For nearly his entire life, David Stewart had a relationship with food he never even thought about, much less understood.
So when he looks back, its not surprising that there were no moments of clarity that pushed him to change his life. Instead, it was a culmination of things that mounted over time.
There were the expanding waistlines on his pants, which went from 40 inches to 42 inches to 44 inches.
There were the old pictures hed look at, the ones that made him reminisce about the trimmer man he used to be.
And then there was being diagnosed with hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
By then, he knew he needed to lose weight.
You dont really perceive it, he says now. I mean, its not like you become overweight overnight.
Its now after Christmas, and the new year is right around the corner. Its a time when people make resolutions and vow to change their ways.
One of the most common resolutions is a promise to lose weight; it also tends to be one of the most broken, if gym membership research is any indication.
For Stewart, though, a gym wasnt the answer. Through friends, he heard about a program at Lutheran Health Networks Weight Management Center, and soon enough, the now-50-year-old was on the phone, asking how to enroll.
When he entered the program in November 2010, he weighed 303 pounds. Within a year, hed lost more than a third of his body weight.
And what the program addressed most, what helped him the most, was something he never expected: the psychology behind his eating habits.
It probably saved my life, Stewart said of the program.
So far, things are calm. Sonya Wheatcraft, though, knows thats going to change.
Every year right around this time, a deluge of calls comes into Lutheran Health Networks Bariatric Center and Weight Management Center. Many will ask about the Optifast program, something Lutheran has offered for 15 years.
We dont like to use the word diet, Wheatcraft, the office coordinator, said of the program. They are lifestyle changes. Thats what we prefer.
The program is geared toward people who have a body mass index greater than 27 or who need medical supervision while losing weight.
People who enroll typically are between the ages of 30 and 60 – though some are younger or older – who are looking to lose more than 50 pounds or more without surgery.
There is also a new, less-intensive program for people who want to lose 20 pounds, Wheatcraft said.
Many who call have tried diets to lose weight, according to Wheatcraft, and have some knowledge about the food they should be eating.
People in the program are overseen and counseled by health care professionals, starting with a visit to the doctor.
Everything in our program is medically based, Wheatcraft said.
Eating while bored
What drew Stewart, senior vice president of sales at Sweetwater Sound, to the program was the seeming simplicity of it.
He knew what hed have to do and when to do it.
It was concrete. There wasnt a lot of ambiguity to it, he said.
That didnt mean it wouldnt be hard.
Those going into the program spend the first three months drinking nothing but five shakes a day and one protein bar. Thats it; nothing more.
The first week, the enthusiasm makes it not that bad, Stewart said. By week nine, I was hungry.
After those three months, real food is reintroduced, according to Stewart and Wheatcraft.
But the program also makes those who go through it face some of their psychological issues when it comes to food.
Stewart knew going in that group sessions would be a part of the program, the idea of which was about as unappealing to me as you can imagine, he said.
The night of his initial session, Stewart walked into the room before anyone else. A box of tissues at the center of a long table surprised him.
During that meeting, a behavior specialist went around the small group and zeroed in on what food meant to each person there.
Thats the linchpin to the whole thing, Stewart said. That whole environment, figuring out in your brain why youre eating the way you do.
For Stewart, he was eating while bored. A lot, he says.
Thered be times when hed have work to do, but the tasks would take him hours upon hours. And maybe hed have a meeting coming up that kept him from tackling those tasks immediately.
Hed kill dead time by eating – usually something terribly unhealthful.
One thing people misunderstand is that theres a huge psychological component to this, Stewart said.
Stewart knows the importance of exercise when it comes to losing weight. He bikes and runs regularly – though he hates running – and loves to play basketball.
As he went through the Optifast program – and the weight began to melt off – he found all of these things much easier to do. He was especially more adept at getting up and down the basketball court.
By October 2011, less than a year into the program, he had dropped to 199 pounds.
Its amazing how the knees could work without those 100 pounds, he said.
Its hard to pin down how many people stick with the program after their initial run, but many continue with Optifast supplements, much like Stewart does now.
It is part of my strategy to help me maintain, he said. I can eat one higher-calorie meal if I know the rest of the day is under control. The supplements make it a little easier for me to do that.
A recent injury has kept Stewart from exercising regularly, and hes hovering around the 214-pound mark. He hopes to get back to 200 pounds again soon.
As of now, though, hes off his diabetes medication, and hes being hailed as a success story by Lutheran officials.
So much so that he will be a guest speaker at a New Years Resolution Healthy Weight Loss event held by Lutheran in early January.
And hell be doing so as a man with much more energy and much happier with his health.