Jennifer Sparks couldn’t wait to get her photo snapped with Norman Reedus, a.k.a. Daryl Dixon of AMC’s The Walking Dead, at a convention.
But when she saw the picture, she had absolutely no desire to hang it up.
That was two Octobers ago, when Sparks weighed more than 200 pounds.
A few months after that Norman Reedus picture, close to her 40th birthday, she received high cholesterol and near-high blood pressure results from the doctor. She knew she had to make a change.
“I had a hard time feeling I was important enough,” said the Odessa resident, now 80 pounds lighter. “I had to put myself on my own schedule and show up.”
Sparks joined the News Journal’s Move It Delaware health challenge last year, which challenged readers to get 150 minutes of physical activity a week, and though she admits she is not a morning person, she initially started with hour-long 5:30 a.m. workouts at Done Done Fitness in Middletown.
The hardest part of revamping her diet, she admitted, was cutting out Diet Cokes.
Maintaining a healthy weight is all about balance, especially when it comes to food choices.
This year The News Journal’s annual health challenge Take It Off is all about encouraging readers to find their healthy weights. The end goal is weight loss and reaching a healthier weight to help avoid diabetes, which is near epidemic levels mostly because of poor eating habits.
The challenge, sponsored by Christiana Care Health System, is free. Register at www.delawareonline.com/takeitoff and track your weight for the next 10 weeks, and you could win one of our weekly prizes and be in the running for prizes that include a $1,000 gift card.
There are several events throughout the challenge including a healthy cooking class Feb. 25 at The News Journal; Christiana Care’s Dance Your Heart Out event March 10 (It’s free and features lots of fun, screening tables, food and more. Sign up here: http://events.christianacare.org/event/dance-your-heart-out-2016.); and The News Journal will be hosting an Imagine Delaware event in April focused on diabetes in the state, which many health officials say is near epidemic proportions, mostly because of weight and poor eating habits.
You can’t start a weight-loss journey without knowing how to eat better. Our bodies get three main nutrients from the food we eat: carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Though they often get a bad rap, about 45 to 65 percent of our total daily calories needs to come from carbs.
When eaten, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose or sugar in the blood. Then the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream to help cells absorb the sugar and convert it to energy. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce or manage insulin to process sugar.
“Carbs are to humans as gas is to an automobile,” said Lourie Cherundolo, a dietitian with Beebe Healthcare. “So basically humans can’t run, can’t move, without fuel and carbs are our main source of fuel.”
But too much messes up that engine. The trick is figuring out which carbohydrates you should eat and how much you should eat of them, and which ones you should stay away from to maintain a healthy weight
Carbohydrates are sugars, starches and fibers found in food such as fruits, grains, legumes, vegetables and milk products.
They are also found in snacks like pretzels, soft drinks and processed foods, which when consumed in high quantities and not burned off, can increase a person’s risk of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
But many people don’t associate sugars with pizza or pretzels. They think of them as only something sweet, but your body doesn’t. Many of the people in danger of becoming diabetic can stop or slow that process by really monitoring the amount of carbs they eat, not just sugary things.
Start by choosing carbohydrates that come from unprocessed whole foods that contain fiber such as peanuts, chickpeas, quinoa and vegetables.
“You really want to decrease the amount of processed foods, white flour, low fiber starches, white bread, white pastas that are low-fiber,” Cherundolo said.
Carbs that do not contain fiber are easily digested and can cause sugar to build up quickly in the bloodstream. Too much extra sugar in the body can damage organs and lead to diabetes, whereas carbs with fiber help the body remove waste efficiently and give sustainable energy.
Carbs are the only nutrient that feeds brain cells, added Alyssa Atanacio, a dietitian with Christiana Care Health System’s Eugene du Pont Preventive Medicine & Rehabilitation Institute, because they most easily pass through the blood-brain barrier, which separates blood in the body from fluid in the brain.
If the body does not have an adequate source of carb-converted glucose, the body will need to break down and convert protein from muscles and stored fat into energy. But it comes with a cost since that conversion process takes longer and increases the production of waste, which puts stress on the kidneys, Cherundolo said.
Sparks, a Take It Off participant this year, said that once she began changing her diet her Lean Cuisines went into the garbage and she started to prepare meals with fruits and vegetables on Sundays.
Having those healthy meals and snacks at the ready helps her avoid gravitating toward any processed foods that are easy to throw together on the go, but hard on the body.
With three kids, Sparks said she had to be realistic with her diet changes. She told herself she would be good 80 percent of the time and gave herself 20 percent wiggle room.
“I tried to make little changes,” she said.
Those changes motivated her to drop 80 pounds and inspired her to want another photo with Norman Reedus. This past October she met him at another sci-fi convention, and he was shocked by how much progress she made, she said.
“Now I want to show it to people,” she said.
One way to make sure you’re on the right path is to pay attention to labels on food.
Don’t be afraid to read the food label, said Tricia Jefferson, director of healthy living at the YMCA.
“Turn that box around really looking at the ingredients listed underneath,” Jefferson said.
Also ask yourself, “can it stay out on a grocery store shelf? Chances are it’s a processed item.”
Especially try to stay away from processed ingredients such as hydrogenated oils and realize that high fructose corn syrup is another term for sugar.
Jefferson also suggests that people keep a food journal to write down how you feel after eating a certain food, instead of looking at the scale.
“We all need to listen to our body,” she said.
The News Journal: Jen Rini, February 9, 2016