My Weight Loss Journey
So if you guys have read my bio section, you know that I’ve tried almost every different diet under the sun. It all started in 2009 when I was 25. I had never eaten healthy. Ever. I was raised on a steady diet of McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, and, for whatever reason, healthy eating wasn’t something that was discussed in my household growing up. And to zoom out a bit, it wasn’t really a large topic of interest in society at large, at least not like it is today. You didn’t see aisles at the grocery store dedicated to gluten-free this and certified organic that. It was the 90s; people were getting used to a faster and faster pace of everyday living (Pagers! Car phones!), and convenience was king. (Still is, right?)
So, when I hit my early 20s and started going out and drinking, my dietary habits went from bad to disastrous.
I’d go out, drink with my friends, be hungover the next day, eat like garbage in order to feel better, eat like garbage throughout the week as per usual, then repeat the process all over again. For a few years, my young metabolism was sort of able to keep up, but eventually it leveled off and the weight piled on. I never ate healthy. Ever. Back then, I couldn’t even tell you what healthy food was.
I kept this trend going for a long time. Too long. Eventually I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t continue living this way and be happy. I was actually disgusted with myself. Embarrassed. Like, literally grossed-out. I couldn’t believe that I had allowed myself to get SO FAR from the person that I was. Or, maybe more accurately, so far from the person I thought I was.
I don’t remember the exact moment when it hit me, but I’m pretty sure it had to do with seeing some photos of myself, and being blown away by how big I was. By what my body looked like. I couldn’t believe the difference in my head could be so different from reality. Our brains do a pretty good job of protecting us from things that are unpleasant, and every time I looked in the mirror, I knew I was fat on some level, but I didn’t think I was that fat. I never considered myself “the fat guy” amongst my group of friends, although in most cases, I was usually the biggest one. It was a harsh truth that my brain was trying to shield me from, and it was doing a fucking great job at it.
I had been negotiating inside my head. Making excuses. Thinking things like, “Oh, the lighting is unflattering right here,” or “I just ate something so I’m bloated right now.” Even though, deep down, I knew the truth. I just wasn’t ready to accept it. I guess I didn’t really want to do the work. I knew, subconsciously, that there would have to be major changes in my life. And that shit was scary. I’d have to learn a lot. I’d have to grow. I’d have to spend ample amounts of time outside my comfort zone.
And then finally, the switch happened. The pain of all the learning and growing and changing I knew I would have to do magically became LESS THAN the pain of being unhappy with myself. I started associating MORE PAIN with NOT CHANGING than I had with staying the same. Later on in my life (about eight years later), I would hear Tony Robbins talk about this as “neuro-associative conditioning” and it would change the way I approach almost everything. (More on that in later posts.) I had to start doing something, ANYTHING, differently.
I knew I wanted to lose weight, but I had no idea where to start.
Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t even know what healthy food was, apart from the simple fact that vegetables are obviously good and pizza is obviously bad. How much do I eat? And of which foods? And when? And how long will it take to lose weight? And what’s safe and what isn’t? Will I get lightheaded? Will I pass out? Do I have to starve myself? Etc., etc.
So the first thing I did was decide to go hard on the cardio. (Doesn’t everybody?) I’d get up SUPER early and get an hour in on the elliptical machine before I went to work. I didn’t know anything, but I DID know that the old adage went, “If you want to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you eat.” (Which is true, but kind of a lie at the same time. More on that in another post.) I thought, “Well, if I don’t change my diet at all, and I add in cardio, I HAVE to lose weight because I’m burning more than I normally would.” Which is theoretically true, but I didn’t account for the fact that I’d be eating more because I was so zapped after doing an hour of cardio every day. Not to mention all the times I was then able to justify eating shitty because I had already done an hour of cardio when I didn’t really want to. Tricky, right?
Anyway, that went on for a couple of months with little-to-no progress. Actually, I think I got even fatter. Finally, once I decided that cardio wasn’t working, I started using the bench press that my parents had in the basement. I really enjoyed what little weight lifting I had done back in high school, and thought weight training would be a worthwhile endeavor on my road to Six-Pack Steve™️. But without a plan of any kind, and without any means in place for tracking my progress, it didn’t last long.
