Talk about an Origin Story straight out of a comic book!
At 330 lbs, Joe was unemployed and a highschool dropout. Living rent-free with his grandfather, Joe would sleep all day and wake up at the start of the evening. Having grown up with unhealthy habits, Joe says he’d been binge-eating as long as he can remember. He developed a hypothyroid issue as a teen, and hadn’t bothered to take care of it.
Many of us feel trapped by our situations, and so we do what Joe did for years. Instead of using this as an impetus to change, we make ourselves feel better by falling even deeper into these negative habits. Joe says he would eat “entire loaves of bread with peanut butter or entire 2 pound boxes of chicken fingers” at night. “I’d have to use two baking trays to make them all. I’d stay up until 5-7am watching Turner Classic Movies or Buffy. Sometimes I had the energy to play videogames.”
He wasn’t taking care of himself physically, or mentally. Things felt dire: “Every night I went to bed thinking/hoping I’d die. I was a total wreck. It’s hard to remember.”
But – spoiler alert – Joe turned things around. This is a Nerd Fitness success story after all!
Joe is now 28 and has lost 140 lbs. Like many of our success stories, he used fitness as a gateway to change his entire life: Now he’s finishing a Masters in Library and Information Science and completing an 8-month work term in a special library dedicated to atmospheric and meteorological sciences.
Let’s hear some more from Joe to hear how he looks, feels, and acts like an entirely different person than he was a few years ago.
Steve: Joe, thanks for sharing your story and your low points so honestly. I think many of those in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion are either going through or have some experience with these moments. Let’s go back to the starting point. Do you remember the moment that things started to turn around?
I’d gotten to the point where I could barely socialize. The photo of me at 330 is one of the rare times I went out to see people. I ended up drinking an entire forty ounce bottle of vodka and eating two bags of chips. Walked home in the snow, got home and vomited orange goo… And so it continued like that for a while.
It was the worst time in my life and I basically wanted to die.
I don’t know why something changed. Or how it changed. I just remember one night I was watching a movie by John Huston called “Fat City” (nothing to do with being fat – it’s a boxing movie with Stacey Keach and Jeff Bridges). After the movie I put on my headphones and went for a walk at 3am. It was raining. I could barely get down the block. And I just kept it up. Walking at night. Hiding but working at it. And slowly but surely I just walked more and more. I started seeing friends again. Went to my doctor, started correcting my thyroid (blood work twice a month). I got to the point where I walked 1-2 hours a day.
Steve: A journey started by simply walking. Love it. Reminds me Frodo taking a first step out of the Shire. In fact, it was even inspiration for our Walking to Mordor and Morning Mile challenges – tools to help people find their way in to the beginning of the game. What happened next?
Eventually I got down from 330 to 280, finished high school through Distance Education and enrolled in university. I remember finding a pair of dumbbells in my aunt’s basement and borrowing them. I didn’t even know how to work out. I just did curls and what turned out to be overhead presses. I kept that up. Didn’t see much of any result from it since the dumbbells were only 10 pounds. But it began the habit.
Some time after I started googling workouts and somehow found Nerd Fitness.
It was an earlier article you wrote about how to construct a workout. The basics of push/pull/legs/core. And I started doing bodyweight circuits. I could barely do knee push-ups.
I wasn’t transformed, but things were different. I was accepted to a university with scholarship, but I was still eating like a death-row inmate on suicide watch.
I’d often go get a footlong steak sub and a full-sized bag of Doritos and 1L of Diet Coke…and it eat it all before a single episode of Community was over. But I was walking an hour a day and starting strength training. I was a lot healthier emotionally and mentally too. This was huge progress.
Steve: It sounds like your journey of a thousand miles happened slowly, one step at a time. Walking each day, learning strength training, and just trying to take positive steps each day is an incredible difference from where you were at a year prior. So, how did you go from there to the “Joe-today” we see in this post?
Starting with the bodyweight workout from the Nerd Fitness article, I eventually got a kettlebell (although at first, I could barely do knee push-ups).
Throughout this time I was kind of active on the NF Forums, but struggled to achieve my goals.
However, I did keep the habit of working out. I get more motivation, I think, from just surprising people with my accomplishments. Eventually I could do a few push-ups (along with rows, lunges, and planks) and it gave me a lot of confidence.
I ended up at a boxing gym nearby, and learned from people in real life what good form looks like. My diet was still just total bullshit, but I managed to get down to 235-240.
One day I’d just sort of realized I’d gained muscle. People started commenting on how much better I looked.
I’d always read new posts on NF and try things out diet wise. Paleo for a few weeks. Then back to non-stop binge eating.
So, when I hurt my knee and stopped boxing, I ballooned back up to 260. It was only when I put a focus on diet that things really changed for good.
Steve: Diet is so damn hard for all of us, but as you know, the central driver of progress. How did you break through?
I started doing flexible dieting (roughly counting calories) and weighing myself almost every day. Diet-wise this is what, and still, works for me.
