By Jacque Wilson
Kevin Pippen left his father's nursing home knowing he had to make a change.
His father wasn't obese or dying of lung cancer. But seeing his quality of life made Pippen want to delay death as long as possible.
"It was just a wake-up call," the 57-year-old from Georgetown, Kentucky, says, "knowing if I kept smoking and eating the way I was, and not exercising, I was probably going to be where he is a lot quicker than I should be."
A couple of weeks later, in July 2011, Pippen bought nicotine patches, started exercising and never looked back.
"I was miserable when I was large, but I would never admit it," he wrote on iReport. "I can remember looking at myself in the mirror thinking how wonderful it would be to just wake up one morning, healthy and physically fit."
Pippen's wife, Susan, enjoyed walking every night after dinner. He joined her on the evening jaunts, until he started experiencing shooting pains in his arms and had trouble breathing. A visit to the VA Medical Center revealed that he had an 80% blockage in one of his coronary arteries and Type 2 diabetes.
In November 2011, doctors inserted a stent to improve the blood flow to his heart. He barely fit on the operating table.
Doctors offered to get him into a bariatric center for gastric bypass surgery as well, but Pippen refused.
Instead, the former Airman 1st Class went on a low-carb diet, remembering that his drill instructor had forbidden potatoes and bread when an overweight Pippen entered boot camp. He had always loved comfort food -- biscuits and gravy, mashed potatoes, cheeseburgers with fries -- so the switch was difficult at first. But Pippen isn't a man to do things halfway, his wife says.
It only took one nicotine patch, and an inspiring self-help book, for Pippen to quit smoking.
"Kevin becomes very focused on whatever he is working on at any one time," Susan says. "I think when Kevin made the decision to get healthy, it made it easier for both of us -- that we both had to make time for exercise, and our eating choices had to be healthier."
The couple started planning their meals and grocery shopping together, trying new foods like kale and spaghetti squash. They even created healthier versions of their old favorites, like pizza.
Pippen took group fitness classes at their gym and swam laps on the weekends. He did Zumba and kickboxing and body sculpting and spinning -- basically anything to get moving.
"I love it when I'm with a group of people because it just motivates the crap out of me," he says. "You don't want to be left behind, so it makes you try harder."
In the first year, he lost 117 pounds.
Susan worried that once Pippen reached his goal, he would revert to his old habits. He was neglecting his business in his efforts to lose weight; nothing else seemed to matter.
"Once I decide to do something, don't get in my way," Pippen says with a laugh. "It may take me a while to make that decision, but once I do I'm so driven."
Over the next 8 months he lost another 70 pounds.
Pippen is now maintaining at 182 pounds. His body fat percentage is approximately 17%. Susan isn't much of a scale person, but she's lost a significant amount of weight as well. She dropped from a size 10 to a size 2, and now wears extra-small shirts.
Neither is worried about going back to their old lifestyle; they like the energy these healthy habits have given them too much to quit.
Pippen gave up his low-carb diet after the first year and has switched to calorie counting. He tries to eat less than 1,850 a day by making tiny swaps, like using unsweetened almond milk instead of 1%.
He notices that people treat him differently now that he's healthy, whether it's at the grocery store or the gym. He feels better and he thinks that self confidence shows.
The couple goes to boot camp on Mondays, and takes a spinning class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Pippen does kickboxing on Wednesdays and swims laps on the weekends, while Susan runs on the treadmill. She plans to do a few races next year.
"The hardest part for me is exercising when I don't want to," she says. "The easiest is eating a little chocolate every day without the guilt, and buying new clothes!"
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