Ernest Harwell: If I can make healthy changes, you can too
By Cheryl Hastings, Contributing Writer
Ernest Harwell is living just fine without extra gravy and super-sized fast-food meals awash in soda. He wants other TIers to know it’s not so bad and, in fact, it’s all good.
Ernest, a TIer of 10 years, had always been healthy and active. Despite an upward creep in his weight, his endurance never suffered as he worked the SC Building’s Test floor, which is about three football fields in length.
So when he found himself in the men’s room more often, he took notice.
“I never felt bad, never even had high cholesterol or high blood pressure. I just began to notice frequent urination and I was a little lower on energy,” said Ernest, an equipment engineering systems administrator. “When I went to the doctor, I weighed in at 418 pounds and as it turned out, I was type 2 diabetic.”
Perhaps until that day, Ernest thought of himself as a strapping military man. When he left the service in 1994, his 6-foot, 5-inch-tall frame carried a strong 265 pounds and a mere 11 percent body fat. But as a civilian, Ernest never replaced the strenuous physical activity of the military, and his appetite stayed the same.
“My doctor started asking about my diet. As I heard myself telling him what I typically ate, I realized it wasn’t good – a lot of fried foods, Taco Bell, pizza, fried chicken. And I drank a lot of Cokes – probably two cases a day,” he said. “Until he and I talked, I just enjoyed my food and never thought about it. We figured out that I was eating 7,000 to 8,000 calories a day, sometimes more. That was a wake-up call.”
Ernest was lucky – at this early stage of diabetes the fix for his situation was fairly simple. The doctor said if he would lose weight, he could control his diabetes and avoid serious complications.
Healthy changes, quick results
So Ernest, a long-time member of the Texins Activity Center, decided to use his member benefits for more than just entertainment tickets.
“I talked with the trainers at Texins and they helped me determine my resting metabolic rate. Once I had that information, we figured out the right diet and exercise program for me. Following their direction, it wasn’t any time at all that I started losing weight,” said the husband and father of five.
Ernest was diagnosed with diabetes in August 2009. By December, he’d lost 65 pounds. By the end of May 2010, he’d lost 108 pounds. Today, his goal to drop 50 more pounds feels well within his grasp.
Plan for health
Ernest’s regimen includes 30 minutes to an hour of weight training and cardio exercise at the Dallas Texins Activity Center five days a week. He started with a 1,600-calorie eating plan, and is now averaging 2,000 calories per day. Sure it’s been a change, he says, but it’s not so bad.
"My plan allows me to basically eat what I want once a week so I don’t have to give up on the foods I like. I refuse to live on salad, but I will eat Subway,” he said.
And on that day when he treats himself, he eats a regular-sized portion rather than the super-sized meals he once devoured. Instead of four pieces of fried chicken, a dozen gizzards and mashed potatoes with extra gravy, he orders two pieces of chicken, potatoes, no gravy and he swipes a couple of his wife’s corn fritters.
At Taco Bell, he’s down from six tacos, a tostado, a burrito supreme, pinto beans with cheese and two liters of Coke, to a dramatically smaller order of two Fresco tacos from the chain’s new diet menu. Each Fresco taco has 180 calories and 7 grams of fat.
Ernest’s positive changes are also showing in his blood work. His blood sugar – once at a dangerous high of 258 – is nearing the normal level, which is below 105. His progress has enabled his doctor to reduce his diabetes medication by half, and if his progress continues he may be able to eliminate medication altogether.
Once he reaches his target weight, he said he plans to work with a trainer to increase his muscle mass.
You can do it, too
For TIers who face similar health challenges, Ernest encourages them to face it head-on, determine a personal course of action that works, and stick with it.
“When my diabetes came on, it came on fast. I never thought I looked like I weighed over 400 pounds, and I thought I felt fine,” he said. “Now, I’m down to 310 pounds and I feel better than ever. It’s worth it to make these changes and I hope other TIers will learn from my experience. There’s no miracle cure so when you have these problems, you just have to take the initiative to care for yourself.”
An inspirational note at the bottom of his TI e-mail shares his new approach: “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”