It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have a clear goal in mind.
Six months ago, I received an email from a reader named Stephen who told me that he had a wedding coming up in May 2012, and that he hoped to get in shape for it. After managing to go in the opposite direction through most of the Holidays, Stephen finally woke up in early January and said “enough is enough.”
Since then, he’s become an absolute machine, day in day out, dominating his workouts and putting a huge focus on eating right.
Yesterday, he got married weighing in at 213, a full 57 POUNDS lost since January.
This is his story. (cue the Law and Order theme!)
Emails from Stephen
This is the first email I got from Stephen back in November, 2011:
Just wanted to say thanks for the video. I am 42, 6’1″ and 254. I am way out of shape. I am getting married next spring and I would like to be 220 by then. Did the first workout today and made it through but I had to do modified push-ups.
Hopefully I can make it to real push-ups soon.
Now, I get emails like this all the time from people who declare that they’re going to get in shape, and I then I never hear from them again. After six months, I had forgotten about Stephen, assuming he was one of those folks who just ran out of steam and wasn’t yet ready to get in shape.
And then he emailed me on March 5th!
I just wanted to touch base. I spoke with you probably back in November asking you about losing weight for my wedding. I was 257 I think and I wanted to get down to 220. You said you thought it was possible but that it was 80% diet. Unfortunately over the holidays I went the wrong way and my weight went up to 270.
On January 1st I joined the NF message boards and I signed up for the first challenge. I just hit 30lbs lost and I am getting ready for my second NF challenge. I have really cleaned up my diet by going paleo with a half and half exception for coffee. For this challenge I am 100% paleo. I have also been doing the Body Weight workout 3X a week and walking on some of the other days here and there. I know it’s going to be tough to hit 220 with barely more than 2 months left but I am giving it my all. Thanks for the motivation even though it took my longer than I thought to get moving.
And then again at the end of the month:
Just a quick update. I am now in the 220s!! I hit 229 this morning.
I have lost 12lbs this month since going full on strict paleo. My 220 goal for the May wedding is just around the bend. WOOT!!
And then at the end of April:
I hit 219 this morning! I am totally geeked up. Thanks again for everything. I will send you some before and after shots soon with some progress shot too. 51 lbs. I can’t believe it.
When I first started I am not really sure I believed I could do it. Going Paleo made it much easier. I recently had a check up and my doctor was astonished. My total cholesterol is down to 129! It wasn’t very high anyway but still he thought that was amazing.
I went shopping for the honeymoon last night. It was weird going from size XXL shirts to a Med. I have gone from a size 44 or 42 pant to a 36. My neck used to be 17 now it’s 15. Someone the other day in the kitchen at work was offered cookies. He said, “No thanks, I want to look like Stephen!” That was probably one of the best compliments I could get. I can’t remember the last time I weighed this “little”.
I still have a long road to go to get to my 2012 goal of 200 but I must admit I am feeling accomplished this morning.
And finally yesterday:
The wedding went off without a hitch.
My final weight was 213.
How it Happened
Steve: You emailed me back in November asking me how to get in shape for your wedding coming up in May…How did that first attempt go?
Stephen: The first attempt was a complete failure. I tried watching what I ate and counting calories using Weight Watchers. I had no real plan though. I think I got down to about 251, then Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled around and I just blew up. I’ve always had a tough time controlling my eating around the holidays. My wife is an amazing baker and cook. It’s not her fault though; I could have put the fork down.
The end result: instead of getting closer to my goal, I ballooned up to 270 pounds by January 1st!
Steve: What was different this time? Why do you think you finally succeeded in January compared to what had happened in the past?
Stephen: I was reading Nerd Fitness more and more and all of your posts. I kept reading your post about the Paleo Diet. I remember you telling me that diet was 80% of it. I also read Saint’s story like 10 times. Now, I’ve read it at least 25 times. I figured the wedding is five months away I need to do something now. I felt like I could do the Paleo Diet thing. I also read an article on Zen Habits about changing just one thing to make a new habit. I was worried I would fail if I jumped all the way in. So, I only gave up bread and grains at first. I also joined the Nerd Fitness community on Jan 4th and jumped into my first challenge. At the end of January I was back down to 250 and I was feeling like I might be able to do it.
