MHLbannersmallBut making some major health improvements turned out to be the real motivator

As a long-time nurse at Riverside Regional Medical Center and more recently as the Director of Patient Care Services at Riverside Rehabilitation Institute, Debbie Outlaw, RN, BSN, has understood the relationship between personal accountability and health for most of her adult life. But as a full-time employee, mother and wife, she also realizes how difficult it is to balance work and family while still taking good care of yourself. It's a juggling act that many of us face, and Debbie's story offers some insights into what it takes to line up your priorities.

Outlaw_Debbie 4x6x300_smallWhen Debbie Outlaw made an appointment with her Primary Care Provider (PCP), she knew that her weight was an issue they would undoubtedly be discussing. It was something she had struggled with for years. The appointment included a physical exam and blood work and was part of her efforts to take advantage of the My Healthy Lifestyle program's opportunity to save on next year's health plan premiums by creating then a wellness plan.

Other than the anticipated discussion of her weight, and a history of relatively mild hypertension, Debbie had no expectations of any other health-related problems and felt good about taking the first step toward reducing her health plan costs. As it turned out, her predictions weren't quite accurate and the result was some major life changes that, fortunately, were for the better.

"My doctor, and this was after what was my first visit as a new patient, called me and personally went over each of the lab results with me. I already knew from the office visit that my blood pressure was higher than I expected, but the doctor also told me that my cholesterol was borderline high. And my fasting blood sugar wasn't looking all that great either," explained Debbie.

"The next day was my birthday and that morning I heard the ding on my phone telling me I had a new message. It was from myHealth eLink, the web-based information system that helps keep people connected to their Riverside Medical Group physicians. It was a Happy Birthday greeting, but it was also my wake-up call."

Debbie made a decision at that moment that she had to start doing things differently and that her health had to become more of a priority in a world where the demands of job and family had become the main objectives of her time and energy.

"What you have to realize is that you won't be of any value to the people who depend on you at work or at home if you are having problems with your health. For me, the other important thing I realized was that nobody could be accountable for my health except me. I knew that I was going to have to start making more time for Debbie. The next morning I got up a little earlier and took a walk through the neighborhood. It was a short walk, but after a little time I worked up to three miles," said Debbie.

The other health issue that Debbie faced was related to weight management.

"I took what I learned from past efforts at weight loss but this time I added more determination. I'm a big believer in portion control and I keep a food diary so I can be aware of what I'm eating and not relying on my memory. Again, it's about holding myself accountable," she said. "Before I thought in terms of dieting and exercise. Now I look at what I'm doing as just making healthier choices. The actual activities are the same, so it's really about my perception of things. But the fact is, it makes a difference. I find myself truly enjoying the exercise now whether it's walking or working out in a gym. It's my time for myself, to listen to a little music and to think. I actually look forward to it."

When Debbie saw her PCP after a follow up exam she knew the results even before he said a word.

"As soon as he saw me he gave me a high five. It meant a lot to me because it told me in an instant that my hard work had paid off and that it was making a positive difference in my health. The weight loss was something people could see. But I was glad to know that the 'invisible' health issues had improved too."

"When anyone asks me what I'm doing differently, I tell them that I went public this time. I told people about how I'm managing my weight and exercising and I know that's helped me stay on course. It's not something I want to keep secret."

"My original goal was to put myself in a position to save on my health plan premiums. But now it's something that has actually changed my life. Like most people, I don't have a problem with spending less money and I have a lot of good uses for the savings. But the real motivator for me, and the one I hope is lifelong, is getting and staying healthier."