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Bearden: Pastor's wife preaches healthy living

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 08:18 AM

It happens like clockwork this time every year.

My evil twin, Pillsbury Dough Girl, takes over my mind and invades my body.

She encourages me to eat with reckless abandon over the holidays, as if empty calories are suspended in November and December. Psst … those cookies don't really count, not if they're homemade and Christmas music is playing in the background! (Not sure of the logic here, but it works every time).

Or she gets into my head in the early morning hours. Aw, you can skip spinning today. You need to reserve some energy to shop at the mall tonight!

I can't even ditch her at weekend parties. Dough Girl never takes a break. So have another eggnog. Eggs are good for you!

By the time January rears its ugly head, my pants don't button and my usually toned arms look like kielbasas. The fat clothes in my closet are moved to the front. I'm sluggish and irritable.

Cyvonne Davy knows the feeling.

Years ago, the petite woman ballooned up after carrying twins. One of the infants was stillborn, an anguish that added to her physical woes. Before long, Davy was 50 pounds over her normal weight, which fluctuated between 95 and 105 pounds.

Not only did she feel outright lousy, the extra weight also made her asthma worse. As a registered nurse, she knew the importance of eating right and exercising regularly. And yet, she had fallen into the same bad habits that plague so many of us.

So Davy laced up her running shoes and hit the streets.

"I started with walking, moved up to jogging and eventually started running," Davy says. "The more I exercised the better lung capacity I had. I started paying attention to my diet and the pounds started coming off." In three months, she was back to a reasonable weight and no longer suffered from asthma attacks.

A couple of decades later, Davy, 55, has done more than keep the weight off. She's now a tireless advocate for healthy living.

"I struggle like anyone else," she admits. "But I've educated myself on what's right and what works. You start with baby steps and you go from there."

Davy is the "first lady" of New Life Tabernacle in Seffner. She and her pastor husband of 35 years, Daniel, founded the United Pentecostal church 20 years ago, and now lead a congregation of 2,300 on a 26-acre property.

She first took her message to the congregation. It's a pretty simple one: If your body is a temple as the Bible says, then it's time to take those words seriously. She's organized healthy cooking classes and health screenings, works one-on-one with members on individualized fitness plans and leads periodic "Daniel fasts," a 40-day regimen of fruits and vegetables. Church members also maintain an organic garden on the property.

"She's our Michelle Obama," says member Regina Pointer, comparing Davy to the country's first lady, also an advocate of healthy living. "She cares for people and is willing to go the extra mile to ensure their success without any hidden agenda. She has authentic love and compassion for people."

She came up with an idea that builds fellowship and burns calories. On any given day, you can see people walking purposely together around the church – before work, at lunchtime and in the early evening hours. Do it six times, Davy says, and you've just walked a mile. How easy is that?

Choosing an activity you actually enjoy is vital. For Davy, exercise includes spinning classes, yoga and running. She and her husband – who has diabetes and high blood pressure (both run in his family) – also work out at the local YMCA on a regular basis. When it comes to diet, she tries to maintain a 1,600-calorie daily intake – and "you better believe those calories are healthier now."

"It's more about sensible eating for me. I don't crave sugar and white flour anymore," she says. "If I'm eating pancakes, they're going to be oatmeal protein pancakes. And I do a lot of juicing these days."

Now Davy is taking her campaign out of the pews and into the public realm. On Thursday, New Life Tabernacle will partner with Brandon Regional Hospital in the first of a series called "Our Community, Our Health." The free evening program includes a presentation by a dietician on eating healthy; a physician's report on conditions and treatments for ear, nose and throat; a behavior specialist speaking on managing stress and depression; and stretching techniques by a local chiropractor.

The program reflects Davy's belief that physical health is just one part of a three-prong equation. She preaches the importance of good mental and spiritual health as well.

"Mind, body and spirit are all connected," she says. When she takes her morning run, she uses that time to meditate and work on her spiritual life.

Pointer told me that Davy's dedication to health, nutrition and fitness is an inspiration to the congregation. I must admit that I felt the good vibe, too. By the end of our interview, I was packing Pillsbury Dough Girl's bags and bidding her farewell. Here's hoping it's a permanent goodbye.

This is a dangerous time of year. We're all fired up to make resolutions that we never end up keeping. So this time around, I'm going to try the Cyvonne Davy approach. Be sensible, be diligent and be aware. Pay attention to those three key components, and understand how they all connect.

And most of all, don't forget: It's all about baby steps. This body didn't bulk up overnight. Let's see if patience and perseverance pays off.

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