Hitting bottom, reversing illness, promoting health, healing friends.

Several months ago a friend of mine pulled me aside at work for a frank discussion. He had been to the doctor a couple of times in the previous couple of weeks and just received some bad news. This Navy Veteran, husband, and father to two beautiful children had just been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL). He was distraught. He wanted help.

I’m fairly well known as “a health nut” by pretty much anyone who knows me. And Jeff knew this about me from a few discussions we had a couple of years ago via IM, long before we started working together.

To put our relationship in perspective, until Jeff and I recently began working with each together, we’d known each other for over 10 years, but only peripherally. Other than having met him in person a few times at a brew pub with other like-minded computer geeks, we really didn’t know each other much beyond Facebook posts and a common interest in computer geekery.

I originally learned about Jeff’s various health issues from our sporadic IM conversations. Back then changing his diet was a “nice idea”.  Something he knew he “ought to do,” like a teenager on a joy-ride knows he “ought to slow down”. When he started working with me earlier this year, I hoped we’d get a chance to restart these discussions, but was hesitant to bring it up at work since I try to keep my work and private lives somewhat separate.

I’ve also learned the hard way that evangelism never works. Pushing someone to do something they’re not ready for just pushes them away, the opposite of what I wanted. Jeff needed some reason to spur himself into action. As he puts it, “I needed a kick in the ass.” The NAFL diagnosis was his “kick in the ass,” and now he was asking me for help.

The question he asked me in that closed office after explaining his bad news was, “How confident are you that changing my diet can help me?” Now, keep in mind, I am not a nutritionist, let alone a doctor. I have zero professional training in medicine of any kind. And here this guy was asking me for what amounted to a “professional opinion” and essentially a prescription to eat healthy, with the assumption that I knew how to cure him.

I’d like to think I know a decent amount about health and nutrition, which I’ve learned about over the past couple of years, almost entirely from reading books and listening to podcasts. I never took any of these subjects in school. Ever! I’ve cleaned up my own act, and led the way for my family to clean up their health; but now I was being asked to provide guidance for someone else entirely. Wow. What should I tell him? What could I say?

I told him the only thing I could tell him. “Jeff, I am totally and completely convinced that if you commit to cleaning up your diet, only good things can come of it. I can not promise you anything other than that. I can not promise you that your Type II will be cured or that your liver will ever be right again. But you already know what will happen if you continue on the road you’re on. You have nothing to lose by trying. And I’m here to support you in any way I can.”

He committed that day. He committed faster and more completely than I ever expected. I recommended that he get “Practical Paleo” by Diane Sanfilippo and start getting familiar with what being Paleo really meant. I told him to start thinking about cutting out the artificial sweeteners and added sugars. I recommended not replacing the “garbage food” at home – just let it dwindle away. I told him to practice having “just real food” over a couple of weeks, and when he knew what to expect, pick a date when he might want to start a 30-day Whole30 challenge. I expected, and recommended a slow, phased approach to the transition.

Jeff would have no delays. He went home that very night, and while his family sat there and ate steak tips marinated in a sauce loaded with brown sugar, he ate some grilled sausages. He was determined and committed and completely trusting in me.

Over the next several weeks I watched Jeff transform into a completely different person. Over a 4-week period while on the Whole30, something I simply pointed him to, and which he latched onto and ran with entirely on his own, I watched him shed the weight seamlessly and painlessly. I watched as he e-mailed me pictures of his meals and acquired a taste for real food. I saw his face beaming on the day he discovered he had lost over 40 pounds. I teared up when he told me his daughter hugged him one night, and for the first time in her entire life, her arms reached entirely around him and met in the back.

And I continue to watch now, as the Whole30 has come and gone and he’s kept with the program. He continues to lose weight and gain health. He continues to have increased energy at work, and he now seems to have the same zeal for learning about Paleo living that I have.

At this point, Jeff is coasting on auto-pilot. Sure, there were some bumps in the road along the way. We’ve all been there, we’ll all be there again. We aren’t perfect 100% of the time, and Jeff gets that. More importantly, he understands that what we do most of the time is what really matters. It’s what he did most of the time for most of his life that led to his NAFL diagnosis. And he gets that what he does most of the time from now on is what will reverse that and improve his health.

Jeff, if you’re reading this, I can’t possibly express how proud I am of you. You did this! You had a reason, you had a goal, and fought each and every day to accomplish it. That took a lot of courage, but you won. You’re on the road to a renewed life, and your family will forever reap the benefits of that courage. Now go pay it forward!

Update:

Jeff and had our initial conversation in early May.  At that time he weighed in at almost 310 pounds.  He has subsequently lost over 40 pounds and weighs in at about 260 for a total weight loss of over 45 pounds!  In short, he’s lost the equivalent of a 3rd grader!  I continue to be impressed with his progress, which by now is quite visibly obvious.  Of course, as we are all our own harshest critics, Jeff is dismayed that his weight-loss seems to have stalled.  And as I continually remind him, weight-loss is the side-effect of getting healthy, not the goal itself.  Just because the number on the scale isn’t moving doesn’t mean your body isn’t healing.  Jeff, keep up the great work, you’re inspiration to others out there facing similar challenges.  Lead by example, and show others how they can take their lives from the numerous prescription drugs, constant doctors appointments, and most of, how they can give their lives back to their kids and families!

 

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