As I start the 60-day challenge, I need to know the depth of the damage. I can't just keep saying I feel lousy; I need raw, supporting data on why I feel lousy.
My sister, Tracey, tells me about Lifesigns, a Memphis-based clinic that performs extensive physicals. In the days before my workup, I hit one last gastro-nostalgic round of Burger King, Wendy's, and Taco Bell, and if there were a Dairy Queen within 25 miles, buddy, I'd hit that, too. I'm eating leftover Papa John's breadsticks even as I ring up Lifesigns to make the appointment—and I don't even like breadsticks.
Although I've experienced clean-eating periods in my life, good nutrition doesn't come naturally to me. In my home state of Mississippi, the fattest state in the nation, 32.5 percent of adults are obese and a vegetable isn't considered edible unless you've cooked it in a half-pound of bacon grease.
All this history shows up on the Lifesigns scale, of course. Before checking me for heart disease (clear), a thyroid condition (clear), cancer (clear), and diabetes (see below), the nurse weighs me in at an astonishing 208 pounds—83 pounds more than I'd like to weigh (I'm 5' 5"). "Your physical exam," the detailed report from Felix Caldwell, MD, will say, "reveals...evidence of obesity."
I probably should have known this, but federal guidelines say you are clinically obese and therefore in danger of liver and heart disease, diabetes, sleep problems, osteoarthritis, and cancer if your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher. Your risk for chronic disease increases significantly when your BMI surpasses even 25; mine comes back as 34.6. For a woman my age, overall body fat should be between 23 and 33.9 percent; mine is 42.1. I am basically a gel. Your health risks increase even further if your waist circumference measures more than 35 inches (40 for men); mine measures 37.
I ring up Mehmet Oz, MD, the cardiothoracic surgeon, author, and O magazine contributing editor, for help understanding the nine-page report. "The obesity is gonna cost you some life expectancy," he tells me flatly as he looks over my test results. "Your blood pressure is almost perfect, but your fasting blood sugar is 99 [milligrams per deciliter]—if it were over 100, I'd start calling you a prediabetic. So, you're close. I can almost guarantee that if you maintained this lifestyle another five years, the sugar would slowly rise."
My LDL cholesterol, the bad one, should be 100 or less but measures 149—"high enough that we actually would start to treat that, normally," Oz goes on to say. High cholesterol, he explains, is an early indicator of metabolic syndrome: belly fat leading to a series of negative health changes. "The belly fat squeezes the kidneys, which can lead to high blood pressure; the fat can also poison your liver. The fact that your kidneys are a little abnormal reflects changes to kidney function from the inflammatory effects of the obesity. And you're developing foie gras of your liver."
Oz makes it clear that I need to improve my diet immediately and exercise at least 30 minutes a day—for the rest of my life. He singles out breathing and stretching as particularly beneficial—which, as it happens, are central to Bikram yoga.
Next: The challenge begins...