This is a story I wrote for The Sentinel-Record about a man who overcame illness by making lifesaving changes in his health. It was published on Sunday, October 25, 2015.

I have a strong interest in stories that uplift and encourage other people to be a better person.

By Mara Kuhn

The Sentinel-Record

People lose weight for a variety of reasons, ranging from health concerns to improving their self esteem, but for Hot Springs police Officer 1st Class Joey Williams it was a life-or-death decision.

Williams, a school resource officer, shed more than 100 pounds, and said he hopes to use his experience to inspire others to make healthy lifestyle choices before it is too late.

After having emergency surgery on his gastrointestinal tract in August 2014, Williams’ doctor told him that if he did not lose weight he would not live to see 40. Whether it was a heart attack, stroke or the abdominal issues that would kill him, the doctor could not say, but he was sure Williams was not living a healthy lifestyle.

Williams was diagnosed with diverticulitis, a disease in which bulging pouches form along the digestive tract, in 2010, he said. He likened it to a weak spot in a water hose that bubbled out. One of the pouches became infected, but the condition went undetected because he did not exhibit any symptoms. When the pouch perforated, it caused severe abdominal pain and sent Williams to the hospital.

Dr. John Webb, a surgeon with CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs, told Williams “You are going to have to man up and lose weight,” he recalled. Webb removed the perforated part of the colon, and placed a colostomy bag on Williams because of the damage that had been caused.

At the time, Williams weighed 285 pounds. He said Webb told him that he would have to lose about 85 pounds if he wanted to have the colostomy bag removed.

Williams said that when he got home from his 15-day stay in the hospital, he sat around the house for a week and felt sorry for himself. “I sat up one day (and said to myself) ‘You know what, I’m not going to do this. I’ve got to get the weight off. I can’t live like this anymore,’” he said. He then began to research how to lose weight and what diet and lifestyle fit him the best.

Even though he is not diabetic, he said he found the diabetic diet to suit

“I got rid of all the sugar in my house, all the soda, and started drinking more water,” he said. He added more lean meats to his diet and stared watching what he ate. Implementing portion control was also important, he said.

Williams said he lost about 40 pounds in a few months by just watching what he ate, but then plateaued, so he began walking. He also began keeping a food and exercise diary.

By January, Williams was down the 85 pounds needed to have the colostomy bag removed. In February, he had another surgery, and changed his goal to a long life of healthy living. He said he promised himself that it was no longer a diet, but a lifestyle change.

“It’s not just a diet anymore, it’s just the way I am,” he said. Williams admits that it is not easy, and something that will be a lifelong struggle for him.

“I know there is a fat guy in me trying to escape every day. I like to eat, so I have to workout. I have to exercise and eat right,” he said.

Like many, Williams said he struggles with emotional eating. He said he finds himself looking for food, but now before eating he questions whether it is because he is hungry or stressed. To combat that feeling, he said he keeps himself distracted and busy by playing with his son, J.T., or working around the house.

Williams said his experience is something he wants to use to help others. If he sees someone struggling with weight loss, he tells them “You can do it,” he said.

“It’s the old-fashioned way, there is no miracle pill … but it works,” he said, adding that he is the living proof it does.

Williams said that when people ask him for his weight loss secret, he tells them they will not like his answer.

“If you do not change the way you eat, and you don’t change what you eat, you are going to go back to what you did (before),” he said, adding that he is looking at the long term.

“It’s about healthy choices,” he said, adding that even a busy person can find healthy recipes that can be made quickly.

Another argument is that eating healthy is expensive, which is true, he said, but he notes that his hospital bill was also expensive. He responds to the naysayers by asking “How much is your life worth?” Williams said he is not making excuses for how he lived his life before the weight loss.

“A lot of that situation I was in was my fault, for not exercising, for not staying fit,” he said. “I take full responsibility for it.”

Passing on a healthy lifestyle to his son is also important to him, he said. Williams and his wife, Julie, made his transformation a family affair.

“I couldn’t have done this without Julie. She has been my cheerleader,” he said, adding that she also quit drinking sodas and eating sugar. She also encouraged him to better himself.

“I don’t think, without her pushing me, I could have done it on my own,” he said. Whenever he would get discouraged, she would tell him that he could do it.

They also began exercising as a family and choosing active pastimes, like walking at Garvan Woodland Gardens.

Williams said his family was also an encouragement to him because he did not want to die young and leave his son fatherless and his wife a widow. He said he also did not want to miss out on his family’s lives.

“It was a sobering moment,” he said in reference to nearly dying from the perforated diverticula, and from the doctor telling him he was going to die early if he did not make lifestyle changes.

Williams said when he first started to try to lose weight, he had some doubt that he would be able to succeed. When the scales showed him his plan was working, it gave him the encouragement to continue.

“The more I lost, the more I got motivated to keep going,” he said.

By exercising and eating healthy, he said he has much more energy in everyday life than he did before. Williams said he is not particularly fond of running, but he does it because exercise is a part of a healthy lifestyle, which makes him feel better. He said he started running last spring and in May ran 9.2 miles for the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run.

“I feel better,” he said. “I feel so much better.”

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