The skinny on obesity

There is a fire burning in America over an issue that at times seems hotter to me than the anger against Wall Street: obesity. Time after time when I talk about taking responsibility for our individual health by eating well, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising more, someone responds in anger.

Many would consider me to be a wellness evangelist. They would be right. For nearly a decade I was sick as a dog until a skillful surgeon removed the pancreatic tumor that had been growing undetected. Suddenly, after that surgery, I felt superhuman and wanted to keep that feeling going.

Moreover, when I learned that the tumor had metastasized and left me with neuroendocrine cancer, I thought my life would be filled with chemotherapy, radiation, and more surgeries before I would finally die at an early age. Instead, I feel healthier than ever while the tumors sit idly—the disease has not progressed in the four years since the primary tumor was removed.

Rather than agree to cut out the remaining tumors in my chest, a thoracic surgeon said he would not touch me because he believed that my body was in balance, allowing my immune system to successfully fight my cancer. He told me to keep up whatever it is I’m doing (eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet and exercising many hours a week) because it’s working.

Curious to see if he might be right, I started reading medical journals and books like The China Study and found that, while many in the medical community are reticent to believe it, there is a growing body of evidence, which reveals that our lifestyle choices can prevent or even reverse diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
So I spread the gospel. Wouldn’t people want to know that by eating a rainbow of produce rather than supersized French fries they could feel better and perhaps even live without hearing the words, “You’ve got cancer”? Astoundingly, I often learn that the answer is, “No.”

At first I thought, “Who am I to tell someone who is obese that they have the power within themselves to control their health? Maybe they have a medical condition which causes their bodies to hold too much fat.” But after getting barraged with nasty remarks when I say something as seemingly innocuous as “with better lifestyle choices we can improve our health,” a pattern has emerged: those who fight the most about obesity always have an excuse as to why they cannot exercise or eat healthier foods.
In truth, the vitriol only comes from a minority of the people I encounter. Most are extremely nice when they discuss these issues, but many of them offer excuses too. I can appreciate that some people have a harder time getting fit than others, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Talking about a harder time, I became overweight and out of shape while the tumor grew on my pancreas. During that time I was in and out of hospitals and suffered with nausea, vomiting, and unrelenting pain. I became so de-conditioned that I injured my shoulder throwing one snowball and needed surgery to repair the damage. My entire body was so inflamed that I would sit on the couch every night covered in ice packs.

Realizing that my health was spiraling out of control, at about year four of My Life with Tumor, I hired a personal trainer who tortured me multiple times a week to strengthen my body, heal my joints, and motivate me to do cardio again. I found myself gasping for air after jogging a block because that elusive tumor was killing me. And yet, five or six days a week, I worked out. It was painful and miserable, but I knew that it was the right thing to do.

Life is hard. It is. But we all have choices. We can wallow in it, or we can say, “I want to live a better life. I want to be healthy for myself and for my family, and I’m going to do what it takes to get it done.”

I faced my own mortality before I turned forty, and I’ll be honest, it was terrifying. So now I ride my bike and eat my and veggies. I’m stunned that people would rather live in the dark than make healthier choices, but I encounter people like that every day. I don’t want others to have to face their mortality early like me, but I guess the choice is theirs.

Tracy Krulik is a cancer survivor who blogs at I Have Cancer. And I’ve Never Felt Better.

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