The more success I had, the more I wanted to do it and the stricter I got with my diet.
In the beginning I didn’t tell anyone, except my fiancée. I just felt like I’d tried to lose weight so many times before and I didn’t want people to be like, “yeah right, good luck with that, fat guy.” I also didn’t feel like explaining that “crazy” paleo diet.
The other big thing is my fiancée was totally on board. At first she was a little dubious that I would get big results from the paleo diet. She was concerned I was setting my weight-loss goal too high, and didn’t want my hopes to be dashed and give up if I didn’t meet my goal weight in time for the wedding. But, she just wanted me to be healthy, so she supported my new way of eating and put away her cookbooks and cookie recipes. As time went by, and she saw my results, she became even more supportive.
I would say she eats mostly primal now, except she still eats yogurt (homemade now).
Also, I stopped eating just because it was breakfast-time or lunch-time or dinner-time. Now, if I don’t feel hungry- I don’t eat. I read an article on MarksDailyApple about being mindful of your eating. He touched on that if your stomach isn’t growling, you probably aren’t really hungry, just bored. So, I have really focused on trying to be in-tune with my body and recognize if I am actually hungry, or just bored. Some mornings I eat a huge breakfast, and sometimes I don’t eat until dinner.
Steve: What was a typical day like for you before January? And what’s a typical day like now?
Stephen: Before: I would wake up around 6:00. Eat cereal and check the Internet until I head to my desk job about 7:30. Go out to lunch with the guys, eat Chinese buffet or Five Guys something like that. Sometimes I brought lunch from home, but not often. At 5:00 I would head home and eat dinner, watch TV for a few hours while I surfed. I would read about getting in shape instead of doing it. I would snack on some kind of dessert throughout the evening, as well.
Now: I wake up at 5:00 three times a week to workout. My fiancée and I walk around our neighborhood before work or in the evening 3-5 times a week. Sometimes we walk twice a day. I brown bag my lunch, which is usually a salad with some kind of protein. We eat meat and veggie dinners or homemade soups every night. I also have more energy now so I am getting a lot more projects done around the house.
Steve: How did you get in shape?
Stephen: I do the Nerd Fitness Beginners Body Weight Workout three times a week. In the beginning, I was barely able to make it through the workout. I was lucky if I could do a total of 10 pushups in three sets. Now I can do 100 pushups in five sets. My fiancée and I walk one to two miles almost every day. I found I need to walk to keep losing fat. My cleaned-up diet was the big part. I cut out beer, but I still allow myself red wine in moderation. I do not allow myself “cheat” days, but I have indulged a little at a special occasions- a small slice of cake or cream in my coffee, but those indulgences are rare.
Steve: This past six weeks, you went for a full Paleo diet – how was it different than what you had done in the past, and how successful was it for you?
Stephen: Between January and this six week challenge, I was still adding cream to my coffee and occasionally eating cheese. I used artificial sweetener and ate and drank other things that were somewhat processed too. When I went full Paleo, my rule was: if it comes from a package I don’t eat it. I gave up all dairy. I gave up all alcohol except when I took my Mom out to dinner for her birthday. Even that night I ate paleo, except one glass of wine and a little dessert.
I lost 16 pounds during that six week challenge. This was when people really started noticing and commenting on my weight loss because I dropped it so rapidly. Honestly, I never found the diet that tough to follow. Sometimes I still crave pastry or a dessert, but those things are just not part of my lifestyle anymore.
Steve: You just got married – how important was having the wedding as your goal for getting in shape you think?
Stephen: I think the wedding was very important. I had a hard target date and I had an actual weight goal. It wasn’t a vague, “I want to lose weight” effort.
Steve: What was the toughest change for you to make?
Stephen: Giving up breads, pastries and desserts. It was also tough giving up my wife’s baking. As I’ve said, she is a mean baker!
Steve: What was the most important change you made that helped you succeed?
Stephen: Going paleo. I think the body weight workout also helped. I don’t need to go to the gym, so that excuse is out the door. If I miss my workout at home, I know I can go in my office, close the door and bang out 60 pushups. I also try to be active in some way at least five times a week.
