Introduction: The Journey Begins

Jenny's Journey

My name is Jenny Hartsock and I am a Hospitalist doctor at Miami Valley Hospital. I am putting myself out here to talk about an epidemic problem: obesity.

I, myself, am obese, and I am trying to make positive changes in my life so that I can lose weight and keep it off. I think we all have a different story of our weight and how we became obese, so I wanted to share mine with you.

I was a tall and lanky kid, spending everyday out running around the woods and playing a bunch of sports all the time. My body did change hugely when I hit puberty, and that was a big adjustment! With all those hormones flooding in, I started to gain weight even when I was routinely exercising two plus hours a day. Throughout high school and most of college, I was an avid athlete playing a different sport every season. Towards the end of college, I slowed my activity level down considerably but did not change my caloric intake... a perfect recipe for weight gain. As I ended college, I was creeping up towards 200 pounds.

And then... medical school. Med. school was a generally terrible time of my life. I hated it so much in the beginning that I even took time off school and thought of switching career paths permanently. It was during this time that all my bad habits caught up with me.

I, like many people, favor quick and easy meals and hate to cook.

Even though I have been a vegetarian since the age of 16, I was relying on carbs and cheese and processed food for the majority of my calories. I also, like so many others, eat for bad reasons- stress, boredom, anxiety - will all send me running for a nutty bar (or two). During this very stressful time in my life, I retreated into myself, stopped exercising and my diet deteriorated. I got up to about 225 pounds at first. I developed severe anxiety about going into medical school because part of our classes involved examining each other to learn. I was ashamed and terrified of my body and became reclusive. I took a year off school and got a job working for a small company in Yellow Springs, Ohio. My weight ballooned to 270 pounds. The one bright spot of this period is that my time away from medical school made me realize I could never give up on becoming a doctor. I missed everything about it, and reenrolled in school and proudly got my degree.

From here I went into my residency training in family medicine. I loved this part of my life very much. It was stressful to be working so much, but I was surrounded by amazing colleagues and blossoming into a physician in my own right. I was able to get back on track with my weight, exercising regularly and reigning in some of my bad diet habits. I was back down to 225 pounds and feeling much better than I had in a long time... and then I fell. Playing indoor soccer of all things. Five minutes into the game. Instantly I knew it was a severe injury. I had torn my ACL, my lateral meniscus and had a tibial plateau fracture. I had to have surgery. I was out of my residency training for months. What followed during the next two years was a horrible time of surgery, rehab, and more surgery. I didn't sail smoothly through recovery and had a very difficult time. I was using crutches to walk for a year and a half. I missed six months of training and had to extend my time in residency.

It was hard; the hardest time in my life. I felt weak, helpless and out of control.

I didn't know if I would be able to finish my training to become a physician; I was at risk of losing everything I had worked for. I was in pain every minute and could not even stand or walk to be able to properly do my job. I was a patient instead of a doctor for the first time in my life. I experienced firsthand what it is like when your doctor is not listening to what you are saying, and gives you the brush off. It was a harsh reality, and very humbling. Again, all the weight piled back on. At this time, I had to advocate for myself as a patient to get the correct treatment and get my life back. And I am so grateful to say that, eventually, I did. I can now walk and have only minimal residual pain in my knee. I finished my residency training and started to work at Miami Valley Hospital, where I have been ever since.

Becoming a full-fledged doctor came with its own challenges. When you are a resident, you think you work all the time, but you have no idea how much more work you will do as an attending physician. I love my work very much and I tend to be a workaholic. There have been many times I will be too busy working to take care of my own health. The bad habits of not exercising and eating processed junk retuned. I have been able to lose weight, but invariably something will come up that keeps me from finding the time to go back to the gym and I will slide backwards. I've had another lesser injury of my Achilles' tendon in this last year and I was so frightened to injure it further I just stopped doing anything. I was living a veal-like existence with very little exercise. My weight spiraled more out of control than ever, up to 275 pounds. I went in to my primary care doctor, Dr. Lesley Meeker, and had a fasting blood sugar test. I was pre-diabetic.

That was a real wake up call for me. Until then I had been obese for a long time, but I had been otherwise healthy. When you are obese, it will eventually start to cause health complications, and I didn't want that to be my fate.

I have had enough. Enough of yo-yo weight going up and down 50 pounds in one year. Enough of hating myself for binge eating junk. Enough of feeling tired all the time and hurting all over my body from the physical stress the weight has on my joints. So, I come to you today trying to make lasting changes in my lifestyle that will carry me forward for years. As soon as I found out I was pre-diabetic, I started on the medication Victoza (liraglutide). This medication works on several different hormones in the body (insulin, glucagon) to lower blood sugar levels and treat and prevent progression of diabetes.

But that isn't enough. Our first instinct as doctors can be to throw medication at every problem (because we like to fix things!), but making lifestyle changes is the single best treatment for many chronic medical problems. The thing is... it's really, stinking hard to be obese!!! And it's even harder to change your lifestyle and keep the weight off! It's hard to make time to eat right. It's hard to shop and cook. It's hard to get up early or stay out late to find time to exercise. It's hard to own clothes in 3 different sizes because your weight is more fluid than quicksand. It’s hard to not have that second helping. It's hard to look yourself in the mirror and not recognize who you see. It's just hard!

But change is worth it. We all have the ability to be a healthier version of ourselves.

It isn't going to happen overnight; it's going to take time, dedication, and work. I'm ready to try and I'm going to give it my all. I hope you will join me!


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