PLATTSBURGH — When she was just 20 years old, Alyssa O’Brien’s doctor told her she needed medication to control her blood pressure.
She weighed 270 pounds and had experienced a lack of energy, as well as depression and anxiety that at times were so severe that she could not leave her bed for days at a time, she told the 300 guests at the Go Red for Women dinner at West Side Ballroom in Plattsburgh.
“I hit a wall, and I decided it was time (to change),” O’Brien told the Press-Republican before she delivered her speech.
The Plattsburgh woman, 22, had been overweight her whole life.
“Throughout my teens, I was a big overeater.”
She said she wanted to change her lifestyle while she was young before she saw serious problems down the road.
At first, O’Brien dieted without exercising and lost about 15 pounds before a friend convinced her to join a gym.
“It’s very motivating to do it with a friend,” O’Brien said.
But the process wasn’t easy.
‘HAVE TO WANT IT’
“There were times I wanted to quit,” she said. “You have to want it, and you have to be willing to wake up every single day and go for a run” or do some other kind of exercise.
But her determination to see herself healthy kept her going, and she lost 90 pounds in just one year.
And her blood pressure is now at a healthy level, she said.
O’Brien cut refined sugars and processed foods out of her diet and continues to eat gluten-free whole foods almost exclusively.
“I never thought it was possible to feel this good,” she said.
The symptoms of depression and anxiety she had felt before losing weight are almost gone now, O’Brien said.
Suzette Pavone, chair of the event, lost her father to a massive heart attack when she was 29 years old.
She volunteered for the past four years to help with the dinner as she fervently believes knowledge is a huge part of the battle against heart disease.
Her hope was for the guests to leave the event knowing the signs of heart attacks and strokes and to visit a doctor regularly.
“To be aware of the people around them; the people they love.”
Keri Mack, regional director of the American Heart and American Stroke associations, lost her parents and three of her grandparents to heart disease and stroke, she said.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, yet only 21 percent consider it a threat to their health, according to the American Heart Association.
The organization has set a goal of reducing the risk of heart disease and the death rate by 20 percent.
“We’re in this fight for as long as it takes,” Mack said. “It’s all about prevention.”
‘LIVE HAPPY AND HEALTHY’
Kathleen Pingelski, the keynote speaker, spoke about her experience as a participant in the 2011 BetterU Makeover Challenge in Albany.
Before starting the program, she had been experiencing crippling migraines and, like O’Brien, had been told by her doctor that she had high blood pressure and needed to lose weight.
As a business owner working full time with three children, Pingelski didn’t know how she would fit healthy eating and exercise into her schedule, she said.
But she committed herself to the 12-week program, meeting a friend every morning at 5 a.m. to work out and improving her eating habits.
She now plays sports with her children and their friends, when before she would sit on the sidelines.
“It isn’t easy to acknowledge to yourself that change has to happen,” Pingelski said.
But the benefits of being healthy make the struggle to get there worth it, she found.
Now that O’Brien has reached her goal, she intends to make the most of each day.
“I intend to live it by being happy and healthy and live like there is no tomorrow.”
Email Felicia Krieg:email@example.comTwitter: @FeliciaKrieg
BETTERU MAKEOVER CHALLENGE
A dozen women will have the opportunity to better their health through the Plattsburgh BetterU Makeover Challenge.
Applications, due by Friday, March 7, can be downloaded at mychamplainvalley.com and are also available at four Plattsburgh locations: NBT Bank, 482 Route 3; Eclipse Fitness and Spa and the front desk of Comfort Inn, both at 411 Route 3; and Northern Insuring Agency, 171 Margaret St.
To learn more, call Keri Mack at 335-8125 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.