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‘Less of Harry to Hug’: Longtime TWR missionary wins battle of the waistline

By Malise Terrell
France, Netherlands, USA, Global
Harry Bettig and his wife, Eileen, embarked on a journey to improve Harry's health after a warning from his doctor prompted Harry to make some lifestyle changes. [image courtesy of Eileen Bettig]


Harry Bettig’s doctor didn’t pull any punches.

“You are prediabetic,” the longtime TWR missionary was told two years ago. “If you don’t lose weight and exercise, you are going to have diabetes. You need to get your heart rate up for 30 minutes, five days a week.”

The doctor wasn’t tolerating procrastination. “Get to work!” he said.

Harry, now 64, took the admonition seriously. His mother and his younger brother have diabetes, Harry explained when he joined his wife, Eileen, for a recent interview.

It’s not as if Harry had been inactive. Part of the TWR family since moving to the Monaco office with his family when he was 12, Harry participated in sports as a youth and remained active as an adult.

When serving with Eileen in the Netherlands, he would ride his bicycle to work – 10 miles each way. One year, he set a goal of 600 miles for the season, and he made it.

All the time, he said, he “kept getting heavier and heavier.”

The lean build of his youth had graduated to a stocky build.

Harry attributes this to a snack drawer that was full of chocolates and chewy candies. He enjoyed snacking through the day and into the evening. During the interview, he confided to Eileen just how much snacking he was doing at that time – eating enough extra candies to reach the equivalent of a full-sized candy bar. He had a secret drawer in his home office that also was full of chocolates and candies.

By the time of his encounter with the no-nonsense doctor, the Bettigs were serving out of the Cary office. It was just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. When it set in, Harry and Eileen quarantined themselves and worked from home. Harry saw the lack of social interaction and the diminishing food distractions as an opportunity to take the doctor’s admonishment to heart.

He had an important ally in Eileen. Both were already missionaries when they met – Harry in the Netherlands, Eileen in Paris. They met at a retreat for single missionaries in Paris. Eventually, Harry proposed to Eileen on the Eiffel Tower.

From the beginning, Eileen was concerned for Harry regarding his increasing weight. “Let’s keep an eye on this,” she would say.

Now was the time.

Harry’s first goal was to lose 18 pounds. He did so quickly. He kept at it, and in six months had lost almost 60 pounds.

Harry got there by implementing a five-pronged strategy:

1. Running

The Bettigs already enjoyed walks, particularly around the lake that’s near their apartment. Harry picked up his pace, starting by running for one minute, then walking for one minute. He soon raised that to two minutes of running and two of walking, then reached the point at which he was running more than walking.

Remember, this was during the height of the pandemic.

“Since we were always at home, I’d say, ‘So let’s go running,’” Harry relates.

The paved trail around the lake has handy quarter-mile markers. Harry now can run one and a half miles in one direction and then turn and run the one-and-a-half miles back. He reached the equivalent of a nonstop 5K run.

2. Dietary changes / eating habits

Harry began tracking what he ate and how much.

“He spent a lot of time tracking his calories,” Eileen relates. “In fact, for accountability, he tracked every bite he ate. When he saw the high calories and fat in the food choices, it really flipped the switch for Harry. He continued this for six months. Ask him about his spreadsheet.”

You can make it work for you, Harry says. He makes what he calls “meal salads.” Noticing bad oils and sugars in the salad dressings in stores, Harry started making his own dressing, using good oils and Greek yogurt. When he does buy dressing in stores, he’s picky. A favorite is Paul Newman’s Own Asian Ginger Sesame – 35 calories in 2 tablespoons, Harry reports.

He also learned that slow-churned ice cream has fewer calories.

He cut down drastically on chocolate. The doctor had encouraged him to cut his candy intake in half. Harry went one better, reducing his candy and chocolate intake by 75%.

Harry still has a food drawer, but it’s filled with nuts and tangerines. His daily chocolate consumption is the equivalent of 2 ounces.

Cutting down on serving sizes was hard at first. “That’s a serving of rice – ½ cup!?” Harry remembers exclaiming.

