It’s not a matter of if, but when

There is a long history of heart disease in my family. My grandfather died at a very early age, my father had a quadruple bypass in his 50s, and my younger, healthier brother had a heart attack at 40.
I was immune only by luck.

For those of you who know me, you know I don’t have a self-confidence problem.  While I was certainly shy as a kid, I got over my stage fright long ago.  What I have had is a self-awareness problem.  It may have taken a while, but my eyes are now open.

Up until last year, I was fat.
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I don’t say this disparagingly, nor contemptuously. I say it because it is true.
I was overweight, and I was unhealthy.

Last year, my cardiologist asked (told) me to lose 25 pounds.  Now, I knew I was overweight.  Each year I would gain 10 pounds and lose 8 or 9.   Sometimes I’d gain more; sometimes I’d lose less.

I always thought, however, that all I needed to do was lose 10 pounds.  Maybe if I lost 20 I’d be in great shape, but 25?!  Like I said, I had a self-awareness problem.

Looking in the mirror, I knew I was overweight.  What I couldn’t rationalize was just how overweight I was; nor could I conceptualize how I got there or how I could lose the weight.

There is a long history of heart disease in my family.  My grandfather died at a very early age, my father had a quadruple bypass in his 50s, and my younger, healthier brother had a heart attack at 40.  I was immune only by luck.

Enter my cardiologist.  I may be lucky, but I’m also no dummy.  I was getting expert advice on how to avoid my familial fate.  This, of course, was a genetic issue that could be solved by medicine.  I just had to keep the schedule to take the pills.  Wrong!

I knew better.  I really did.   I ate well, I just ate too much.  I didn’t really exercise, although I pretended that the occasional leisurely walk was enough. I’d seen the impact on my family, but I couldn’t see it in myself.

Thankfully, during my cardiac checkup last summer, my doctor and I had a conversation that truly resonated with me.  When he asked me to lose the weight, he said ‘With your family history, it’s not a matter of if, but when’.

It was a very frank statement, but one I needed to hear, and it worked.

I had always known what to do.  I’ve been an advocate for the American Heart Association for years. I speak with our elected officials about enacting health policies throughout the state and country.  I train students on advocacy and promote healthy initiatives in schools.  It was time to practice what I preach.

My plan was a simple one.  Cut the empty calories from my evening cocktail(s) (unless I was out) and start to exercise.  A simple, easy to do, exercise: walking.

So, in late July last year, I started to walk.   First 20 minutes, then 30, then more.

As the time increased, I added more distance.

And the pounds came off.

I lost the first 10 without even knowing I did it.

Then I started to change my diet; just a little.

It was summer, after all, and there were plenty of fruits and vegetables available at the local farmers’ markets.  My goal was simple: put more color on my plate.

I love fruits and veggies; it was just never a priority, I never had the ‘plan’, to ensure they were ALWAYS on my plate.  Now they are.

I’d get up every morning and take a walk.

I’d eat my more colorful meals throughout the day.

And the weight continued to come off.  My strength improved, as did my stamina.

I slept better at night and looked forward to my morning walks.

I needed to buy better walking shoes.

I kept adding miles; kept adding time.

It was just as much a mental health break as it was a physical one.

And the weight kept coming off.

I’d lost 20 pounds, then the 25 he asked me to, and I kept going.

Somehow, not only was that ‘extreme’ number attainable, but I wasn’t at an ideal weight yet.

There was more to lose to become healthy.

25 became 30, 30 became 40, 45, and finally 50 pounds.

50!

I’d lost 50 pounds for my 50th birthday.

That wasn’t the goal, my goal was 25.  During this time, my goal shifted from weight loss to feeling good.

I’d not only become healthier, but I’d also become more self-aware.
More aware of what I was eating.  I was surprised to find sugar added to my healthy Cheerios, so I switched to whole grain oats and fruit.

I was surprised at how many ingredients I didn’t know were in my food, so I paid more attention to what was on the label to make sure I knew what I was eating.

