Reducing Risk

Thriving at age 49, ‘meat and potatoes man’ regains health with help from local hospital‘s cardiovascular center

Steve Williams doesn’t want any of his buddies to know it, but sometimes he eats tofu.

For a lifelong logger from a self-described “industrial strength family,” that’s hard to admit.

“My idea of a meal prior to this was steak and potatoes, and then more steak and potatoes,” Williams said. The “this” he’s referring to happened a year-and-a-half ago when he was diagnosed with type II diabetes. He weighed 275 pounds and had trouble bending over to tie his shoes.

Although Williams, 49, had clear risk factors for diabetes, tests showed his fasting glucose levels were only slightly high. And he had no family history of diabetes, which occurs when the body’s ability to produce or respond to insulin is impaired.

“I was skeptical,” said Williams, whose doctor told him he could control his diabetes with diet and exercise — but it would require serious lifestyle changes. Williams knew he’d become more sedentary since losing his job at the Hanel Mill and going to work for the county forestry department. And he knew his “biscuits and gravy” diet was probably less than healthful. But he wasn’t convinced he had to change his lifestyle — or that changing it would make a difference.

Still, Williams agreed to meet with the diabetes educators at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, who in turn recommended that he enter the hospital’s Risk Reduction Program at the Cardiovascular Conditioning Center.

Williams was still doubtful, but agreed to try it. He began working out at the Conditioning Center, located across from the hospital on 13th and May streets, a few days a week under the supervision of the center’s exercise physiologist, Jan Polychronis. He also consulted regularly with PHRMH diabetes educator Kelly Chambers, and began learning to decipher labels on food so he could monitor his intake of carbohydrates, which can send glucose levels soaring.

“It can be really confusing,” he recalled. “I’d call Kelly on my cell phone from the grocery store.” He started eating fruits and vegetables regularly for the first time in his life, and ate chicken and fish — even tofu — as well as red meat.

Along the way, a funny thing happened. He started losing weight. He felt better. He checked his blood glucose regularly and it was always well within the normal range. He could bend to tie his shoes. Once a skeptic, he now was a believer.

“It was like, lo and behold, they do know what they’re talking about,” Williams said. He now weighs 219 pounds — 56 pounds less than he did when he started at the Conditioning Center 11 months ago. He works out three days a week for at least two hours. And he’s happily following what he calls a “common sense” diet.

“If you think about it a minute, you shouldn’t eat a 20-ounce steak, and then have a second one for your second helping,” he said. He stays away from things like potato chips and other junk food, but he gives himself “treats” now and then — splurging on his favorite steak once a month and having dessert occasionally.

But for a one-time skeptic, Williams has come a long way. He credits the Risk Reduction Program staff for helping him to change his life.

“I came in here and fell in love with the place,” he said. “They really believe in what they’re doing.” And they’ve helped to make Williams believe in what he’s doing.

“Getting diagnosed with diabetes was the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said. “Now, I’m serious as a heart attack about this. I’m 49 and I want to live to be 149.”

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