I sat in my allergist’s office during the summer of 2010, fuming. I had spent months with a bone-rattling cough, and had already taken a medicine cabinet’s worth of prescription drugs to try to shake it — to no avail. In a last-ditch effort to solve the problem, I took the allergist’s 33-point “scratch test” to see what I might have overlooked.
When the results came in, the doctor told me I wasn’t allergic to anything. “Some people just cough,” she said. I’d placed my trust in modern medicine, and I felt like it had failed me. I remember thinking, I can’t live like this anymore.
I knew deep down that the cough was probably a symptom of larger health problems brought on by my unhealthy, frenetic lifestyle. I had a grueling international work schedule, and I ate heavy meals with clients all the time. My weight had crept up over the years. I felt doughy, exhausted and sick, and I worried that I didn’t have the energy I needed to enjoy time with my wife and two kids.
On some level, I knew my best chance to kick the nagging cough was to rebuild my health from the ground up. I just wasn’t sure where to begin, or what that effort would involve. All I could know for certain was that whatever I’d been doing up until then wasn’t taking me anyplace I wanted to go.
The 9-to-5 Grind
I’ve never been a rail-thin guy (my 6-foot-tall frame has usually carried about 195 pounds), and in my former work as an entertainment media consultant, it had been easy to gain weight.
Several times a year, I headed to London for two-week stretches and took full advantage of the city’s international cuisine. There is some amazing food available there — Indian, Chinese, Scottish, you name it. And everything was topped with rich sauces. By the time my work dinners ended, I’d usually quaffed several pints of lager, too.
I thought I was counteracting some of my not-so-healthy eating habits with a self-designed workout regimen that included frequent hourlong runs (I even competed in a sprint triathlon at one point). But the numbers on the scale kept climbing. By the summer of 2010, I weighed 205 pounds.
Frustrated, I decided I needed some help. So I headed to my longtime gym, the Life Time Fitness in Chanhassen, Minn., in August 2010, and asked for some advice. Master personal trainer Matthew J. Welt, CSCS, CPT, was at the desk, and he suggested a blood series test, body-fat test and stress test, all of which would provide data to determine where things were going awry.
The results were eye-opening. My body fat hovered at 22 percent, and my cortisol levels were high, which caused me to store fat in my midsection. Even though I was working out, I wasn’t doing it as efficiently as I could have been.
Matthew told me it was time to stop the hourlong, steady-state runs. I’d see better results, he said, if I sliced the runs in half, and threw in short bursts of speed followed by a few minutes of slow-recovery jogging. He called this approach “high-intensity interval training,” or HIIT. The intervals ramped up my metabolism and torched fat calories.
Matthew also sent me to the weight room, where I learned exercises like a high rope pull and how to keep my “shoulder packed” during weight exercises to keep me from aggravating a shoulder injury. Matthew gave me full workouts with exercise bands, which I could easily toss in my suitcase and use in my hotel room when I traveled.
Within a few weeks, I noticed that my clothes fit more loosely and my cough had begun to subside. But I resisted buying new jeans, because I wasn’t convinced the results would last.
While I was adapting to my new workout regimen, I met with registered dietitian Cliff Edberg. I knew I’d have to cut back on my restaurant binges when I was abroad, but I didn’t realize that a lot of the “healthy” choices I made when I was back home were anything but.
I loved sugar-filled, fruit-and-yogurt smoothies piled with granola. I ate salads drowned in thick dressing and cheese. And I snacked constantly — lattes with three sugar packs, sodas, cookies. I was stressed out, I told myself, and I deserved it.
Cliff put me on a new food plan with five small meals a day. The frequent meals helped me feel full and prevented me from making bad snack choices. He also encouraged me to eat plenty of vegetables and proteins like eggs, chicken and turkey — organic and naturally raised whenever possible.
These were major changes, but I enjoyed the challenge. I kept salads in my diet, but they looked different: Instead of pouring on endless dressings and cheese, I loaded up on greens with peppers, beets and carrots. I carefully measured out a single tablespoon of dressing, which added more than enough extra flavor.
I’m not obsessed with weighing myself, but I could tell I was making progress. Several months after I started, I had my suits taken in by a tailor. And in August 2011, one year after my first measurements, I took the body-fat test again. I had cut it to 12 percent, and my weight was down to a very healthy 179. And the cough that had once dogged me was completely gone.
Despite the temptations of travel (these days on family vacations and business trips to Brazil), I know I won’t become the paunchy, unhealthy person I was two years ago, thanks to the new tools and systems I’ve put into place. I’ve seen the positive changes not just in my weight and my health, but also in my family.
I knew when my 5-year-old son asked for a salad — for dessert! — that the positive changes I was making were rippling outward. And I still have a great team in place at the gym whenever I need help.
I now understand that getting healthy isn’t about reaching a single goal and being done. It’s about recognizing that your small, daily choices make an impact on your whole life, and seeing how they can build on each other in the long run.