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New Year, new resolve: How two IU staff members found healthier lifestyles -- and stuck to them

Jan. 10, 2013

It's January, and the gyms are crowded with good intentions.

For at least a few weeks, more people will probably order salads than fries when they go out to eat. By February, though, resolutions for better living have often withered and died, like so many discarded Valentine's Day chocolate wrappers.

To help inspire motivation that sticks, Inside IU Bloomington interviewed two IU staff members who successfully made lasting lifestyle changes.

Coco Roberts-Cradick before and after

Coco Roberts-Cradick

In less than a year, Coco Roberts-Cradick, who works in the Office of the Registrar as an optical imaging assistant, dropped from a size 12 to a size 6 by curbing her sugar intake and regularly taking part in faculty-staff workout classes at the School of Public Health. Leah Drichel, the fiscal and administrative manager at the Kuali Foundation, has lost 40 pounds, trading a sedentary lifestyle for running, swimming, bicycling -- and planning for her first triathlon in 2014.

The methods they used may not work for you, but we hope their stories offer enough encouragement to serve as a reminder that big changes start with small changes.

From a 12 to a 6

As her annual checkup at the doctor's office inched closer in June of 2011, Coco Roberts-Cradick became increasingly nervous about the appointment.

"I had gotten to the point where I just wasn't stepping on the scales because it was too depressing," Roberts-Cradick said. "I went to the appointment and found out I weighed as much as I did when I was pregnant. Seven months pregnant."

Despite a regular swimming routine, she had gained 15 pounds over the course of the year. "I'd been a swimmer ever since I was five, and I never had to worry about my weight," she said. "My doctor said my metabolism was slowing down, so I might want to rethink my exercise and diet routines."

Roberts-Cradick went home and did some intense Internet research. That's when she learned of the importance of core strength. The more she read, the more she realized that while her legs and shoulders were strong from swimming, she needed to refocus her attention to the center of her body. "At first I thought, 'I'll do a bunch of sit-ups,' she said.  "But your core is actually your whole power. It connects to everything -- your back, your hips, your pelvis."

Already a member of IU's Recreational Sports facilities, Roberts-Cradick found core strength classes on the list of weekday drop-in classes that take place during the lunch hour in the School of Public Health and at the Student Recreational Sports Center. She started a three- to four-days a week lunchtime workout routine, choosing the 45-minute faculty-staff classes to fit in with her work day.

She was already in the habit of being active in small ways that add up -- taking stairs instead of elevators, choosing the long route to meetings and walking as much as possible, something that began a couple of years ago, when she took part in the SRSC's Step Into Fitness program.

"The other thing that changed was my diet," she said. At other times in her life, Roberts-Cradick said, she could drop 10 pounds by periodically cutting bread from her diet.  Like the swimming, the no-bread diet alone was no longer enough to keep the extra weight off. "Now I'm almost gluten-free, plus processed sugar-free. After years, I finally feel like I've figured out what's best for my body. This may not be the best plan for others, but for me, being gluten free, trying to eliminate processed sugar and strengthening my core and back has been life changing."

Within months of starting her new routine, Roberts-Cradick had gone from a size 12 to a size 6. Buying new clothes along the way has been fun -- though she's hanging on to those size 8 jeans, just in case.

Now immersed in a healthful routine, she said she can enjoy sweets without gaining weight. "We had a lot of cookies around at work during the holidays. I notice that I can eat three to four cookies a week, and as long as I'm doing my exercises and not overindulging, I'm maintaining, which is a miracle to me."

Roberts-Cradick embraced her 54th birthday Dec. 28, knowing she has physically strengthened herself enough to babysit her first granddaughter, now about five months old, overnight. "I feel strong enough that I can get up in the middle of the night and do her two feedings. Other people are like, 'oh, my arms are so sore.' I say, 'I've been training for this for two years -- give her to me!"

Couch-to-5k -- to triathlete

Leah Drichel knew she wasn't living the healthiest lifestyle.

Leah Drichel before and after

Leah Drichel

At 31, the full-time working mom of three had fallen into a pattern of inactivity and poor diet choices, but lacked the motivation to do anything about it.

Finally, the right inspiration came along: Stimulated by her desire to join an Indianapolis-based roller derby team alongside her sister, Drichel began a regular workout routine in late November of 2009. She lost 15 pounds in a couple of months. But the first time she went to practice skating, in January of 2010, she broke two bones in her wrist and two bones in her ankle and shattered her elbow.

