I had the exciting opportunity to interview Governor Mike Huckabee at a recent conference for the National Changing Diabetes Program. As most of you know, Mike lost 110 pounds through lifestyle interventions and has kept the weight off for over 5 years.
Since I’m leading a weight loss group, I was inspired to read his new book, “Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork.” I really enjoyed his witty and down-to-earth, positive approach to health. If you can imagine Dave Barry and Norman Vincent Peele getting together to talk about weight loss strategies, you’d pretty much have Gov. Huckabee’s book. I highly recommend it.
As for our interview, I’ll split the Q&As into two posts. This first post is about Mike’s personal journey, the second is about his view of healthcare. One thing’s for sure, after meeting Mike Huckabee in person, I can say that I’ve joined the team of folks who wear the “I heart Huckabee” t-shirts. He is a softspoken, kind-hearted, honest man with a quirky sense of humor and a gift for parables and analogies. Enjoy his thoughts below…
Dr. Val: It seems to me that your weight loss journey began the day when you sat in a chair at the State Capitol, and it broke under your weight (in front of a group of government officials). Do you think that successful weight loss usually begins with an “ah-ha moment” like yours?
Huckabee: I don’t think it’s always the case that people have that level of epiphany. Most people who are overweight know it – every time they bend over to tie their shoes and can’t, every time they need a seat belt extender on the airplane, etc. they realize that there’s a problem. Unfortunately, though, their response is often one of helplessness. They believe that they just have to live with their weight problem instead of believing they can do something about it.
Sometimes an epiphany can make people really angry, and cause them to say – “I don’t care what I have to do, I need to change.” Most people have made numerous attempts to lose weight and have tried many different diets, but they don’t understand the real problem. It’s a lifestyle issue, not a program issue. Diets fail because they have a beginning and an end. You’ve got to see this as change not so much of the menu but of your mind. Don’t focus on losing weight – that’s a big mistake. Focus on the things that make you healthy and then the weight takes care of itself. You may never be the skinniest person, but you’re better off healthy than you are skinny.
Sometimes I find that when people make weight loss their goal they lose weight but they’re not healthy because they haven’t done it in a healthy way. They haven’t combined activity with the weight loss. They’ve just starved themselves, and that’s not health.
Your health is like a dashboard. If the only thing you ever look at is your speedometer, and you don’t look at the oil gauge and the water gauge, you can get into serious trouble. You think, “hey, I’m going the speed limit” but that’s not the point. That’s how fast your car’s going, not how well it’s running. Health is the same way – you can’t just focus on weight, you’ve got to look at your cholesterol levels, hemoglobin A1C, blood sugar, and blood pressure as well.
After I broke the chair I went to see my doctor and he ran some tests that confirmed I was a diabetic.
Dr. Val: What did your doctor say to you at that point?
Huckabee: My doctor gave me a talk that changed my life. A lot of doctors simply say, “you’re a diabetic, here’s some medication, try to lose some weight and do some exercise.” But my doctor looked me in the eye and said, “you need to understand that if you don’t make a lifestyle change, you’re in the last decade of your life, and let me describe the decade…”
Quite frankly if he had just said that I was in my last decade I might have said, “Hmm, that’s not good, but you know what? I bet a drug company will solve this problem for me in the next few years. That way I can eat what I want and do what I want and just take a pill and everything will be fine.”
But that’s not what he told me. Instead he told me the truth, and he said “let me describe the decade…” And in great detail my doctor began to explain what diabetes would do to my body, organ by organ – my vision, my extremities, my heart. He made it sound like a slow, lingering death. And right then and there I vowed to come up with a different exit strategy for my life.
I gave up sweets and fried foods and began to exercise. You have to understand that this was a huge turning point for a southern boy. I used to say that exercise is for people who have nothing better to do with their lives than to get on a treadmill and play the role of a hamster. But I became one of those people that I used to make fun of – I’ve already completed four marathons. But most importantly, I haven’t needed any medications in 5 years and my doctor says that it’s as if I never had diabetes at all.
Dr. Val: You wrote, “If you really hate yourself when you’re fat, you’ll also hate yourself when you’re thin.” What did you mean by that?
Huckabee: Well, you have to be honest and tell people that their weight is a reflection of their personality. There is something inside of them that let them get completely out of control. It may have been a feeling of inadequacy, or some guilt – every person is different. But usually something is underlying the weight problem. It may be the fear of not having anything to eat next week. But something has to give a person that reckless abandon. Just because you change the physical aspects of your life, doesn’t mean that your emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects are going to change.
Dr. Val: How do you get to the bottom of what’s driving unhealthy behaviors?
Huckabee: I know that for me it was when I started to ask myself, “why is it that I’m triggered to overeat?” Some of it was childhood memories – it was the comfort that food brought. As a child, the few privileges I had were related to food. So food was always a reward. I received affirmation from dessert and would indulge myself to re-experience those childhood memories. I know that sounds awfully elementary but these things get imprinted on us. When we’re adults and someone is cruel to us or something bad happens, we affirm ourselves with food so that we can feel as if we’re a good person again. But once you come to terms with this, you regain control. You can tell yourself you’re alright and you don’t need food for comfort or affirmation.