It’s never too late for a ‘first’

With help from the UCHealth Lifestyle Health team, Rebecca has been achieving health goals she never thought possible before.
Aug. 21, 2017

It is usually Rebecca Browning-Floyd who is helping others with “firsts.” As the Colorado Preschool Program coordinator for Poudre School District, she’s honored with seeing young minds explore and develop through first experiences.

Rebecca Browning-Floyd is shown near Rocky Mountain National Park's Emerald Lake.
Rebecca Browning-Floyd hiked to Rocky Mountain National Park’s Emerald Lake earlier this summer, something she never dreamed she’d physically be able to do before she started with UCHealth’s lifestyle health program, offered by her employer, Poudre School District.

This year, Rebecca has had a few firsts of her own. She participated in her first 5K. She took her first big hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. And then there were the little firsts, like the first time she stepped off a curb and didn’t feel pain in her knees.

Like her young clients, Rebecca too is a shining example of how far support and education can take a person.

It was just last summer that Rebecca would wake tired and achy. At 43 years old, she was obese, and it was wearing on her — physically and mentally.

“I felt gross. I felt embarrassed. And I felt down,” she said.

It wasn’t that Rebecca was depressed. In fact, she was actually in the midst of celebrating her accomplishments in life. She had a loving family and a growing career, having just been accepted into the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program, in pursuit of her goal to earn a graduate degree.

“It was really exciting and an honor to be selected,” she said about the fellowship. “Things were going well, and life was trucking along.”

Health tips for your 5K race day

From UCHealth Lifestyle Health registered dietitian Brooke Floerke

Carbohydrates are our bodies’ primarily fuel source, so try to eat a breakfast with a complex carbohydrate the morning of your event. But add protein as well to balance out the blood sugar. Some examples include whole wheat toast with peanut butter and sliced apples or steel cut oats with blueberries and pumpkin seeds. One rule though, don’t try anything new on race day. You want to make sure breakfast consists of foods your body is accustomed to.

It’s a good ideas to replenish with electrolytes after the race, especially if you have a lost a lot of fluid through perspiring. Avoid Gatorade and sports drinks that are high in added sugar and opt for an electrolyte replacement powder or tab, like Nuun Active Hydration. Electrolytes to look for include sodium, potassium and magnesium.

Unexplained health issues, however, had Rebecca returning to her doctors with the hope that they’d find something wrong with her.

“That way they could fix it,” she explained. “There were things going on but nothing that would explain all my problems.”

She was diagnosed with restless leg syndrome and extreme sleep apnea. Working full-time, being a mom and now adding in a graduate program schedule, she said eating at home wasn’t common, nor was physical activity. So she decided to check in with PSD Employee Assistant Services, who then suggested she look into UCHealth Lifestyle Health Services.

About four years ago, PSD partnered with UCHealth and Associates in Family Medicine to create a program that provides district employees with an integrated health care option that helps improve employees’ lives while also saving the employer health care costs. Columbine Health Systems and Woodward have also since signed up for UCHealth Lifestyle Health Services, each having their own specific plan to meet their needs.

During Rebecca’s visit with EAS, the representative made a call to Laura Dvorak, Lifestyle Health manager and registered nurse with UCHealth. A one-on-one between Rebecca and Dvorak was set up for a few days later.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Rebecca said. “But the first thing that struck me was at no point did I feel judged. I was obese at this point, but that team was like, ‘OK, this is where we are, and this is what we’ll do.’ They really are a unified team.”

The Lifestyle Health team, stationed within Miramont Lifestyle Fitness  at 2211 S. College Ave. in Fort Collins, consists of Dvorak, registered dietitian Brooke Floerke, and exercise physiologist Ryan Kinney.

Rebecca Browning-Floyd is shown at her research presentation as part of the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program.
Rebecca Browning-Floyd, dressed up for her research presentation as part of the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program. Because of the lifestyle changes she made with the help of the UCHealth’s lifestyle health program, Rebecca said she’s now confident enough with her body to wear a dress.

It started with paperwork — an assessment of Rebecca’s current lifestyle and health including her current behaviors, knowledge and confidence in making healthy changes — combined with a cardiovascular comprehensive assessment that provided insight into her heart and physical health.

Rebecca’s physical health age came in at 55 — more than 10 years older than her actual age — but Kinney respected that Rebecca was not a “gym person.” He focused on getting her moving in efficient ways, and together they set goals, such as Rebecca being able to walk the whole time at Magic Kingdom during her next Disney World vacation with her family. Kinney created a workout that Rebecca could do at home to mesh with her busy lifestyle.

Floerke encouraged Rebecca to create meals at home, but she also adapted her coaching to accommodate Rebecca’s belief that eating out was required to get everything done that she needed to do in a day.

“We have to meet people where they are in order for change to happen,” Dvorak said.

That meant teaching Rebecca how to choose healthier options when eating out.

“You usually eat carb-heavy (carbohydrates-heavy) when eating out,” Floerke told her.

Rebecca said she doesn’t count calories, although she has learned how to read labels, and she factors that information into her decisions. She said she’s identified healthy options at restaurants that she frequently patronizes. But if she’s somewhere new that doesn’t have a “lite” menu, she looks at salads first, asks for the dressing on the side, and sees what she may be able to omit — cheese or croutons.

The focus also was on planning ahead and prepping healthy lunches and snacks for work and between classes.

Rebecca would “veggie-up,” she said. For example, when she brought a frozen meal to work, she added an extra side of vegetables. Floerke calls it the plate method: filling half your plate with two servings of nonstarchy vegetables, a quarter with lean meat or other high-protein food, and the last fourth of your plate with a starchy vegetable or whole-grain serving.

“I figured out it’s about one bite at a time,” Rebecca said. “I was not dieting. It’s a choice. As a society, we think of dieting as this thing you have to do, but it’s not. We have to eat, and food became medicine for me.”

And when she started thinking differently about how she ate and increased the number of steps she walked each day — like taking the long way to her office — she began noticing physical changes. She had more energy and therefore more motivation to try new things. She started walking again with her mother on Saturdays, and recently, she hiked to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

“There is no way I would have done that before,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca Browning-Floyd poses with her mom during Rebecca's first 5K event.
Rebecca Browning-Floyd poses with her mom during Rebecca’s first 5K event.

On July 29, Rebecca joined about 30 other members of the UCHealth Lifestyle Health Services program for the Human Race 5K run/walk at Fort Collins’ City Park.

“We want those in our program to explore more options to see what it is they might enjoy,” Kinney said. “There are so many ways to be active — it doesn’t have to be in a gym, and it can be lots of fun. It doesn’t matter your fitness level; it’s about getting out and being active.”

Rebecca hopes the race is her first of many and she said, a reminder that she can do anything if she puts her mind to it, even when she’s struggling. And it’s that mindset she wants to encourage in others.

“I’d like to take a moment to encourage more people out there: people with weight and/or health challenges. Don’t wait until the time is right, when things settle down or right after the next big project at work. Health isn’t something that you start and stop but is a decision that you can make with each meal or each step. Don’t get mired in what you can’t do, but stop and think about what you can do.”


About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.