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Prevention as the Best Medicine: Kristin’s Quest to Take Charge of Her Health

Kim Westerman
by Kim Westerman
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Prevention as the Best Medicine: Kristin’s Quest to Take Charge of Her Health

Like many school teachers, Kristin Clinkenbeard loved her work teaching math to high school students. Unfortunately for the Oklahoma woman, teaching is stressful, and it started taking its toll on her around the time she turned 40. The first sign things were going downhill was weight gain, but her troubles were not just physical. Anxiety and depression were also wearing down her resilience.

Clinkenbeard’s father-in-law passed away from cancer in 2010, and just two years later, she lost her mother to the disease as well. As she went through the grieving process, her anxiety and depression took a toll on her health, and she was diagnosed with high cholesterol and blood pressure.

After making the decision to leave her job, she was able to reduce her stress by having more time to relax at home. The downside, however, was the several hours per day she once spent teaching were now sedentary, and though she was less anxious and depressed, she continued to gain weight. When she realized she fell solidly into the “overweight” category on the BMI chart and was constantly feeling tired, she went to her doctor, who didn’t like what he saw. He recommended medication for high cholesterol and warned of the possibility of blood pressure medicine, which Clinkenbeard says was the turning point. “At that moment, I decided to take control of my health. Good grief, I was in my early 40s!”

She didn’t have an immediate plan, but she thought she was much too young to begin cholesterol and blood pressure medication. “I asked my doctor if I could lower my cholesterol and blood pressure by changing my diet and my exercise habits,” she recalls. “He was not encouraging. Little did he know how stubborn I could be!”

Apparently, all Clinkenbeard needed was for someone to tell her she couldn’t do it. “At my follow-up checkup six months later, I had lost 20 pounds, lowered my cholesterol from 238 to the 150s, and my blood pressure was in a healthy range,” she says. “My doctor couldn’t believe it!”

One of the secrets to her success — beyond her own instinctive desire to take control of her life in the midst of emotional chaos — was her discovering MyFitnessPal, which her sister had introduced her to. “When my mother passed away, I began researching how to fuel my body for my health,” she says. “MyFitnessPal not only gave me a way to track what I was eating, but it also had a lot of articles on how to eat healthfully and how to exercise.”

She admits motivation was easy in the beginning, when the pounds dropped off with ease and she began having more consistent energy every day. Once, she hit her initial target weight of 155, however, she hit a wall and couldn’t seem to shed any more pounds.

That’s when she turned to running.


Clinkenbeard had never been a runner, but MapMyFitness, whose 5K training program she’d used to get started, helped her believe she could be. “I’m very goal-oriented and I love schedules, so that training plan was just what I needed to stay motivated,” she says. “That’s when I finally started to feel like I was a ‘real’ runner.”

Her first goal was to run a 5K without stopping. When she accomplished that, she attempted to get her time under 40 minutes, then under 36 minutes, then under 34 minutes. “I seemed to get stuck around 32–33 minutes,” she recalls. “But with the help of the MMF training plan, I finally hit my latest goal of under 30 minutes for a 5K.”

One of her favorite challenges the app suggested is You vs. the Year, a digital challenge within the MapMyRun app. When she joined the challenge in 2016, she set out to complete the challenge by running 1,016 km, with little expectation she’d meet the goal. But in true Kristin form — persistent and consistent — she made it, cheered on by a Facebook group that supported her throughout the journey and still does to this day. Her 2018 goal is to log 1,018 km (about 632 miles) before midnight on December 31, 2018. “Barring any injury,” says Clinkenbeard, “I believe I will be able to hit that goal, too.”


The other big factor she attributes her success to is a major overhaul in her diet, making a dramatic change in terms of her daily meals, but making sure she never became obsessive. She confesses she would never give up pizza — and why should she?

“I’ve switched from processed ‘junk’ foods to whole foods,” she says. “I made this change slowly, concentrating on creating one good habit at a time. Now, I shoot for 80 percent whole foods — after all, I have to have my pizza!”

Clinkenbeard has also picked up habits that have made her journey much easier to stick with. “I’ve learned it’s a lot easier to stick with my plan if I don’t have the junk food on hand. If it’s in my house, I will be tempted to eat it,” she admits. I have a goal of trying to eat four servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day. Drinking a lot of water helps keep me full, too.”

She relies on MyFitnessPal to help her keep track of her nutrition and has been logging daily for 1,248 consecutive days. “The app breaks it down so I can monitor calories, along with carbs, fat, protein, sodium and sugars,” she says. “A big step for me was to ‘open’ my diary on the app so that my friends can actually look at my food intake. That keeps me a lot more accountable. After all, I don’t really want my friends to see that I caved and ate a hamburger and french fries, when I could’ve chosen a grilled chicken salad instead.”


Clinkenbeard is the first to admit it’s not all forward momentum, however. “Sometimes my motivation is not where it should be,” she says. “I just have to force myself out the door. I tell myself to go at least one mile or do a shorter weights workout. Usually once I get started, I can push through.” This attitude has led to a new personal mantra: I’m stronger than I think.

Her current schedule is running four days a week and lifting weights two days a week. Her MMF training plan has her doing different run workouts to train for her first half marathon this year. “I do long, slow runs, easy runs, tempo runs and intervals,” she says. “Doing the different types of runs is not only good for me, but it also keeps it interesting.” Her strength training is a full-body plan that focuses on compound moves like squats, deadlifts, lunges, step-ups, pushups and core work. She tries to include one rest day per week to allow her body to recover and get stronger.

In Clinkenbeard’s mind, she has been able to avoid the common problems many people see as they age — the decline in health, more scary medical diagnoses — by taking control of her health. While her total weight loss of 30 pounds might not sound dramatic, Clinkenbeard says it’s been the key to her all-around health and happiness. Plus, she says she “feels fantastic,” which is a far cry from her feelings in 2012.

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About the Author

Kim Westerman
Kim Westerman

Kim Westerman is a freelance travel, food, coffee and wine writer and a longtime writing teacher with an interest in mindfulness and contemplative studies. She lives with her wife and two young children in Berkeley, California.