A Big Turnaround: Losing Weight Can Mean a Better Life
Kevin Thomson, before and after his weight loss
A year ago, UnitedHealthcare member Kevin Thomson was not a healthy man. At age 39, the Bentonville, Ark., resident had high blood pressure and prediabetes. He carried 352 pounds on a 5-foot-6-inch frame. His back hurt so much he had to use a cane to walk. On top of his health problems, he was having difficulty at work, and his boss was concerned about his performance. In fact, Thomson was literally falling asleep at work.
That was then. This is now: Thomson's blood pressure and blood glucose are normal. He walks without a cane. And, he's alert at work. In fact, he's been promoted to manager.
What made the difference? About 180 pounds. That's how much weight Thomson lost. Shedding those pounds has not only improved his health, it's given him a new outlook on life.
The root of the problem
For the last 10 years, Thomson had been overweight. And, it had become a serious issue. His weight had even interfered with his job as a car salesman. "I couldn't fit into the smaller cars," Thomson says. "So I'd just hand the keys to the customer and say, 'Go ahead and take a ride. I can't fit in without a shoe horn."
However, though Thomson knew he had a weight problem, it was his daytime sleepiness that first drove him to seek medical help. His doctor ordered a sleep study, which turned up a surprising result. "I had one of the worst cases of sleep apnea they'd ever seen," Thomson says. "It was so bad that I would turn blue while I slept."
Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing stops briefly but repeatedly during sleep. In Thomson's case, it happened more than 150 times in one hour. "There was no way I was getting any sleep," he says. "The doctor said that his dog, with all his jumping and twitching, slept better than me." What's worse, without treatment sleep apnea can also increase the risk of serious conditions, such as heart attack and stroke.
It was disturbing news, but it pointed Thomson in a possibly life-saving direction. His doctor started him on treatment, including medication. In addition, he told Thomson that being overweight is an important risk factor of sleep apnea and recommended a weight-loss program.
A nutrition education
Losing weight is never easy. For Thomson it took serious willpower and a re-education when it came to food.
Simply put, Thomson didn't know much about healthful eating. "I never learned about nutrition," he says. "I made a lot of poor choices that turned into bad habits." These choices included eating fast food frequently and vegetables rarely. A typical day might include doughnuts for breakfast, a burger with fries and a shake for lunch, and an entire pizza for supper.
The medically supervised program that Thomson joined countered his bad food habits with good information about healthful eating. The program's doctor also prescribed an appetite suppressant to get him started, along with a nutritional drink as a meal replacement both on a temporary basis. Perhaps more important, Thomson learned how attitudes and behavior affect food choices. For example, people often eat too much because they turn to food for emotional reasons both when they're happy and when they're sad. And, Thomson says, marketing persuades people to eat unhealthful, processed foods.
Thomson's weight-loss program gave him tools to avoid these dietary pitfalls. He learned techniques to help control portion sizes, such as putting your meal on a saucer instead of a dinner plate. He also discovered the value of fresh fruits and vegetables and how to exercise at home without expensive equipment. His group even went on a field trip to a supermarket for a lesson in shopping. "You get your produce, your whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meat, and then you leave," Thomson says.
With time, Thomson began to change his relationship with food. "We make emotional bonds with our eating behaviors," he says. "You have to break those bonds and build new habits based on knowledge."
And, his hard work paid off as he shed more and more pounds until he finally reached his weight-loss goal.
A new man
At his new weight, Thomson looks and feels healthier. He no longer needs to take medicines for high blood pressure or sleep apnea. And, his doctor calls him a poster child for great blood test results his blood glucose and cholesterol are well under control.
In fact, Thomson is a real model for his weight-loss program, as well. New attendees see a life-size photo of him at 352 pounds, then he walks up and stands beside it. "You should see their jaws drop," Thomson says.
Thomson is thankful to UnitedHealthcare for the part they played in his transformation, as well. "Of all the insurance companies I've had, they're by far the best. For most other people in the program, insurance didn't cover any of it."*
Along with his better health, Thomson now has a new attitude toward life. "It's not just how I look, it's how I feel," he says. "I'm making better eating decisions. And, I'm excited at the prospect of living a truly healthful, wonderful life!"
Update: Since the time of the interview, Thomson has even more great news he's now engaged to be married. And, he met his fiancée in his weight-loss class. Congratulations, Kevin and Diane!
*Individuals should check their plan benefits to determine whether a given program is a covered benefit.