Nonetheless, “I stuck with it.”

3. Intermittent fasting

“Of the five steps, this has been the easiest step to take for me,” Harry says.

What it means is that he generally doesn’t eat after 8 p.m. and doesn’t eat again until noon the next day. The lack of food doesn’t keep him from running a 5K in the morning.

It took about two weeks for his body to adjust to the schedule, but he found it to be simple after that. “It’s easier than you think,” Harry says.

4. Apple cider vinegar

Harry begins every morning with one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. He says he made this choice after researching the health benefits.

5. Green tea

Harry also starts his day with 1 liter of green tea, with no sugar or additives. It’s helpful for hydration, he says.

Results

Harry has run, trained, and developed into a medal-winning runner. In August 2021, Eileen posted this on social media: “I’m proud of my hubby!! He completed his first race yesterday, a 5K charity run. Came in 7th, with a time of 26:56, out of 46 runners, all younger than him.”

Three months later, Eileen posted this: “Proud of my hubby who ran a 5K Turkey Trot today! (He took) first place in the 60-64 male category, with a time of 27:28. It was extra fun because it was around the lake which borders our apartment complex, so I could (cheer) him on at the 1-mile mark and then also at the finish line.”

By the time of his annual checkup, Harry felt great, he says. His doctor was very happy: “Wow, wow, wow, you don’t have to lose weight!” the doctor said. “Normally, I tell people to do this, and no one listens.”

Harry’s blood pressure was getting too low, so the doctor took him off his beta blocker blood pressure medicine.

Two years since the start of his journey, Harry runs four 5Ks weekly and watches his diet – mostly. He has noticed that his 2-ounce candy container has somehow gotten larger. He admits to being creative in how he fills it to the brim. He also noticed that he had started to gain back some of his weight.

Harry shared that he wants to keep his weight at 190 so he doesn’t erase his hard work. Even with some weight gained back, his doctor says Harry is still in the top 3% of people in terms of taking weight off and keeping it off for two years.

As he lost weight, Harry became smaller. His waist size went from a men’s 38 waist to a 33, then stabilized at 34.

“I’m totally fine with less of Harry to hug,” Eileen expressed. “It’s easier to hug him now, and just knowing that he is a more well person makes me happy.”

Bonus tips

An accountability group of TWR men has been a key in Harry’s success. They use WhatsApp to encourage each other. Ralf Stores, also a runner, has been particularly encouraging, Harry says.

“I am so proud of Harry and the journey he has taken toward wellness,” Ralf said in a separate interview. “As we talked about steps to take both in nutrition and physical exercise, Harry enthusiastically embraced the lifestyle habits needed to accomplish his wellness goals. His tenacity has resulted in amazing results that have brought about a wonderful transformation.”

“Do you want to take up running?” asks Harry. “If so, try walking fast for 2 miles, and then try to run for one-minute intervals, and then two minutes. Then build it up to three minutes running and three minutes walking. Then decrease the time you spend walking until you’re running all the time.”

More tips from Harry:
  • Make your own goals.
  • Run a race for fun.
  • Running with a friend can help.
  • Celebrate the milestones.

Harry turned his running into a competition for himself by using that spreadsheet. His spreadsheet lists his 20 fastest times. Another of his goals is to reach 10,000 steps per day. Harry encourages others to “Always be moving more.”

His latest goal was a 5K for 11 days straight and breaking his personal best record of a 26:56 5K.

Meeting the physical challenge has spiritual implications, Harry says. “If I can be disciplined in this area, I can be disciplined in spiritual things as well.” In physical as well as spiritual discipline, accountability matters.

“If no one holds you accountable, it’s easy to get lazy,” Harry says. “I was accountable to Eileen, to the doctor, and my friend Ralf.”


Images: (middle, right) Harry Bettig embarking on one of the pillars of his health journey, running, from April 2020 (left) and November 2020 (right), (bottom, left) Harry and Eileen Bettig pose with Harry's winning trophy at the 'Turkey Trot' after his race. 

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