GREENSBORO, N.C. — Doctors told Crystal Avinger to lose weight or lose her life. The Greensboro mother heard that and immediately started making changes.
The first change she made was cutting out soda completely.
In this month's Cone Health 2 Your Well-Being report, a dietician explains the potentially damaging impact sugar can have on the body and the safe way to get your sugar fix in check.
"I was afraid of losing my baby."
"When a doctor tells you, you’re almost on the brink of death, you change. I wasn’t even 31 at the time," Avinger said.
Avinger was 30 years old, 307 pounds, pregnant, and battling congenital heart failure and Type 2 Diabetes.
"They told me my baby would be stillborn because of all the medicine. I was in a crazy place mentally because I was afraid of losing my baby," she said.
Avinger's baby was born healthy, but her medical battle was not over.
"I was in the hospital for two weeks in the ICU because of all these health issues after having my baby," Avinger said.
"I don't want to die."
When she came out of her medically-induced coma, Avinger finally decided to get serious about her health.
"I said enough is enough. I don't want to die," Avinger said. "I had to lose the weight because I had two children here that needed me. My mom died from heart failure when I was 17. I couldn’t let that be me."
Avinger changed her diet, adding more fruits and vegetables and taking out foods loaded with added sugar. She followed the low-sugar plan set out by her Cone Health doctors and dieticians.
Make your diet colorful
"A healthy balanced meal is very colorful because it’s going to have a variety of different foods from different food groups. That variety ensures that we’re getting the nutrition we need," said Kate Watts, M.S., RDN, LDN.
Watts is a Registered Dietician with Cone Health. She said anyone aiming for a healthy lifestyle should use the portion plate as a guide.
"It is split into three different categories, encouraging us to fill up half of our plate with those colorful fruits and vegetables that provide a lot of that nutrition and then splitting the other half of our plate for those grains and our meets and proteins."
Whole grains are high in fiber and great for heart health, the digestive system, and managing blood sugar.
Cut out added sugars
Watts says the road to better health doesn’t apply to only what’s on your plate. Be careful what you're putting in your cup, too.
"In the United States, about 35% of the added sugars we consume comes from sugary beverages. Soda, sweetened coffee, our teas, especially here in the South; we like our sweet tea," Watts said. "Drinking just one 12-ounce soda a day increases your risk of dying from heart disease by almost one-third."
The American Heart Association recommends women and children limit added sugar to 25 grams or six teaspoons daily. The recommendation for men is 30 grams or nine teaspoons.
Reducing soda eliminates a health risk Watts said will ultimately add years to your life.
"Any small steps you can take to decrease that added sugar intake will help," Watts said.
She lost 140 pounds
"You have to want it. You have to say enough is enough! I don’t want to die. I want to be healthy. I want to walk up steps and not feel tired," Avinger said.
She cut out sugar, added exercise, stayed away from processed foods, and dropped 140 pounds.
"I am 167 pounds now. It was a slow process, but before I knew it, the weight was falling off," Avinger said. "It's about making the right choices."
Experts recommend a slow weight loss of one-half to one pound a week. Watts said that rate ensures you’re losing weight safely and your success in the long run.