I sat for a long time thinking of a good title. A title that would pop, lead you in, prepare you for a story that just may change your life. This is Josh’s story. It’s a story of his life: the struggles and triumphs that make him who he is. He quotes it best “Your past does not define you, it prepares you”. This is his victory over poor health and raw realizations throughout his weight loss journey. Josh has been a dear friend of mine for almost 30 years…seriously we’re getting old! I asked him to write his story because I think it will make an impact on you, my readers. Little did we know it may have made an impact on him as well…
Fat, plump, stout, overweight, chubby, heavyset, husky. To some, these words are just simple adjectives. To others, including me, these words are hurtful and demeaning. Looking back now, while all of those words may have been an accurate description of who I was on the outside, it was far from who I was on the inside.
I think it all began as a child when I was first introduced to “husky” jeans. It’s the earliest memory I have of being, uh, husky. I mean, can there be anything, at that age, more demeaning than having to wear special jeans? Jeans that were designed for kids who are overweight or, worse yet, the more innocent sounding, “big-boned.” Like anyone with some sort of dysfunction, being overweight meant needing special accommodations. Take, for example, the need for a seat belt extender on an airplane or the embarrassing big-and-tall section at department stores. Or, in my opinion, even worse than special accommodations is the humiliation of getting picked last for sports, being stared at, realizing you don’t fit in the rollercoaster seat and so many other hurtful realities associated with being overweight. All realities of my life growing up fat. Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling
For me, being overweight was a lifestyle. As I grew older, it became who I was. I had convinced myself that I would be fat my entire life. That I would always need some sort of special treatment to get by. And, truth be told, hearing or reading the word fat strikes as many emotional chords today as it did each and every time I heard it growing up. I even convinced myself that I was “functionally” fat. Which, to me, meant that I was still able to participate in sports just like skinny people did so I didn’t have to worry about my weight. Looking back, I was doing just that, participating, not competing. It was the “forever fat” mindset that allowed my weight to balloon to 315lbs. And 315 is when I stopped weighing myself! The scale became a horrifying experience. One that could easily be avoided. My BMI was nearly 40. I was pre-diabetic, at risk for a stroke, and had high cholesterol. I was 33 years old and, at that rate, seeing 50 years of age was tough to imagine. I mean, let’s face reality, how many morbidly obese senior citizens do you know? It just wasn’t going to happen. I feared the worst. I feared death.
Through grade school and college I was constantly reminded of how overweight I really had become. And while there were hurtful comments directed at me those comments weren’t the most troubling reminders. No, the most troubling reminders were embarrassing moments when everyone is watching. All fat people experience these moments. For most, and many a times for me, these moments brought on utter humiliation which resulted in binge eating to fight the depression. Allow me to share with you two such moments in my life. The first moment happened very early on in grade school. It’s a moment that every fat kid has nightmares about and happens in the last place a fat kid wants to be – gym class. What could be worse than gym class? You’re asked to do physical things you can’t do. You’re asked to change in front of other classmates. It’s just an all around bad situation. But the moments from gym class that I recall quite vividly are the times we all circled around the dreaded rope and were asked to climb it. How the hell was a fat kid supposed to climb a rope? Of course, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t climb the rope. I couldn’t climb the rope in front of the entire class. The fat kid was unable to climb the rope.
The second moment in my life came when I was a bit older. It’s another one of those times that every fat person dreads – not being able to fit into a seat. See, up to this point, I didn’t really have those problems. Ya know, fitting in a chair, getting into a car, or getting out of bed. But, my life of obesity changed when, after standing in line for hours, I was unable to get the lap bar on the rollercoaster to lock into place and was forced to take the walk of shame while everyone watched. What an utterly embarrassing situation.
The reality of my situation was harsh. Frankly, although I had convinced myself that I was “functionally fat,” I was nothing more than a fat person with fat person problems. I couldn’t fit into seats. I had a hard time getting out of bed, tieing my shoes, using the steps. And, doing anything related to exercise was nearly impossible. Push-ups, situps, pull-ups, climbing a rope, you name it, I wasn’t able to do it. These harsh realities became my realities and I struggled to see a way out.
The Magic Pill
Some reading this story may be thinking I was just plain lazy. That’s not entirely false. I mean, I was lazy. I spent a great deal of time figuring out how to do things with the least amount of energy possible. I approached many daily tasks that way. It was this inherent laziness that kept me on the search for the “magic pill.” Yes, the magic pill. The easy way out. The Holy Grail of weight loss. If you’ve ever seen a commercial marketing a weight loss program, supplement or surgery you know what I’m talking about. It’s the solution to the “fat” problem that requires the least amount of effort, or at least that’s how it’s marketed. Take a pill and the fat will melt away. Eat these perfectly packaged meals and watch the number on the scale drop. Use this machine for only 15 minutes a day and you’ll have rock hard abs by summer.
