Staying the Healthy Course
Jessica Alejos discovers the real power behind her commitment to change.
The move from Colorado was supposed to be a fresh start. So it was a bit of a reality shock when, after coming to The Dalles in June 2017, Jessica Alejos found herself feeling depressed.
“I moved here with my husband and children—we all needed change for a number of reasons,” Jessica says. “But in spite of us creating a more stable life, I had some real issues with guilt, gained a lot of weight, and suffered from some physical problems—like back pain, stomach issues and migraines.”
Jessica went to One Community Health (OCH), where she initially received behavioral health support from Mid-Columbia Center for Living, then located within OCH’s health center in The Dalles. She learned how to manage stress and better communicate her feelings to her husband. After seeing positive results, Jessica began to realize the strong connection among her behavioral, emotional and physical health. With that, she decided to take greater control of her well-being, turning directly to OCH.
“At first I saw Kristen Foskett, DNP, FNP-C, RN but when she went on maternity leave, I started seeing Dr. (Ana) Moreno,” Jessica says. “She is really good at listening to how I feel. I'm the kind of person who if I get a weird vibe, I just can’t let them in. She gave me a really nice vibe, and I was like, ‘Ok, I can let her in.’”
After addressing some of Jessica's medical concerns, Dr. Moreno referred her to seek Salud’s support—which Jessica accepted. To her surprise, Jessica discovered she also connected easily with Salud’s Caitlyn Smith, BSCN, who introduced Jessica to a nutrition program and taught her even more about opening up—but this time to more fruits and veggies on her plate.
“I remember she said she didn’t like fruits and vegetables, so I asked her if she liked tortillas with lettuce, cilantro, onions and tomatoes—which are fruits and veggies!” Caitlyn says.
The answer was yes—and a light bulb went off. Then Jessica named even more she liked, with a few exceptions.
“People always think it’s about eating a raw salad for every meal—it’s not,” Caitlyn says. “I show them the MyPlate Plan, an educational tool that gives you an idea of the goal and portions, and then it’s really more about finding a maintainable way to fit fruit and veggies into your diet. If you don’t like broccoli, you don’t have to eat it. You can eat squash, maybe with a little ranch on the side. Same thing with exercise. Don’t like running? Maybe try Zumba.”
Along with the nutrition and wellness support offered by Caitlyn, Dr. Moreno prescribed Jessica a short-term appetite suppressant designed to help boost weight loss while making key lifestyle changes. Over the next six or seven months, Jessica mostly stuck to her program—changing her diet for the better, exercising more, and attending accountability checkups with both Dr. Moreno and Caitlyn.
It all proved harder than she imagined, and not simply because of the goals she set but because—as it often does—“life” got in the way. After kicking off her goals and then during a period of about seven months after that, she lost both her brother and mother to cancer. Even harder, her mother had experienced first a stroke, so while tending to her children, husband and their family business, Jessica took in and cared for her partially paralyzed mother until her sudden death.
Understandably, the emotional strife amid all the juggling of responsibilities made it really tough for Jessica to stick to her goals. But she did it, dropped 30 pounds, and in spite of occasional setbacks, always got back on track.
“While most people would have fallen off the wagon and reverted to their old habits, Jessica persevered and continues to do so,” Caitlyn says. “She was dealing with some really hard things in her life.”
As for Jessica, she stuck with her goals not just for herself but also for her family and, in particular, her children. She used an activity tracker to help keep track of her exercise, doing whatever she could throughout the day to move—jumping on the trampoline with the kids, shoveling concrete for her work instead of having someone else do it, and squeezing in jumping jacks when afforded a few minutes of free time.
Today, she’s about halfway toward her health goal yet already has seen a positive difference—migraines, back pain and stomach issues are gone. And in their place?
“I just feel really great,” Jessica says. “What I’m doing is showing my kids that I’m really strong, and they can be strong, too. So that’s what I tell them—they can go through battles, may fall off track sometimes, and may even eat a little ice cream here and there. But to stay on top, they have to be strong, not just for themselves but for others.”