So how did I get here...where to start...I had a fairly normal midwestern upbringing, to college(the first time) to play soccer, left school to move overseas to play soccer, 9/11 happened and during a trip to New York City, I visited Ground Zero and realized that there was probably more to life than just playing soccer. So I did what any rational 22 year-old in my position would've done and I enlisted in the Army. Not long after I found myself on a plane to to Ft. Benning, Ga right before the Iraq war was kicking off. The next six years of my life was pretty normal...well not really normal, but those misadventures will be discussed down the road at some point I'm sure. That was almost a decade ago.
This tall drink of water to the right is me. A younger, less wise me. The top picture is me as a young 21 year old when I was playing soccer in Romania. I had recently broken my thumb in a game. I had never seen a plaster cast before then, but then again, it was post-communist Romania and fiberglass had not made it overseas then, I guess. The picture below that was me in the army...in 2006...or 2007...maybe 2005...all of the dates pretty much blend in, so just know that it was sometime between 2003-2009. That was me...225 lbs. of American fighting man. Now camouflage is not flattering on really anyone, but the point I'm trying to get across here is that I had spent the better part of my life in excellent physical condition.
In 2009, my enlistment ended and I was a civilian again...I racked up some frequent flier miles, a few scars, a new hip, and a whole lot of other baggage. I had spent the previous six years living a pretty regimented existence, to say the least. If you've spent any time in the military, you probably have an idea...unless you were in the Air Force...just kidding. I spent a few months trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life...it's a weird thing when you have been in combat and have lost...I would say friends or brothers, but that word never really does justice to the bonds formed in combat zones. So as the months passed, I got back into soccer, but coaching now. I decided to go back to school as well. After seeing the tv show "Sports Science" I decided that was something that I was really interested in...the science of how people can perform at a high level. It made sense to me because I had been an athlete my entire life at a high level and as a soldier, you pretty much live the same life as an athlete...just making a lot less money and a few other things. One of the hosts of the show was also a professor at a university in Detroit, so in my eyes, the stars had aligned. Over the next few years I completed my bachelors and masters degrees in kinesiology, I met my wife, started a family, and tried to figure out what I wanted to do when I grow up.
Obviously I am skipping over a lot of important details, which will all be covered in good time. So flash forward almost a decade. My family has grown to say the least; four kids, two dogs, a cat, and a chinchilla. I left my world of working with athletes, patients, and research and I work as an engineer; creating process improvements, developing technologies for various industries, going to a lot of meetings...adult stuff. And all the while I was growing up, I was gaining weight...lots of it. To the point where I was rapidly approaching the 400lb mark. That is not easy for me to say...or type because I have never thought of myself as fat....just a little husky.
When you are overweight...let's just call it what it is...when you are fat, you come up with a lot of excuses or reasons to justify your size. For me, it was, well I'm really strong...and yes, I was really strong. I could deadlift over 500lbs, I could still do a lot of pushups, and I could do all of my all my olympic lifts with good form and technique while still being able to throw around a lot of weight. All of this, was some sort of justification or equalizer for why I had to keep buying bigger and bigger sizes. I wasn't being honest with myself, I couldn't even be honest with myfitnesspal. The sad part of it all is, that I have undergraduate and graduate degrees in exercise science. I hold nearly every fitness, sports performance and training certification that a person can hold. I also have a strong understanding of nutrition and dietetics...or at least I thought I did.
I had tried a lot of approaches to losing weight and getting fit. The main thing that I would always come back to is looking at it from the energy balance theory...calories in vs calories out. When I was playing soccer or in the army, I could eat whatever I wanted and because I trained so much and burned so many calories, it wouldn't matter....so I just need to train really hard all the time and burn calories. That will make me svelt again...Inevitably, I would see good gains for a month or two and then I would relapse and but the weight on again. Then I would a calorie deficit, since I was transitioning to more of an office oriented career. That worked a little and then I would fall of the wagon and gain the weight. Then I started applying what I really knew to it and looking at it from a hormonal standpoint, looking at insulin response...that worked a little, but then I would gain the weight back. I started measuring heart rate variability and applying that to the energy balance theory and I was feeling better than I was supposed to, so I would train harder because I wanted my weight loss to happen faster, and that too inevitably failed. I knew every metric to take to help facilitate my weight loss and I would track it all and it just became paralysis by analysis.
