The Turning Point
Weight became an issue for me when I turned 30. Even in the Marine Corps, I struggled with keeping within the official height and weight standards. I ran a lot and I starved myself from time to time to ensure I could remain within the regulations. After leaving the Marines, I took a job at Compaq as a technical support engineer. I went from a fairly active job to one where I sat at a desk all day. I didn’t change my eating habits to account for the lack of exercise, and on top of that, I began to eat more as I was dealing with the stress of adjusting to civilian life.
I started noticing my weight gain almost immediately after I started working at the desk job. The gain was so rapid, in fact, that I began noticing stretch marks on the sides of my abdomen. I tried time after time to reverse the weight gain, but no matter what I tried, the results were short-lived. Calorie counting, South Beach, exercise — none of it worked for me. Eventually, I just gave up and figured that I was meant to be overweight, and that I was going to die that way.
My cousin Sara is a physician’s assistant and had recently graduated from medical school. She had never been obese, but she struggled with her weight. When she came to stay with us for a week, I noticed she was very slim, especially considering she had given birth about 10 months prior. She sat down to talk to me one night, and she told me she was concerned about me due to my excessive weight. She told me that there’s no way I would live past 60 if I didn’t do something about it. I told her that I tried, time and time again, but that nothing worked. On top of that, exercise was out of the question for me. I just didn’t have it in me to work out and sweat the weight away.
She asked me, “What if I told you that you can lose weight and get healthy without having to do any exercise at all?” I said that I’d think she was lying. She told me about Whole30 and the Paleo Diet and laid out the science behind them. That’s what she did to lose the weight and keep it off, even while she was pregnant. I was amazed. I told her I’d look into it and talk to my wife about it.
The first thing I did was to get my wife on board with me. I knew that we had to do this as a team, because there’d be no way I could succeed alone. Once she agreed to do Whole30 with me, we cleaned out the pantry and refrigerator of all noncompliant foods, made a meal plan for the week, and did meal prep on our first Sunday. We weren’t very good at making these new recipes, as making food for Whole30 forces you to rethink everything you know about food, including what ingredients go well together. Our first week’s food was a bit bland, but as time went on, we found recipes that were delicious, and we started learning about how the ingredients work together and how to maximize satiety and flavor.
The feeling of having energy and losing the cravings helped motivate me. What kept me from giving up or slipping was knowing that my wife was relying on me as inspiration for her to get through the tough times she was facing on the diet. It was harder for her than it was for me, and I was constantly her cheerleader. The unintended positive consequence was that I was also cheering myself on. Everything I told her applied to me as well, and since I had to be enthusiastic about it, it sort of became my reality. After we completed Whole30, we transitioned into the Paleo Diet, where I continued to lose weight steadily for another year. When we hit our one0year anniversary of eating healthy, I began running. Slowly at first, but then I started hitting respectable speeds. I now run at least three times a week for three miles or more.
Physically, I feel younger. I feel better today at 50 than I did when I was 30. My life has changed in many ways. Most notably, I am now in the National Guard. After serving for 11 years on active duty in the Marines, I decided to go back into the military to complete my final nine years of service toward a federal retirement. Since I can complete 20 years before I turn 60, I was eligible to return to service. I am not only within height and weight regulations, but I scored a 273 on my last Army Physical Fitness Test. [Editor’s note: Anything above 250 out of 300 is considered a good score.] I also work hard to maintain my fitness and physical appearance to keep up with the young guys I work with in the Guard.
Emotionally, it’s been great. I feel so much better, my self-confidence is improved, but it feels like I’m in another person’s body sometimes. I got used to being obese, and every now and then, when I look down while I’m sitting in my car or at a restaurant and don’t see my big stomach there, it’s strange. I sometimes catch a reflection of myself in a mirror and get startled by the thin guy standing there. It took a year for me to lose the majority of my weight, but it seems like the transition was so quick. It felt slow while I was going through it, but in retrospect, it was very quick.
One huge way my life has changed is that my wife and I are now able to take what we call our adventure trips: I’ve flown a WWII biplane, we have been zip-lining, I’ve driven a NASCAR race car, and we’ve been hiking and running together around the world. These are all things I couldn’t have done at 300+ pounds. We have plans to do more, and we often take weekend getaways to do and experience new things.
I have grown fond of running and fitness in general. I’ve never been into fitness, even while in the Marines as then it was just part of my job. Now, I read about running and watch YouTube videos trying to learn more about technique. I read blogs of runners and other people who are also Paleo. I have a blog, where I write daily about my journey, lessons learned, motivation, and opinions. I’m surprised at some of the comments I receive from people who are overweight. I’ve been told a few times that I’m lucky I’m thin because it’s so hard to lose weight, or people telling me I have good genes to be so thin. When I show them pictures of my former obese self, some have outright refused to believe that the big person in the pictures was me. I never expected that.
My wife and I stick to the Paleo Diet. Everything we eat is Paleo these days. When we go to a restaurant, we choose meals that are meat and vegetables only, and it’s surprisingly easy to find something Paleo-friendly at almost every restaurant. As for exercise, I’m a runner now, and I run at least 3.1 miles every other day. I’m not training for any endurance running, but at the back of my mind, I’d like to do a 10 km one day. I do enjoy running a lot, and my wife runs every other day now as well.
I weigh myself every morning. Some people say this is bad, but for me, it’s a reminder of how much impact my actions have on my weight. As I monitor my weight, I can quickly adapt and adjust my food intake for the day to reverse any gains. I do not eat snacks, I don’t eat sweets, and I am strict with my Paleo diet. I bring lunch to work every day, and my breakfasts and dinners are at home with my wife. My diet coupled with my exercise and my attitude of not cheating (I call it sabotage) helps keep my weight down.
Many things help keep me motivated. First is my fear of ever being obese again. I never, ever again want to feel like I did when I was overweight. I felt old, sluggish, and tired all the time. Second, I want to be around as long as I can for my wife and our adventures. We have so much fun together; I don’t want to miss out on any of it if I can help it. Third, I have two kids, and I’d like to get to know their kids someday when they decide to have them. Fourth, I feel a responsibility to be an example to my blog readers who look to me for inspiration to be healthy, get fit, and lose weight. Finally, as a soldier in the National Guard, the incredible men and women I serve with deserve a leader who is at least as fit as them, if not more. I work hard to be the best I can possibly be, and they keep me motivated and feeling young.
My biggest weakness is not being able to stop eating when there’s delicious food in front of me. I’ve had to ask my wife to limit the portions I am served because it’s difficult for me to stop when there’s still food on my plate. Many obese people I have spoken with have all told me that they suffer from this too. We trace it to our parents forcing us to eat everything on our plates.
Find what works for you. For me, it was Whole30 and the Paleo Diet, but I know many who have succeeded by using the Keto diet, tracking calorie-in/calorie-out (CICO), and introducing a fitness regimen. I’m a bit older, and genetic backgrounds vary, but my method worked very well. I felt healthy, energized, and I was never hungry, nor did I experience cravings between meals. Find what works and stick with it. Perseverance is key.
Also, don’t sabotage yourself. Eating off-plan or outside of your diet, even for a day, is sabotage. Don’t ever sabotage yourself or your progress. Once you slip, it becomes easier each time to justify eating off-plan, and eventually you find it more difficult to eat on-plan. It is at that point that you need to start all over again. Avoid that and persevere.
All photos courtesy of E.J. Hunyadi.