Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is a successful loser.
In the past 18 months, he has whittled 110 pounds from his 5-foot-11 frame, going from 280 pounds (and a body mass index of 39 , which put him roundly in the ranks of the obese) to a trim 170 pounds and a healthy body mass index of 24.
Gov. Mike Huckabee, 100 pounds lighter, in April 2004.
(Kirk Jordan - Office of Governor Huckabee)
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These days, Huckabee finds himself talking as much about his healthy new habits as about his public policies. Earlier this year, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson invited him to address the Steps to a Healthier U.S. Summit in Baltimore. In June, he was a keynote speaker at a Time/ABC News obesity summit in Williamsburg.
Huckabee, who is also writing a book for TimeWarner about his personal health successes, didn't plan on being an icon in the war against obesity. He simply wanted to get healthy after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2002. The condition, which afflicts an estimated 14 million Americans, is closely tied to being overweight or obese, and it significantly increases the risk of heart disease, kidney problems and eye ailments.
Huckabee's doctor handed him two oral medications and delivered a sobering message. "The doctor told me, the way you are living, your stress levels, the kind of job that you do and your health situation, you may have 10 years left, and that is being optimistic," Huckabee said. "Frankly, I was facing the fact that I was in the last decade of my life."
It was a turning point for Huckabee, then just 48, and one of the youngest governors in the nation. Huckabee, a Republican, has served in state office since 1993, when he won a special election for lieutenant governor. He became governor in 1996, when Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, a Democrat, resigned.
Huckabee doesn't pretend to have all the answers to weight loss. He's quick to note that the path he took involved commitment and hard work. In his weightier days, he recalls being offended by "buff gym rats" preaching their messages about getting fit. So he is cautious about offering a blueprint for success. "I try not to go around saying, 'Well, you ought to do this because I did it,' " he said.
Even so, Huckabee -- he says he was a chronic overeater who hated to exercise -- sees in his story a few nuggets for others. "To be able to see my whole attitude change so radically gives me hope that other people can make adjustments and change, too," he said. "I am just one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread."
Here are some of the lessons he learned:
Find the big picture. "This is a process," Huckabee said. "There will never come a day where you can say, 'Wow! I can wipe my brow, call it quits and go back to my ways because I have done this thing.' That is critical to know. Everybody wants a quick fix and something that doesn't require any change or any effort."