At this point, I just sort of…gave up. Not consciously, but my drive to get in shape fizzled out. I had stopped actively looking for a solution. I guess subconsciously I was still on the lookout and open to a plan, but I quit spending energy in the day-to-day trying to figure out this whole diet thing.
Then one afternoon, I was at an indoor soccer facility here in St. Louis watching the band Muse play soccer. (Weird, I know.) A friend of mine had just started something called MediFast and was telling me about it. It sounds super cliché, but looking back, that moment was pivotal. It honestly changed my life. And this isn’t a plug for MediFast, either (spoiler alert: I don’t even do MediFast anymore). Not to mention, that friend of mine probably doesn’t even know that that moment changed my life. Actually, I can guarantee he doesn’t know it. And to be super-real with you, we’re not even really friends…more like acquaintances. But that’s how those moments happen, right? They pop up when you least expect it.
So Dave (his name is Dave), Dave goes on to tell me how he eats five pre-packaged “meals” a day, and then one “lean and green” meal every night, which consisted of a lean meat such as chicken breast, and some (typically green) vegetables like broccoli. He had just started but he said he was already down 10 pounds. (I just made that number up. It’s been nine years, you think I remember exactly how many pounds the guy lost? Come on! Point is, he had lost some weight.)
It intrigued me, particularly the pre-packaged food part, because I didn’t have any desire to spend all day prepping food and cooking food and storing food and so on and so forth. Nor did I have any desire to learn how to cook. When I got home that night, I looked it up, pulled the trigger, and spent $300 on about a month’s worth of MediFast meals. This was a big chunk of money for me at the time (still is!), but I thought, “Hey, I’m going to be saving money by not going out, and won’t have to buy many groceries after this.” (There were still those lean and green meals to deal with.) Honestly, it was probably less than what I was spending on food at the time, anyway, if you counted all those mall foodcourt meals I was eating. (I was working at the mall at the time. I’m not some weirdo who just goes up to the mall to eat every single day. Yet.)
Finally, after a few torturous days waiting for the package to arrive, it came. And I’m not exaggerating when I say “torturous.” I had already done the hard part and confronted myself. Gone through the embarrassment of admitting I wasn’t living up to my own standards. I had decided I wanted to lose weight, that I must lose weight. To improve. To get better. I’d found a solution, a path, an opportunity. At least it was the prospect of a solution, and now I had to wait for goddamn UPS to bring it to me! It was killing me!
A lot of people, when they make the decision to finally lose weight, they say, “Okay, on Monday I’m going to start.” And then every minute between then and Monday is filled with eating every pizza and cheeseburger they can get their hands on. Those people never succeed. You know why? Because when you want to make a change, to TRULY make a change, the moment you come to that decision, you start. You take action. Right then. Not on Monday. Not on January 1st. Right fucking there. And that’s what happened with me. The moment I ordered that MediFast package, I wanted to start.
But after days of waiting, there it was: that beautiful tan brown cardboard box, sitting on the front steps of my parents’ house. There were protein bars, protein shakes, honey-mustard flavored pretzels, cheesy cornballs…all kinds of stuff. I couldn’t wait to dig in and start trying everything.
MediFast was super-easy for me. Each one of the pre-packaged meals were about 110 calories give-or-take, and were engineered to contain all of the vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy adult. They were moderate in protein and fat, and low in carbohydrates. I would eat five MediFast meals a day (“Meals” is actually a bit misleading. They’re more like light snacks.) and then at night, fire up the ol’ George Foreman grill we’d had lying around unused for years, and cook some chicken and broccoli. The MediFast meals themselves were super-convenient, because I could grab five of them, throw them in my bag, leave the house and be good on food all day. The only real “work” involved was grilling chicken every night. And boy did I grill. A lot.
This is when I started weighing myself weekly. I still have all of these data points on a spreadsheet (nine years worth!), so I can tell you exactly how much weight I lost. Here goes: six pounds the first week, four pounds the second week, two pounds the third week, five pounds the fourth week, four pounds the fifth week, three pounds the next week, three pounds after that, and three pounds after that.
Pretty insane, right?
