For much of his life Tom Hoppensteadt thought the best thing to do with a scale was to avoid it. When he was diagnosed with a low-grade lymphoma at age 50 and learned he weighed more than 300 pounds, it sounded an alarm.
“Throughout my 40s I didn’t lead a healthy lifestyle. I ate what I wanted to eat and didn’t exercise at all. I really was just very inactive. I knew what I should be doing, I just didn’t do it,” he said.
When he began seeing Keith Veselik, MD, primary care physician at Loyola University Health System, he learned the cancer diagnosis was the least of his worries.
"Tom has a form of cancer that doesn't always require treatment. It could be years before it's a problem for him," Veselik said. "His weight, on the other hand, was putting him at a more immediate health danger. The cancer could hang around for many years without causing any harm. We could just watch that. But diabetes and heart attacks - those were very real and urgent concerns."
"He was pretty straight with me," Hoppensteadt said. "He said, 'Drop the weight or you'll die of a heart attack before the cancer will get you.' Now that's motivation."
Hoppensteadt started the lifestyle changes slowly. He walked two to three times a week and kept a food journal. Even those small steps started to make an impact. He was losing 1 to 1.5 lbs. a week. But Hoppensteadt's health concerns continued to mount and after being hospitalized, he decided it was time to do something more.
"I started using the MyFitnessPal app to monitor my exercise and calorie intake. I discovered the importance of portion control and started increasing my exercise routine," Hoppensteadt said.
He now takes a spinning class three to four times a week for 45 minutes and has started running and swimming two to three times a week as well. In addition, he discovered the benefits of yoga.
"I lost more than 120 lbs. and went from a size 46 waist to a size 36 all just by changing my lifestyle," Hoppensteadt said. "Dr. Veselik kept talking to me about leading a healthy lifestyle and that was a huge encouragement. He made me realize that I was worth this effort. You really have to give yourself over to it. You have to be committed to making this happen."
Last year Hoppensteadt completed a triathalon and Dr. Veselik took him off almost all of his blood pressure and cholesterol medications.
"Like everyone else, I struggle to get into the gym and sometimes I just don't make it, especially now that I have completed my goal," Hoppensteadt said. "But I continue to count all my calories and now I'm trying to find that next goal to keep me motivated."
His doctor couldn't be happier.
"There is so much research out there about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. If I told someone I had a magic pill that would allow them to live a healthier, longer life, they would pay whatever price to get it. That doesn't come in pilll form. It can come from diet and exercise," Veselik said.