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She had tried various diets with some success. But in the end, Amy Magan knew her weight loss came down to this: Changing her mindset.
By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, email@example.com
She thinks she was about nine when she realized she was overweight. Amy Magan was never really happy about that realization. At that young age, her family had just moved to Ohio. She was the first-born in a family of four siblings and considered herself very much a leader in the family hierarchy.
“When we moved, I remember all my siblings had a match in the neighborhood – someone to hang with. There was no match for me so I read and I ate. Mostly I ate while I read,” said Magan, who works as a communications manager for UINDY. After high school she attended Butler University and she remembers periods throughout her life when she tried various diets – often losing up to 40 pounds. At 5’2 her highest weight was 229. She was considered morbidly obese.
“I’d feel good when I lost weight but it was more about calories in and calories out. What I’ve come to realize is my weight is a part of my physical, emotional and spiritual self - it’s about what I’m really avoiding when I’m eating,” said Magan.
Twenty-six years ago she married another Butler communications student – Mike Magan. They have three children – Annie, 23; Charlie, 20; and Robbie, 16. It was when she was pregnant with Annie that Magan was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. She controlled it with diet and exercise. When Robbie came along she was dependent on insulin – giving herself injections three times daily.
“If you have gestational diabetes you are more prone to Type II diabetes. I also have a family history of diabetes,” said Magan. Her father was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. “I can’t tell you when exactly I was diagnosed because I’d get information and I’d ignore it,” said Magan. Eventually she couldn’t ignore it. She began medication to control the diabetes and at one point was on half a dozen prescriptions.
“I just thought I was going to be diabetic and that was the way it would be,” said Magan. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases lists the following health risks for being overweight: (in addition to diabetes), stroke, cancer, heart disease, liver and kidney disease, and high blood pressure.
“I’d go to my physician and it was like a wheel of meds,” said Magan. “I’d get blood work every three months because my health was so iffy and my doctor would spin her wheel of meds and I’d leave and go on – I wasn’t comfortable with that.”
In March of 2016 Magan had a wake up call. Her weight resulted in complications during an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) – to examine the lining of her esophagus. The gastroenterologist told her she needed to lose weight. Her health was in danger.
“I didn’t go home right away and make changes. I was in a pattern where I’d eat breakfast, have a snack, eat lunch have a snack and repeat. I was sedentary and I was in a food fog. I could be physically present but not emotionally and spiritually present with people because I was thinking about what I was going to eat next or ashamed of what I’d just eaten,” said Magan.
Within a few months, she began to seriously think about how she could change the pattern, the lifestyle. She also became a patient of IU Health Dr. Debra Balos.
“She’s an osteopathic doctor which makes a huge difference for me. She wants to know beyond the basic health – other things going on in my life like family issues,” said Magan. “She never once said ‘you need to lose weight.’ She wasn’t shaming me.” But Magan had reached a point where even with medication; her blood sugar was so high that she was close to requiring insulin to control her diabetes.
“I had a sense I wasn’t living the life God had called me to live. It was a total awakening,” said Magan. She joined a support group and learned to change her focus, to find her way out of the food fog. Over time she has lost 65 pounds and is no longer considered diabetic. Her medications have been reduced to two.
“Before I was frequently losing weight for something – a wedding, a reunion - and when I hit the finish line I was done. Now I realize I’ll never hit the finish line because I’m working toward a better physical, spiritual and emotional life,” said Magan.
What’s changed in her day-to-day living?
“I think culturally we still celebrate with food; we still grieve with food. I had to change my mindset,” said Magan. She remembers the first Christmas she began changing her habits and she wanted to eat a cookie that reminded her of her grandmother. Instead, she kept a picture of her grandmother in her pocket, using that to feel connected and loved. She doesn’t believe in putting others out by her decision to eat healthy, so if she needs to, she’ll pack her own foods. One of the biggest things she has cut from her diet is sugar. If there’s sugar in the first three ingredients, she won’t buy it. She has also given up Diet Coke because the drink’s aspartame tricked her body into thinking it was processing sugar, resulting in increased insulin production.
“I have an action plan that I try to do every day and part of that involves purposeful movement. It may be going to a different floor at my office for a bathroom break, it may even include a walk around the building,” said Magan. “It’s about discipline and the surrendering of my own will and I’ve seen how impactful it has been to make the change.”
As a result of her improved health Magan says she has become more carefree and less controlling. She has also developed more confidence – returning to school for her master’s degree.
Magan’s advice to others struggling with weight loss: “Figure out what foods set you off the rails – what you can’t stop eating once you start and then change the way you look at food. Find people who support your efforts and don’t get discouraged if you don’t do it perfectly. Just keep trying to make the next right choice.”