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Caring for Elderly Uncle Changed His Outlook

January 07, 2002

When a family crisis required Chris Wrenn, 48, of Pasadena to spend a few days caring for his elderly uncle, the experience proved life changing. Adult-onset diabetes had left Wrenn's uncle virtually blind, reliant on a wheelchair and totally dependent on others. Wrenn, who then weighed 247 pounds, also had adult-onset diabetes. "I looked at my uncle and saw my future."

That's when Wrenn, a chief estimator for a national construction company, took a leave from his job to get his health under control. In April 2000, he joined the Pasadena Athletic Club, where he met fitness trainer Dorothy Waterman. "I needed to make a lifestyle change to make sure that didn't happen to me," he said.

Wrenn also saw his doctor, who already had him on four medications for his diabetes; he told Wrenn, again, to lose weight and referred him to a nutritionist.

Today, Wrenn, who is 5 feet, 10 inches, is 65 pounds thinner, and at 182 pounds weighs less than he did in high school. His body fat went from 32.9% to 19.9% (for men, the ideal body fat ratio is 15-18%; for women, 18-22%); and he takes only one medication to control his diabetes. Soon he may be able to drop that.

To get to this point, he met with Waterman twice a week. She put him on a cardiovascular program and worked with him on strength training. At home, Wrenn rode his bike 12 miles to 15 miles a day six days a week. Eventually he also started taking a spinning class twice a week.

But exercise was just part of it. "I concentrated on exercising one hour a day, but I concentrated on my diet 23 hours a day," he said. His nutritionist put him on a low-carbohydrate diet and emphasized portion control. To keep his sugar levels from spiking, she recommended he eat five small meals a day instead of three large ones. "I didn't trust myself to make choices," Wrenn said, "so I often ate the same thing every day."

After three months, he gradually returned to work. He now works full time but leaves early three times a week to work out and continues to see Waterman twice a week. Although he estimates that he's spent thousands of dollars over the last 18 months on new clothes (he's gone through three wardrobes as his waist size has shrunk from 44 inches to 36 inches), he figures "a couple months in a nursing home can easily cost that--besides, I've probably prolonged my life 10 years."

He swears he'll never go back. Years ago, he lost a lot of weight and regained it all. That won't happen this time, he says, for two reasons: Back then he didn't have the specter of disease motivating him, and this time he knows that diet and exercise are forever. "When I start slipping, I just look at a picture of me before I started all this."

Meanwhile, he's getting in even better shape. Over the last couple of months he has begun swimming, has taken several 50-mile bike rides and is considering a triathlon.

"Once you lose that weight, you feel so much better," he says. "It affects everything, your outlook, your personality. So much more is possible."

*

THE CLIENT

* Chris Wrenn (before) weighed 247 pounds and had adult-onset diabetes. He saw his future in his disabled uncle.

* He went through three wardrobes as he lost weight.

* Now he weighs less than he did in high school.

*

THE TRAINER

Dorothy Waterman, 46

Background: American Council on Exercise certified fitness trainer. Post-rehabilitation therapist certified by the American Academy of Health and Fitness Professionals. Has private clients and also works with members of the Pasadena Fitness Club, where she teaches spinning, kickboxing, muscle training and water aerobics.

Personal best: Completed the 2000 Florida Ironman triathlon in 12 hours, 53 minutes. (The event consists of a 24-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.) Last year won first place in the Bonelli Olympic Distance Triathlon, a 1,500-meter swim, 24-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run.

Key in this case: "Chris' commitment and willingness to work on his own."

Personal fitness routine: Teaches three spinning classes, two weightlifting classes and two kickboxing classes a week. On his own, does three short runs (three to six miles), one long run (eight to 15 miles) and one 40- to 60-mile bike ride a week. Increases routine when training for an event.

Philosophy: "Trainers are like therapists; the best any of us can do is help people make the changes they're ready to make."

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