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Do this forever!

Medical issues crop up when we least expect it. Life goes along quite nicely, and all of a sudden someone you love is hit with startling test results, a heart attack, or maybe a stroke. Your head whirls with all the new information tossed out by doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and friends. Phrases fly through the air and you're meant to catch them.

"You'll need to watch your diet." "Exercise is key." "Watch your carbs." "Think low-fat and low-cholesterol." "Eat more fish." There is no end to the advice.

If you have a medical issue, your first thought is that you want to do whatever you can to correct it and prevent it from becoming worse. So you agree to go on the diet and add more exercise to your daily routine.

"How long will I need to be on this diet?" you might ask your doctor. Her answer is like a slap in the face with a wet dishcloth. "This is not a short-term diet. You need to make a lifestyle change. It's a forever program."

Forever is a very long time. We've had three instances of long-term medical issues in our family: My husband had a heart attack seven years ago. Two years ago, I learned I was pre-diabetic. And just recently, our 14-year-old granddaughter's blood test during an annual physical showed high cholesterol. None of us can afford to ignore the advice of health care professionals, so we're all making life changes.

Ken's heart attack involved a helicopter ride to a bigger hospital for a procedure to insert a stent in an artery with a 99 percent blockage.

"You're lucky to be alive," the cardiologist told him the next day. And then he went into the diet discussion, which boiled down to "Think low-fat, think low-cholesterol, and eat small portions at all times." It sounded like good advice for all of us, but hearing it and doing it are two different worlds.
Ken's cardiac rehab director stated over and over that this can't be for the 12 weeks of rehab; it has to be a complete lifestyle change. Forever! So we set about doing the things she advised.

I attended a cardiac nutrition class and learned how to cut fat and cholesterol from our diet. I learned many tips about turning family favorites into heart-healthy dishes. I worked on the diet and Ken worked on the exercise, and little by little we made changes that will be—forever! We slip back into old ways now and then, but we get right back on the program again.

It shocked me when my glucose numbers were in the pre-diabetes range during routine blood work for my annual physical. I'd put on 20 pounds over two years for no apparent reason, so my doctor added the glucose test to the standard blood test. I thought I'd been eating quite well since we'd been on Ken's cardiac diet, but there was more to come. Now I had to watch sugar and carbohydrates, too.

It took me a week to come to terms with this new issue. I did some research and learned which foods I should avoid and which ones I needed to be sure to eat. I worked at the diet and added daily exercise for six months, and the next blood test showed a distinct drop in the glucose number. The elation I felt didn't last long, as it dawned on me that I needed to keep on with my new life of diet and exercise. Forever!

Our granddaughter is slim and trim and has been active with dance and cheerleading. It was startling to her parents and to us that her blood test showed high cholesterol. As we discussed it over the phone, we had to admit that her eating habits may have added to the problem. She doesn't like cereal or fruit. She eats white rice, white pasta, white bread. No whole grains, so the amount of fiber she gets is minimal. Like most kids, she leans toward processed goodies like doughnuts, cookies, and crackers that are loaded with trans fats. Add in the trans fats that are rampant in fast-food menus and it's a recipe for disaster. Her family is in for some big life changes. Forever!

It's not easy to make these changes even when you know it's good for you. And the results of these changes aren't always immediate. The benefits may come a long time from now, particularly in our granddaughter's case. She needs to watch her diet now so she isn't having problems 20, 30, or 40 years down the road. My husband and I are both benefiting now, and we'll continue to do so.

Ken and I have had time to adapt to our new life, but our granddaughter is at square one. She's an intelligent girl who has tremendous determination, so I think she'll do well as soon as she gets her mind made up to work at this new problem.
In carrying out a life change, forever is a long time—but so very worth it. We only have one life, and it's up to us to live it in the best way possible. The medical world gives us the knowledge and the tools we need, and then it's up to us.

A few tips for lifetime diet changes

  • Eat low-fat.
  • Eat low-cholesterol.
  • Eat small portions.
  • Substitute canola oil for butter in baking.
  • Consider sugar substitutes.
  • Add fish.
  • Add whole-grain foods.
  • Avoid trans fats.
  • Cut red-meat consumption.
  • Add fiber.