The injuries kept her home from work and inactive for months. "After that accident, it took at least a year before I could even walk without pain," Drichel said. Excitement about the prospect of becoming an athlete for the first time in her life was replaced with a feeling of despair. Her weight -- which remained about 120 pounds into her early 20s, increasing as she got older and had more kids -- soared to 253 pounds.

She began seeking online resources to support a more healthful lifestyle and came across SparkPeople, a free site full of health-related articles, a food tracker and a motivational point system. She was soon reading articles, walking more and posting blogs about her quest for an improved lifestyle.

One day, she and her two daughters, then four and seven, were walking on the Clear Creek Trail near their home. On a whim, Drichel jogged to the next landmark to see if she could do it without pain. "I literally only jogged for five seconds, but my kids were cheering for me," she said. "They were so excited."

In February of 2012, Drichel decided to try the Couch-to-5K program she'd heard about through SparkPeople. "The first time I did it, I couldn't breathe, I was getting shin splints -- it was really awful," said Drichel, who slowed her pace the second time around. "It made 100 percent difference -- I didn't feel winded at all." Within weeks of following the Couch-to-5K guide, Drichel put the program aside and followed her body's cues, and for the first time ever, ran three miles.

She became part of a community of runners who train and do races together. (They share clothes, too -- the hand-me-downs from running buddies have enabled her to wait on the shopping spree until she reaches her goal weight of 145.)

Drichel's diet improved naturally. She replaced a soda habit with water, traded Ranch dressing for oil and vinegar and started ordering fewer fried foods at restaurants ("But it's not like I always order grilled chicken!" she said.). She still swims most mornings and packs a healthful post-workout breakfast every day -- usually, PB&J on whole wheat -- eats a high-carb lunch with salad on the side and for dinner sticks to lean meats, whole grains and vegetables. "It's not a diet -- it's more like I view food as a fuel now," she said. She also packs fruits and vegetables for snacks at work, avoiding the processed junk food from the vending machines.

Early on in the process, Drichel began planning out workouts a week at a time, adding them to her calendar the same way she added meetings and appointments. Initially, her SparkPeople community motivated her to keep going, as did the support from readers of her blog, which now has more than 1,000 followers. "There was a point, probably two months in, where I'd been doing these things faithfully and I started to believe in myself. Suddenly, I was doing it more for myself than other people."

When a bruised ankle bone put running on hold in August of 2012, Drichel watched a YouTube video on swimming and decided to give it a try.

"I went to the HPER pool and just got in the lane and started doing what I saw in the video. It was so embarrassing," she said. Undeterred, she went swimming daily. She was able to make a slow return to running, but her new affinity for swimming stuck, too.

"I thought, well, if I'm swimming and running, I might as well learn how to ride a bike and do triathlon." 

Leah Drichel

Leah Drichel is seen here in her half marathon finish. | Photo By brightroom.com

In the summer of 2014, she'll take on her first sprint triathlon (.25-mile swim, 12.4-mile bike ride, 3.1-mile run). "I'm hoping to do a full Ironman before I'm 50 (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run), a half Ironman before I'm 40 (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, 13.1 mile run) and an Olympic-distance Ironman run (.93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike ride, 6.2 mile run) before I'm 35," said Drichel, who is now 34.

At the time of her Inside IU Bloomington interview in December, Drichel was less than a pound away from a 40-pound weight-loss and the reward she gives herself for every 10 pounds lost. So far, rewards have included spa treatments and money for running gear. 

She still prefers the more intangible rewards. Drichel's seven-year-old taught herself how to ride a bike so they can ride together on the trail, and the whole family now takes classes at the YMCA. "We signed them all up for sports last year -- we've never done that before," she said. "That first week, I was so proud because we were at the Y every single night in the fall, and the kids were so happy. I thought, 'Our entire family has changed.'"

When people ask where her continued motivation comes from, Drichel says that it comes from within. "At this point, it makes me feel so good that I would never want to stop, even if I never lost weight again. I was afraid of so much before. I'm not afraid anymore."

The whole journey has been more than she ever expected, touching every aspect of her life, far beyond food and exercise, she said. "When you have time by yourself and you're alone with your thoughts, a lot comes out and you have to face it -- things like self-image and how others view you, if you love yourself. It's scary, but I feel like a totally different person. It's not just because I lost 40 pounds. I found myself."

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