By MARIE GILBERT
4:14 PM EDT, May 24, 2013
For most of Bill Kesecker’s 64 years, he struggled with his weight.
He lost and gained, lost and gained — but kept trying to maintain.
There were high-protein diets, liquid supplements, South Beach, Slim Fast and visits to dietitians.
Most of his attempts at shedding excess pounds were successful, he said.
He lost weight quickly but would then return to his old eating habits, undoing all of his hard work.
The last time Kesecker dieted was in the early 1980s, when he lost 100 pounds while participating in a university-sponsored program in Baltimore.
“Within weeks of reaching that mark, I was gaining it all back and more quickly,” he recalled. “I was disgusted and demoralized. I promised myself I would never diet again.”
And from 1982 to 2003, he didn’t.
Instead, he watched his weight continue to climb until he had reached 344 pounds.
“When you begin to reach the weight I was at, you start feeling hopeless,” Kesecker said. “You think, ‘nothing will work.’ So, emotionally, I felt humiliated, out of control and I reached for a cookie to feel better.”
When it came to being overweight, the Hagerstown man said he doesn’t remember a time when it wasn’t an issue.
As a teenager, he shopped for clothing in the husky department and always was on a mission to be thin.
But, the older he got, the harder it became to lose weight. And as the numbers on the scales increased, so did related medical issues. He was diagnosed with diabetes in 1991, as well as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and joint issues.
“I moved less, did less, moved more laboriously and with some discomfort, if not pain,” he said. “I had trouble getting down on my knees, so gardening, working around the house and doing projects were harder. I walked more carefully and deliberately, conscious that with my size, a fall could be devastating.”
Kesecker said he did fall in 1997, breaking his left ankle.
“I stepped off a basement step, thinking I was at the last step. But I wasn’t,” he noted. “So, I began concentrating more. I readjusted how to get into a car, too. Most people put one leg in, swivel in position to the seat and bring in their other leg. My knees wouldn’t tolerate it. So, I backed up to the seat, sat and swung my legs in.”
In late 2002 and early 2003, Kesecker said he began having more trouble with his legs — “stumbling, feeling like my legs weren’t as responsive as normal, sluggish. I didn’t have a clear picture of what was wrong. But I knew I needed to do something.”
During a visit to his physician, Dr. Stephen Metzner of Potomac Family Medicine, Kesecker asked about using Slim Fast for breakfast and/or lunch and eating a regular meal for supper.
“His reply was to reach into his pocket and hand me Jeanne Rhodes’ business card and say ‘Why don’t you try her?’” Kesecker recalled.
Rhodes is a nutritionist, wellness consultant and director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.
For two or three months, Kesecker kept thinking about giving her a call, but decided to give the South Beach diet a try, instead.
“By 10 a.m. my first morning on the diet, I knew I couldn’t keep to it, so I reluctantly made an appointment with Jeanne,” he said. “I felt trapped. I was going nowhere on my own.”
But he wasn’t sure what Rhodes offered would work. He had tried everything else, though, so one more attempt wouldn’t hurt, he thought.
What he didn’t realize, he said, was that it would be the first step in getting his life back.
In June of 2003, Kesecker arrived at Rhodes’ office, where she asked about his dieting history and the foods he liked to eat. She evaluated his medical history and the medications he was taking.
“I also met with her to learn how to prepare menus — about six small meals a day, eating every 2 1/2 to 3 hours — and how to make food selections that would target a normal blood sugar range throughout the day to prevent sugar spikes and crashes and to fend off cravings,” he said.
He learned to incorporate foods high in fiber into his meals, reduce sugar consumption and eat more fruit and vegetables.
Kesecker said Rhodes’ food planning also took into account his natural circadian rhythm, where his metabolism naturally slows as he moves through the day to nighttime rest.
Equally important, she recommended that he include exercise in his daily routine.
“My first assignment was to walk 15 minutes a day,” Kesecker said. “For me, then, that was two blocks from my house and back. I thought I would die. But my body gradually adjusted and I could walk more. So, I began doing 25 minutes.”
Still, Kesecker said he was doubtful that his new weight loss plan would work.
“My head was full of diet thinking,” he said. “Do this for X period of time, get to normal weight and then eat normally, which is what put the weight on in the first place. My head was full of deprivation, going hungry and limited, tasteless choices.”