It’s enjoyable and I can be totally consistent. And it helped me mentally that I can eat what I want, just as long as my calories are around where they need to be. When I started cutting, I was losing weight on 3200 calories a day. This blew my mind.
I was also using intermittent fasting, which saved me a lot of calories at night. Basically, I accepted that I enjoyed eating a lot of calories at once, and built my strategy around this fact.
As my diet was getting fixed, I began working out at a normal gym with a really basic workout routine: OH Press, Chin-ups, Front Squats, Trapbar Deadlifts, Rows, Push-ups and even started doing a bit of isolation work, which I’d never done before. Today I use a similar minimalist routine, and focus the rest of my attention on diet.
Steve: Wow, an incredible journey. I bet it’s hard to look back and say it was easy or a smooth ride. What was your secret?
Ultimately, what was my issue was psychology and strategy. I never gave up. I kept respawning.
I tried a lot of different things to figure out what works for me and what lets me be consistent. I like working out and enjoy the zen aspect of training and hiking/walking. Dieting took A LONG time to figure out for me. I had to deal with a lot of binge eating issues, childhood crap and who knows what. A lot of mental demons were slain along the way.
Nerd Fitness was always there and it was the first place I ever went to for advice. If I’d ended up on another site or fitness forum, who knows where I’d be today! Probably doing curls in the squat racks and 3 different bench variations for my chest… The positive success stories on NF always kept me going. I also discovered GMB through NF and I love them: their attitude was a huge influence on how I mentally approach training.
Steve: Slaying personal demons around food sounds like it was your final boss battle. Do you have any other thoughts to share for someone reading and struggling with the same thing?
Weightloss is thermodynamics. It is simple math that is terribly clouded by our emotions and mental gymnastics.
Food shouldn’t be a cult and it shouldn’t be avoided unless you’re truly allergic to something or you just can’t control yourself around it. I’m not saying don’t eat healthy – I love fruits and vegetables – but I finished an Angus Bacon and Cheddar Burger with fries from McDonald’s before writing this response.
Do I eat that every day? Hell no. But I do eat it maybe once every week or every two weeks. And I know it’s about 1200ish calories, so I save my calories for it by eating lighter throughout the day.
Eating a cheeseburger doesn’t make you a bad person. Robbing old people in an alley does. For years I attached my emotional self-worth to the types of food and this mentality made me binge eat out of guilt to punish myself. It’s a vicious cycle.
Short Answer: I roughly count and estimate my calories.
Long Answer: To stay at my weight with my activity level, I know I need about 3000ish calories. It takes some practice, but you get the hang of it. I fast. I also use carbonated drinks like sparkling water to make meals feel more filling without adding excess calories. I try to eat at least 100 grams of protein a day, a few servings of vegetables and fruits, around 30gs of fiber…after that, it’s all good and delicious. I don’t obsess over ingredient labels; I eat sugar, I eat fat, I eat dairy and I eat grains.
And I avoid buying foods I can’t control my consumption of, like ice cream or cookies. If it’s in the house, I’ll eat it all. So, if I want ice cream, I’ll go to a nice ice cream place and get some. If I want a cookie, I’ll find a bakery or a café. Eat it, enjoy it and move on.
DIET LIKE EXERCISE REQUIRES PRACTICE!
Steve: Love it. These are incredibly practical tips, and it sounds like you’ve not only learned a lot about yourself, but also integrated that knowledge into your life and built intelligent habits to boot with a healthy relationship with food
Any particular mindset struggles?
I used to say, “Oh, I’ll start again tomorrow. So, I may as well just eat my face off today.” I did that for literally years. I’m not kidding. YEARS. Every day!
I mean, it’s basically insanity. Doing the same thing and expecting different results.
It’s like I lived the same day every day in some ways like Groundhog Day. I even made several different NF accounts over the years because I’d ‘want to start fresh’. It’s basically like deleting your saved game and starting over and expecting that somehow you’ll make it further the next time because you wished you were a chaotic neutral dwarf, not a chaotic neutral Halfling.
Changing your mindset and attitude is hard. Now I think, “I’ll do the best I can do today with whatever is going on.” If I go out drinking at eat a little too much, I might gain a 1/4th to ½ pound of actual fat. But I know it’ll come off in a week.
I don’t define myself by my mistakes, but my success. And I let myself be human.
Steve: Tell me about how you tracked progress.
I started out counting calories pretty accurately using an online calculator. But I found it really stressful and counterproductive for the type of personality I have. Which is obsessive-compulsive if I’m not careful. So, I started eyeballing it and felt a lot less stressed.
I believe that estimating your calories works on one condition: you assess yourself some other way too. I weighed myself nearly every day, so I knew if my calorie strategy was on track or needed adjustments. And for some reason, weighing myself daily didn’t stress me out like it does others.
I also kept in mind that if I ate something high in sodium, I’d weigh 2-3 pounds more the next day, even if I ate far less than normal the week before. I got good at not attaching too much emotion to the numbers I saw on a daily basis. It became about the weekly or monthly trend. Did it go up? Did it go down? Did it stay the same?
