Like so many others, Sarah experienced one of her lowest moments while sitting on an airplane waiting to take off. She remembers it painfully. “The seat belt wouldn’t fit, and I was too embarrassed to ask for an extender, so I suffered through the entire flight in pain.” At that time travel was a big part of Sarah’s job, so she knew it was something she would continue to face.
Shortly after that flight, she decided to attend an introduction session for Life 180, the plant-based version of Healthy Balance, Kaiser Permanente’s 1-year adult weight management program. Sarah had completed Healthy Balance in the past but put weight back on after two separate leg injuries led to her using a cane. Combined with extensive travel for work assignments, she let these obstacles affect her weight loss goals.
During the Life 180 introduction session, Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park emergency medicine physician Taekchoon Joseph Lee shared his own journey. Dr. Lee lost 50 pounds by following a plant-based diet and is passionate about doctors and patients working together to make lifestyle changes to prevent and cure chronic illnesses. Dr. Lee’s personal transformation led to a renewed passion in his work as a physician. He says, “I learned that hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and coronary artery disease were reversible by treating the root causes with a plant-based diet, exercise, and stress management. It gave me a vision of a medical practice where my patients could cure disease not with expensive technology in the form of pills and procedures, but with simple lifestyle choices.”
Sarah had lost weight in the past, but still didn’t feel confident in her future. She thought, “Why is this time going to be different?” However, she was moved by Dr. Lee’s story and felt that if it worked for him, it could work for her too. So, she enrolled in Life 180 and almost immediately everything clicked. She thrived in the program and embraced eating new foods that she had never considered before, such as chickpeas, lentils, and tofu. “Kaiser provided so much support during my journey on Life 180,” she remembers. The workshops cover topics like meal planning, exercise, food triggers, managing stress and sleep, building confidence, label reading, and more.
Sarah also took a Kaiser Permanente workshop on plant-based cooking. She felt her taste buds changing. “After not eating sugar, I could appreciate the taste of fruit and how sweet potatoes are so delicious!” A big part of what kept her motivated was the group support in the weekly sessions. “Even though at times certain factors can be challenging in our lives, in the classroom (and later online) we were able to interact with others and share our stories.”
As Sarah embraced her new lifestyle, the pounds came off and her bloodwork improved. “When you start Life 180, you do labs so you can know how it is working for you. My A1C was 6.9, and by the end of the year, my A1C was 5.1.” A1C is a blood test used to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes. A normal A1C level is below 5.7.
The second part of the Healthy Balance program (both the original and the Life 180 plant-based version) is a series of calls with a personal wellness coach. Sarah says her coach has supported her over the months and feels that’s been key to her staying on track. She started walking, slowly increasing her goals, and now can comfortably walk 5 miles a day.
A year after beginning her journey, Sarah has lost 80 pounds and her A1C remains in the normal range. Sometimes even she is amazed. “I once said I could never give up meat…but here I am. My energy is great! I have surprised myself; I have no regrets.” Reflecting on the last year and looking at pictures from that time, she sees someone who was stuck.
“I was just going to accept that this is my life as an older person. Now I feel a lot younger than the number says I am!”
Sarah’s journey came full circle recently during a trip to celebrate her birthday. On the plane, she was happy to discover that she was able to fasten the seat belt with 10½ inches to spare!
*Photos show models, not actual program participants.