OVER the past year, Kevan Austen has lost 4 pant sizes, 4 shirt sizes and more than 110 pounds. The self-confessed 1-time couch potato has shed his sedentary life and unhealthy eating habits, tackling a workout on 362 of the past 365 days. “There’s no more sitting around eating bags of chips and watching movies or looking for excuses to sit around,” Austen says. “This is my new life and the goal is simple: to live and be healthy.”

Tackling Unhealthy Habits

Flash back to February 2013 and the IT manager, who had been feeling increasingly unwell, faced a shock diabetes diagnosis. Blood tests ordered by family physician Patrick Lai revealed high blood glucose levels. “It shouldn’t have come as a shock,” Austen, 47, says. “I had no attitude to my health.” In fact, the before and after story of Austen’s lifestyle change is staggering. Take his 2010 holiday to Seattle and Portland, for example, where the goal was to hit as many diners, drive-ins and dives — à la The Food Network — as he could.

“The whole vacation revolved around eating,” says Austen, a trained chef. “This year our holiday to the Oregon Coast revolved around where we wanted to go for a hike. It’s a radical shift in how you think.”

Friends and colleagues who’ve watched Austen’s transformation often ask, “How do you do it?” and “How are you so successful? The answer is simple and it is always the same. “There’s no secret,” says the health-food junkie, who recently took up running. “It’s all of the things your doctor has probably been telling you over the past 30 years — eat properly and exercise,” he says. “It took 20 years to put this weight on. It’s hard work to take it off.”

‘Health home’ help at family doctor’s clinic

Keys to Austen’s early success were appointments with a nurse and a pharmacist, who is also a trained diabetes educator, at his health home: Dr. Lai’s clinic. The Calgary Foothills Primary Care Network has 21 certified diabetic educators — pharmacists, nurses and dietitians who have additional training — working in member clinics. “They were strong motivators and they asked the tough questions,” Austen says. “Amy helped me understand the physical process of diabetes and the medications. Through those discussions, I knew what my body was doing.”

Pharmacist Amy Yu says people like meeting face-to-face with a health care professional. “There is a lot of stuff on the Internet that isn’t correct,” she said. Appointments also give the health care team a good opportunity to more regularly assess the mood of diabetic patients, Yu said. “The diagnosis can be overwhelming and depression can be high in people with diabetes,” she said.

Dr. Lai believes embedded health teams are popular because patients like to receive a range of health services in the one place, where they are familiar with the surroundings and staff. “The longer appointments (with the health team) help,” he said. “Patients are sophisticated and they know we have a limited amount of time. They enjoy hearing different perspectives of the medical condition from other health professionals, such as a pharmacist and a nurse.” Dr. Lai says he appreciates the additional services because ultimately they benefit his patients.

A new life

Austen, who played football in his youth, has joined twice-weekly sessions at the University of Calgary’s TrymGym. And he’s committed to a daily hour-long walk with a neighbour. Shedding the kilos little by little, Austen also shed four consecutive wardrobes of clothing as the weight dropped away. Austen can now jog at 8.9 kilometres an hour for 20 minutes. A year ago he was huffing and puffing just to make it around the block.

His dietary changes would fit well into a lifestyle handbook.

While dinner parties at the Austen home continue in elaborate style, the foodie now focuses on his guest’s hips as well as their hearts. Typical fare pre-2013 could include home-made pasta with a heavy cream sauce and a mushroom ragout – heavy on the butter. “You’re talking 1200 to 1500 calories a dish and then there’d be dessert,” Austen said. “I wanted to wow.” Today visitors experience Kevan’s Cooking 2.0. The home-cooked Vietnamese noodle soup offered to extended family last month, for example, was a hit and it was healthy. “There were fresh vegetables, bean sprouts, grilled tofu,” he says. “Everyone added their own ingredients, even the kids, and it was a lot of fun.”

The future

While a few goals remain, Austen is confident about the future — and grateful for all the help he’s received. “I want to get off my meds and get the rest of the weight off,” he says. Losing another 45 pounds will take Austen to his goal weight of 180 pounds. “My beta receptor cells were damaged by my lifestyle, so it may not be possible to get off all the meds,” he says. “But I’m already down 30 per cent. I’m going to try.”

To register for TrymGym call 403-220-4374.