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Airline Pilot Trades Obesity for New Adventures Thanks to Functional Medicine

Airline pilot Bob Ward knows the best restaurants in France, Italy and Switzerland. But his favorite place is in Germany, where for years he has enjoyed great schnitzel and other “old-world” cuisine.

After 35 years of flying (and eating) around the world, Bob was nearly 100 pounds overweight. Although he “carried it well,” there was no denying that his adventurous eating combined with hours of sitting in a cockpit and years of erratic sleep contributed to an unhealthy lifestyle.

“Everyone gets to a point when they grab the reins of their health,” says Bob. “For me, it was in early 2020, when my wife died of cancer. That was the seminal event that got me rethinking how I was living.”

Soon after, in March 2020, Bob hired a personal health coach and started learning about functional medicine — using good nutrition and other healthy behaviors as therapy. He began reading books and listening to podcasts by functional medicine expert Mark Hyman, MD.

“When I heard that Dr. Hyman was at the Center for Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, I had another epiphany,” says Bob, who lives outside of Youngstown, Ohio. “Here was an expert I trusted at a medical center I trusted, at the moment I was ready to adopt a new lifestyle.”

In November 2020, Bob began Functioning for Life® shared medical appointments through the center. Once a week for 10 weeks, he and five other patients met virtually, on Zoom, to learn how functional medicine could help them better manage their weight and their life. Each session was one to two hours long, with instruction by functional medicine physicians or advanced practice providers, dietitians and health coaches — and plenty of group interaction.

“It wasn’t just a lecture about how to lose weight, it was about how to apply that knowledge to your own life,” says Bob. “And that’s different for everybody, whether you’re a retiree, a busy mom or an airline pilot like me who cooks at home only one day a week.”

Patients get individualized support and communicate with members of their care team throughout the 10-week program, adds Elizabeth P. Bradley, MD, MS, Medical Director of the Center for Functional Medicine.

“However, some of the program’s most valuable information comes from the participants,” she says. “Everyone shares their personal experiences and what has worked for them. Over the weeks, the group bonds, which makes the program so much more effective than individual appointments or one-on-one coaching.”

For Bob, the change began with trading schnitzel for lean protein like fish, and starchy dumplings for sauerkraut. He stopped eating grains and sugar.

“I never knew that all my favorite restaurants served salads!” says Bob. “I look at different sections of the menu now. Eating healthier has not been disappointing. It may cost a little more, but I’d rather spend money on healthy food than on living with chronic obesity.”

He began making fun exercise a priority. Instead of limiting his international excursions to dining out, he began walking. Less time in restaurants meant more time for other activities.

“Functioning for Life fine-tuned my lifestyle and accelerated my weight loss,” says Bob, who has lost 65 pounds in 11 months. He has 25 more to lose to reach his goal weight, 190 pounds.

He says his stamina and mental clarity have greatly improved since his lifestyle change. And he is taking full advantage of his renewed fitness, agility and balance.

“When your weight is what it should be, there are more life experiences available to you,” he says. “You’re more comfortable doing things when you’re not obese.”

That includes surfing, which Bob does frequently during layovers in Hawaii. When he returns home, it’s time for skiing with family and friends in New York.

“I used to think that losing weight required sacrificing the best parts of life,” says Bob. “I envisioned being the guy in the corner at parties, eating only celery sticks and drinking only seltzer water. That’s not what I’ve experienced, though. Losing weight has helped me regain the parts of life I was missing.”

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