For some, the moment of awareness happens in a flash—seeing an unflattering photograph or experiencing a death in the family. For others, it's gradual—a growing awareness that they're not getting any younger or healthier. Here are four rehabilitated health-seekers' accounts of what made them change their health habits for good.
Change of Heart
A few weeks after Paul LaMar turned 40, his doctor told him he'd have to start taking medication for his sky-high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Unhappy with this prescription, Paul asked his doctor for eight weeks to bring down those levels by making changes in his lifestyle. "About four years ago, I brought my cholesterol count from three fifty to one sixty-seven through diet and exercise," says Paul. "The doctor couldn't believe it." As time passed, however, he returned to his old habits and his blood levels crept back up. Though his doctor is more concerned about heart disease and stroke this time around, Paul is employing the same cholesterol-lowering tactics—he's running three to five miles a week, walking to and from work, and eating better. "I've stopped eating so much cheese, and I skip red meat altogether. And as much as I hate to do this, I've cut down on alcohol." Six weeks into his program (and eight pounds lighter), Paul feels so good that he plans to make his new healthy lifestyle permanent. "I know that this time, if I can lower my cholesterol without drugs, it will have to be more than a temporary change."
For the Love of Basketball
At 28, Danya Reich didn't know thatbasketball would change her life—or her body image. An epic dieter with a negative self-image and height complex—she's 5'9"—Danya discovered the game of basketball while watching a pickup game near work. "One day, I met a woman who noticed my interest and offered to give me some pointers. She practiced with me every day, and one day even included me in the game," Danya recalls. "I didn't even know how to dribble, but I knew I liked the game." Her next step: a course called Never Too Late Basketball. "The whole thing spiraled from there," says Danya, who has been playing at least three times a week for nearly five years. Since her foray into basketball, Danya's relationships with food and her body are much friendlier. "My body image has changed completely," says Danya, who now recognizes her height as an asset. "I can basically eat what I want now, and I don't pig out the way I used to. I also don't scrutinize fat and calorie counts anymore."
Learning by Example
Though Lisa Fremont, 28, was unhappy with her body throughout college, she couldn't commit to a diet and exercise plan long enough for it to work. If she spent two hours at the gym, she'd reward her efforts with a cheeseburger deluxe. "Unfortunately, even two hours of working out doesn't get rid of a cheeseburger with french fries and onion rings," she says. "In fact, there were many times when I didn't get to the gym and ate the cheeseburger anyway." It took a conversation with a friend who had just dropped 20 pounds to make her realize that she could change her body. "She looked fantastic and seemed really happy. I asked her what her secret was, and she told me that she just got tired of being fat," remembers Lisa. "As she spoke, it hit me: I wasn't going to stare in the mirror and hate my body anymore. I was going to do something about it." Starting the next day, she gave up the greasy burgers and passed on bread before dinner. Out went red meat and cheese, and in went fish and fruits and vegetables. Her commitment to fitness also intensified, and she began going to the gym at least three days a week and taking ballet classes in the evening. In three months, she had lost 20 pounds and was down to a size six. "I still have to watch what I eat, but I feel fine eating the occasional steak and fries," says Lisa. "It's all about moderation."
Sifting through a packet of photos from a Caribbean holiday last year, Nancy Kalish, 39, and her husband Steve, 40, had a depressing jolt of reality. Although they had always tried to eat well and were avid exercisers, they hadn't been watching their weight—and it showed in the snaps. "I found this picture where I had snorkeling gear on the top half of my body. I couldn't believe how terrible the bottom half looked," remembers Nancy. "I put the photo on the back of my medicine cabinet." She and her husband gave their diet and exercise plan complete overhauls. The means: a high-protein, low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet that meant an end to their old routine of cereal for snacks and large bowls of pasta for dinner. Nancy believes that the high-protein diet was more satisfying than their old way of eating, so it allowed her to eat less. Plus, she's eating more vegetables. The strategy worked: Nancy lost 12 pounds; Steve, 22. "I'm back to the weight I was in college," she says.