AFP InDepth | ‘Babysteps’ to good health

‘Wise choices’ guide overweight, obese back on the right track

Chris Libby feels like he could run forever.

“If you get on a Stairmaster for an hour, I can match you step for step,” said Libby, a fit and trim 173 pounds, after a midweek workout at the RMH Wellness Center.

Not that long ago, Libby could barely walk from the living room to the kitchen. He once tipped the scales at 600 pounds plus, and even after losing 200 pounds was at the 419-pound mark in June 2008 when he checked into Rockingham Memorial Hospital for gastric-bypass surgery.

“The best way I can describe it is it’s like I’ve won the lottery, I just don’t have the bank account to prove it. I feel tremendous. I feel like I can do anything anyone else can do. I have so many small victories. I love being able to walk around in a locker room with a towel wrapped around me. That’s something I couldn’t do. So many little things like that that I can do now,” Libby said.

Libby is obviously an extreme example of what people who are overweight and obese can do to get their lives back on a healthy track. It doesn’t need to be an intense workout regimen and extreme diet or surgery leading to massive weight loss.

“I think a total lifestyle change moving towards healthier eating and exercise that would eventually cause weight loss, that’s the ultimate. But if you can’t have the ultimate, I absolutely agree that even babysteps in the right direction are a good thing,” said Jane Blosser, a registered dietitian and the clinical coordinator of Medical Nutrition Therapy and the Diabetes Outpatient Program at Augusta Health.

Babysteps. Eating a little better, moving around a little more. Cutting down on fast food, getting a single Whopper instead of a double. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to the post office instead of driving.

“If we can just get people moving, walking 15 minutes a day compared to having no physical activity at all, we’re moving in the right direction,” said Eric Good, the facility director at Augusta Health Lifetime Fitness.

“We really try to push an overall healthy lifestyle as opposed to just weight loss,” said Angela Kaltenborn, an exercise physiologist at Augusta Health. “Muscle weighs more than fat, so you’re going to see that fluctuation even with water retention. We really try to stay away from the numbers specifically.”

“I think that’s the more positive approach,” Blosser said. “Don’t focus on weight loss. Focus on lifestyle change. If you’re exercising three days a week, let’s try to get that to five days a week the next quarter. Babysteps can work well as long as you don’t stop at meeting the first set of goals and move up to the next.”

There is a fine line, though, between babysteps and a backslide. Libby knows that all too well. “I’ve always been overweight, all my life,” said Libby, who would try hard for a few weeks or even one time for six months, “and that time I lost 60 pounds, which is a great accomplishment for most people, but 60 pounds to me was like taking a drop of sand out of a bucket.”

“So I’d get discouraged and not stick with it. You know, I’ve been busting my ass for six months, and I still don’t look like I’ve done anything,” Libby said.

What turned things around for Libby: “”I got to the point where I was real depressed. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t really get out of my house. Something had to change. I either had to want to die or live. I couldn’t continue being the way I was,” he said.

Here we come upon another fine line in dealing with obesity. Libby’s bout with depression is not uncommon among the overweight and obese.

“Whether or not a person has healthy eating habits and exercises on a regular basis is not anyone’s business but their own. Whether or not my fat body is healthy is not their business. Whether or not I accept and love my fat body and encourage others to do the same is not their business,” said Peggy Howell of the Oakland, Calif.,-based National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, which fights for the civil rights of the overweight and obese in the workplace.

It’s at least comparably as dangerous for people to have to deal with mental issues associated with their weight as it is for them to have to deal with the physical. And the mental part doesn’t necessarily go away even when you’ve lost more than 400 pounds like Chris Libby has.

“I’ve heard the horror stories about people gaining all their weight plus some extra back,” Libby admitted. “But to be honest with you, I come from such a screwed-up place, man, that I had literally hit rock bottom. I’ve been there, and it’s a place I don’t want to go back to.

“I will continue on the course I’m on. I will not gain the weight back,” Libby said.

Waynesboro Mayor Tim Williams is an example in the keeping-it-off realm. Williams joined the Waynesboro YMCA in 1992 after seeing himself in a home video and deciding that he needed to get himself back in shape.

“You have to be disciplined,” Williams said. “Many times I push away from the table, and I’m still hungry. You just have to be disciplined. You have to make wise choices. Stay away from salt. Stay away from anything premade in a box. Get some kind of a workout or exercise in. It’s not easy. I know I don’t have as much time as I did 15 years ago, but you have to keep at it.”


– Story by Chris Graham



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