Steve: What would you tell somebody in your situation right now to help them? Somebody who’s tried and failed but ready to try again?
Stephen: Try making only one change to start. Do something. Do anything. Not next week. Not Monday. Not tomorrow. Today. You don’t have to go all in but make at least one change and be sincere about it. If you want to lose weight don’t buy snacks when you do your grocery shopping. I would recommend Paleo to anyone but if they don’t want to go all in do like I did and try giving up just bread. I am proof that you cannot use the no gym excuse.
Steve: At the beginning of the year, you set your 2012 goal at 200 pounds – 70 pounds lost. You’re already down to 234…are you surprised how quickly you’ve been able to lose the weight?
Stephen: Yes, I am really surprised. I’ve lost weight and gotten into the 230s three times over the last 10 years. The other diets I’ve tried were extremely strict, I was always hungry, and if I saw a little rebound in my weight after all that sacrifice, I’d get discouraged and give up. Complete commitment to the Paleo Diet and my exercise routine has made all the difference. I am still just amazed at how quickly the pounds have come off.
Steve: What’s next? What’s your motivation after your honeymoon to stay in shape?
Stephen: Since I have gone paleo, my fiancée has gone primal by default. Since January, she has dropped from size 10 to size two/four.
In fact, she had to have her wedding gown taken in three times!!
Since we have both have been successful and both feel so much healthier, we plan to stick to our commitment to the paleo/primal lifestyle. We plan to enjoy ourselves on the honeymoon (fruity drinks with umbrellas come with the package) but we’ve come so far, we don’t want to throw away our pre-wedding efforts. We expect a little weight gain on the honeymoon, but we promised to be active every day we are there and our goal is to keep the weight gain five pounds or less. Your exercising around the world video was very timely. Again, the body weight workout will be a big help. I won’t have the “no gym” excuse even if there wasn’t a gym at the resort.
I still have lots of other goals: I want to have a six pack stomach. I want to be able to do 20 pull ups in a row. I want to do a muscle up. I want to do a human flag. These all seem like lofty goals, but so did losing 56 lbs. – but I did it. If I can lose that amount of weight in a few months- there’s no reason I can’t realize my new goals, too.
Falling off the wagon is always in the back of my mind, as I’ve done it so many times before. However, I’ve come so far now and how I eat is just what I do now. I think I will be okay. I also can’t remember the last time the scale said 214 and I am NOT going back.
Steve: What are you excited to do now that you weren’t physically able to do before? any activities in particular?
Stephen: Push ups! Lots of them. I can also do a chin up now! I’ve never been able to do a chin up in my whole life.
Last year I built a raised bed garden for my fiancée. My pickup was filled with dirt and I was dying shoveling the dirt into the garden bed. It took me most of the afternoon to get all of the dirt out of the truck. This year, I built her a second raised bed garden and I emptied the truck in 15 minutes – barely breaking a sweat. That was pretty cool.
I am also looking forward to skiing this year since I will be in so much better shape.
Steve: Your physical appearance has changed…what else has changed about you?
Stephen: My fiancée says I act much more confident and social. She says I chat with people more easily than when I was heavier.
Steve: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?
Stephen: I acknowledge LOTR is the better directed trilogy and great movies but I love Star Wars. I grew up with Star Wars. I mean when Luke finds out Vader is his father?! That was the most mind blowing thing ever when I was 11!
Steve: Favorite video game of all time?
Stephen: I am going to have to go with Rally Sport Challenge 2 on original Xbox. A close second is NHL 93 on original Sega Genisis!
Steve: If you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be, and why?
Stephen: Spiderman’s super strength and agility. It would rock to do what he can do.
How to be like Stephen
Have a goal, and be specific! Don’t suck at goal setting. You might not be getting married, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick a specific goal in the future. Do your first pull up by the end of the summer. Lose 10% of your body fat by December 31st. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to put steps in place and track your progress to make sure you’re going down the right path. If not, it’s easy to spot and you can make adjustments.
