Note by Pamela Hernandez with Thrive Personal Fitness, "Dana has a story that reminds me in a small part of my own. I remember too hours spent in hospital waiting rooms while my grandmother fought the health challenges brought on my obesity and smoking. Dana, like me, wanted something different for herself and her family. Here is her story in her words. - Pamela"

My family life has always been one big dinner, from holidays to Sundays. It’s always been about the love and food that filled my family home. For me baking is just part of who I am. If I love you I am going to feed you. As a large family we did everything around the table. I loved it  and I still do.  However I realized there was a downside. I watched my grandma suffer and eventually pass from heart disease. I remember the endless hours spent in the hospital waiting room. Hearing extended family argue over what was worse, smoking or being overweight. Like one was going to prove their issue wasn’t as bad as the other persons. Even harder to do was watching my brother suffer through heart issues that would eventually take him from my life at age 38. Watching someone die from something so controllable, felt completely wrong. Knowing his choices affected his girls, my parents and me was gut wrenching.

As I turned 38, I made a choice to be the best person I could be. I wanted to live every extra year my brother didn’t get to its fullest. I wanted to be a good example to my kids, to my family, to my friends and most importantly for myself. My father also passed early, in his 40’s, and I really felt like my days were numbered. If that is true I want to give it all I have.

So I started making real changes in me.

I am not on any diet or taking any magic pill. What I am doing is working hard to change habits I was raised on. To know that just because I feel lonely, tired, bored, happy, and lazy doesn’t mean I have to fill it with food. And the food that I am now eating, I think twice about it. I have learned so much from Pamela about my food choices!

If I can’t read what’s in it I don’t eat it.

If it has lots of sugars I put it down.

And I am watching my sodium. I am watching my bad cholesterol and making exercise part of my everyday life.

As a result my girls are eating better, we are all reading labels in the store, we are discussing whether our bodies will really be able to use the foods we want to eat or if it will just damage our bodies. I don’t want my girls to think of their mom as a regular dieter or obsessive about her weight. What I hope they learn from me, is that food is good, that is can be used to power us through the day or it can drag you down. And that exercise should be second nature, like brushing our teeth.

I want my kids to remember family gatherings as fun time to play with cousins and seeing their grandparents. I want them educated on the importance of food. In order for me to teach them, I have to learn it myself. That is what Pamela and the BetterU challenge have done for me. The bonus is how I look and feel at 39.

Next step for me, is doing what I thought was impossible - running a half marathon.

Thank you Pamela, Thank you American Heart Association for giving me the education and skills needed for a healthy life.