IT’S LUNCHTIME, and Andy Levy doesnt even need to see a menu. He orders his usual: a scoop of tuna salad in a tomato garnished with sliced cucumbers and onion. The portion isn’t huge, but Levy eats only half slowly — and gets a to-go box for the rest.
That’s Andy Levy at age 57, and thats how hes lost a whopping 138 pounds over the past eight years.
Levy’s current, successful weight-loss journey began with a fateful visit with his internist in July, 2007, but his struggle with weight issues began around age nine or 10. He remembers it clearly and with a bit of humor:
“The summer before fourth grade, our family joined the JCC. My father swam; my younger sister played in the pool; my mother sunbathed, and I hung out in the snack area eating ice cream sandwiches or hot dogs with the older kids.”
Levy recalls back-to-school shopping just before fourth grade and needing husky clothes, which was special sizing for chubbier boys. Thus started what would become a roller-coaster battle against weight spanning four decades.
Andy Levy says he was a happy kid, the much loved son of the late Irwin and Jean Levy, and big brother to Renee. Because of his weight, he was not a good athlete, but he was a very good student and was strongly self-confident.
”Field day was the most traumatic day of the school year for me, but I survived because I knew what was coming on report card day,” Levy recalls.
To a certain extent, Levy’s successes in childhood contributed to his weight problem. ”Food is a big deal. We eat out of celebration, but it also revolves around sadder and stressful times. Back then, food was also used as a reward.”
When Levy received a glowing report card, the family celebrated with a trip to the bakery. That night, Andy shared the caramel-and-butter cream layered sponge cake with his family. After that, the rest was his.
Both of Levy’s parents were very good cooks he says, and served healthy, balanced meals. They were also conscientious about their own weight. His father played squash and his size 4 mother was disciplined. If she had a big lunch, then it was salad for dinner.
”I ate good food. I just ate too much of it, and I didn’t want to do the hard work.”
LEVY JOKINGLY calls himself the male Oprah, as he has been on a lot of diets and lost and gained weight many times. He went on his first diet Atkins the summer before ninth grade. He lost 30 pounds, and that sustained him mostly through high school.
In college at CU, Levy discovered beer and pizza, and he actually liked dorm food, partly because it was served cafeteria style and he could go back for seconds. For Andy, the proverbial freshman 15 “became the freshman, sophomore and junior 50,” he says.
Between his junior and senior years, Levy joined Weight Watchers and lost 60 pounds, ”which sustained me for about five years.”
After graduating from CU, Levy entered the fashion retail business as a buyer for Joslins. In his line of work, he was always expected to look good. He has always enjoyed fashion, and even as his weight yo-yoed, Levy dressed stylishly and tastefully.
The weight battle continued. ”I probably tried every mainstream diet known to man,” he laments. “I have lost and regained more weight than I have ever wanted to calculate.”
Despite the frustration, Levy never let it get him down. ”I was always well loved by family and friends, and engaged with the community, and I had a sense of humor about my weight.
“I would look in the mirror and see an overweight person but, inside, I thought I was a normal guy.”
BY THE spring of 2007, Levys weight had peaked. He was in his late 40s. He prefers not to disclose his peak or current weight, but his before and after photos graphically illustrate how heavy he had become.
He started feeling the physical repercussions of the excess weight he was carrying. Climbing stairs, he would become winded and his knees hurt.
In early July that year, Levy made a life-changing appointment with his longtime internist and friend Dr. Harvey Karsh, who was concerned that Levy’s obesity would seriously impact him sooner than later.
Dr. Karsh told him about lap band surgery, a short name for laparoscopic adjustable gastric band.
It is a procedure in which an inflatable band is placed around the upper part of the stomach to create a smaller stomach pouch. This slows and limits the amount of food that can be consumed at one time, thus giving the opportunity for the sense of satiety to be met with the release of the appetite reducing hormone peptide YY.
The lap band does not decrease gastric emptying time. The individual achieves sustained weight loss by choosing healthy food options, limiting food intake and volume, reducing appetite, and facilitating the movement of food from the top portion of the stomach to the lower portion of the digestive tract.