Take pictures. I honestly can’t stress this one enough – The scale is only one method of tracking. Because you live with yourself every day, it’s tough to see day-to-day change. If you are taking a monthly picture (just like Joe did), you can look back and see that you ARE changing. If you don’t see any changes, then it’s time to alter your plan of attack.
Try new things! Stephen tried and failed to get in shape dozens of times in the past by counting calories. He would do well, and then fall off the wagon for a few days, get discouraged, and go back to square one. This time, he knew that trying to do things the SAME way would result in the SAME failures, so he tried something different – a clean diet and strength training. Maybe calorie counting works for you; if it doesn’t, stop trying to do things the same way and expect different results!
Remove emotion from the equation. This is the biggie. Getting in shape and losing weight is 80% diet, and we all struggle with emotional eating. “Just one” becomes ten, and “one day off” quickly becomes a week. Because Stephen followed the Paleo Diet strictly, he removed emotion from the equation. He couldn’t eat just one, and he couldn’t take days off, because these things aren’t paleo – he wasn’t refusing himself certain foods, they just weren’t part of his life anymore. After a few weeks of this, combined with visible progress in his pictures, Stephen built up some momentum that couldn’t be stopped. Stop sucking at getting healthy!
Keep it simple. Trying to change EVERYTHING at once is incredibly difficult for anybody. Be like Stephen and make small changes that you know you can live with. First he cut out bread, and then he cut out grains, and then he made smaller changes…a few weeks at a time. Had he gone from a typical American diet to a strict Paleo diet overnight, he might have fallen apart within a matter of days. One small change, every few weeks, that you can live with.
Build your support team. Stephen was lucky that his now-wife supported his decision to live a healthier life, and as a result got inspired herself (going from a size 10 down to a size 2!). He also signed up for the Nerd Fitness community where he had 24-7 support from people just like him working hard to live better lives. You don’t need to be an army of one. Build that support team!
Shut up and get started. He had told his friends in the past dozens of times that he was going to get in shape, and each time he had failed. Rather than repeating himself (like the boy who cried “wolf!”, he stayed quiet, only telling his wife. He then put on his “hard hat,” and quietly got to work transforming his life. Every day, he got a little bit better. A few months later, people started to notice, and all he had to do was smile
Look for another dragon to slay. Like Saint, Stephen got in shape for his wedding. Rather than being content with his success thus far, he set his sights on another Dragon to slay - muscle ups, human flags, and more crazy body weight exercises. From him: “These all seem like lofty goals, but so did losing 56lbs- but I did it. If I can lose that amount of weight in a few months- there’s no reason I can’t realize my new goals, too.” Constantly add new goals and continue to push yourself to greater heights.
Be the next NF Success Story
These are my favorite articles to write.
Whether it’s hearing about Saint going from 60 pounds overweight to six-pack abs, Tony dropping almost 50 pounds in four months, Staci going from overweight and unhappy to incredibly fit and strong, or Joe dropping 128 pounds in 10 months, these stories make me smile for days on end. Some of them, like Joe’s story, even bring me to tears.
I want you to inspire the thousands of Nerd Fitness rebels out there. Quietly make a promise to yourself to change, or shout it from the rooftops and put your money where your mouth is. I don’t care how you get started, as long as you get started (just don’t forget the before photos!) Build your support team, make changes you can live with, and build healthy habits.
Be better today than you were yesterday.
You might not realize it yet, but you have THOUSANDS of people waiting to cheer you on. (I’m lookin at you Jess Perreca!)
I can’t wait to hear your story – and neither can your the rest of the Rebellion.
PS - Stephen’s on his honeymoon right now, but I bet he’d love to come back to an article FULL of comments of congratulations on his weight loss success and wedding. Thanks for leaving one
PPS – Speaking of Staci (Spezzy)…she absolutely DOMINATED a powerlifting meet this weekend, winning for the women’s division with a total of 725 (225 lb. squat, 145 lb. bench, 355 lb. deadlift). She even won a sword as a trophy, which will come in handy in the case of home intruders, leading the rebellion as they fight back the inevitable zombe horde, and slicing watermelon this summer. Congrats Spezz!