by Audrey Fraizer
Karlea Brown preferred to stay in the background to escape attention. She skipped meals, scrimped on calories, found reasons to avoid exercise, and always found herself back where she had started or—even more distressing—past the point of initial departure.
Brown was the victim of accumulated bad habits and falling self-confidence. She wanted out, and to stay out she knew it would take a major shift in her lifestyle.
“I had to get out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I had to make changes.”
Brown did but, wisely, not overnight. After all, she would always be just steps away from “Dispatching Disease,” a term she borrowed from Paul Bagley, a retired New Hampshire police officer and 911 dispatcher, who wrote the column Dispatching Disease published in 911 Magazine.
According to Bagley, four symptoms characterize the disease:
Obesity is among the natural, predictable results that come from dispatching. [While] the three most-common medical complaints among emergency telecommunicators are (in no particular order): diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
The disease, as Brown could tell you, is the nature of the 911 beast. It’s a sedentary, stressful job, packed with overtime, shift work, high-calorie snacks, food and drinks gulped at the workstation in anticipation of the next call, and the tendency to find comfort in fast foods that are easy to grab.
Brown had no intention of giving up her dispatch career—she’s a supervisor at Frederick County, Md., Emergency Communications.
So, she did what Bagley recommended. Having recognized the problem, Brown developed a plan. She would work out daily and eat sensibly. She would quit sugar-thick soft drinks and juices and switch to water. She also realized a complete 360-degree turn was unrealistic.
“That’s a sure way to fall back into old habits,” she said.
Brown modified favorites, such as coffee with low-fat milk and sugar substitute instead of cream and real sugar, and Greek yogurt in recipes calling for sour cream. She reads labels at the grocery store and never leaves home without a water bottle. Brown didn’t do everything at once or begin an exercise routine at an impossible level.
And she created the 80:20 rule to keep on track for the rest of her life.
“Eighty percent of the time I eat healthy,” she said. “Twenty percent of the time I allow myself normalcy.”
Brown brings fruit to work. She devotes 30 minutes a day to exercise, which she can accomplish at work through simple calisthenics (office chair crunch and left lifts and swings) or at a gym. She doesn’t like to push others, although she does encourage healthier lifestyles among co-workers. Brown organized a biggest loser contest and developed a workout chart based on call type (Alarm = 10 jumping jacks).
She has stuck to the plan—now truly a lifestyle—going on nine years, and the difference is remarkable, she said. Brown has lost more than 100 pounds, and she feels great.
“I’m no longer tired and miserable all the time,” Brown said. “I’m no longer sick about how I look or what others might say about how I look.”
Brown has also gained back her confidence. Two years ago, she asked Kevin Willett if he would welcome another speaker, and she is now an instructor for Public Safety Training Consultants (PSTC). Brown and Willett presented the session, “Work Station Workouts, Night Shift Nutrition, and More …” at NAVIGATOR 2015.
The new association prompted Willett to improve his own lifestyle.
“I used to drink one Coke every two hours,” said the noticeably lighter-on-his-feet Willett. “Now I stick to water.”
1Bagley P. “From the Chair: Dispatching Disease.” 911 Magazine. 2012; June 2. http://www.9-1-1magazine.com/Bagley-From-The-Chair4-Disease (accessed Sept. 15, 2015)