I fell into the magic pill trap quite a long time ago. The search for the perfect fad diet or supplement became almost like a job for me. I can still remember the first supplement – HydroxyCut. At the time, HydroxyCut was being sold with ephedra. The HydroxyCut commercials were very convincing. The before and after photos were jaw dropping. The marketing tugged on all of my heart strings. It wasn’t long after seeing those commercials that I was convinced I had found what I was looking for. The solution to my obesity problem! But, by day 2, I was jittery, my heart rate was high, I had a debilitating headache and was nauseous. Those were just the physical effects. The effects internally of long-term use were made public in 2004 following the banning of the substance by the FDA. Fortunately, for me, I stopped using the product after day 2. For the next five years, even after my horrible experience with HydroxyCut, I purchased a variety of other supplements designed to aid in weight loss. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of these; raspberry ketones, green coffee bean extract, green tea extract, and the list goes on. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the numerous colon cleansing products, meal replacements and the infamous juice fasting routines. I spent the better part of ten years looking for the magic pill. It was the last one I purchased that was the most extreme, the most damaging. I bought into the idea of placing 10 HCG drops into water and drinking it three times a day. That was the easy part. The hard part, you ask? The hard part was limiting yourself to 500 calories a day for eight weeks! I did it. As a matter of fact, I did it for 12 weeks. I lost nearly 40 pounds. Success! No, not success. Let’s face it, anyone can lose weight if you eat a mere 500 calories a day. The weight loss, however, took a backseat to the fatigue and loss of muscle I suffered. I wasted thousands of dollars and thousands of hours looking for a magic pill. And, looking back now, why did I think searching for the magic pill would be easier, or cheaper, than just exercising?
Believe me when I say this, there isn’t a magic pill. It doesn’t exist, in any form.
The Turning Point
The HCG took a huge toll on my body. My muscles had deteriorated and my energy levels were low. I lost 40lbs the wrong way. However, It was losing those 40 pounds that motivated me to join a gym and pursue a personal trainer. I wanted to learn how to train the right way. Through this new found motivation, I trained three times a week and even set a goal to compete in the upcoming Tough Mudder. But, while I always set goals, they didn’t really mean much to me. They didn’t mean much because I rarely put in enough effort to achieve those goals. Which meant constant failure. This time, however, failure wasn’t an option. Failure this time meant letting others down, not just myself. See, I had shared with most of my family and friends that I was signed up for the Tough Mudder. That I was training for it. I guess it was that new system of accountability that helped me push through. In August of 2013, I competed in the Tough Mudder. It was physically the hardest thing I had ever done. But, completing it gave me hope that I was capable of living a healthy lifestyle.
For years following the Tough Mudder, I let an unhealthy diet creep back into my life. And while I maintained my gym membership, attendance was infrequent and, at times, nonexistent. What’s the old adage? Old habits, die hard! Yeah, that’s it. While old habits came back, so did my weight. By December of 2015, I had gotten used to seeing 290lbs on the scale. I was once again grappling with high blood pressure, being pre-diabetic and having borderline high cholesterol.
When I agreed to write this story I never imagined how difficult it would be. After all, it’s my life and I was present for each moment. Well, so I thought. As it turns out, there were many memories that had completely escaped me until now. I really had to face my demons when I began to unravel the reasons why I gained weight after competing in the Tough Mudder. Sure, I was consuming a lot of unhealthy food. My wife and I would eat out frequently. Order in frequently. Pizza, wings, pasta, bread – you name it, we ate it. She ate in normal-sized portions and I ate in whatever sized portion I wanted to. And, while that kind of diet is what primarily is to blame for my weight gain, it’s what I ate when my wife wasn’t around that I’m the most ashamed of. I spent many a days driving through McDonald’s alone. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, there were many times I wouldn’t even tell my wife that I ate McDonald’s. Now, you might ask, what’s the big deal with that? The big deal is that my addiction to food had gotten so bad that I was eating a McDonald’s combo meal shortly before eating dinner with my wife. It’s a sad, depressing place to be in.
The years following the Tough Mudder were a rollercoaster of emotions. I was on and off “diet” plans. These were mostly food plans designed to make sure you were eating properly. And, while I may have been eating what was suggested, it wasn’t the only thing I was eating. I combined my yo-yo dieting with infrequent trips to the gym. After all, the gym really was the last thing I could hold on to. I wasn’t far from giving up on it too, honestly. However, one morning, while attempting to keep myself motivated at the gym, I decided to try something new – boxing. By the time I stopped, I noticed I had been punching the bag for more than 20 minutes. I was drenched in sweat and out of breath. It was the hardest I had worked in years. I was unable to figure out where the motivation had come from. But, each time that I returned to the gym, I would put on the gloves and punch the bag. I looked forward to it. And, while I was enjoying punching the bag, I can tell you I really had no idea what I was doing. It was definitely out of my comfort zone. If you’ve never punched a bag before, you should know that it attracts a lot of attention. I had finally found something I enjoyed doing but was horrified at the thought of others watching me.
