Vanessa had been a patient for about ten years. At first, her only problem was maintaining a healthy weight. After a great deal of fad dieting and the birth of two children, Vanessa told me she had given up on trying to lose weight and would settle for not gaining any in the future. Unfortunately, that didn’t work either. As Vanessa grew from 140 to 160 to 185 to 210, I tried to explain that most of her new health problems stemmed from excess weight. But there’s only so much a doctor can do before it becomes the patient’s turn to step up and take charge of the situation.
Only 47, Vanessa was already taking medication to lower her blood pressure and cholesterol. Based on the results of her most recent visit, it looked like we were going to be adding something for pain because inflammation was making Vanessa’s knees, hips, and finger joints sore. Even worse, Vanessa was well on her way to passing the prediabetes markers and becoming diabetic. Even so, I just didn’t get the impression that she was willing to do the work required to turn her health around.
As is so often the case, it took a close relative’s bad experience to get Vanessa’s attention. Her mother-in-law had been taking a prescription medication for diabetes and had a heart attack, one of the more deadly side effects linked to the medicine. She survived the heart attack, but sadly she did not really recover her health. The only good to come from the situation was that Vanessa saw where she was headed.
“I like to eat,” she told me, “but I don’t want to end up like my mother-in-law. She’s in assisted living now and will probably have to stay there since she can’t drive or look after herself anymore.”
As I explained to Vanessa, the extra weight she was carrying around was causing more than just cosmetic concerns. She was developing symptoms that normally occur in older individuals. Not even 50 years old yet, she was already exhibiting signs of aging, such as painful joints, along with heart disease, and diabetes markers.
Long story short, Vanessa decided to take my advice seriously. She set herself a goal of getting off all medication in one year. By making small changes, including joining a community-based weight-loss group, Vanessa was able to lose the pounds slowly, so she was more likely to keep them off. As her weight went down, her medication needs were also reduced. By the time she hit her target weight of 135, Vanessa’s blood pressure and glucose readings were normal, and her joints were pain free. “I can do things now that I haven’t been able to do for years, like ride a bicycle and go skiing,” she told me. “And here I was thinking that I was almost 50 and my life was half over. Now I feel like it’s just starting!”
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: May 4, 2012