I was surprised at how much weight I’d lost, not because I’d lost it, but because of how much extra I had been carrying around.

I became more aware of my body, and how I slept.  I became aware of my blood pressure remaining low, without increasing medications.  I became aware of my neighbors and communities as I walked, not with my head down, but with my eyes open.

I met new people and noticed new things, all in my backyard.

It’s not a matter of if, but when.

8 simple words that helped me change my life.

I know what I do will not work for everyone.  I know it’s incredibly difficult to make exercise, and health, a priority.  I know not everyone wants to add veggies, or cut sugars, or drink more water, or any one of a thousand things.  I’m not preaching, I’m sharing.

Find what works for you.  For me, it was those 8 words and the recognition that I wasn’t ready for the ‘when’.  I’m still not and hope to avoid it for a very, very, very long time.

I’m healthier today than I’ve ever been in my adult life.  I’m grateful for my renewed energy and passion for health, but sad that it took so long to figure it out, to be more self-aware, and to take action.   I’m not one to dwell on ‘should haves’, nor do I tend to have regrets, so writing this, sharing my story, hopefully inspiring others, makes it all worth the wait.  Had I not had the struggles, not gained the weight, not been blind to my own physical condition, I would not have this message to share.

It’s not a matter of if, but when.

This is true for all of us.  There is a natural end to everything, there is no if, but when.

For most of us, we want that when to be a long time out.

We don’t have control of everything, but we should take advantage of what we can control.

It’s certainly not easy to look at yourself with a critical lens, but don’t let that stop you from attempting to do so.  Self-awareness is important beyond your physical health.

It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Scott 2018

My statement to the Cook County Finance Committee

My testimony to the Cook County Board about the sweetened beverage tax.

President Preckwinkle, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my fellow Cook County Residents. Good morning.
My name is Scott Saxe.  I reside in Elk Grove Village.  I’ve lived in Illinois for the past 25 years, all of them in Cook County. This is my home.
While there are many issues plaguing the State and County, I appreciate President Preckwinkle’s efforts at transparency in County Government.
None of us are fans of increased taxes, but many of us recognize the realities of the fiscal situation we are in. Unless we develop a comprehensive strategy to address the issues of the past, we are destined to revisit them in the future.
With the vast majority of County revenues going towards public health and public safety, you’re fulfilling the basic responsibilities of County Government: taking care of the people you serve. While it would be nice to see cuts, where possible, they cannot be at the detriment of those citizens that need services the most.
If the beverage tax is repealed, there is a $200 million gap in the budget.  I’m incredibly concerned about the impact that would have on the entire community.  As a citizen and taxpayer, I’d much rather have a tax where I have a choice (I don’t have to consume sweetened beverages) vs. a tax on my income, property, or other inflexible items.  Cutting essential health services takes choice away from too many.
As commissioners, it is incumbent on each of you to be responsible for the entire constituency you represent, not just those who vote, or donate, or speak at these meetings…everyone.  This is especially true of the children in our communities.
The science behind reducing consumption of sweetened beverages is solid, and would reduce obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a plethora of other health issues.
There is no doubt that this is sound health policy.  It is sound fiscal policy. It is sound public policy.
Anything else is just politics.
Let’s stop putting special interests, from both sides, before the public good.
While it may not be the popular thing to do, ensuring that public health and public safety remain fully funded priorities is the right thing to do.
Any budget cuts to public safety and public health would be far more detrimental to the residents of Cook County than a tax on drinks that we choose to consume.  Forcing another type of revenue increase on the taxpayers is much more burdensome on us all than a  tax on our optional drinks. Eliminating services that are critical to so many is unfathomable and irresponsible.
It all comes down to choice.
We have a choice on what we consume.
You, too, have a choice  on what you tax or a choice on what you cut.
You’re about to make your choice.
The Citizens of Cook County are watching.
We have choices, too.
Thank you.