90 Days and Counting: Making a Lifestyle Change for the Better

Joy Batteh-Freiha

Like many people, Jennifer Wrighton has struggled with her weight most of her life. Friends and family members pleaded, coaxed and delivered her ultimatums about her increasing weight gain and inactivity, all to no avail.

For years, the 42-year-old Gainesville, Fla. resident started her day with an “unhealthy breakfast and a 32-ounce soda before heading to work,” followed by more soda during the day and junk food. After work, she’d sit in front of the TV for hours before going to bed and starting all over again. Weekends included much of the same except that she would spend most of the day sleeping in until 1 or 2 p.m.

When pregnant with her son Jonathan, now 12, she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes – a type of diabetes that typically resolves itself after giving birth. However, over the years, Jennifer continued to gain weight, reaching her heaviest at 275 pounds and subsequently being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She was prescribed 1,500 milligrams daily of Metformin ER, an oral drug used to treat high blood sugar levels caused by type 2 diabetes.

While she readily owns up to her years of making bad choices regarding her health, she noted that having an underactive thyroid and being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease didn’t help.

“I am the one who made the choices about what to put into my mouth and the choice not to exercise regularly,” said Jennifer. “I refuse to use my Hashimoto’s as an excuse for my weight gain.”

Then in April 2015, something clicked with Jennifer – she got angry. The realization of just how much her bad lifestyle choices impacted her health hit her like “a ton of bricks.”

It was during her annual check-up and follow-up that her doctor gave her the startling news – her triglycerides (blood fats) were at their highest at 314; 150 or less is normal. Her fasting glucose was 210 — 99 or less is normal — and her A1C, a blood test that provides information about a person's average levels of blood glucose, was 8.6; 6.5 percent or less is consistent with well-controlled diabetes.

“I was mad at myself for the choices I made that were affecting my health,” said Jennifer. “I was slowly killing myself, but I couldn’t see it at the time.”

That’s when Jennifer decided to take back control of her well-being. Although her doctor was prescribing a new medication, she asked for a 3-month reprieve.

“I asked my doctor to give me 90 days because I was going to make changes and take back my life,” said Jennifer. “I could tell she was skeptical, but agreed to only 90 days and if things didn’t change, the medication would. So I started making changes the minute I walked out of her office.”

Jennifer quit drinking regular sodas, started keeping a food diary, and set a goal to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. And, to hold herself accountable, she posted her steps on her Facebook page.

“I was determined to make a life change and to stick with it no matter how long it was going to take me to lose the weight,” she said.

After only 15 days, Jennifer met her 10,000-step goal and in July 2015, the end of her 3-month reprieve, her lab work showed improvement in her A1C and triglycerides numbers.

But she wanted more. That’s when a close friend suggested she take up running. She joined a gym and started running on the treadmill to build up her endurance. In September 2015, she registered for her first event, Alachua County’s Florida Department of Health 5K Walk/Run.

"Today, Jennifer’s doctor has declared her diabetes-free, and her efforts have been an inspiration to her family, friends, coworkers, even her boss – all of whom have become more active."

“It wasn’t a timed run, but my goal was to stay in front of my husband,” explained Jennifer, who described herself as competitive by nature. “I signed up for more races after that initial one, then came my first official timed race – the 2015 Festival of Lights 5K in Jacksonville. My time clocked in at 42 minutes and 7 seconds, which is a 13:35-mile pace.”

To feed her competitive nature, her son started running with her. And no matter who’s ahead, they sprint to the finish line together.

From September to December 2015, Jennifer completed seven races and a total of 57 races since January 2016, including the 2016 EmPower 5K Walk/Run held in conjunction with the AACE 25th Annual Scientific & Clinical Congress in Orlando. “I love registering for different races around the country,” Jennifer noted.

Today, Jennifer’s doctor has declared her diabetes-free, and her efforts have been an inspiration to her family, friends, co-workers, even her boss – all of whom have become more active.

She runs five to six times a week, including a run home from work at least once a week, and has lost 70 pounds with 30 more pounds to goal. And, Jennifer says, she weighs less now than when she got married 22 years ago. She’s tracked more than 7,425,014 steps totaling 3,666 miles since starting her journey in April 2015.

Heeding the advice her husband gave her to “sign up for the next race before you run your first one,” Jennifer has plans to run eight half-marathons and a full marathon in Las Vegas in November, in addition to other 5K walk/runs around Florida.

“Words cannot express how great I feel physically and mentally,” said Jennifer. “It’s hard to believe that I’ve been on this journey since April 2015, and I’ve loved every moment of it because I feel great.”

The advice she often gives to others who are in the same situation she was in two years ago is to make the commitment for your quality of life and health.

“You have to want to make the change in your life,” said Jennifer. “When I was pregnant with my son and diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I continued to gain weight and then was diagnosed with diabetes. It didn’t matter what any of my loved ones said, until I wanted to make the change for myself, nothing happened. Take one step at a time.”