That’s 30 pounds in two months. I was pumped. And on top of that, the “lean and green” meals I was making every night forced me to learn how to grill, which is (obviously) quite useful. I even started eating portabella mushrooms since they were MediFast approved, something I now love that I never would have tried on my own.
Propelled by my success with the diet, I wanted to learn how it worked. While delving deeper into the science of MediFast, I was exposed to the word “ketogenic” for the first time. Essentially what MediFast is is a one-size-fits-all keto diet that has you eating anywhere from 800 to 1,100 calories a day. Mind you, this is 2010, years before the keto diet would explode in popularity, so I didn’t really have anyone in my life who had heard of what I was doing, nor had had any experience doing it themselves. I was in uncharted territory as far as my friends and family were concerned.
Most people (members of my own family included) thought what I was doing was “unhealthy” and were “worried” for me. One coworker who shall remain nameless even told me, “You look too skinny, you need to eat something.” Looking back, these guys and gals weren’t so much legitimately concerned for my safety as they were threatened by my decision to make a change for the better and improve my life. You will run into people like that. Fuck those people.
(Initiate side rant…) And that sort of attitude doesn’t confine itself to just the arena of health and fitness. You will face that negative reaction ANY TIME you decide to do something to improve yourself. People may be supportive at first, before they feel threatened. People love an underdog. But when that underdog starts doing what they said they were going to do and starts succeeding, that’s when the haters will arrive. Don’t ever listen to them. (End rant.)
Anyway, things were going great until I got down to the mid-140s.
Now mind you, when you start in the 180s and things don’t start to slow down until the 140s, that’s pretty fantastic. Forty pounds is a huge difference. But this is where the one-size-fits-all diet plan stopped working for me, and it would take expertise that I didn’t have (yet) and YEARS to break through that barrier to get down into the 130s.
So I went along for a while, eating my MediFast meals, and not really losing any weight. I began to take my foot off the gas a little bit, having some beer and some pizza here and there, and basically treaded water for the next few years. Actually it was seven years to be exact. Let me repeat that: I made zero progress for SEVEN. YEARS.
Also, as naive as this sounds now, I didn’t know if getting any thinner was actually healthy. I mean, I definitely didn’t have that six-pack that I wanted, but once you go from being as big as I was to as thin as I was now, you’re not really sure how far you can (or should) push the envelope. Should I consult a doctor? What do I do?
Eventually, I put MediFast aside and began looking for other ways to lose the unwanted fat. The $300 a month price tag was fine when you’re 180 pounds and you want to lose 40, but after you’ve lost the weight, and you’re not seeing any progress, it became a little tougher to stomach (pun intended).
The year is now 2014. Being on the lookout for another simple solution, the first thing that caught my eye was the all-smoothie diet (*cough cough* it’s bullshit). I found a website extolling the benefits of the “Green Smoothie Diet” and thought I would give it a whirl. I stuck with it pretty hard for a good three to four months, even going so far as to prepare SIX green smoothies for a day out at Disneyland. Somehow, I convinced the security guards that I was diabetic and needed to bring these nasty things inside, because I couldn’t eat park food. By the time I drank them, they were warm from the sun, and all coagulated and congealed and thick and nasty. Basically what I’m trying to say is that they were fucking gross….and yet I still drank them. THAT, my friends, is dedication.
The problem I would run into is after drinking green smoothies all day, I’d want something substantial, so I’d pig out. I remember once eating an entire bag of Dorito’s in about 120 seconds after getting back to my apartment one evening after work. This happened near-constantly. So, as you can imagine, the weight started to creep back on, and I got sick of drinking these green nasties all day every day.
The next stop in my journey of dietary disillusionment was going all-vegan.
Ahh, yes, the vegan years. Or should I say year. Well, almost a year. 363 days to be exact. I told you guys, when I commit to something, I commit HARD. The smoothie thing didn’t work out, obviously, and I wasn’t sure if it was because I wasn’t able to commit (remember the Dorito’s?), or if it actually wasn’t a surefire way to lose weight (it wasn’t), or a little bit of both.
