By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

0924-SFTH-Jessica Larche_Blog

A high blood pressure diagnosis at age 27 gave Jessica Larche the motivation she needed to make the lifestyle changes she’d been struggling with her whole life.

“It was a wake-up call,” said Larche, who had high self-esteem but “decided it wasn’t about losing weight for cosmetic reasons. It was about my health and about wanting to live a full, healthy life.”

Larche, a television anchor in Norfolk, Virginia, had struggled with weight throughout her 20s, but could never keep it off. At the time she was diagnosed with high blood pressure, her 5-foot-2 frame carried 245 pounds.

“I’d lose 30 or 40 pounds, but within a few months, I’d gain it back,” she said. “I went through that cycle two or three times in my 20s. I had to change my relationship with food.”

Changing that relationship was difficult. Growing up in New Orleans, “food was how you say, ‘hello,’ how you say ‘come in,’ and how you say ‘goodbye,’” Larche said.

Several members of Larche’s family battled high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, but she didn’t make the major changes needed in her diet until she got her own diagnosis.

“It was just one of those things where being on blood pressure medication did not seem out of the norm,” she said.

Larche remembers her family making minor changes after her mom was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes more than 20 years ago. They eliminated the sodas and other sugary drinks that had become a daily habit and started exercising a little more.

Larche kept active with dance and cheerleading, but “the weight would creep up a little bit each year.”

When she began work as a broadcast journalist, Larche relied on processed food and takeout as she juggled a busy schedule.

It was terrible, persistent headaches and nausea that sent Larche to an urgent care clinic in 2012. She learned her blood pressure was 160/110.

“I was scared and embarrassed,” she said. “I had everything I needed to make better decisions — a great job and a great lifestyle — but it didn’t click for me until that moment that if I continued to eat this way, I could die prematurely. I didn’t want that to be my story.”

Jessica Larche

Larche went home and threw out all the processed food and anything with too much sodium. She started eating a diet rich in lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

“I still have a praline or crawfish, but I don’t make it a daily thing,” she said.

She also got serious about exercise, working out four times a week. A year after her diagnosis, Larche had dropped 40 pounds and gotten her blood pressure back into a healthy range.

She continued to lose weight and is down nearly 100 pounds from her peak weight of 267.

Larche’s efforts did not go unnoticed. She began receiving letters and emails from viewers. Larche shared her diagnosis of high blood pressure and the journey to get healthy as part of a news program in February 2014, causing many viewers to share their own stories.

Jessica Larche and Kathleen Williams Ross

Jessica Larche with Kathleen Williams Ross.

Last October, Larche and Kathleen Williams Ross, a viewer who had lost 230 pounds through diet and exercise, received the Lifestyle Change Award from the local American Heart Association affiliate. Larche also emcees a local American Heart Association/American Stroke Association event to raise awareness about stroke.

A lifestyle change took hard work, but it helped her see what it meant to appreciate good health and what it takes to protect it, Larche said.

“It’s a daily decision to live a healthy lifestyle, and each day I try to make the best decisions I can,” she said. “It doesn’t happen every day — I’m human — but I try.”

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Photos courtesy of Jessica Larche