Growing up, I was always big. My parents owned a corner grocery with a large candy section, and I’d walk in and help myself to whatever I wanted — sweets, candy bars, and more. I established a lot of bad eating habits. Aside from school recess periods, I didn’t exercise at all.
By seventh grade, I was 280 pounds. And I just kept getting bigger.
I ate at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or Burger King every day. At home, I’d ask my mom to fix steak and French fries for dinner. I was drinking up to six liters of soda daily.
By the time I was 18, I weighed 410 pounds and was so out of shape that I’d be out of breath walking across the room. I often sat down in chairs only to have them collapse under me. I also broke three beds.
I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know where to start. I tried diets and managed to stick to them for a few weeks or a month, and then I’d fall off. I thought I was going to need bariatric surgery.
When you get as large as I got, you don’t think there’s anything else you can do.
One day, when I was 19, my friend Sam said, “Man, you are too big. You could have a heart attack and die. Let me coach and train you so you can lose some pounds.”
I agreed, but I also held him off, insisting we wait a month. It was winter in Minnesota. It’s too cold to run outside, I protested. He said, “Fine, I’ll give you until April.”
I figured Sam would forget all about it. But on April 1, he showed up at my door and made me run around the block. Even though it was a short run, I wasn’t in the greatest condition. I was so out of shape I thought I was going to die. My lungs felt like they were about to burst. And my knees hurt from the weight they were carrying.
But Sam was such a good friend, and his support made all the difference. If it wasn’t for him, I doubt I would have ever gotten started. And he kept me going. He called me every day to go for a run. He showed up at my door, ready to go.
He also made sure I ate healthy. Instead of fast-food tacos or burgers, he got me to order salads or sandwiches with lots of vegetables.
And Sam was persistent. One summer day, I simply did not feel like running. Sam kept calling and calling, and I didn’t answer. I was chilling in my room in the basement watching a movie when all of a sudden I heard the screen being taken off my open window and there was Sam climbing in.
“We’re going for our run,” he announced.
He stayed on me for six months. I hated it. I hated him. But after those six months, I actually started to love working out. Instead of being a chore, exercise became something I did for fun. And the weight started coming off.
A few months after we started running, I joined Life Time Fitness in Fridley, Minn. I started on the elliptical, then moved to the treadmill, and kept working until I could do it faster and longer. When I could run a mile in 30 minutes, it felt like a huge accomplishment. Now I can run eight miles in about an hour.
I also started taking classes like hot yoga, indoor cycling, Insanity, and kickboxing. The variety kept me motivated.
I started eating healthier, too: more vegetables and salads; more lean and grilled meats instead of fatty fried stuff. I started juicing. I stopped sneaking candy bars.
The more I worked out, the less I cheated — to the point where I barely deviated from eating healthy at all.
With the changes to my diet, I started losing weight faster and began feeling healthier. I could breathe better. A lot of the health problems I had, like high blood pressure, went away. I was seeing significant results.
As I continued to improve my eating, and varied and intensified my workouts, the rate of my weight loss increased substantially. Over two-and-a-half years, I lost 225 pounds.
So what changed in me? How did I leave that 410-pound man behind?
Looking back, I think a lot of it had to do with a shift in my confidence. At first, I needed Sam to push me and believe in me. But with every workout, I felt better about myself. I had a lot more energy.
For me, working out isn’t just about exercise anymore. It enhances everything in my life.
What has worked best for me is getting into a healthy routine. Sam and I don’t always work out together anymore, but I always do something. After work, before I head home, I go straight to the gym. That way I’m never tempted to skip my workouts.
Now I can run between four and nine miles on the treadmill. I also do yoga, cardio kickboxing, and Zumba a few times a week. I’m lifting weights now, too. That’s my new thing.
A lot of folks have been shocked at my transformation. Old acquaintances from high school don’t recognize me. They ask if I’ve had surgery and they’re surprised when I tell them I haven’t. My friends and family? They’re truly happy for me.
Exercise helped me embrace a complete lifestyle change. Before, I never wanted to clean my room or take out the garbage. I relied on other people to do things for me. It was just a lazy mindset.
Now, not only am I working out, I’m also taking the initiative to keep my room clean and finish the dishes. Sometimes I go to the store and I park in the farthest spot at the back just for the walk. I don’t want to live lazy.
Today, even Sam is surprised by how much I’ve lost. He knew I’d lose weight, but he didn’t think I’d lose 225 pounds. He’s impressed and happy for me. Having Sam believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself is what kept me going.
Someday, I’d love to help someone out the way Sam helped me. I know how it is to be that big and think there’s nothing you can do about it. And I know how great it feels to overcome that limitation.