Impatient

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One woman's challenge: Lower cholesterol in 3 months, without meds

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98152 full

Last month, I asked Impatient readers if their doctors had prescribed them exercise or a healthier diet as an antidote to chronic health problems.

Karen Perea Gannon, of Sherman Oaks, responded. Via email, she told me that her doctor had recently called her with some unsettling news: Her annual blood test showed she had very high cholesterol.

Here's the breakdown: her overall cholesterol count was 267; the preferred number is below 200. Her LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) was 185, while ideally it would be under 130; and her HDL (the "good" cholesterol) was 51, at the lower end of the preferred range.

Her cholesterol level - and creeping weight - were scary, but not necessarily surprising. As she put it, "I knew exactly where my health was: In the toilet!"

Gannon explained that she had been dealing with the stress of work and caring for her aging parents. Along with – or maybe as a symptom of – that, "my gym membership had been forgotten, and my eating habits were terrible," she wrote. "I had put on 15 pounds in a year, when I should have been working on losing 15!" 

"At 52, it was time for a wake-up call, and last week's call set it all in motion," she said.

She knew her doctor wanted to prescribe medication. She also knew that if she immediately went on the drugs, she might never change her lifestyle.

So, she proposed a compromise: "My deal with my doctor was, give me three months to get this body back on track," she wrote. "If I still have a cholesterol problem, I'll go on the statins."

Gannon knew the first step was changing her diet. She consulted her doctor, and researched heart- and cholesterol-friendly diets.

In her Dec. 10 email to Impatient, Gannon laid out her planned diet changes: Reduce her consumption of beef, pork, dairy products and unhealthy snacks; limit her consumption of carbohydrates, and add fish and lots of fruits and vegetables.

When I reached her on the phone, she told me this is not a fad diet, but a complete lifestyle shift.

"This is me at 52, saying I want to be here at 92," she said.

Caption: Karen Perea Gannon (with her four daughters and husband Michael) says, "I'm looking forward to growing old and annoying for years to come!"  (photo courtesy of Karen Gannon)

One month check-in

Gannon had invited me to check in on her progress. So I did – and will continue to do so, throughout her journey toward improved health.

This week, she went back to the doctor – a follow-up to that fateful one in December. She learned that she's already lost at least seven pounds. She begged him to take her blood, to see if she's lowered her cholesterol level, too.

Via email, she said her doctor took blood (she doesn't know the results yet), noted her weight loss and advised her not to crash diet. Her response to him was full of enthusiasm for her new habits.

She said she told him:

"Doc, I swear, it's oatmeal or egg whites for breakfast; fruits and vegetables, sometimes nuts for snacks, and less red meat, more chicken, turkey and fish for dinner - and more vegetables. I'm eating a lot, really!"

She told him she plans to add more exercise – cardio and yoga – but she and her husband have already started taking daily walks.

"The message," she wrote, is: "Healthy lifestyle change can produce excellent results. I plan to be around for a long, long time. As I've told all of my kids - I'm looking forward to growing old and annoying for years to come!"

Caption: Karen Perea Gannon and her husband Michael have started walking daily. (photo courtesy of Karen Gannon)

I'll continue checking-in with Gannon over the next couple months. In the meantime, I want to hear from you: Has your doctor prescribed you a healthier diet or exercise? Share your experiences in the comments section below, or e-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org.

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