I remember in those years, what I was looking for was not so much a solution, but more of a set of simple rules that I could live by, so that I wouldn’t have to actively “think” about my diet, but I could still lose weight and get ripped. Turns out that doesn’t exist. I thought, if I could just set up some simple guidelines, follow them automatically, and still lose weight, that would be the ideal situation for me. (Hence trying to survive on green smoothies and green smoothies only.)
That’s why I landed on veganism. It wasn’t so much about living a “cruelty-free lifestyle,” though that was certainly a plus, but it was more about, “Hey, vegans are healthy. They’re fit. If I eat like a vegan, I’ll be healthy and fit, too. All I have to do is not eat animal by-products.”
Do you guys realize how many shitty things there are to eat that don’t include animal by-products? A TON. Trust me, I did the research myself.
The main problem was that I was probably the only vegan in history that doesn’t actually like vegetables (still don’t). So what did I do? I ate the most unhealthy vegan foods you could think of. I even bought a cookbook called “The Vegan Stoner Cookbook.” I’m not a stoner, but apparently I like to eat like one. Also, during this time, I was even toying with the idea of opening a food truck called “Vegan Fat Kid” which would specialize in vegan junk food and comfort food. Vegan chili cheese dogs. Vegan nachos. You get the idea.
Most people go vegan for humanitarian reasons. Not me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not PRO-animal cruelty (is anyone?), but I did it more from a dietary perspective. In my confused brain, vegans were the picture of health. I thought, if I go 100% vegan, I’ll be the picture of health, too. Never mind that I was drinking Bud Light by the gallon (yes, vegan) and making homemade vegan nachos (we called them “tofachos”).
So, it comes as no surprise that not only did I not lose weight, but I ended up GAINING 30 POUNDS that year. And the day I finally cracked? I was hungover from going out the night before (nah, that possibly couldn’t have anything to do with me not achieving my fitness goals), and waking up feeling like shit and starving. Melissa had some leftover orange chicken in the fridge (she had tried the vegan thing, and actually lasted quite a while, maybe three months or so, but she was back to eating meat by this time). I felt SO shitty, as one does after consuming large quantities of (vegan) alcohol the night prior, and I dove HEAD FIRST into that orange chicken.
Now, I’m not a religious person, but eating that chicken after 363 days of a meat-free diet was the closest thing I’ve ever come to a religious experience. It was was. AMAZING. And it wasn’t even GOOD Chinese food. It was okay-ish Chicnese food. But just like that, bam, I was back to eating meat. And good thing I was, because eventually eating that meat would help me put on some lean muscle. But I’m getting head of myself.
Fast forward a few years. We were still living in L.A., and one day I decided to run a search for “intermittent fasting.” I wasn’t sure where I had heard the term, but I wanted to see what the hype was all about. This led me to stumbling upon Andy Morgan’s site RippedBody.com. (Actually, back then, it was RippedBody.jp.) The first thing I did was click on “Transformations.” There were dozens. People with bodies like mine were magically evolving into superheroes post after post. I thought, “This is it. These people have figured it out.” Luckily for me, there was TONS of free information on Andy’s site. One thing that he kept referring to was LeanGains, LeanGains, LeanGains. Turns out, a lot of what Andy recommended was adapted from a guy named Martin Berkahan and his method of getting ripped, aptly named LeanGains.
I dived, nay, cannonballed into both of their sites immediately. I started reading the subreddit for LeanGains. I kept reading success story after success story after success story. Dudes with the six packs I so desperately desired were staring back at me through my computer screen asking, “Why aren’t you up here with us?”
And as I was allowing the information to wash over me, I learned one important word that would change my life forever. This is not an exaggeration. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the impact that this word has had on my life. It changed how I look at food FOREVER.
And that word is.
Or, more precisely, “MACRONUTRIENT.” The first major piece of information I learned from Andy and Martin was that all food, ALL FOOD, breaks down into one of three macronutrients: PROTEIN, FAT, and CARBOHYDRATES.
Now, if you’re in the fitness industry, or your a workout fanatic, this might seem like a little bit of a “no duh.” But for someone like me who had been spinning their wheels for YEARS, this was a revelation. Of course I had heard of protein, fat, and carbs. I, like everyone else, thought that protein is what builds muscles, fat makes you fat so eat foods that are low- or nonfat (wrong), and that carbs are the devil because keto (also wrong).
