- Success Stories -

In This Together

A health scare convinced Brad and Ivette Heutmaker to change their eating and exercise habits. Now, even their daughter is reaping the rewards of their healthier choices.

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Sitting in a dressing room one late-summer day in 2006, Ivette Heutmaker was faced with an unpleasant realization — she no longer fit into size 22 jeans. She’d been wearing the size for years, but that day she could barely pull them over her thighs. Annoyed, she left the store empty-handed and swore she’d lose weight by improving her eating habits. But it wasn’t until a month later that her irritation turned into action. That’s when her husband, Brad, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Ivette admits she had something of a breakdown that day. “When we got home, I remember pulling stuff out of the pantry and the freezer — cookies, chips, ice cream — and throwing it all away,” she recalls.

For years, Ivette, 37, and Brad, 36, had eaten poorly and avoided exercise, but Brad’s diagnosis was the wake-up call their whole family needed. They decided to make significant changes to how they were living — not just for their own health, but for that of their young daughter, too.

Time for a Turnaround

The Heutmakers’ weight struggles began well before Ivette’s dressing-room epiphany. She’d been putting on pounds since high school, and by the time she’d reached her 20s, she was eating out frequently and burning few calories in her sedentary jobs. While pregnant with their daughter, LaRue, in 2001, the 5-foot-3-inch mom-to-be ate high-calorie Mexican dishes several times a week. By the end of her pregnancy, she tipped the scales at 270 pounds. Her weight plummeted just after LaRue’s birth, but her poor diet and activity habits caused her weight to climb steadily over the next five years.

Brad put on the pounds in college, where fast food and cafeteria fare were his diet staples. His weight fluctuated over the years, but during Ivette’s pregnancy, he matched her bite for bite. Meanwhile, his desk job — which kept him sedentary for most of the day — didn’t help. “I didn’t make time for exercise or anything else,” he says. By the time of his diabetes diagnosis in 2006, he was carrying 255 pounds on his 6-foot frame.

The Heutmakers tended to reinforce each other’s bad habits. Too tired to cook after long workdays, they often agreed to order takeout or head to a restaurant. Increasingly, they both worried about their health, and they were also concerned about the effects their lifestyle might have on their daughter.

So after Brad’s diagnosis, they made major changes — starting with their grocery list. “The first few times I went shopping, it took me a lot longer,” Ivette says. “I was more aware of labels. I realized that if there were ingredients I couldn’t read, they were probably chemicals I didn’t want to put in my body.”

She planned dinners a week in advance so they didn’t have to rely on takeout meals, and packed healthier snacks when they were away from home. She made personal changes as well: Instead of eating her company’s heavy cafeteria meals, she made egg-white scrambles with broccoli and salsa wrapped in whole-wheat tortillas. She also began packing healthy lunches for LaRue in an effort to help her develop good eating habits.

Brad, meanwhile, tackled his fast-food addiction. While traveling for his new sales job, he stayed in hotels with in-room microwaves so he could prepare a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and he learned to make good choices when food options were limited. “When I’m in the airport, I know what to look for — I can get a wrap at Subway, for example,” he says. “It’s not the best in the world, but it’s better than a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.” Within a month of starting his new diet, he was able to wean himself from his diabetes medication.

With their nutrition under control, Brad and Ivette’s next move was to get active

Making Time for Fitness

With busy careers and a young daughter, the Heutmakers could have made excuses not to exercise. Instead, they figured out ways to make it a part of their routine.

Ivette began rising early so she could exercise at the Life Time Fitness near their home in Maricopa, Ariz., before she went to work. She began slowly, logging just a few minutes on the elliptical machine before becoming exhausted. Within a few weeks, she could manage 20 minutes at a steady pace.

Brad, meanwhile, chose hotels with fitness centers when he was traveling, so he could cycle or run during his downtime.

Their excess weight soon was melting off: Within a year, both Brad and Ivette dropped around 75 pounds.

By late 2007, they were ready to ramp up their activity even more. Brad began meeting a few times a month with personal trainer Graham Gould, who helped him develop an exercise regimen using resistance bands. Easy to pack, the bands allowed him to do squats, pushups and lunges with additional resistance. “We worked on finding things that he could easily do on the road that would provide a quick, total-body workout,” says Gould.

Back home in Arizona, Ivette joined general fitness, cardio kickboxing and barbell strength classes. She also started running on the treadmill, a workout that would have been unthinkable just two years earlier.

The two offer each other plenty of support, despite Brad’s hectic travel schedule. They regularly discuss their workouts, and whenever they’re together at the club, they warm up and stretch with each other. And every Friday night, they go to the gym as a family.

Forward Thinking

In just two years, the Heutmakers have turned their eating and exercise habits upside down. Brad, who ran his first marathon in June, is now working to build more muscle and reduce body fat. Ivette, meanwhile, maintains her workouts but has put her weight-loss efforts on hold — she’s expecting baby No. 2 in January.  “If it weren’t for the weight loss,” Brad says, “we don’t believe we would have gotten pregnant again.”

They’re ecstatic about their progress, but are proudest of the great example they’re setting for LaRue and their baby to come. “LaRue tells us she can’t wait until she’s 12, so she can exercise with us at the gym. She’s our best cheerleader,” says Ivette. “I do this for me, but I also do this for her. I like getting down on the floor and playing games with her. And that’s something I want to do with grandchildren someday, too.”

Erin Peterson is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.

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