By Bill Mietelski
When I arrived at Rush two years ago, I was a cheeseburger away from weighing 300 pounds.
I still remember the Sunday morning I got on my scale and it mocked me with three numbers: 2-9-9. I actually got on and off several times thinking the scale must be broken. Losing weight was always something I’d do “next week”. Suddenly next week was here; I had no desire to join the 300 club.
I always thought I could change things myself — after all, living a healthier lifestyle was simple, right? — so I never gave a second thought to any other way. Over the next few months I actually lost 25 pounds, but (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) the weight crept back, and 10 of those pounds returned like a bad penny.
The thing that finally got me on track was taking (for me) a real leap of faith: I let someone help me.
When Jennifer Ventrelle of the Rush University Prevention Center announced the first iteration of ELMS last summer, I was ready to take that leap. Using lessons learned from the original ELM research study, employees now had the opportunity to make positive lifestyle changes through nutrition, exercise and stress management. Sweet!
Group sessions always began with exercise. Jen worked the room, providing one-on-one attention to make sure everyone was using correct form to benefit from each exercise, as well as introducing multiple variations to challenge everyone regardless of their current fitness level. After a few minutes you almost forgot that you were working out, as Jen made it fun and motivated us to play every week.
After our first workout, my legs were so sore that I had to hold on to the handrail (with both hands) as I went up and down the stairs in my townhouse. I took that as a good sign.
(While group workouts were the highlight of my week, they were only a starting point. With daily access to the Lifestyle Room during ”open gym” hours I hit the treadmill most days. I eventually dusted off an old set of dumbbells at home and added resistance training to my routine).
After exercising, we’d discuss nutrition and participate in a cooking demo to prepare a simple quick healthy meal. For a guy who has lived on takeout, Jen’s idea was pretty radical: The way to a sustainable healthy weight was eating home-cooked meals.
Having never even boiled an egg, this was a little intimidating for me at first. But once I figured out which end of a knife to hold, I tackled one recipe at a time: grilled ham and cheese, turkey burgers, chili, tacos, pizza! This wasn’t “diet food,” just delicious food made with nutritious ingredients prepared in a healthy way. Even I could do this.
After our cooking demo, the group sat down and enjoyed the meal. Folks shared their struggles and triumphs. We learned about topics like meal timing, grocery shopping, reading food labels, etc. Guest speakers dropped in to discuss mindfulness, managing stress, maintenance strategies and sleeping well.
Five and a half months into ELMS, I’ve lost 65 pounds so far (over 20 percent of my total body weight). My blood pressure has dropped (without meds!) to within a point or two of 120/80. I’m looking for ways to incorporate exercise into my day, instead of looking for excuses not to. I eat every few hours so I’m never really hungry. My refrigerator door used to be a billboard filled with takeout menus; now it’s covered with tasty recipes. I’m becoming more comfortable in my own skin — I anticipated feeling better physically; feeling better about myself is a nice bonus.
Our ELMS class “graduates” in a couple of weeks. Will I continue to lose weight? And will I be able to keep the weight I’ve lost off? I believe I can, but this is no time for complacency. People who track these things paint a challenging picture: only 20 percent of overweight individuals are successful at long-term weight loss. Fortunately, I have a secret weapon: as I write this, Jen is crafting a maintenance program to support my fellow ELMSters as we continue on the healthier path we’ve chosen.
I can’t wait.
- Video: The Elm Program: Eat Well, Love Better, Move More
- Rush University Prevention Center
- How to Determine Your Target Heart Rate
If you’re interested in taking part in the program, there are only seven spots left. To register, call Angel at (312) 942-3133. For more information, contact Jennifer Ventrelle at (312) 942-8336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.