Obesity, Age 53
Her action plan: She avoided fad diets, relying on a string of small, self-tested dietary and lifestyle changes.
Shortly before her 49th birthday, Marnita Wiggins-Nichols, who runs a day care center in Lima, Ohio, needed a checkup for work. Even though her weight had long been a problem, she didn't expect anything unusual. But at the checkup, she learned her blood pressure "was dangerously high, which was news to me," Wiggins-Nichols recalls. "My doctor wanted to put me in the hospital."
She resisted and instead left the office with blood pressure medication and orders to lose weight, forcing her to finally own up to her unhealthy situation. "It was so hard to accept that I had let my body get that out of control," Wiggins-Nichols says. "I didn't want to sign up for a diet or join a gym. I decided to do it my way, making small, incremental changes."
First, she put down the soda pop, swearing off the three or four sodas she drank daily and instead downing four or five 16-ounce bottles of water. That led to her losing several pounds a week. Next, she made minor changes in the kitchen. "I stopped using batter when I fried things, and began sautéing in olive oil." She then added more fruit and vegetables and started bringing healthy breakfasts to work.
For the first year, she didn't even exercise. "And even when I did," she says, "I started out just by using an old exercise bike in the basement." She stuck to her own test-and-learn philosophy. "When something works and I find I truly can turn it into habit, I incorporate more of that. If it doesn't, I drop it." Lately, she has added more movement to her regimen — strength training, dancing and walking, for example — and works out at least five times a week. And she's still adjusting her diet, such as eliminating red meat and trying new vegetables. She packs lunch for work, too, and no longer buys bread. "I'll have it when we go out to eat, but that's no more than twice a month."
Now 53, she's down to 160 pounds, has gone from a size 26 in pants to an 8, and gotten her blood pressure under control. She has reached her ideal weight and focuses more on toning.
The best part of being fit? Chasing her six grandsons around the playground. Recently, one invited her to climb up on the jungle gym with him and, amazingly, she found she could. "That's the kind of nana I want to be," she says.
Crohn's Disease, Age 69
The Challenge: He is one of 1.4 million people suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's or colitis.
His action plan: After years of crippling pain, Jim took the courageous step of having his colon removed to improve his quality of life.
Jim Moore, 69, wasn't used to being sick. He had made it through 24 years in the Air Force and then had transitioned into his second career as a real estate inspector without ever facing a serious illness or injury.
But in 1998, he began to experience stabbing stomach pains, often followed by violent diarrhea. He used over-the-counter treatments, but nothing helped. Initially, his doctor diagnosed him with colitis, a painful inflammatory bowel disorder, and started him on a merry-go-round of ineffective prescriptions. "He'd say, 'Let's try this for six months,' and I wouldn't improve," Moore explains. "So he'd say, 'Well then, let's try this.' It was really frustrating. At one point, he even hospitalized me for treatment, but that didn't help either."
Moore, who lives in Jacksonville, Ark., coped with his embarrassing problem as best he could, always packing a change of clothes when he went to work, at times even wearing diapers. "It wasn't easy, considering I was up and down ladders all day." His relationship with food became complicated: "I'd go in a restaurant and order but just stare at the food instead of eating, because I knew there was a chance that a minute later, I'd be racing for the bathroom."
Five years into this pain, a different physician found fistulas, or abnormal tears, in Moore's intestines and referred him to the Cleveland Clinic. A doctor there diagnosed Moore with Crohn's disease, a different inflammatory bowel disorder that sometimes runs in families. And he promised a complete cure, with a big catch: "I'd have to spend the rest of my life with an ostomy, wearing a bag outside my body to collect waste," Moore says. The clinic sent him back home to Arkansas to think it over, but what would have been a difficult decision for some was easy for Moore. "I had already made my mind up," he recalls. "This was no way to live. I just didn't want to have that kind of pain anymore."
During Moore's nine-hour surgery, the doctor removed his entire colon — and gave him back his life. Current pain level? Zero. Learning to live with an ostomy? An adjustment, he says, "but a relatively easy one, especially given the discomfort I lived with before." Moore, retired now, is a former member of the national board of the United Ostomy Associations of America, which supports about 750,000 people in the U.S. with ostomies. He's also active in local support groups. "I'm so glad I didn't just stay with the status quo," he says. "Choosing to have surgery has made a whole new life possible."