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Wellness Journey: ‘You cannot out train a bad diet’

by on December 15, 2015

AEP cares about the safety, health and well-being of its employees. All employees are invited to share their stories about the changes they are making to live healthier lives. This “Wellness Journey” is from Dave Waitkus, communications consultant principal at the AEP headquarters building in Columbus. These articles represent only the views and opinions of the employee and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of AEP.

Where I was and how I got there:

“You cannot out train a bad diet.”

That sign hanging in the Fitness Center at the AEP headquarters building haunted me for three years. I knew it was talking to me, but I continued to deny it. After all, I was the “Ironman,” the “Diesel,” I had completed 13 full marathons, over 100 triathlons, two 100-mile bike rides and countless half marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks over the past 17 years. But it was true. I was still trying to out train a bad diet, and it was no longer working.

Each year, I was competing at a heavier and heavier weight, and it was taking a toll on my body, especially my knees.

Each year as I got a little older and my knees hurt a little more, my activity level inched down and my weight had inched up…and so had all my critical health indicators – cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose, etc. But all I needed to do was keep running, cycling, skiing, swimming, golfing and walking, right?

“You cannot out train a bad diet.”

OK, so maybe I was eating a little too late at night when I swam my laps after work, and maybe I did like to snack a bit while watching a ball game, no big deal, right? And those beers and chicken wings after golfing on Thursday nights, and that wine on Friday and Saturday…I’ll work that off Monday and Tuesday.

And then came April 13.

Before you get too excited, no, I did not have a heart attack or stroke. I simply went to the doctor’s office for my annual physical and blood test. The results came back and I was informed that I was obese, had very high cholesterol, low HDL (good cholesterol), very high LDL (bad cholesterol), high triglycerides, was pre-diabetic and had borderline high blood pressure. The doc immediately wanted to put me on medication to lower my cholesterol.

WHAT? ME? Yep, the Diesel was now a full-blown garbage truck, and the Ironman was headed for the scrap heap.

My turning point:

Thankfully, in addition to the wake-up call from the doctor, my co-workers had been talking to me about “The Evils of Sugar” and a movie called “Fed Up.” Fed Up is a 2014 American documentary film that focuses on the causes of obesity in the U.S., presenting evidence showing that the large quantities of sugar in processed foods are an overlooked root of the problem, and points to the monied lobbying power of “Big Sugar” in blocking attempts to enact policies to address the issue.

In the movie, Katie Couric had set out to do a story about some young adults who were already pre-diabetic. But the more she talked to doctors and nutritionists, the more she discovered that excess sugar in our food, processed foods and fast foods are crippling our nation, and the food industry is responsible. For example, when the “fat free” craze began, companies realized that foods didn’t taste good without the fat, so they replaced it with massive amounts of sugar. In addition, today’s advertising is designed to get us hooked on sugar and processed food products as small children and keep us addicted for the rest of our lives. And each time a senator or other elected official has tried to halt or reverse the trend, the food and sugar lobbies have squelched their efforts.

So my co-worker came to me and said, “You said you try to eat healthy all the time. What do you eat for breakfast?” My answer was orange juice, a banana, breakfast bar with coffee and one packet of instant oatmeal when I arrived at work. All healthy stuff, right? She informed me that I was consuming about 75 grams of sugar each morning in those five items alone, and that a healthy adult should consume no more than 24 grams of sugar PER DAY.


Lunch? Turkey sandwich on thin bread with cheese, pickle and mustard, carrots, small cup of cinnamon applesauce and diet soda. Deli meat = horrible; bread = more sugar; cheese = horrible; applesauce = another 22 grams of sugar; diet soda = almost worse than regular sugar-sweetened soda. Oh by the way, folks, that 20-oz. bottle of Coke has 65 grams of sugar in it, Mountain Dew has 77. That Gatorade I was guzzling during my races has 34 grams of sugar in 20 ozs. And parents, take a look at the sugar in those juice boxes you are giving your children, in addition to the Happy Meals, seemingly healthy breakfast cereals, etc.

She also informed me about something I already knew as an Emergency Medical Technician and athlete – that when you exercise, the body goes looking for sugar first. Well, I had PLENTY of it in my system every day, so all I was doing with my excessive workouts was burning off excess sugar and never even getting close to the fat that had accumulated around my midsection.

My advice is that all of us need to become better informed food consumers. Take the time to read those labels and try to eat as many natural products as you can.

“You cannot out train a bad diet.”


Fast forward to today. Using my newfound knowledge and incorporating the well-disciplined exercise program I already had in place, I screamed, “Be gone, ye sugar devil!” My weight dropped from 257 on April 13 to 213 October 13. My cholesterol went from 261 to 210, good cholesterol skyrocketed, bad cholesterol plummeted, my blood pressure is normal and so is my glucose. My doctor was amazed and impressed.

All it took was some knowledge, discipline and a solid exercise program. In my four triathlon races this summer, my running times went from 11 minutes per mile back to a near respectable 9:44 per mile. And when I commented to my wife that riding my bike to work was not such a chore this summer, she said, “HELLO! You no longer have that 45-pound weight around your middle!”

So, my advice is that all of us need to become better informed consumers. Take the time to read those labels, try to eat as many “natural” products as you can (cage-free chicken eggs, grass-fed beef, etc.), throw out those sugar-filled soft drinks, juice boxes, sweets and processed food products, avoid fast foods as much as possible and keep exercising. I try to walk every day, swim three times a week, park way out from the stores to get those extra steps in and take the stairs whenever possible. And for those who say that their metabolism is too slow for them to lose weight or burn calories due to their age, I say, “Bunk!” I turned 58 November 13 and I’m not working out anywhere near what I used to as a younger Diesel, but I was still able to lose the weight and keep it off.

We may not be able to out train a bad diet, but we all can out think one.

Do you have a wellness journey you’d like to share? Your story can be about weight loss, overcoming an illness, maintaining good health habits or some other health-related topic. Just send an email to

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