According to the American Society for Metabolic Bariatric Surgery, bariatric surgery is not an easy option for obesity sufferers. It is a drastic step, and carries the usual pain and risks of any major gastrointestinal surgical operation. However, lap band is the least invasive surgery of its kind and is completely reversible.
Dr. Karsh referred Levy to Dr. Michael Snyder of the Denver Center for Bariatric Surgery at Rose Medical Center.
Levy rushed home from his appointment with Dr. Karsh and researched lap band surgery and Dr. Snyder, with whom he made an appointment for consultation. Levy enthusiastically decided to proceed, and six weeks later he had the surgery. Levy stayed in the hospital overnight after the one-hour surgery, but many patients have it done on an outpatient basis.
He lost about 60 pounds the first year, and began a cycle of losing about 15 pounds each subsequent year with periods of plateaus. During those plateaus, Levy would get frustrated, and go back to Dr. Snyder, but he never gave up.
Snyder, who struggled with weight issues himself before becoming a bariatric surgeon, has always given Levy the support and tools he needed to continue and maintain his weight loss.
RATHER THAN devouring three hearty meals a day, plus snacks, Andy Levy now eats six small meals during the day, comprised of lean protein and healthy carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables. He also relies on protein bars. If he overeats, he experiences gastric discomfort. He learned early on that it is not worth it to eat too much or the wrong kinds of food. The lap band device requires one to eat slowly and chew carefully and thoroughly.
Eating is no longer the social experience it once was for Levy. ”I loved good food and the social experience of going out with family and friends to have a good meal. I have had to change that as I do not want to be faced with the temptation.”
In his position as a development director — and through his genuine interest in the Jewish and civic communities Andy Levy attends many fundraising dinners and luncheons. These days, he’s not there for the food but for the cause and the socializing. He usually eats his trusty nutrition bars at these events.
Levy now sees food as nourishment. “I think of food as the fuel that drives the human engine. Eating does not give me the sense of pleasure or enjoyment it once did.”
These days Levy prefers to socialize by going to movies with friends or meeting them for walks in the park.
While Levy lost considerable weight in the years following his surgery, he was frustrated that he never achieved the final goal he set with the surgeon.
During this period, Levy had changed careers. From working as a buyer at Joslins, then Neiman Marcus, he earned a masters in non-profit management from Regis University and simultaneously joined the staff of the Allied Jewish Federation (now JEWISHcolorado). From there, he became the director of major gifts at The Denver Hospice.
Levy’s most recent career move coincides with his renewed commitment to health. In December, 2014, he joined the team at LiveWell Colorado as vice president of development.
LiveWell Colorado is a non-profit committed to reducing obesity in Colorado. ”I decided this was my opportunity to focus on the last bit of the weight I needed to lose, and more importantly on my health.”
Levy was right. He has lost 20 pounds since starting his new job, and he attributes it largely to the healthy lifestyle culture in the office and his own increased level of physical activity.
Every Monday morning, LiveWell Colorado receives a delivery of fresh fruit, placed strategically around the office to promote convenient, healthy snacking. Also, the management encourages walking meetings throughout the week. Staff members walk and talk business at the same time.
Last December, Levy also learned about State of Slim (SOS), a weight loss program offered at the CU Wellness Center on the Anschutz Medical Campus. He and his sister Renee enrolled in SOS, and over a 16-week period, Andy lost more than 15 pounds and Renee lost 33.
The program focuses on nutrition and diet, emotional motivation and exercise.
”By the end of the 16 weeks, youre exercising 70 minutes six days a week,” Levy says.
Now he has memberships at two gyms and works out several days a week. This is the same guy who hung out at the pool snack bar eating ice cream sandwiches while others swam. His goal this summer is to embrace the fabulous bike my sister got me for my 50th birthday that Ive only used twice.
ANDY LEVY didn’t go through bouts of depression over his weight issues. In fact, he always kept a sense of humor about it, but that never diminished his desire to be healthier.
”I never liked to talk about it a lot, but I agreed to this interview because if one person is inspired to become healthier, I feel the sharing of this information is rewarding. I’m at a point where weight loss is much less about vanity, clothes and appearance, and everything about healthy living.”
Larry Hankin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News