Craig Kulesza remembers the day that he and his wife Deb received a call that changed their lives. It was early December 2018, and they were driving near their home in northern Michigan. He picked up the call on speaker phone as he usually does in the car, and on the other end was Angie Horjus, a certified health coach from Priority Health.
“She reached out to ask if I would be interested in health coaching, to help with some of my health goals like eating better and being more active.” Craig, a busy Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse for Munson Health Care Grayling, said his interest immediately piqued.
Although he admits he was hesitant at first, Craig said Angie gave him a tool early on in their coaching sessions that was a game changer. “She gave me a couple of books. One called ‘The Hunger Fix’ was a major lightbulb for me. It opened my eyes to what I had been struggling with for so long: food and sugar addiction.”
Craig has a military background, with 12 years active duty in the Navy and Airforce Reserves. Despite staying fit while serving, he says a majority of his life he’s been overweight. “As a kid I was constantly harassed. I dropped a lot of weight being more active in my teen years, and then in the military—being motivated to stay fit was do or die: there is so much responsibility when you can lose your job if you don’t have your weight under control. Once I got out, there wasn’t that strict regimen anymore. I went from 180 to 290 pounds.”
After the military, Craig finished his nursing degree—excited about a career caring for others. He learned about health, of course, but says during years of caring for patients he never put together the connection with the brain and how it functions related to food, how it can be an addiction. Growing up in a family without a lot of money, Craig says he was raised on carbs. Angie listening to his struggle and recommending the book led him to remove sugar from his diet and focus on more plant-based foods: something that’s been key to success reaching his health goals.
“The book she recommended gave me the knowledge that I needed to control the sugar addiction. I am now in more control with Angie‘s weekly guidance and encouragement. Before I was out of control, hiding and seeking out sugar all day. The mental fog has lifted. Sugar is no longer controlling my life.”
And Craig says he couldn’t do it without his wife Deb, who’s been a huge support on this journey with him.
“Since our first call started out on speaker phone, Deb has been part of this with me and we work with Angie as a group. It has become a thing where all three of us talk. We read, discover something and then learn with her each week. My wife has always been in support of my health from diet to exercise. She does 80% of the shopping and cooking, so she’s a major influence of what I put in my body. It’s really been about getting rid of the ‘bad stuff’ in the house and buying fresh, healthy meals. Having her with me is a team effort.”
And Craig says they feel amazing. Both he and Deb are eating better than ever and have added a daily walk they enjoy together to balance exercise with a healthier diet. He’s down 30 pounds and counting, feeling confident he’ll reach his weight goals even while recovering from a recent shoulder surgery following a work injury. Deb has lost weight too, and they’re excited to continue ramping up their fitness as a next goal as they work with their health coach Angie.
“She’s so encouraging, supportive and helpful. We talk every week, she gives us some new knowledge every time. Now it’s time to pick up exercise and drink more water. There’s always a new goal each week.”
Craig notices the positive impact of the health coaching in his daily work. “As an ICU nurse, I’m expected to react quickly. My clarity is better—thinking and reacting quicker. I’ve even incorporated my knowledge into my nursing care, helping patients who are overweight and diabetic. And some of my coworkers have started to follow with the knowledge that I have given them—they are also supporting me as I do them.”
Health Coach Angie Horjus is so proud of the success Craig has made along with Deb just from December to June. “He has such a beautiful story of personal growth and resilience, as well as wonderful success when it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes—and in a short time. Craig and Deb have proven that consistency delivers results. I’m so proud right along with them. I can’t even imagine how sharing his story will inspire others,” she said.
For others who might have health coaching available through their health insurance provider, but are hesitant to try it, Craig encourages them to be open-minded. “Why not open yourself up to one more source? Give it a month—if it doesn’t work, fine. But what I know for sure is that Angie was my epiphany. Without that phone call, none of this would’ve happened.”
Along with his own health goals at home and at work, Craig hopes to help his extended family. “Sharing my story has been rewarding. I come from a family where others struggle with weight, so I’ve been sharing the books and knowledge from Angie with them in the hopes that they can curtail some of their future medical problems.”
As of June 6, Craig was excited to report to Angie that he’s down to his wedding day weight. While he and Deb say they couldn’t have done it without their health coach, Angie says he did the hard work. “We make an amazing team and Deb is a perfect in-home support.”
Craig’s next steps are to continue to surround himself with positive people and good food—and to remember to eat to live, not live to eat. “It’s a daily awareness that I could slip, so I need to understand my triggers and remove myself from them. Eating has become another activity in our culture. I must remember to eat to live, not live to eat.”
If health coaching is something you’re interested in, talk to your HR representative or insurance provider to find out if it is a part of your wellbeing plan. At Priority Health, health coaching is available at no cost to qualifying members. And all health coaches are board certified by the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching (ICHWC), meaning they’ve reached the maximum standard and measure of foundational competencies of health coaching knowledge, training and skills to make them efficient and informed health coaches. Learn more here.