By Jessica Park
Phyliss has been a Boone Hospital nurse for 36 years, 14 of which she spent caring for patients in the emergency department. Fourteen years ago, she moved to the admissions department and also works in the GI lab and infusion and treatment center.
While she enjoyed her new position, it was a change of pace. Phyliss says, “After I stopped working in the emergency department and went to admissions, I did a lot more sitting. That’s when I gained most of my weight.”
In 2000, Phyliss was hospitalized and diagnosed with a health condition that could be managed by maintaining a healthy weight. “I knew I needed to do something,” she says. “I had that motivation to lose weight, but I still had to realize that I wanted to do it.”
That moment came in August 2015, when Phyliss and some coworkers participated in BJC’s Healthy Wage weight loss competition. As team captain, Phyliss was determined not to let her team down.
“We all held each other accountable,” she says. “We had our weekly weigh-ins. When I saw the scale begin to drop and that I was 3 or 4 pounds ahead of everyone else — I’m quite the competitor — I thought ‘OK, I’ve got this!’”
Phyliss’s weight loss plan was simple; she doesn’t count calories but watches her fat intake, usually staying between 9 and 12 grams a day, and walks 5 to 10 miles every day. To help her stay on track with her exercise, she bought a Fitbit.
“It was the best investment ever,” she says. “I don’t know why everyone doesn’t have one. I’d rather leave a lung at home than leave my Fitbit!”
The final rule in her plan: No rules on Sundays.
“Sunday is my cheat day,” Phyliss says. “I don’t exercise, and I eat whatever I want.”
Phyliss doesn’t eliminate all of the things she enjoys, like her daily caramel macchiato, made with skim milk and sugar-free syrup, from Boone Appétit Café. “I love that I can have my favorite drink and not feel guilty about it,” she says. “It’s my daily pleasure.”
Since August, Phyliss has gone from wearing a size 18 dress to a size 6. She enjoys getting new clothes and giving older items to friends as her size changes. She says, “Keeping large clothes in my closet is an excuse for me to not be diligent about keeping up my journey.”
Phyliss credits her success to the support she receives from coworkers and friends. Her workweek step challenges have inspired others to buy Fitbits (“It became the hot new accessory in admissions,” Phyliss says.) She also organizes health and wellness and fitness activities at her church.
“In my opinion, to be able to do what God wants you to do and to give your best, you need to have your body in the best shape as possible,” Phyliss says.
For about the last five years, Phyliss has led Soul Walks on Monday and Tuesday evenings with members of her church, Second Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Columbia. The walks are held in Stephens Lake Park during the warmer months and indoors at Parkade Plaza if the weather’s not as nice. Before they walk, the group says a prayer. Participants walk as many laps as they are able, at their own pace. Everyone is encouraged to join, at every level of fitness.
“Some of them leave me in the dust,” she says. “I can’t keep up with some of them! But we’ve also had a senior lady on a walker who did two laps with us. The point is that these people recognize ‘No matter where I am, I can do something.’”
About 20 years ago, Phyliss helped found and presently co-chairs the Health and Wellness Ministry at Second Missionary Baptist Church. Founded 150 years ago by African-Americans in Columbia, the church celebrated its milestone anniversary this year by performing 150 acts of kindness. These acts included partnering with other churches to provide health screenings to their congregations and offering to help them set up their own wellness programs.
Two nurse practitioners and five nurses, including Phyliss, serve on the Health and Wellness Ministry’s board. The program has been recognized by many for its pioneering work in Boone County to address health disparities among African-Americans.
Phyliss says that church is an ideal place to do health outreach: “Church is where we all come together as a group and it’s where we see the greatest disparities. So we take a moment during the service to educate our folks, because there are going to be people at higher risk for hypertension, heart disease or diabetes. Most of it is preventable. We’ve received testimonials where people say, ‘I didn’t know I had high blood pressure. I came to your screening, you told me about it, and I went right to my doctor.’ I love that we touch so many lives.”
In addition to monthly health screens, which provide blood pressure, blood sugar checks and health counseling, the ministry also hosts special educational sessions, including a Pink Sunday in October for breast cancer awareness and Blue Sunday in November for prostate cancer awareness. The sessions encourage church members to recognize risk factors symptoms and to get recommended screenings.
Friendship and fellowship play a big role in Phyliss’s fitness journey. Her coworkers celebrated her announcement as Boone Hospital Center’s 2016 Health Hall of Fame winner by presenting her with a balloon bouquet and apples. She appreciates the support from her Boone family for her nutrition and fitness goals.
Phyliss and winners from other BJC hospitals received the royal treatment at Busch Stadium, where she saw a Cardinals game from a box at the stadium and, she says, got a great new salad recipe. She later attended a celebratory luncheon in St. Louis.
Phyliss’s current fitness goals are to lose a few last pounds and to work toward participating in a marathon. “I have no reason why I can’t!” she says.
When asked what she would tell someone starting their own fitness journey, Phyliss says her basic advice is to start slow. “First, figure out why you need to get fit. If you do it just because somebody told you to, you won’t be committed to it.”
It’s also important not to get discouraged: “If you did great yesterday but not so good today, tomorrow you get to start all over again. None of us got overweight in a day, so none of us are going to get fit in a day!”