It’s been said often: The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. And, as much as everyone loves taking a journey for relaxation, to see marvelous sights, many of us have started, stopped, and continued the same journey that Matthew Bonnette is currently on. Epiphanies, rather than travel agents, are the guides that get us started. Generally, they come in the form of a doctor’s visit, with a diagnosis we’d prefer not to hear. Still, a medical wake-up call is one surefire motivator that can make a person decide to take charge of their health.
For Bonnette, Senior Associate AD/Director of Athletics Communications at McNeese University, that epiphany first came in 2005 when he was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) and pre-diabetes. “At one point, about 3 years ago, my A1C level was dangerously high at close to 13. I was put on Ozempic, which did help me lose about 15-20 pounds at the time. I’m still on it three years later; my A1C and blood glucose levels have been running great.”
Epiphany #2 arrived this year. Another common motivator—family! “My oldest daughter, Haley’s wedding was planned for August 19 this year, so certainly, I wanted to lose weight. I started working on it after the holidays. I began playing more golf, which was great exercise, but in March, something happened when I was on the course one day. I had an awkward feeling in my chest…no pain and no shortage of breath, just a feeling I hadn’t felt before.”
Since being diagnosed with AFib, Bonnette had had heart episodes occasionally, but they would last seconds before his heart would get back into a normal rhythm. Not so, this time. “The next day, I was at work and the heart went into AFib, this time lasting for 4 days. When I was first diagnosed, I was given a lot of educational material about it, so I knew what it can lead to. I got set up with local cardiologist, with a PET scan and stress test done in mid-May. By that time, I had lost around 25 pounds, but my only exercise was playing golf and mowing my yard. Eating habits were better, but not what they needed to be. I was still downing Diet Cokes frequently.”
At the end of May, Bonnette’s outlook changed, causing him to make a more serious commitment to this journey to better health. The tests came back abnormal. Now, his priority was to get healthy for himself and for his daughter’s wedding. “The tests showed three spots on the heart’s two lower chambers. Two spots resulting from ischemia, a shortage of blood supply, and the third from scarring, which was caused by an unknown heart attack. Maybe that’s what I felt back in March when playing golf. Those results opened my eyes wider than they’ve ever been.”
Like most of us, Bonnette knows how this journey can unfold. Years go by, with battle plans attempted and discarded. It’s not always a lack of willpower, but often a lack of awareness and good education.
There are the yo-yo diets, diet pills, supplements, and other “quick fixes.” Some of us hear the message, and then forget it. Some never get the message. Still others like Matthew Bonnette say it is too
loud to ignore. Caution: Lifestyle change ahead. You may make it to your final destination without being lucky enough to see or hear the early warning signs. And, it is true that many health issues cannot be cured, only managed. There are also numbers one cannot change, like age and height. But whether you subscribe to traditional, homeopathic, or alternative forms of medicine, there are numbers that can be altered: Weight, heart rate, blood pressure, A1C, etc. Exercise, healthy eating, and most importantly, a good attitude, can be just the ticket for the rest of your itinerary.
For Bonnette, he is grateful that there are no exercise restrictions, even though what he has, according to his doctors, cannot be cured.
Many have noticed his recent 60+ pound weight loss, telling him that he’s about to blow away. He’d rather hear that statement, he says, than “hide the food,” which happened too often, he admits.
Today, he gladly shares his Top Ten “travel plans” for his lifestyle-changing journey with others on social media and at events, when he’s asked:
1. A LOT more water intake and very few diet drinks.
2. Interval running/walking 3-4 miles 5 times a week.
3. Gym work 3-4 times a week.
4. Mindful eating…portion control, eating slower, eating cleaner when possible.
5. I do a 15-16 hour fast. Try not to eat after 8pm but never after 9pm. I don’t eat again until at least noon the next day.
6. Not on any fad diet. Those don’t work. I’m proof of the many I’ve tried over the years.
7. I still eat what I want, but in moderation, although I don’t get fast food unless it’s a healthy sandwich or salad somewhere. I still have pizza and stuff like that from time to time, just in moderation.
8. Late-night snacking was always my killer…chips and dip, ice cream, etc. That’s gone.
9. I rarely go out to eat now and instead cook what I know I need. But when I do go out, I have what I want, but always in moderation. I make sure the days following are better eating days.
10. I do snack, but now it’s snacking on sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and dill pickles. If I need to crunch, it’s veggie straws.
“Since the end of March, I’ve dropped those 60 pounds sticking with these guidelines,” says Bonnette. “The first few weeks were tough, training the mind and breaking the cravings, but now it’s more of a routine, although it is still tough. I’ve gone from a size 44-waist to a 36. I am no longer forced to shop in the big-and-tall section. But, I think the thing that really feels the best is my mental attitude. I’m not embarrassed to be in front of crowds.
With my job, that’s inescapable, but I always knew how I looked, so I hated to see photos of me. Now I’m asking for them!”
Bonnette stresses that we all have a choice: Treat our bodies like a temple, or treat them like a tent.
It’s cliché, because it’s true, but you do only get one body for this earthly journey, so if you want to put a lot of miles on it, you’ve got to treat it like a well-oiled machine.
“I’m a very private person when it comes to personal matters, especially when it comes to posting things on social media, and only talk to those who are close to me about them,” said Bonnette.
“But I wanted to post something about what started me on this journey and how I’ve been doing it because I had a lot of people ask me when they would see me in person. After I made that post, I had dozens of people reach out to me, people I haven’t talked to in years and some who I worked with 20 years ago that I haven’t heard from since. They told me how much they enjoyed my story and how much I’ve inspired them to start taking their health more serious. And I think in a way I made that post because I wanted people to see the new me, so it was kind of a selfish thing. But now, with the feedback I’m getting, I feel better that I posted it because those people that have told me that I inspired them, well they’ve inspired me to keep going, stay on the right path and not fall off the wagon. These last few months have also brought me much closer to God and my faith has been rebuilt. I really consider May 25, 2023 as my born again day.”
Self-care is not selfish. It can be as easy as regularly eating a piece of fruit or adding one vegetable to your daily diet.
Step out of your comfort zone and go for a stroll during lunch.
Find a gym that suits your schedule. Ask a friend for support; having someone to reach out to when the going gets rough is helpful.
Search for a step-by-step blueprint designed with your goals in mind—there are recommendations online for every lifestyle. The journey begins with that first step.
Ask Matthew Bonnette: It’s smart to make heart-healthy habits a simple part of your routine. And you can start, no matter what age, weight, or shape you’re currently in. So, what are you waiting for?