But Kesecker said Rhodes is not about dieting. She emphasizes lifestyle change. And that was different from his past approaches to losing weight and keeping it off.
Rhodes became his primary support system, Kesecker said, “because she teaches what she has learned in her own life. Jeanne researches the science, but she also has lived the journey. She knew that the lifestyle changes I made would work if I followed them.”
In addition, Kesecker has found support at the classes and group discussions he attends at Rhodes’ office.
“There is no blame for struggle, but there is a lot of encouragement to keep going,” he said. “We are all trying to change our heads, as well as our bodies.”
Eighteen months after beginning the program, Kesecker now weighs about 255 pounds.
“I began the program in June of 2003 and reached maintenance in November of 2004,” he said. “But, I assure you that I didn’t reach a destination at that point. I’m on a journey.”
In fact, he noted, since 2004, he has regained some weight and lost again —always during times of crisis.
“For instance, one was when Dad became bedfast,” he said. “It was a tremendous upheaval and rearrangement of our lives. Another was after Dad died. It was one thing to mourn his passing, but something else to mourn the loss of the life I had known. It has been a struggle to build up a new life. I’m making good progress, but have been so surprised it would take so long and be so full of emotion.”
In the past, however, “I would have regained everything,” he added. “That hasn’t happened and it feels to me like a miracle.”
A big positive during Kesecker’s weight loss journey has been the fact that he has been taken off his diabetes medicine. Because of his new food selections and exercise, “my body was starting to use my own insulin and was becoming less insulin resistant,” he said. “About six weeks into my new plan, the doctor dropped the first oral medication I ever took beginning at age 40, glyburide. The pattern continued. Every several months, my sugars would start to drop, another medication was stopped and by November of 2004, I wasn’t taking any medications for diabetes, including insulin, and had normal blood sugars.”
Kesecker said he also saw his cholesterol numbers improve.
And he is enjoying life like never before.
“I never thought of riding a bicycle or going swimming,” he said. “Now, I ride a bicycle and completed a 25-mile ride last year for the American Heart Association. I’ve walked and jogged in three 5Ks, push-mow the yard and have painted the exterior of my house twice since 2003.”
And he does what years ago he was too ashamed to do — he wears shorts.
He also keeps a busy schedule, working full time and serving as cofacilitator of a new support group at Somerford for individuals newly diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. He also teaches Bible classes at Tri-State Fellowship and said he occasionally is asked to speak in other churches.
Kesecker said he looks at food differently now and considers it “a fuel. I can’t live without food, but neither can I live well with any and all types of food. To eat refined carbohydrates may feel like it’s fulfilling an emotional need, but it is not meeting any nutritional need. It’s the wrong fuel to keep me healthy, strong and active for the long haul.”
Kesecker cared for both of his parents over the years, noting that his mother, who was diabetic, “was bedfast for nine months until her death and Dad for two years and 11 months. I don’t regret a moment I spent with them and am grateful to God for being able to journey with them in their last days. But I hope and pray to walk on my last day in this life. I am trying to fuel the long journey.”
In the past, a holiday like Memorial Day — with all the food choices — was difficult, he said.
“So many foods are associated with many happy memories and good times,” he said. “I emotionally go back there, especially with my immediate family gone. A carrot isn’t a chocolate chip cookie. But having to take a shot of insulin at 11 each night after a long day is not so nice either.”
After years of sometimes feeling like he didn’t have a future, “I am thankful to be alive,” Kesecker said. “I’m not confident I would have survived if I had not gone to Jeanne Rhodes back in 2003. I’ve told her she was an answer to a prayer that I never prayed. I didn’t think there was hope — not even enough hope to pray for an answer.”
He’s also thankful for an improving relationship with food.
“I believe I would not have been able to care for my dad for nearly three years had I not lost the weight and regained health and added strength,” he said. “And I’m thankful to realize that never before have I lost weight and kept it all off. That feels more like a gift than an achievement.”
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer
Since Bill Kesecker changed his lifestyle and lost about 90 pounds, he has been able to stop taking medication for diabetes. He has worked with Jeanne Rhodes of Rhodes Preventative Health Institute in Hagerstown to lose weight and maintain healthful habits.
Bill Kesecker struggled with his weight for most of his life and once weighed about 344 pounds.