But I had no idea that ALL FOOD, EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF FOOD YOU STUFF INTO YOUR MOUTH, breaks down into one of those three (and usually a combination of the three) things. Once I learned which foods are primarily which macronutrient, and the role that each macronutrient plays in the super-complex big picture that is your overall health, I started looking at food differently, and things were never the same.
It was like being struck my lightning. I no longer saw french fries and potato chips as french fries and potato chips. I saw them as (mostly) carbs. I no longer saw macadamias as macadamias. They were a convenient way to get my daily allotment of fat. I still saw pizza as awesome though. That didn’t change.
Now, armed with this newfound arsenal of information, I was ready to get into the best shape of my life, right? RIGHT?
You see, I lived with an exact roadmap of how to get to where I needed to be. But I didn’t have the right mindset. I wasn’t at the same place I was when I clicked “Purchase” on my first order of MediFast. (Even though I was probably almost as heavy). I wasn’t ready to commit to changing my lifestyle. You see, we were living in L.A., going out and partying with friends, and didn’t really have careers or a direction in life. So the social part of my life was basically what I was living for. And how can you be social when you can’t drink or eat cheeseburgers?
And this brings me to the biggest point I want to make with this blog entry. It’s that the fitness game (and really, any successful endeavor) is a MENTAL one. The execution part is easy. Anybody can do it. Anybody can quickly learn, in probably about 20 or 30 minutes, exactly what they have to do in order to achieve the physique they want.
Especially in the age of the Internet in which we find ourselves. There is so much information out there. An overabundance of (albeit, sometimes conflicting) information that anybody can find an online personal trainer or a YouTube channel and figure out what to do.
But how many people do it? Probably one-tenth of one percent of people who want to. Why? Because getting over that MENTAL hurdle is the real challenge. It’s not eating right. Because trust me, when you’re dieting, ANY food is delicious, even if it’s boring ass chicken breast for the umpteenth time. And it took me another year or so to get over that mental hurdle and really jump into LeanGains and bodybuilding proper.
Much like the first time around, years and years prior, I don’t recall the actual moment that I decided I wanted to kick it into high gear, but it was there just the same. By this time, we had moved to Houston from Los Angeles and I was using our apartment complex’s gym regularly, apply some of the LeanGains protocol, but not really seeing much result. We were traveling back home to St. Louis for a wedding and a float trip, and that was the only social event on our calendar for the time being. (Things were lonely in Houston, but that’s a story for another time.)
I decided that, even though I had lost some weight, and was beginning to see some muscle gain, after that wedding and float trip, when we return to Houston, I’m taking all of the LeanGains principles I’ve learned, putting them into action, and going HARD for 16 weeks. At the end of those 16 weeks, it will be almost Christmastime and we’ll be moving from Houston back home to St. Louis, so this was the perfect stretch to commit hard to my first-ever cut.
So that’s what I did. I suppose what I said earlier about people who don’t put their plan into action immediately isn’t entirely true, because I went hard at that wedding and on that float trip. And the next day, hungover as I was, I began the cut. I knew how much food I was going to eat. How much protein. How much fat. How many grams of carbohydrates. And I did it, from that day in September of 2017 all the way to late December. I beat my 16-week challenge by three days, going a full 115 days. Not one cheat. Not. One.
The end result? The most ripped I had ever been in my life. Not only that, but the confidence that came along with not only being happy with what you see when you look in the mirror, but, more importantly, the success of challenging yourself and triumphing was intoxicating. I loved it. I had been dreaming of having visible abs since I was 14 years old, and here they finally were, three months before my 33rd birthday.
And as excited and proud as I was, I wanted even more. I wanted to build the physique of my dreams and pile on loads of lean muscle. And because I had challenged myself and prevailed, I knew that it could be done, and knew that I could do it. Two very key things.
So here we are. That basically catches us up to today. I’m still learning. I’m still growing. I’m still training. I’m no longer chasing a six pack, but instead chasing those muscle gains. And it’s become such an inherent part of my lifestyle, that I know I’ll never stop. I’ll never revert back again to that 180 pound version of me…unless of course it’s 180 pounds of pure muscle. Wink wink.