You can’t change the past or the present, but you can change the future.

Overcoming High Blood Pressure: Dr. Erickson's Story

Overcoming a health challenge: high blood pressure

Mark Erickson, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon and chairman of orthopedic surgery at Children’s Hospital Colorado, was not accustomed to counting calories. He swam growing up, and at 6'1'' most of his life, his body needed many calories to stay energized, and so he never thought much about what he ate.

"Well, life caught up to me," Dr. Erickson says. "That no longer became the case."

In May 2012, Dr. Erickson's PCP warned him of his rising blood pressure, cholesterol and risk for cardiac disease – all results of his being "substantially overweight," Dr. Erickson says. The PCP increased his blood pressure medications and leveled with him: "He basically said that he could write prescriptions for all the things I had," Dr. Erickson remembers. "But at some point I had to make a decision about whether I was going to do something about it. I realized that at the end of the day, I'm the one who puts the stuff in my mouth."

Making a "disruptive change"

Dr. Erickson made was he calls a "disruptive change" to lose weight and change his life. Historically unable to stick with a diet Dr. Erickson began simply by reading nutrition labels, establishing his metabolic number ("how much you can eat to stay even," he explains), and counting calories.

Dr. Erickson resized

This "disruptive change" meant a new lifestyle for Dr. Erickson. His first order of business: take over the family grocery shopping from his wife.

"It was hilarious," Dr. Erickson laughs. "The first thing I learned was: don’t go to the store hungry."

Eventually, Dr. Erickson learned to shop the periphery of the grocery store for produce and dairy (his food), and shop the interior of the store for his growing teenage sons, who "can eat whatever they want."

Dr. Erickson also learned how to make eating work for him. He learned to eat at the Light Side in the Fresh Market Place more often and also discovered that he needs to eat more than three times a day to keep from "destroying the fridge" when he gets home. This means eating breakfast at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and having a snack before lunch at noon; he keeps healthy snacks in his office and in his car.

Now, as a result of his drastic lifestyle change, Dr. Erickson is 80 pounds lighter and off all his blood pressure medications; his cholesterol is about half of what it used to be.

"But," he says, "it isn’t magic."

Adjusting to a new lifestyle

As a busy surgeon, Dr. Erickson has had to make his new lifestyle work for his full and sometimes inflexible schedule. He gets home late on Mondays and Wednesdays – his busiest surgery days – so he packs exercise into his weekends and enlists help from his teenage sons by having them prepare workouts. On the days he does have time to exercise, they're ready for him when he gets home from work so he can’t talk himself out of exercising.

Dr. Erickson has also looked for opportunities to burn more calories, like carrying his golf bag and walking the 18-hole course (which burns up to 1400 calories, he says), instead of using a golf cart and caddie. He also takes advantage of the outdoors by hiking, skiing, golfing and biking whenever he can.

In surgery, Dr. Erickson can spend up to five hours on his feet; he explains that in order to operate and achieve ideal outcomes, he must maintain a fitness regimen.

"I always like working out anyway," he explains. "That’s easy. I've been doing that all my life."