Whenever Mike has felt stuck in life, he’s found an exciting way to get moving again. He’s driven across the country five times, three of those trips by motorcycle. He once changed his life up by leaving a career in catering and moving to Las Vegas to become a casino dealer and professional Blackjack player. And last year, at age 65, he sold his house, bought an RV, and hit the road again.
If you’d asked him a few years before if he thought he had another adventure left in him, he might have said no. He was on long-term disability with a bad back which he’d injured working at a warehouse. “I could hardly walk. So, all I did was sit around and bake and eat, and I just got huge.” He’d always loved fried foods and baking, but that diet came with a price. His friends didn’t recognize him. He didn’t recognize himself.
"I’ve had a lot of dark times in my life, and I can almost always attribute my weight gains to those times.” But this time he didn’t feel motivated or able to shake things up and make a change. He honestly figured he was nearing the end. The fact that he’s on the road again, feeling healthy, and enjoying another adventure is testament to his new relationship with food and cooking.
The call from Meg, our program manager, was unexpected. He wasn’t even sure how she’d gotten his number. But very quickly, he found himself talking to her about his health and how he was eating. Mike agreed to join our food as medicine program offered through his Medicare Advantage plan, and Meg began to send him meals and food kits along with literature about nutrition.
“It was amazing how much it helped.” The literature, in particular, fired his imagination. For the twenty years he’d worked in catering, his favorite part of the job had been coming up with new recipes. He began to get very creative about cooking again. He wasn’t a big fan of blueberries, for example, but he’d learned they were good for him, so he started thinking of different ways to use them in recipes that he invented. His blueberry balsamic vinaigrette has earned rave reviews from everyone who's tried it, including many of us here at NourishedRx. His blueberry pie has an unexpected but delicious touch of turmeric which he added because it’s an anti-inflammatory.
He also changed his cooking and eating habits. He uses honey or a sugar substitute as sweeteners instead of sugar. If he fries anything, it’s in olive oil. He eats a lot more vegetables and fish. He’s stopped drinking pop.
Mike’s already lost about 65 pounds. “And I’m going to try and lose a lot more.” He hasn’t worried about counting calories but he’s eating healthier than he’s ever eaten in his life. His risk of depression has disappeared. He’s no longer food insecure. His confidence in his own self care has improved. His quality of life on a scale of 100 has more than doubled. By successfully lowering his blood sugar and maintaining healthy levels, he’s been able to eliminate two medications. "I think I am in better health now than I have been in years."
Selling his house and buying an RV surprised a lot of people, but it felt like a natural next step to Mike. “I’m constantly reevaluating where I’m at, where I need to be and what I want to do. It hasn’t always been beneficial to me financially, but it’s always been beneficial to me emotionally.”
He figured he’d head down Route 66, one of America’s original highways, and see where it would take him. He ended up in Florida where he found an RV park he liked and joined a lively community of friendly people. “It’s funny, here, I’m like the kid.” Almost everyone is in their mid to late 70s, and a few people are in their 90s. Their energy and enthusiasm for life is inspiring. Mike can see the next few decades ahead of him. He wants to make it to his 90s,too, and be just as active.
He walks every day and does water aerobics in the pool. “I base my wellness on my movement, how far I can go.” Right now, he can go about a mile and a half without any pain or hip trouble at all, despite some neuropathy in his legs and his doctor’s suggestion that he might need a hip replacement one day, something Mike wants to avoid.
Isolating himself has always been easy. “I’m real famous for that,” Mike admits. But in the RV community, he feels motivated to connect with the people around him and help out in ways they might not even realize. He does a lot of that by cooking healthy, nutritious food and serving it up at cookouts and on special occasions. The best green beans anyone’s ever tasted. A delicious fish stew with red fish or Spanish mackerel a friend has caught. Even a birthday cake made with sweet-and-low instead of sugar. His neighbor loved it so much, she wasn’t sure she could stop herself from having yet another slice. “I thought to myself, honey, if you knew how healthy that was, you’d eat it all up.”
He credits his conversations with Meg and the food-as-medicine literature for helping to rejuvenate him. “It got me thinking about what I needed to do, the way I need to cook, and how I need to move my situation, as it were. I realized I wasn’t ready to just lay down and die. But I kind of needed somebody to be in my corner, and say, ‘You’re important. You need to take care of yourself.’ And that’s what I’ve done.”
He has a sense of purpose again, and optimism about the future. He knows he can be who he wants to be and do what he wants to do.
“I’m still overweight,” Mike says. “I gain a little bit. I lose a little. But I’m not 300 pounds anymore.”
And he now believes, you’re never too old to change.
"I say to people, ‘It’s your choice. You’re the one who has to make the choice. I’m losing weight because I choose to eat healthy today.”
That’s a recipe for the kind of life Mike wants to live for years to come.