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Live the good life

healthy diet foodBy Suezette Olaker
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Cleopatra was considering retiring from her job of many years. She had worked her way up to a management position, and had saved enough for a comfortable retirement. Exercise was never her “thing,” and she joked that her exercise was blinking her eyes in rapid succession a few times every morning before climbing out of bed.

She was a wonderful cook, and loved to entertain friends and family. She and her husband enjoyed many leisurely hours on their boat — fishing, and soaking up the sun. There was only one problem. Her body was giving out before she was ready to give up.

Cleopatra had been overweight for many years. High blood pressure and diabetes were conditions that had complicated her life, with several toes amputated, and problems with circulation. (Her gall bladder surgery long ago was not even something she thought about, though it had resulted from her high fatty food intake.)

She had back and knee pain (more complications of being obese), which made moving about increasingly more difficult. She thought she had handled everything reasonably well until now. Her kidneys were failing, and she was facing the prospect of dialysis. Retiring from her job was a no brainer, but what about the “good life” she wanted to continue?

Woefully, Cleopatea contemplated her lifestyle, and her excesses over the years. Her “good life” was enjoyable initially, but totally ignored the way the body was intended to function. She had not eaten judiciously, so suffered many of the problems related to overeating. As a result of inadequate exercise, she lacked strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. Now, she was losing even more function, as her kidneys had failed completely. If only she had heeded all those warnings…

Don’t let this happen to you. Take a good look at yourself and where you are headed. Every choice has consequences.

Are you overweight? Be honest about your eating habits. Consider the fact the physiologic purpose of eating and drinking is to sustain the body — to provide the nutrients the body needs for health and vitality.

Why do you eat, and when? Do you ever really get hungry?

Eat for the right reasons, and in moderation. Pay attention to what a portion size is, and measure if necessary. Know the essentials of what you are eating (calories, sugar, fat, sodium).

What would you gain or lose from losing weight?

You might experience fewer aches and pain, note improvement in blood sugar or diabetes, and better blood pressure levels. You might also expect more energy. (If you’ve been carrying a 50 pound weight for several years, and finally put it down, wouldn’t you expect to feel less burdened?)

Sometimes, though, people experience psychological adjustments and feel out of their comfort zone, as others notice their body shape, and some roles or abilities change.

There could be mental and physical health affects either way. Maintain a support system — friends, family, counselor(s), etc. — to confer with as you deal with life’s challenges.

Set a “drop dead” weight limit and stick to it.

It’s easy to gain weight, and not realize it. More food and drink on special occasions typically translate into a few more pounds in a few days.  If you have a net weight gain of just 10 pounds each year, you’ll have added a whopping 100 pounds in 10 years. Let the pattern continue beyond that, and the pounds will multiply accordingly.

It’s tempting to keep buying larger clothes — for comfort and looks. Or, to wear clothes with elastic waist — oversized, baggy clothes — like sweats or scrubs. Instead, check yourself before excess weight gets totally out of hand. Decide on a weight you will never exceed, and don’t go beyond it. Choose a “barometer outfit.” Try it on periodically. When it’s too small or tight, it’s time to lose weight.

Proper nutrition is only part of living the good life. Creating and maintaining a fit body is another part of the equation. Regular exercise and stretching provides core strength and flexibility. By performing regular cardiovascular workouts (i.e. walking, dancing, gardening, shoveling snow, or working out in a gym), essential oxygen is carried to the all cells of the body and to the brain. Establishing positive relationships and keeping active mentally help balance the whole you.

Living the good life doesn’t have to be so complicated. Make prudent choices, look to the future, but live — really live — in the present. Go for the good life by taking care of the one life you have.

Dr. Suezette Olaker is a Detroit-based physician who serves as vice chairman of the Detroit Food Policy Council. She can be contacted at

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