Paula John of Flushing Manor Care Center

After making changes to her diet and increasing her exercise, Paula John is 20 pounds lighter and has a whole new outlook on healthy living.

When Paula John came to the United States in 1989 from her native St. Lucia, one of the first things she noticed was the abundance of fast-food chains. As she settled into the Queens neighborhood that’s been her home ever since, she realized the United States was not only a place of great opportunity, it was a nation full of junk food, sugar, excess calories and unhealthy additives. “I was not used to fast food and junk food being so available,” she said. “At first, it seemed convenient, but as time went by, I realized I was falling into bad habits.”

A Certified Nursing Assistant at Flushing Manor Care Center for 20 years, Paula became an 1 199SEIU member about eight years ago. Soon after she became eligible for healthcare coverage through the Greater New York Benefit Fund, she visited her primary care doctor. While she wasn’t exactly surprised to hear that she needed to change her lifestyle, she was finally ready to listen and, more important, to take action. ‘I had gained weight over the years as I was busy raising two kids,” Paula said. “But by the time I saw the doctor that day, I had become unhappy with myself and was feeling short of breath just doing my job and other daily activities.”

Her doctor told her that her blood pressure was elevated and if she didn’t start eating a healthier diet and losing some weight, she’d soon need medication to control her condition to reduce the risk of heart disease. It was exactly what Paula needed to hear. “As soon as he mentioned medication, something clicked,” she said. “I have a family history of hypertension. And as a healthcare worker, I care for residents with chronic conditions every day — I knew I wanted to avoid that path no matter what it took.”

Looking back now, she said, it wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be to make the necessary changes. But at the time, it seemed impossible. To get started, Paula joined an all-female fitness club in Queens, located on the route between her apartment and Flushing Manor. Three or four nights a week on her way home, she’d stop at the club and walk on the treadmill. After getting comfortable with the surroundings and working up to a brisk 20- or 30-minute walk over several weeks, she decided to try an exercise class. Now, Paula enjoys all kinds of cardio classes, dance classes and weight-training instruction. “I never would have had the confidence to take a class before,” she said. “But the group element has really helped me stay with it and not get bored.”

She also made changes to her diet, sticking to a diet low in carbohydrates and high in lean proteins like fish and chicken. She also eats lots of fruits and vegetables and dines out only occasionally. The family drinks lots of water and doesn’t keep soda, ice cream, cookies, chips or other unhealthy snacks in the house anymore. Her husband and their oldest daughter, now 18 years old and a freshman at Dartmouth College, were both healthy eaters all along, but her 13-year-old daughter has had a harder time adjusting to the healthier meals. “She’s a lot like me,” Paula said. “We both like fast food and sugar, but nowadays we save those treats for once a month, not once or twice a week.”

The best part of the changes has been the results, she added. Paula weighed 160 pounds when she began her journey to better health, and for the last year, she’s kept her weight steady at a healthy 140 pounds. For Paula, however, the results aren’t just measured in pounds or inches — her healthier lifestyle has also restored her confidence and enthusiasm. “After I work out, I always feel great and I sleep better at night,” she said. “It’s not a bad feeling to look in the mirror and like what you see!”

What Do Your Benefits Mean to You?

You count on your health benefits to support you in your efforts to stay healthy, whether it’s by getting regular checkups, keeping a chronic condition under control or just improving your lifestyle in general. But has there ever been a time when your health coverage literally saved your life or the life of a loved one? If so, we’d like to hear from you. To share your story with your fellow members in an upcoming issue of For Your Benefit, please contact the Funds at [email protected].

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