by Julie A. Vullo, MLA
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It’s Never
Too Late to 
Choose Better Health
I know all too well the effects of being the largest person in the room. As someone who is native to New Orleans, in a city full of average-sized people, I literally couldn’t find a place to fit in.

The loneliness, the physical and emotional pain and the social discrimination that plagued my body for most of my life seemed to be burdens I’d grown used to living with.

At 5’5 and nearly 400 pounds, I exceeded the expectations for what any woman with severe obesity should’ve physically been able to do. I did 5k bridge races, kayaking, trail mud runs and sport motorcycle riding – and these activities were a way of life for me until it all came to a screeching halt during a routine annual wellness exam in late 2015.

I walked in thinking it would be a quick visit as usual, but it was far from it. Instead, I was diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty-liver disease (NAFLD) and several other serious obesity-related diseases. I knew immediately I had to make a decision. Would I head toward a liver transplant, or have bariatric surgery to reduce the amount of fat surrounding my liver?

My choice was clearly the better of the two. I chose better health. In February 2017, my weight was down 170 pounds (and counting) after deciding to undergo the vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG). However, the weight-loss was just a side effect – I never chose to measure my success with a scale. My comprehensive blood work panel proved I was cured of all co-morbidity diagnoses, including NAFLD!

At one point in my life, I seemed like the poster child for severe obesity. I realize how fragile the balance can be between harm and health, and I now strive to live a healthier lifestyle beyond the limitations and isolation my larger body once caused me. Little did I know back then how much the quality of my life would improve. I can enjoy all the activities I did before, and even more now thanks to the improved cardio exercise that accompanied my better health.

I’ve gained a new lease on life. I no longer take my health for granted and I’m now experiencing life in ways that I’ve never experienced before! You have to surround yourself with positivity and believe you can improve your health, even when it doesn’t feel like you can. We can all change our lives for the better by choosing to seek improved health.

For years, I tried to analyze what could be holding me back from reaching my health goals. I knew I wasn’t lazy or unwilling, as these stereotypes often plague those affected by obesity. I knew my health was at stake, but I thought there would be more time to change later or that those cruel disease statistics wouldn’t include me. It wasn’t until I discovered I was sick that I realized I was the only person standing in my way.

Before my surgery, my health continued to deteriorate and the weight never came off. I would lose pounds only to see them come back several months down the road. I don’t look at surgery as an end-all solution to my problem with weight, but I see it instead for what it is – a tool to help me achieve the health goals I have set for myself. I’m still a work in progress!

I had an appetite that was impossible to satisfy with a tendency to stress eat for most of my life. I have discovered there is no magic cure that can replace healthy eating and an active lifestyle. I’ve been asked at what point my journey felt successful and the truth is that you never reach a point where you are finished. The road to good health is one that you travel on for the rest of your life.

Here are a few tips that my journey has taught me to help me achieve my goals. I know you’ve heard them before, but have you given them the best you’ve got?

Be Kind to Yourself – You will have to love and fuel your body to carry you through your journey to better health.

Water: Drink Lots of it – When you think you might float away from drinking so much, drink more! I aim for at least a gallon a day.

Fill-up on Protein – I notice that more protein intake helps to curb my hunger. I still supplement one meal a day with a protein shake.

Limit “Bad” Carbs – Trade bread and chips for more leafy greens. I found this to be the solution that helped satisfy my cravings and cut calories.

Get Lots of Rest – Life is hard sometimes, but big changes are even harder on you. Recharging your body is as important as refueling your body, and there’s no substitute for it.

Get Moving – Even if it means shifting sides in your chair or getting up to grab the remote, get moving. Simply walking is still my favorite exercise!

Listen to Hunger Cues – Everyone’s cues can be different. For some, it’s a yawn or a sneeze. For me, it’s a small sigh that tells me I’m nearly full. I’ve learned to stop there before overeating.

Gadgets Help – My favorites are the insta-pot and air fryer. They really speed up food prep and cook times.

Remember, the journey to improved health can be overwhelming to begin, so start with one good decision a day and set small, attainable goals. Rest assured that it’s okay to experience many emotions, no matter what point you may be at on your journey. Moving out of the darkness and into a lifestyle filled with many more opportunities is great motivation in my personal fight against obesity. I whole-heartedly support the OAC’s initiative to improve the lives of individuals such as myself and all of those affected by the disease of obesity. It is comforting to know that we are never fighting obesity alone.

About the Author:Julie Vullo, MLA, is an active OAC member who recently graduated from Tulane University. She volunteers as a member of our Convention street team, and would like to use her experiences to help others on their journey with weight and health.