No more guilt. No more excuses. Those two phrases have become the mantra that Paula Chavez lives by when it comes to her health.
It started after her second child was born in 2010. Chavez was extremely overweight and her cholesterol was high. In fact, she was ashamed by her appearance and how bad her health had slipped. And she was only 32 years old.
“You won’t see a single photo of me from that time because I never went anywhere and didn’t want pictures taken,” she says.
When she went to the doctor for her routine physical, she got a wake up call. The doctor warned that if she didn’t make serious chances, she wouldn’t live long enough to see her grandchildren. And he was ready to put her on medication to get her cholesterol numbers under control so she could avoid heart disease, or worse a heart attack.
“Why would I take medication for something that I knew I could control with diet and exercise?” she asked herself.
Her journey towards a healthier lifestyle began with small steps. She started to exercise a little each day. She added more fruits and vegetables to her diet. And she learned how to make substitutions so her favorite family recipes tasted good, but were lower in fat and calories.
“I’m Hispanic and grew up eating a lot of animal products and thinking you had to fry most things to make them taste good,” she says. “I completely transformed the way I ate.”
Her mission to get healthier turned more serious after her dad passed away from a sudden heart attack, before he was able to meet her youngest child.
In just over one year, Paula lost 70-pounds. Her husband also started to lose weight and saw his own cholesterol and blood pressure numbers start to improve.
Motivated by her improvements, Paula has taken what she’s learned to help others. She earned her certificate as a fitness instructor and started a free fitness club at a local school one night per week. She also uses social media to share heart-healthy tips and has online “friends” she has never met rooting her on and thanking her for helping them live healthier lives.
“Become aware of your family medical history and learn your cholesterol and blood pressure levels,” says Paula. “Have a conversation with your doctor about your heart disease risk factors and about recommendations for a healthy lifestyle.”
With a part-time job and three children ages 11 months, three and 10, Paula can relate to women who are juggling the demands of family and career. But her own health is now top priority.
“What good does it do my family if I am not here in the long run to take care of them?” she says. “I am taking care of me and setting an example for my kids, who now see that healthy eating and exercise are just part of our family routine.”