Mar 21, 2011 6:20 AM by Nichole Larkey & AP
IOTA, La. (AP) - A doctor's office visit 11 years ago served as Molly Clayton's wake-up call. Then a personal chef living in Detroit, she went to see the
doctor for flu-like symptoms. The doctor "started asking me about my family's health
history," Clayton said. "I told him that three of my four grandparents had heart disease combined with diabetes or cancer. The fourth had congestive heart failure ...
"He told me that was the worst family history he'd ever heard in his 30 years of practicing medicine. Then he told me I was a
walking timebomb and I needed to watch my weight and make some
changes or I wouldn't live very long."
Until that time, Clayton thought dying from heart disease or
diabetes was just a part of getting older, especially in south
Louisiana, where it seemed everyone she knew eventually died from
"I was only 23 at the time," she said. "I was scared. I knew
I was overweight. I couldn't even climb a flight of stairs without
being short of breath, and my cholesterol was off the charts, but I
didn't know what to do about it. I remember hiking in Alberta
(Canada), and I couldn't breathe and was sweating."
Clayton had no idea how to change her lifestyle but knew she
didn't want to die young.
"I still wanted to get married and have children," she said.
"I wanted to live a long and happy life, but he told me none of
that would happen if I didn't get control."
Now 40 pounds lighter, Clayton, 34, works as a dietary manager
at a Jennings nursing home twice a week and as an executive chef
preparing heart-healthy pre-prepared meals at her own business the
rest of the week. She also holds healthy cooking classes, helps
with meal planning and gives supermarket tours.
She's also on a personal mission to fight heart disease by
educating others on how to make better eating choices and exercise
"Research shows that 80 percent of the cardiac events in women
are linked to poor choices involving diet, exercise and smoking,"
she said. "It's preventable if you eat healthy, exercise and know
Clayton has been chosen as one of 15 women nationwide to serve
as a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. Her story was
featured in the February issue of Woman's Day magazine
"I am the only one out of the 15 who is not an actual survivor
of a heart event," Clayton said.
But heart disease, diabetes, cancer and being overweight have
always been a part of her family's history.
"My daddy owns a meat market and makes hot cracklins and boudin
every Saturday morning," she said. "That was a hard lifestyle to
change. I love food. I think about it all the time, and people here
(Louisiana) talk about food as if it's a love affair."
With the right mindset, Clayton managed to look at food
differently and is exercising more, and her blood pressure and
cholesterol are under control.
"It's a life commitment," she said.
She's passing that healthy lifestyle on to her husband, Joey,
and their four daughters - 7-year-old twins, a 5-year-old and a
"They already know how to read food labels and what to watch
for," she said. "We talk about sodium, hydrogenated oils and
As a rule, everyone must take at least one bite of everything on
"You have to at least take what we call a `no thank you bite'
at our table," she said. "You try it at least once, then if you
don't like it, you say no thank you. Sometimes they like it."
Even her friends and father - a colon cancer survivor - are
eating healthier, and her mom - a breast cancer survivor - has quit
She and her husband also recently began the American Heart
Association's Go Red BetterU, a 12-week online nutrition and