Ronald Szopa
Diabetic wants to lose weight, be an active dad

Daily Herald Health Writer

Ron Szopa knows how to read a Nutrition Facts label. He just never really bothered.

“I figured if it was Lean Cuisine, it was OK,” Szopa said.

It turns out there’s a wide range of calories and carbohydrate in various brands of healthy-sounding frozen entrees. Some have a puny 190 calories, others 350. Carb counts range from 13 grams to 60.

For a diabetic, the difference can be important in maintaining steady blood sugar. So now trips to the grocery store mean standing in front of the freezer case long enough to feel a chill in his toes.

“This is not about you being on a diet,” said registered dietitian Julie Nordan at Sherman Hospital in Elgin. “This is for life.”

Szopa, a 52-year-old attorney, wants to lose 30 pounds by June, when his wife, Jamie, is expecting their first child.

Szopa was diagnosed with diabetes last year and wants to improve his health so he can be a more active father. Part of his plan is eating a healthy frozen entree every day for lunch — an improvement over the heavy restaurant meals he used to favor. But he has to choose the right meals.

Nordan recommended Szopa look for entrees with 250 to 300 calories and 30 grams to 45 grams of carbohydrates for lunch. If his entree is on the lower end of the scale, he should add a piece of fruit or a container of yogurt.

Szopa was already doing a lot of good things. For breakfast, he eats an egg-white omelet with vegetables and a piece of toast. He has an orange or apple as a morning snack. Since he made his New Year’s resolution, Szopa has tried to reduce his portion sizes at dinner.

Nordan suggested Szopa add more fruits and vegetables to his diet. He should slow down when he eats. She also suggested he portion out his evening snack; instead of sitting down with an entire bag of licorice, he should count out a single serving and put the bag back on the shelf. So now he lets Jamie hand out the snacks.

“She kind of hides the bag so I don’t know where it is,” he said. The couple has been purchasing pre-made meals from Dinner by Design, which packages their dinners in three-serving sizes. With few leftovers, Szopa has an easier time sticking to proper portions. “When it’s gone, it’s gone,” Szopa said.

They’re also eating more vegetables at dinner, and Szopa has brought more fruit to eat at work during the day. He’s trying to eat more slowly and says it helps him feel more satisfied. Szopa will need all his tricks later this month, when he and his wife are going for one last pre-baby vacation to Jamaica. The resort is all-inclusive, which means all-you-can-eat buffets. “I’m gearing myself up,” he said. “It would be a shame to backslide when things are going so well.”