I don’t really know what it was about the boxing that gave me such a rush. Maybe it was that it was the first time that I felt like I was sticking up for myself. That I was learning to defend myself. That rush is what kept me doing it time after time after time. I had come to enjoy boxing so much that instead of just simply punching the bag, I wanted to learn how to do it the right way. I sought out a personal trainer whose expertise was not only in boxing but also in training the entire body to become a fat burning, muscle building machine. Suddenly, losing weight, eating right, and exercising became fun. Weight was falling off and muscle was piling on. I was more motivated than ever before. All of the pieces of the puzzle were starting to fit. I had experienced each piece before but not all at once. This time was different.
Time was flying by and I had reached a number on the scale that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I was 215lbs and I was down to 22% body fat. I was in the best shape of my life. Before I even had a moment to stop and think about it, I had been at it for almost a year. I had learned more about dieting and exercising in that year than I had in the first 33 years of my life. Allow me to share with you what I believe were the reasons I was so successful this time around, in no particular order:
- Food should be used as a fuel source, not as something we run to when we are depressed.
- What I ate became more important than how much I ate. When you focus on a proper breakdown of macronutrients and use food for energy your workouts and daily life, the amount of food becomes irrelevant. Why? Because it is nearly impossible to get all of the proper nutrients that you need AND eat all of the bad foods that got us in trouble in the first place.
- It is absolutely impossible to out-exercise diet. My advice to you is this. You could put in hours upon hours at the gym each week but if you gorge on pizza, hamburgers and hot wings you’ll never get ahead. Never!
- A system of accountability comprised of those close to you is critical at a time like this. Let’s face it. You are trying to transform the way you look, feel, eat and exercise. You can’t do it alone. You need people to compliment on your improved appearance. You need them to understand you when you order a salad at dinner, or say no when asked if you want to go out for drinks. You want them to understand how important exercise has become to your daily routine and that sometimes it’s more important to be healthy than it is to be seen at a bar.
- Weight loss is far from linear. There will be many times throughout this journey that you will step on the scale and you’ll be disappointed that you didn’t lose weight. Ask yourself these questions when that happens. Did I give it my all during my workouts? Did I properly fuel my body without exceptions? If your answer is yes to both of these questions, don’t worry, the scale will go down. If you wavered at all thinking about your diet and exercise, fix it, and get back on track.
- Saying no to our favorite foods is really hard. When I first started my journey it was very hard to give up on my favorite foods. I had a strong relationship with food that spanned decades and those habits would be hard to break. Why work hard at losing weight and then sabotage your progress with bad choices? My advice? Make saying no a challenge. You are already challenging yourself to exercise more and workout harder, so why not challenge yourself to say no. Make it a game. Compete with yourself and others. Each time you see someone else go for that third slice of pizza, ask yourself if that’s who you are. Define yourself differently and watch how easy saying no becomes.
- A magic pill for weight loss doesn’t exist. Pills, powders, drops and cleanses aren’t magic pills. You can’t take these things and watch the fat melt away. The only solution to losing weight is proper diet and exercise. Stop looking for the easy way out! You are wasting time and money.
- Working out with intensity is supposed to be uncomfortable. Especially, if it’s not something your body is used to doing. Most of my life, I was either sedentary or had worked out with little result. It came as no surprise to me that the more uncomfortable the workout the better the results. Pretty soon, being uncomfortable subsided and I realized that I was redefining who I was and what I was capable of.
While it may seem to some that I started boxing and all of the sudden I lost weight and became healthy, that isn’t the case at all. What happened was a perfect storm. I had found the right trainer who was willing to take my failures and successes personal. My training was a combination of resistance, cardio and functional training. This mixture avoided the monotony I was used to when training alone. Having a trainer who was just as invested as I was meant knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to quit, like I had so many times before. I had reached all new limits of mind and body. I was lifting heavy weight. I was running. I was splitting time between the gym and the trainer. Once I realized that my body was capable and my mind was willing, good diet and productive workouts became who I was. I had a thirst for more. I wanted to be better than the last time I worked out. I wanted to be stronger than the last time I lifted weights. It was this burning desire that kept me motivated and coming back for more.
Writing this story has truly been a blessing to me. It has given me time to reflect not only on the last few years but on my entire life. Being healthy isn’t easy. I truly believe that each person has to have a defining moment that snaps them back into reality. That moment that helps you to realize three things: 1. You are truly killing yourself slowly with your unhealthy lifestyle, 2. That a combination of diet and exercise is the only proven method to regaining control of your life, and 3. That if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do things you’ve never done. For some, these realities come too late or not at all. I sincerely hope that my story motivates you to realize that your time is now. That it is time for you to take back control of your life. That it is time to redefine who you are!
Your Past Does Not Define You, It Prepares You!
If you would like to contact Josh, please leave a comment below.