Counting calories before surgery: Terry's story

Terry Thomas set about trying to lose weight in preparation for heart bypass surgery. He explains how his weight loss brought unexpected gains.

Terry Thomas preparing food

In 2004, Terry Thomas, from Daventry, had a heart attack. “I was lecturing at a college at the time,” he  says. “I actually had a heart attack in front of a class of students, which wasn’t particularly pleasant for them.”

He started taking beta blockers and didn’t experience any further health problems, so he didn’t make any lifestyle changes.

When he turned 65, Terry retired and became less active as he gave up his twice-weekly gym sessions. His weight crept up from around 14 stone to more than 15 stone.

Setting a weight loss target

In February 2016, Terry, then aged 70, was walking home after watching a rugby match. “There is a fairly steep hill, which had never been a problem in the past,” he says. “But that night, I couldn’t get up the hill. I had pain in my chest, I felt really ill.”

The surgeon said I’d be in much better condition to tolerate the anaesthetic, I’d recover quicker and the end result would be a lot better

The symptoms didn’t mirror his heart attack, so Terry thought it would pass. But the next day, he was still in pain and went to hospital. He discovered he needed quadruple heart bypass surgery and was told losing weight would improve the outcome.

“The surgeon said I’d be in much better condition to tolerate the anaesthetic, I’d recover quicker and the end result would be a lot better,” says Terry.

With a couple of months until his surgery, Terry set himself a target of losing 1kg (2lb) per week. “I worked in engineering all my life, so I’m quite methodical,” says Terry. “I made a spreadsheet, then every time we made a meal we weighed everything and I knew every single calorie that went in my mouth. My wife is a wonderful person and she checked the labels of everything we bought.”

Terry gave up sugary foods and butter and swapped to low-fat versions of other foods. “There were times when I really fancied a nice bit of cheddar rather than the low-calorie, low-fat stuff, but you get used to it pretty quickly,” he says.

Terry Thomas on his bike

Trying new dishes and enjoying a new lifestyle

With the help of his wife, Tina, he searched out healthy recipes to try. Pastry, red meat and chips were out, replaced by leaner meats and plenty of vegetables. “I eat more fish than I used to,” Terry says. “We now eat vegetarian chillies and I love stir-fries – I never had stir-fries before!”

Terry lost weight steadily, dropping more than two stone before his operation. He found extra benefits came with his weight loss. “It helped reduce my breathlessness,” he says. “I also stopped snoring!”

I don't deprive myself of anything. If I go out, I enjoy myself, but I’m a bit more careful about what I eat

He recovered well from the bypass and attended a six-week cardiac rehab course, which helped him get active again. Terry now walks or cycles most days and does a weekly exercise class especially for heart patients.

“I’m back at the level of activity I was at before I retired,” he says. “It’s great. I feel wonderful after a session.”

Terry is determined to enjoy his new lifestyle and that means the occasional treat. “I don’t deprive myself of anything,” he says. “If I go out, I enjoy myself, but I’m a bit more careful about what I eat.”

With his new routines established, Terry relaxed his calorie counting – he still eats healthily, but doesn’t need his spreadsheet any more. He says: “Just focus on living a healthy lifestyle and the weight loss will come as a side effect.”

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