year old grandson.
When I head for the drive-through or flop on the couch, I can remind myself that is not how an extreme grandma behaves. Report
My moment was when I saw a picture of myself and was not happy of what I had become. I looked older than my mother! I also wanted to enjoy times with my active daughter and not get tired. Report
My aha moment - I was watching an infomercial for Tony Horton's 10-minute trainer thinking, "Maybe I should try this" when my then 5-yr old son came in the room, watched for about 30 seconds, and then said, "Mom, you should get that.". The bluntness of the statement and the fact my son was basically telling me I was fat, was all I needed to hear. It was hard to hear but it motivated me to get moving! Report
i think it was moving back to southern CA from the san francisco area and my boyfriend and i realizing how much we had let ourselves go. and thus began my journey. it has been difficult and not without it's pitfalls--lose a lot--gain some back--lose some more--gain a little back. but i am determined NOT to go back to where i came from! Report
I knew I was overweight, had been for some time, but had been battling major depression and lots of emotional issues. For me, it was the simple act of my mom saying, quietly and sincerely, "I'm worried about you." I don't know why that was what it took, but I lost 15 pounds over the next 9 months. A few years later, after DD was born and I was back to that lower weight, it took... finding SparkPeople, of course! I lost 27 more pounds over the next two years. This summer, another round of depression put 10 pounds back on, but at least now I know I am capable of reversing that again. Thanks Dean; it's great to have you back, and to have the reminders that while the specific motivations are hard to pinpoint, it's good to know that we can indeed handle the ups and downs... and, when necessary, turns the UP's back into DOWN's! Report
For almost a year and a half, my back pain was making it impossible to walk around. Grief was shoving my face into the ground. On August 11th, 2009, God shoved me to call the local pool and he carried me to my first aquafit class. Every day I force myself to be thankful for being alive and having one more day to live. I can't give up - God won't let me. Thanks for listening. Report
I have gone through some of the same things you have and I applaude your ability to find your way to your solutions. Thank you for sharing!!! Report
My initial moment came in 2005 when I was over 300 lbs & my daughter (18 months) began running & I struggled to catch her. We happened to be in a shopping complex where a WW meeting was taking place. I immediately walked in & joined without a 2nd thought. Now I am joining SP because after maintaining my goal weight for a couple years, I also had some health issues and regained about 50lbs. I am putting a stop to it with the help of SP. My duty is to love, care for and set the example for my daughter - I couldn't do it the way I really wanted to when I was 300 and I have noticed some sacrifices/adjustments I am making just having regained the 50lbs. I will conquer this once again! Report
You are an inspiration to everyone. Congrats for all your accomplishments. Just keep on going. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week. Report
That is fantastic. My wake up call was when told the doctor that if I fell in the floor I couldn't get up. He said "I think you can, get down in the floor and if you can't get up I will help you. Well my 204 pounds got in the floor and I couldn't get up. The doctor tried to get me up and was very embarrassed when he couldn't get me up so had to call in his heaviest nurse (who was heavier than I) and it took both of them to get me up. I immediately started losing weight. I had already gone from a heavy 232 to 204 and reached my goal weight of 152 in 9 months. Report
SO GOOD TO SEE YOU BACK COACH DEAN. What a bright spot in my day to find you here. TOUGH LOVE..............YEP.......You've got it right and right on with this story of Adam. Hoping to see more of your writings.
Glad to see you back, Dean, but can't imagine that you packed back on 40#, but glad to know you got it off again. I regained 33# while waiting to have gallbladder surgery for three months while they decided if I really needed it or not, so after the surgery, I managed to get it back off again, but since I have Insulin Resistance/Metabolic Syndrome it wasn't easy to do. i made up my mind to not be fat, because at my age I don't want Type 2 Diabetes or a heart attack. The doctors were no help, so I had to figure what to do for myself. Just read Gary Taubes' "WHY WE GET FAT AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT" so I know I won't be getting fat again. Report
Coach Dean!!! So good to se you back and blogging. I think of you often, and have always enjoyed your writings. Good to hear you are back at goal weight. It was a tough year for you.

So why is hospital food so bad for us? Report
Great to read a blog from you again Coach Dean! Your words always connect with me. Thanks. Report
About 3 years ago, my husband and I were going to fly to visit my family. From the moment I booked our flights, I began to panic about "what if" I have to ask for a seat belt extender. I remembered the last time we flew, I could barely get the seat belt buckled, and I had gained weight since then. I would rather die than embarrass us both on an airplane full of people. I was really ashamed even thinking about it, and it stayed on my mind until after both flights when we got back home. I was so thankful I didn't have to get one, but I barely got buckled in, and I noticed a woman larger than I across the isle who couldn't buckle hers, but laid her jacket on top. It just stuck with me and I started worrying about gaining more weight, and becoming limited in what I can or can't do, and where that might be. I also noticed in different chairs and booths, that I was very uncomfortable and had a hard time squeezing in. Humiliation and self loathing finally did it. I was truly ready then though to go through with the next effort. I've stuck with it so far, and I flew home in May of this year, and guess what? There was plenty of room for me in the seat belt, with extra to spare. It was such an awesome feeling! I also never worried about getting into it. Report
It's good to see you back in action, Coach Dean. I'm glad to know you're feeling better!

I think your statement that "My body is not the enemy anymore" is really significant and certainly represents part of what changed for me. I take loving care of my body knowing that it's the only one I get. I want to live a long and vigorous life, so I've got to be smart about what I put into my body and how I use it. Now that I've gotten used to doing so I really can't imagine going back to the way I used to feel. The challenge is to keep that from ever happening.... Report
I haven't had my AHA moment yet either--but have not given up!!! Just taking one day at a time! Report
I've gotten started without any sort of shocking "okay, this time I have to get it right" moment. Instead, it was a convergence of several other things.

I gained control of my finances. I moved into a place completely on my own instead of continuing to house and support my two adult children (19 and 20) who had not yet ever gotten a job. I realized I have plenty of baggage that will keep me out of relationships, so I don't need to maintain or add more weight (and its eventual harmful effects) to avoid men. Without the children "at home", I cook purely for me - so controlling the food in the house is easy - and do activities on my time - so fitness is easy as long as I avoid the lazies.

And so far so good. Report
You go ADAM !!
My health track began when I couldnt seem to keep up with my 5year young granddaughter.Always telling her to" slow down "or" wait a minute for memaw to catch up".Idid lose some weight & felt lots better.I could easily keep up with DGD as well.Only to gain it back.Now I am starting over again.I loved the way I felt when the pounds fell off.I want to feel that way again.health problems &doctor visits ) kept me on the go .test ,x-rays-blood work,I just got side tracked.But not anymore. Report
Very good report. My moment of truth came when I had to choose between buying a wheelchair to get around in or taking the stress off my back (too much fat). Thank goodness I found Spark People. The made it easier and gave me guidance when I needed it. Report