(May 2020 Update: Down 95lbs of fat, gained +20lbs of muscle)
After returning from an indulgent cruise in September 2017, I decided that it was time to work on my health! I was inspired by reading about how my favorite Hollywood star Chris Pratt had lost over 60lbs in 6 months by changing his diet and using a personal trainer. I wanted to be my own Star-Lord! 😉
That decision saved my life.
8 months into my transformation I suffered a stroke and a heart attack. The heart attack was not something I even knew happened at the time! In fact, I truly believe that my previous decision to get into shape helped me get to a place where my body could withstand the stroke and heart attack.
So, I decided that I would share my journey and the steps I took to help me get to where I am now: the best shape of my life!
What I share below may not be the right blueprint for others, but perhaps it will inspire someone to start their own journey.
Invest in your health
When I first decided I needed help, I reached out to a local fitness trainer, with great reviews. When I learned it would cost me $60 an hour to work out with him for 50 minutes, I balked. I thanked him but told him it was far too expensive. We met in person and I decided that it was worth the investment to try working out with him for 16 weeks. That was 16 months ago.
It costs me roughly $600 a month to train, but it has been worth every penny spent. Not just aesthetically, but I probably cut down on the amount spent on medication and future medical bills.
Don’t go on a diet, change your diet
I have tried MANY times to go on a diet. Sometimes I would lose 15lbs and feel great! Then I would gain it back because the diet was just too challenging to maintain. This time I made a change to my diet, instead of going on a diet. What did I change?
I got rid of fast food, fried food, and sweet tea.
I used to grab lunch from Chick-fil-a at least 4 times a week and eat fried food often for dinner. That all changed. Instead of 1 salad a week for dinner and the rest junk, I now eat junk for dinner just once a week and the rest salads.
Find new comfort foods
Now, that doesn’t mean I no longer have any comfort foods.
For lunch, instead of consuming 1,000 calories from Zaxbys or Chick-fil-a, I consume around 500 calories thanks to low carb wraps, with turkey slices, avocado, sugar-free ranch dressing, fat-free shredded cheese, and spinach. I was able to give up delicious fries (460 calories) for veggie straws (140 calories). I now look forward to lunch just as much as I looked forward to Chick-fil-a!
In addition, I married salmon salads. I love em. Healthy, delicious, and inexpensive.
Catch 100 carbs in a net
One of the first changes I was encouraged to undertake was to cut my daily carb intake. Fortunately not to the level that you see with specialized diets such as Atkins or Ketogenic. I was asked to track and keep to 100 net carbs. Net carbs basically allow you to take your normal carb grams and deduct the grams of fiber consumed. So, 120 grams of carbs, minus 20 grams of fiber = 100 net carbs.
That’s all I tracked.
My daily caloric intake would be pretty low (around 1200 to 1400) each day I hit my net 100 carb goal.
I tracked that meticulously for 6 weeks. Then, it became easy to stay in that range. These days, I still look for low-carb meal options (wraps instead of buns, etc).
Don’t make two mistakes in a row
It can be easy to beat yourself up when you indulge in some french fries or a delicious piece of carrot cake. Don’t!
Instead, just make sure your next meal is back on track and healthy. The rule of thumb is to never have two unhealthy meals in a row. If you stick to that mantra, you will lose weight over the long term!
Lose fat, not weight
Did I just say lose weight? Shame on me!
Yes, at the outset my focus was on losing weight. In fact, that was my main focus for about 6 months. However, it has since shifted to losing FAT!
If you focus on losing weight, your scales can be a fickle lover. One day it drops, another day it gains! Grrrrr!
I switched to a body fat scale. Not necessarily the most accurate way of measuring your body fat percentage, but at least consistent. It lets you see how much muscle you have gained and how much body fat you have lost. This is important as you gain muscle. Gaining 5lbs of muscle will make you look leaner than losing 5lbs of fat–heck better than losing 15lbs of fat!
My body fat percentage dropped from 31.4% to 14.8% as of Dec 2018. My ultimate goal is 12%.
Socialize with your exercise
I play a lot of tennis, in addition to my weight training. This not only helps with my cardio needs, but it helps me build social bonds. I have a great bunch of tennis buddies and studies show that the social and physical benefits make tennis one of the best forms of exercise.
In addition, after I signed up with my original trainer, he moved on to a different business (a medical clinic) and handed me over to a new trainer, Perry. We hit it off and he is now one of my best friends. Now, when I pay him, it feels like I am paying into some kind of health fund that covers the costs of me and my friend getting together for my workout and talking about everything from movies to men’s fashion.
Don’t make your workout routine a routine
Another great reason to consider a personal trainer is that they will work hard to justify their expense. Mine changes up my workout EVERY.SINGLE.TIME!
I never really know what my next workout will look like. Sure, he’ll sometimes text me and tell me it will be a “legs day” but the actual exercises we use will be a surprise. A surprise to me and to my muscles!
It can be easy for us to get into a rut when we workout on our own. We use the same exercises each time we workout at home or go to the gym. That’s great initially, but then your muscles just get used to it. Your muscle gains diminish and you and your muscles both get bored. Either head to YouTube each week to find something new to try or hire a personal trainer that keeps things fresh and challenging.
Don’t cheat, kickstart!
Having a “cheat meal” is something many health experts suggest or allow. That phrase needs to be thrown away.
Instead, think of it as a kickstart meal. I am not scientifically inclined enough to explain to you what goes on when you have a day of indulgence, but basically, it revs up your metabolism. Your body can’t believe its luck and so your metabolism ramps up to handle all the yummy calories. When you revert back to your lower carb diet, it takes a few days to realize. That means your metabolism consumes even more calories than you are providing it.
Want an example. EVERY single time I have visited family I used to cringe at the prospect of all the great southern food that would be served for dinner. Yet EVERY single time I returned home to the scales, I lost weight.
My next steps?
I am close to stabilizing my weight…and my closet! (Going from size XL to M means a lot of closet overhauls!)
My next goal is to increase my protein intake to help build more muscle, while still losing a few more pounds of fat. I won’t ever, nor desire to, be ripped, but I do want to get to a sustainable weight and body fat percentage. And there’s one important word in that sentence: sustainable.
The biggest lesson I learned–and passing on–is to make the changes to your diet, workouts, life, that are sustainable. Even if you lost just 5lbs a YEAR, that’s a much better achievement than losing 15lbs in 6 weeks and then gaining it all back in 6 months.
My thanks go to my wonderfully supportive wife, family, and friends. To the medical staff that saved my life. And to God, my creator, my savior, and my Lord.