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THE NATION

Governor Is Dieting His Way to Health

August 22, 2003|From Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — With sweat forming on his brow during a brisk 5 a.m. walk, Gov. Mike Huckabee said Thursday that he has found the willpower to step out of the buffet line and toward a more healthful lifestyle.

"I've prayed many times, 'Lord, install in me that kind of metabolism where I just can enjoy every single thing that's on the buffet,' " he said.

Huckabee said he has shed 50 pounds since starting a medically supervised diet June 10. He said his attitude changed after he was diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes last year.

On most mornings, Huckabee sets his coffeepot to brew, grabs a mug and heads out with his black Labrador Jet to walk four laps on an asphalt path inside the Governor's Mansion grounds. He covers just under two miles in 25 minutes.

"My normal routine is to do a walk," he said. "Then I'll go inside, and by then the paper comes. I ride a [stationary] bike and read the paper."

Besides his diabetes, odd symptoms prompted an arteriogram in March. The heart tests showed no disease, but "it really shook me up," Huckabee said.

"I just had every symptom you can have. It scared the living daylights out of me."

And when a friend, former Gov. Frank White, who was overweight, died of a heart attack at age 69 in May, Huckabee knew he had to take action. "I had seen him just the week before he died, and I could see how he struggled to breathe, but I never imagined that he was going to die," he said. "I knew I was a sitting duck and it wasn't a matter of 'if,' but 'when' and 'how bad.' "

Because Huckabee has dropped 50 pounds -- he won't say how much he weighs -- he can control his diabetes with diet. He follows a weight control program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, after previously trying the Atkins diet and low-fat plans.

While many believed that Huckabee gained weight on the campaign trail, the governor says he grew because of the harried legislative schedule. He said he doesn't eat at campaign events or other receptions because he's busy shaking hands, posing for photos or talking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recently ranked Arkansas third nationally in the percentage of residents considered obese. Huckabee said he hopes his regimen can inspire others, but he doesn't want to be seen as putting Arkansans on a guilt trip.

"We are a state that has serious health problems related to obesity," he said. "I just felt like, on one hand, I can't be out there saying, 'We've got to cut our health-care costs,' and then I was helping to contribute to the higher cost of health care by my own lifestyle."

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