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Opening the Door to a New Life by Cindy Szatkowski

July 31, 2019

When I first walked through the doors of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, I felt hopeless. I needed to lose more than 150 pounds to get to my goal weight and it felt impossible. I knew I needed help. But that feeling of hopelessness meant that I was ready to change my life. 

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With every pound I had gained over the past fifteen years, my world had shrunk both emotionally and physically. Walking was painful, I avoided stairs, and I was afraid to sit in unfamiliar chairs because I was worried I would break them. My health was impacted by my weight and I was dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure, and reduced kidney function. I knew that if I didn’t do something soon I would be in real trouble. I had been asking my primary care doctor for help, but she had nothing to offer except bariatric surgery, which I couldn’t have for another year. I didn’t think I had that amount of time to wait.

"I avoided stairs, and I was afraid to sit in unfamiliar chairs because I was worried I would break them." 

A major turning point in my life happened when my husband and I visited our daughter in Maryland for a short vacation. My daughter happily announced that she had accepted a position in Hawaii and would be moving in July. The second day of our vacation, everyone decided to go hiking in the beautiful mountains of Virginia. They didn’t even ask me to go. They knew I couldn’t. As they left, I smiled, waved, and told them to have a great time. Then I went inside and sat on the couch and cried.

I cried because I felt like I was too big to fit in an airline seat and didn’t know how I would be able to see my daughter in Hawaii. I cried because I wanted to share experiences with my family like hiking. I felt like I was stuck in a ditch and no one was coming to save me. That’s when I decided to enroll in the Duke Diet and Fitness Center Residential Program.

"I felt like I was stuck in a ditch and no one was coming to save me."

When I walked through the doors of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center on January 8, 2018, I had no idea how my life was about to change. The comprehensive program includes medical, nutritional, fitness and behavioral education. This intensive program helped me be able to help myself. After three weeks in the program, I had the energy to cook again. When I realized that I could exercise in the pool, I felt hopeful that I could make progress. 

One of the best things about the Duke Diet and Fitness Center is that you experience the program alongside other people who have the same life challenges as you. I met wonderful people with whom I had meaningful conversations that often led to epiphanies about my behavior and how I have contributed to my own problems. Recognizing these things is key to being able to change.

One of the discoveries I made was that I realized diets never worked for me because once I lost weight, I went right back to eating the way I had before. I needed a permanent, sustainable change to my relationship with food. This is what I gained at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center. One of the best conversations I had there was about how food had become so much more than food to me. I treated it like a comfort or a friend, but that’s not what food is. Food is just food.

While I was at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center, the whole staff was caring and compassionate. I found so much help and encouragement from Aquatics Specialist Jessica Bolz. I also found Diane Boticelli in medical to be a master at explaining things.  Additionally, I always appreciated wise words from Elisabetta Politi, Nutritional Director, who has a unique way of putting things in perspective. 

Since completing the four-week program, I have lost 115 pounds. I still have 50 more to go, but with each pound I lost, my life began to open up again. My A1C levels dropped from 8.0 to 5.7, my blood pressure has come down, and my kidney function has increased. More than that, I can walk pain free and I feel good! I have energy again. I continue to set new goals to keep me on track. I will never go back to eating the way I used to. Now, an active and fulfilling life is much more important to me than candy bars, french fries and donuts. I don’t crave them and I don’t miss them. 

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In March of 2019, my husband and I flew to Hawaii to visit our daughter. I never once got left behind and on average I walked three miles a day. I snorkeled, went to the botanical gardens, visited every country at the Polynesian Cultural Center and bounced around in an ATV at the Kualoa Ranch. I had fun and have so many new memories of spending time with my family. This was the greatest gift I could give myself and it was all thanks to the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. I never would have made it to the island if had not been for what I learned there.

My story isn’t over. I plan to return to the Duke Diet and Fitness Center to keep learning and stay focused on my weight loss goal. Going there is the best gift I can give myself. When I return, I won’t feel hopeless when I walk through the doors. I will know that hope lies just beyond the doors.

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* Individual results may vary

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With more than 40-year years of experience in delivering wellness and weight loss programs, the Duke Diet and Fitness Center has established itself as one of the leading weight loss and total body health destinations for health conscious individuals seeking a residential style health program focused on natural weight loss.

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