I didn't give up, but I just needed to take a step back. My health was failing and I was losing the battle. If you've been there or are there, you know what I'm talking about. You don't have hope and you're sick of everyone telling you what to do. So I stepped back to reflect. I was becoming not productive at work or at home. One day my youngest son asked me, if I had a baby in my tummy. Normally things don't bother me, but that one hurt. I wasn't feeling good and at one point, I went to the doctors because I thought I might be having a heart attack. I did everything I could to not tell the doctor what was wrong with me, but they knew. They knew that I needed change and they did everything short of telling me because I let them know how smart I was when they came in the room. I could tell by the look on their face what they were thinking and they knew that I knew that because I'm "so smart", I know what I need to do to change.
During the time I was stepping back, I discovered podcasts. I found them because of a comedian I saw on Conan and I looked on youtube to see the full interview. When I looked on the suggestions, it showed other clips of him and I saw one where he was on a podcast. From there I found that podcast and started listening to it and found other peoples podcasts through that podcast. I was developing this echo chamber around health related topics...I could go on for hours about this, but I will just cut to the chase. The topic that got me started was the ketogenic diet. This led me to more research into carbohydrates and their affects on the body. This was all so hard for the scientist in me to believe because I was taught one thing in school and it was just accepted. Now I was able to deep dive into the topic and really understand and re-learn some of the things that were taught in school.
I was still skeptical, but I started with a ketogenic diet. I didn't really see a downside to it if it didn't work. I mean, how bad can a diet consisting of all of the bacon that I want really be. So I adopted a high fat, low carb diet. When I say low carb, I stayed under 25g of carbs a day. I cooked everything in butter or bacon fat and was in fat man heaven. For the first several months, my wife would tell me that I was going to have a heart attack and told me about how bad fat is for us and salt (I salted everything as well)....and she should. I mean she's a nurse and they do have a good bit of education in nutrition. She had just gotten me some new clothes for work, specially ordered because of my husky stature. So this is where things get a little weird and maybe unbelievable. I started feeling great. After about 5 days, I started having more energy throughout the day. After two weeks, I could get out of bed right away. Normally, it would take me 30-45 minutes to get out of bed because of aches and pains which I chalked up to arthritis from numerous injuries and broken bones sustained while I was in the army.
I started losing weight...lots of weight. My wife kept telling me how bad my cholesterol and triglycerides were going to be, which any sound minded medical profession would. So after 45 days of my keto experiment, I went to the doctor for a physical. I had lost around 32 lbs and all of my labs had dropped to an optimal level. My doctor was in disbelief after I explained what I had been doing. Now it's important to understand that I was not exercising at all to this point. I would go to the gym, but I would sit in the sauna and listen to my podcasts. I didn't think I was ready to start exercising.
Four months after I started my keto experiment and going to the gym to sit in the sauna, I decided that I should start moving. When I was working with athletes or patients, I developed a simple progression to assess their kinetic chain...I started taking a little of my own medicine and I started doing my progression in the sauna. I did this for a few weeks and then I began to add in some pushups in the sauna. After a few more weeks, I brought in some exercise bands and did some light exercises with it. I also downloaded a yoga app and started doing yoga on my own, which is something that I always recommended for people, but never fully embraced for myself. After a little few more weeks I decided to start to incorporate some strength training in the gym itself. I won't go into the whole progression of things, that will be for another post and I will discuss all of this on the podcast as well.
A couple of weeks ago, I was helping my youngest son brush his teeth and get ready for bed. After he rinsed his toothbrush and put it back, he stepped off his step stool by the sink and gave me a big hug. He looked up at me and said, "Daddy, where did your belly go?" I told him that it went away and it's not coming back. He said..."like Mr. Incredible?" (if you haven't seen the Disney movie The Incredibles, than that reference might be lost on you). I told him yes.
To date, I've lost over 100lbs and I'm still losing weight. I have set some new goals for myself which I will discuss some time soon. I will even post some pictures of when I was really big and maybe some ones of where I'm at now.
One of the things that I've learned in this journey is the effects that carbohydrates have on our body. As a veteran who has been diagnosed with PTS and TBI, once I eliminated/reduced carbs, I stopped experiencing a lot of the symptoms that were associated with those conditions. My memory and recall improved, my moods improved, and I started feeling like I used to before I was in the army. Having researched this further, I have found a lot of research that talks discusses the effects of carbs on mental health issues, not just on physical health. I have made this recommendation to several of my veteran friends who have have experienced the same thing that I have experienced. Through my experiences, I am hoping to create a greater awareness within the veteran community, as well as the public health community about this.