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AF civilian sheds 91 pounds to lead by example

Heath Johnson has lost 91 pounds since Feb. 25, 2013. Since losing the weight, he's dropped 12 inches from his waist, 50 points off his cholesterol and no longer has high blood pressure. Johnson is the Air Force Personnel Organization Division chief.

Heath Johnson has lost 91 pounds since Feb. 25, 2013. Since losing the weight, he's dropped 12 inches from his waist, 50 points off his cholesterol and no longer has high blood pressure. Johnson is the Air Force Personnel Organization Division chief.

A picture of Heath Johnson and his wife, Mariceli Santiago, sits on his desk at work, along with vitamins. Johnson has lost 91 lbs since Feb. 25, 2013.

A picture of Heath Johnson and his wife, Mariceli Santiago, sits on his desk at work, along with vitamins. Johnson has lost 91 lbs since Feb. 25, 2013. Johnson is the Air Force Personnel Organization Division chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Salanitri)

Heath Johnson walks up the stairs Sept. 6, 2013 at the Pentagon.  Since Feb. 25, 2103, Johnson has lost 91 lbs and no longer takes the elevator, but uses the stairs to get to his 5th story office. Johnson is the Air Force Personnel Organization Division chief.

Heath Johnson walks up the stairs Sept. 6, 2013 at the Pentagon. Since Feb. 25, 2103, Johnson has lost 91 lbs and no longer takes the elevator, but uses the stairs to get to his 5th story office. Johnson is the Air Force Personnel Organization Division chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Salanitri)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) --

During the past six months, an Air Force civilian has lost 91 pounds and 12 inches from his waist in order to lead his Airmen by example.

Heath Johnson serves as the chief of the Air Force Organization Division in the Pentagon where his team develops the service’s organization policy.  

Johnson has been running this division since Feb. 25; the same day he started his goal to lose weight and improve his health through diet and exercise.

“Looking back, I cannot believe it took me this long to come to my senses,” said Johnson, who’s been working for the Air Force for more than 15 years.  “I would leave for a meeting early, so I could catch my breath and ‘towel off’ before the meeting started.  I could not keep up a conversation on my way to a meeting.  That is pretty bad.”

Though Johnson understood physical fitness, it took him a while to realize the importance of a solid, healthy diet.

“I tried to lose weight right before I got married.  I worked out with a personal trainer, but I didn't address the other side of the equation: diet,” said Johnson, whose brother is an Air Force master sergeant. “I continued to eat junk and rationalize it by saying ‘I'll burn it off in the evening.’  It didn't work.  I put on another 30 pounds after the wedding.  I stopped seeing the personal trainer, but didn't stop seeing Popeye's. Big mistake.”

 Before Johnson lost the weight, his blood pressure was approaching pre-hypertension, and his cholesterol was high as well, he said. While both issues are common reasons to lose weight, Johnson brought up the non-physical issues that motivated him.

 

“I turn 40 next year, and weight loss won't get any easier,” he said.  “But, beyond the health reasons, I really just got tired of being so big.  I hated flying because I knew I was invading the personal space of the person sitting next to me -- likewise with going to the theater.  I could not get comfortable in the seats, so I had enough.”

 As a leader working in the Air Force, Johnson wants to lead by example.

“As a leader and a manager in this organization, I have to set an example and represent the Air Force in a positive light,” he said.  “When I go TDY and represent the organization, I don't want them to remember the fat guy from the Pentagon.  I want them to focus and remember the message.  I think being fit adds a measure of credibility.” 

 Being exposed to the Air Force way of life for the past 15 years has resonated with Johnson. The wingman concept has played a huge role, he said, in keeping him on track and accountable for what he eats and for his workouts.  “I could not keep focus without a wingman ... that wingman happens to be my wife,” he said.  “She has been helping me every step of the way.  From making healthy lunches and dinners, to smacking me around when I'm jonesing for a cheeseburger.  She keeps me honest.”

 

Johnson’s example is one that senior leaders feel can be followed, and should be followed, by many.

 

“Many of our civilians have similar stressors and demands placed on them as our uniformed personnel,” said Brig. Gen. Richard Murphy, director of Manpower, Organization and Resources.  “Being physically fit as well as mentally fit is just as important for our civilian work force to ensure mission success.  Heath's example of realizing he needed to make a change, and then achieving his goals, is a great example for our civilian work force.  You don't have to be uniformed personnel to maintain good fitness.”

Apparently it’s working. Today, his blood pressure is in the normal range, and he has dropped more than 50 points in cholesterol.

“I also feel better about myself.  That's a good thing too,” Johnson said.

In addition to feeling better and being healthier, Johnson enjoys he can now find more clothes in his size.

“I enjoy being able to find clothes that fit,” he said.  “I went from a snug 48-inch waist to a 36-inch waist.  I might lose another size before I'm done, but no worries.  I'm sure I'll find plenty of pants in 34, too.”

Johnson gave his advice on how others can lose weight successfully.

“It's tough.  Changing your life isn't easy, and I most certainly could not have done it alone,” Johnson said.  “You have to have a partner.  You need someone to give you the encouragement and a kick in the butt.  The only easy day was yesterday.  However, it is so worth it.” 

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