By Dan Meyers, as told to Stephanie Watson
I've always thought of high cholesterol as a problem that unhealthy people have -- those who don't eat well or exercise. But good health has been a part of my life since I was a kid. My mom and stepdad are both extremely healthy. In high school, my friends would tease me because I refused to eat at McDonald's.
Yet despite my best efforts, my cholesterol has always been high. It's consistently in the 215, 220 range. It must be genetic, because my mom also has high cholesterol.
When my doctor first told me how high my cholesterol was, I laughed. He said, "You need to change up your diet." "Really?" I replied. At the time I was training for a bodybuilding competition and eating nothing but chicken and broccoli. I knew my diet wasn't the source of my cholesterol problem.
My doctor wanted to put me on a cholesterol-lowering drug, but I’m not a big fan of taking medication. I won't even take ibuprofen for a headache. But my diagnosis did reinforce for me the importance of eating healthy and staying active. And an experiment with a new diet quickly made me realize that I can't take any risks with my health.
The Keto Challenge
I get bored pretty easily, including with my diet. Sometimes I like to try new things. A few years ago, I went on the keto diet, just to see how my body would react. There are a few doctors in my wife's family, and they were a little worried about me going on a diet so high in fat. Once I'd been on the diet for a while, they suggested that I see a doctor. So I went to Penn Medicine to have my cholesterol level checked out.
My cholesterol had jumped to 480. My doctor was astonished by it, and so was I. It was as if I'd been eating a pack of bacon at every meal. They did a bunch of tests to try to figure out what was going on.
The doctor said he'd seen a case like mine only once before. He came to the conclusion that I'm a hyper-absorber. Where most people absorb only a small percentage of cholesterol from the food they eat, my body was absorbing most of the cholesterol. So if I were to eat 40 grams of saturated fat a day, my body would absorb most of those 40 grams.
I decided to get off the keto diet and go back to my previous healthy diet. Soon after, my cholesterol dropped back down to 220.
My Typical Day
I try to be smart about the way I eat. Each day I'll get about 30 grams of carbohydrates, 30 grams of protein, and 10 or less grams of fat.
My diet is pretty basic and boring, but it's healthy. Breakfast is usually oatmeal with blueberries and pecans or walnuts. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes, quinoa, chicken, and fish. Maybe twice a month I'll have a steak. I eat about once every 4 hours throughout the day to keep my metabolism going.
I'm also consistent about exercise. I wake up around 5 every morning and bike for 20 minutes before getting on with my day. Then at the end of the day, at least five times a week, I'll do a higher-intensity workout with weights.
My wife and I are very active in general. We live in Florida, and we spend a lot of time outdoors. We like to go hiking and paddleboarding in our free time.
Staying on the Level
It was concerning to me when my doctor told me that my cholesterol had jumped to 480. That's very, very high. Because of my genes, I don't expect that I'll ever get it down to a completely normal level, but I've been doing everything I can to make sure that it doesn't go any higher than 220.
Now that I'm in my 30s, I know how essential eating well and staying active are for my health. At this point in my life, I just want to be healthy and mobile, and live a long life.