Clothes were also a great motivator and measurement tool. I used to wear a 4XL and a 56” waist. That is not a lie. Now I wear a medium shirt and a 32” pant size. And in fact, I find the 32” a bit loose these days. Which could suggest I’ve lost a bit of fat while gaining a bit of muscle. OR, they’re just old and worked in, haha.
Steve: What do you feel was the single most important change you made?
Get your head on straight. Take it seriously, but take it easy. Keep moving forward at a pace that works for you. Progress is always progress. And sometimes it may feel like nothing has happened, but you may be down 2 pounds that month. Or maybe you added five pounds or a rep to a lift. That is how progress works. A piece of advice Chris Pratt gave about losing weight, which I’ll always remember is: time moves at the same pace whether you’re doing good or doing bad.
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?
If a 330 lb high school dropout can do it, then so can you!
If you still keep trying, it means you want it. And eventually, you’ll figure out a way inside your mess of a mind to make it work for you. It’ll click and it’ll groove and a few months down the line, after years of suffering, you’ll be lighter, or stronger, or bigger and go, “Holy Shit! I did it and I’m making progress.”
And it may be cliché but it’s cliché for a reason: success breeds success. And step by step, battle by battle, ledge by ledge, you’ll forge the person you thought you could be on the outside and on the inside. In fact, the confidence gained by doing what I’ve done is more important than how I look. Nobody has every hurt me like I hurt myself, but nobody has ever pulled myself up to reach lofty goals like myself. The same person that made you a fat blob is the same person that’ll make you fit and healthy.
And without any irony, I say this: love yourself.
Steve: Your physical appearance has changed…what else has changed about you?
I like clothes way more. Which seems to be a common theme for people who drop lots of pounds. I used to hate going clothing shopping. Even when I was in the low 200s, because I’m only 5’9, it was really frustrating to find clothes that fit. But, it’s become a lot easier.
(Editor’s note: if this sounds like you, here’s how to not dress like an idiot!)
Steve: As someone studying Library and Information Science and working in atmospheric and meteorological sciences, I don’t think you actually NEED more nerd cred. But, we still need to know: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?
Indian Jones. Yeah, you heard me!
Steve: Ha. I will allow it. Favorite video game of all time?
Bushido Blade for Playstation. Best fighting game ever. I can’t figure out why they only made two (other than the rights being sold off by Square at some point). If there are any game developers reading this. Please, for the love of God and all things Holy (or for the love of Satan and all things unholy) make a realistic, one-hit-kill sword fighting game with three planes of movement.
Why Joe Was Successful
The changes in Joe’s life are unbelievably epic, and hopefully can help inspire many of us needing to make daunting changes in our own lives.
Remember, no matter how bad things seem: There is always hope. But so many of us fail to translate this flicker of hope into real life… So, how did Joe do it?
- Joe took imperfect action. He did something right now. He had the courage to step forward even when his world seemed to be in its darkest hour. When everything in the world seemed against him (he was a dropout, living at home, overweight, and mentally down), he still got started anyway. He did what he could. He walked. It wasn’t the end all be all solution to all of his problems. But it was something. Something that eventually led him to a complete transformation.
- He experimented. When he tried new workouts, diet, or made changes in his life, he wasn’t satisfied with “good enough.” Instead, he kept trying new things. Kept tweaking. It was this experimentation and openess that helped him learn about himself and what his deepest habits and challenges were. He kept respawning and trying and failing differently.
- He made his diet work for him, not the other way around. In the course of learning about himself, he understood that he couldn’t change everything at once. So he used intermittent fasting and other flexible diet strategies to go with the flow, rather than oppose one of his most powerful habit patterns. He knew he liked eating a lot of calories at once, so he used intermittent fasting. He knew he struggled with the stress of always making perfect diet choices, so instead trying to eat only kale and chicken breasts for 6 months, he gave himself a break through flexible dieting. He aimed to eat healthy generally, but let himself be human.
- Joe understand the importance of mindset. Our mental well-being is so incredibly important. Whether we need to give ourselves a smarter framework to think about our health, or whether we need to address an underlying issue, we can’t change our lives if we are still stuck in a mental rut. If we are still doing and trying the same things over and over and never spend the time to critically examine our lives and try something different, it’s no wonder we wouldn’t see results.It’s scary to look at the world a different way. But sometimes if we want to achieve our goals, there isn’t any other way. We have to do shit that scares us. Change requires something different to occur. It happens “at our limits,” whether we like it or not. Whether you are eating the same things month after month and wondering why you aren’t losing weight, or dieting over and over and regaining weight every year, or working your ass off on a treadmill and never seeing progress: be aware when you need to make a change.
Nerd Fitness Success Stories come in all different shapes and sizes. Everyone takes a slightly different path to getting healthy, but every success has one thing in common: They finally hit the start button and did their best once the game started. When things didn’t go right, they respawned. They made tweaks; they kept moving right.
PS – Looking for more success stories? Learn how Ron the Lay Pastor lost 100 lbs (and counting) with the NF Academy, or how Maya the aspiring aerialist transformed her body and started trying new things.