- Success Stories -

Professional Liability

All the free food he got at work had Jason Buszta packing on the pounds – until the sudden death of a friend made him realize he was putting his own health at risk.

man wearing life vest

Jason Buszta loved his job — especially the free soda, pizza lunches and snacks his company offered. The complimentary treats allowed him to focus all of his energy on his IT work. But while it may have saved him time, the unlimited food and drinks were having a serious impact on his waistline. By 2003, just four years after he had taken the job, he had packed an extra 50 pounds on his 6-foot-1-inch frame.

Naturally thin in his youth, Buszta had worked as an electrician in his early 20s and kept active enough on the job to stay trim. But when he took the IT gig in 1999, his activity level dropped dramatically, and the pounds began to accumulate.
“I got lazy,” he says. “When I couldn’t do something physically, I just gave up. And I didn’t feel good about myself.”

By the time he tipped the scales at 235 pounds, he felt sluggish and frustrated. “I was 26 and I couldn’t even fit into the suit I had worn for the job interview,” he recalls.

But it wasn’t until he learned of the untimely death of a 61-year-old family friend — one who also worked in the IT field and had adopted some of the same sedentary-lifestyle and eating habits — that Buszta started seriously thinking about improving his health.

“It’s eye-opening when someone that young passes away,” he says. “It made me look in the mirror and think about what I was doing with my own life.”

Two days after his friend’s funeral, in 2003, Buszta made a commitment to follow a different path. His career, he realized — just like every other aspect of his life — depended on his health.

Breaking Away From the Desk

Unsure how to proceed, Buszta mentioned his concerns and desire for change to an old high school pal, Brian Calandra, who invited him to join him at the Life Time Fitness near their respective offices in Troy, Mich., for postwork workouts.

The first sessions were humbling: On the treadmill, Buszta struggled to run 14-minute miles, and Calandra beat him handily at pickup basketball games. Over time, however, he began to make progress. Calandra ­encouraged him to add interval training to boost his lung capacity, and he added body-weight exercises, including pushups, sit-ups and pull-ups to strengthen his core and build arm strength. Three days a week he focused on resistance training, with two or three ­additional cardio and core workouts.

With his routine in place, Buszta also made a commitment to working out when he was on the road for work. Traveling a few times a month for two to three days at a time, he did advance scouting to find gyms that he could visit (he’s worked out at more than 40 Life Time Fitness clubs across the country). When no club was available, he’d still bring his workout clothes and go for a run. When he traveled west, he stayed on his East Coast time zone and used the extra hour or two in the morning to sneak in a workout.

His consistent three- to five-day-a-week routine made an impact: He lost 5 pounds in the first month and made slow but steady progress over the next year. By the following fall, he had dropped below the 200-pound mark, and the positive feedback he was getting — both from his body and from colleagues — motivated him to continue. “Everyone I saw noticed and encouraged me,” he says. “I really didn’t want to go back to the way I was.”

Fueling for Success

Even though Buszta’s workouts were making a big impact, Calandra encouraged him to start improving his diet, too. Before, when he wasn’t gulping down close to 2 liters of soda a day or munching on company-provided pizza, he often joined his coworkers after work at fancy Italian restaurants and steakhouses, where he would overeat, especially when he was traveling.

He began by cutting out soda entirely, replacing sweetened drinks with bottles of water that he could refill throughout the day. He also started to gradually add healthier foods to his diet, including lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. He kept a stash of healthy snacks in his office, including oatmeal, apples, nuts and protein bars. By keeping plenty of options within arm’s reach, Buszta found he was more likely to make healthy choices.

When he did go out to eat, he chose restaurants where healthier options were plentiful and avoided restaurants that served multicourse meals. Even when choices were limited, he did his best to order healthy salads instead of the deep-fried foods he might have preferred in the past.

Adopting this smart eating plan helped Buszta lose another 10 pounds in his second year. Today, he continues to maintain a healthy weight between 180 and 185 pounds. “Am I going to have six-pack abs like an 18-year-old? Probably not,” he admits. “But this is a weight I can maintain, and I can participate in all the activities I want to. I always have the energy I need.”

Progress Maintained

These days, although he allows himself the occasional indulgence, Buszta continues to challenge himself. He’s taken up mountain biking and wakeboarding and may even run a marathon. In 2008, he got married, and he and his wife, Kristina, have enjoyed downhill skiing together. He’s thrilled to have someone with whom he can share his active pursuits, and Kristina echoes his sentiment. “Both Jason’s self-esteem and energy levels have improved so much, and the fact that we can now do all of these things together is really fun for us,” she says.

Buszta’s physical transformation has been significant, but his change in perspective has been even more profound. “The more active I got, the more satisfied I felt,” he says. “I don’t give up anymore. I’ve learned how important it is to put every bit of effort into my activities.”

Success Summary

Meet: Jason Buszta, 32, an IT consultant in Detroit, Mich.

Big Accomplishments: Losing 50 pounds over two years and keeping it off for more than four years while ­maintaining a busy work schedule; running a 5K race in 21 minutes, 31 seconds, more than twice as fast as the 45 minutes it took him to run a 5K in 2003.

Big Inspiration: Seeing a family friend die too young. “When someone passes away, you naturally reflect on yourself. I knew that I was in pretty rough shape.”

What Worked: Committing to a life change, getting support from a fitness buddy, and creating mini-challenges that kept each workout fresh. “My workout partner might challenge me to do three minutes at 10 miles an hour on the treadmill, then I’d challenge him to do five minutes at level 10 on the StairMaster. We were competitive, but we based it on our own abilities.”

What Didn’t Work: Dropping his routine. “Sometimes after work, I’d go home instead of to the gym, telling myself I’d go later that night. But it never happened.”

Words of Wisdom: Don’t let anyone get in your way. “I always made a point to exercise, even on holidays. If someone pressured me to stay home, I told them the truth — that this was really important to me.”

Erin Peterson is a freelance writer in Minneapolis and a regular contributor to Experience Life.

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