Meet Zach – a huge goober and nerd, and a formulation/polymer chemist.
For you non-science nerds, this means Zach makes coatings for magnet wires and gets to play mad scientist at his job. I can’t speak to the quality of his maniacal laugh, though.
Zach’s story isn’t like some of our other heroes – there wasn’t a specific moment from a doctor’s visit or a ‘call to action’ where he drew a line in the sand to get healthy. In fact, Zach thought everything was fine:
“About a year ago I thought that I had life figured out, but I was very much overweight and just topped the scales at 300lbs. I thought I was happy and I did everything I could to convince myself that I was. I used food and video games to escape the stresses of life.”
When crisis struck, Zach’s marriage came to an end – he coped not by eating his feelings or bingeing on Netflix for days on end; instead he chose to level up his life. He turned an incredibly painful experience into his motivating drive; each day he shed weight, got stronger, and pieced his life back together.
Many of us have had to deal with incredibly tough moments in our life – from the loss of a relationship or the a loss of a loved one, to dealing with illness and pain along the way. Although it sucks at the time, it also gives us a chance to become stronger than before.
Let’s take a look at how Zach overcame.
Steve: Thanks for being here, and for sharing your story with The Rebellion brother! We hear from so many people every day coping with tough situations, and I think your story will help show them how to turn their kryptonite into their superpower.
In a sentence or two, what was the old Zach like?
I was very inactive and the only activity I had was brief walking and standing while in the lab. A typical lunch for me was a 1,000 calories or more at McDonald’s or other fast food, and then I would come home and typically eat out again and eat an even higher caloric meal.
Steve: Sounds like a routine that we can all get sucked into pretty easily. Now, was there a specific moment when you decided to make a change? What inspired you to get started?
In February 2015 weighed myself and found that I was over 300lbs. So, I got a membership and told myself that I would do 30 min of cardio 4 times a week. I did that for a few months slowly incorporating healthy eating into my habits and I did lose some weight.
However, I had a crisis in my life in May of 2015. My wife and the love of my life left me out of the blue.
I guess a lot of my motivation is becoming a better man after that emotional trauma. Needless to say I was crushed and the following months of my life were very dark. The only way I could find solace or an escape was in the declining scale. If I lost weight I felt like I accomplished something and it gave my life meaning. I started to convince myself that my marriage fell apart because I was a fat unattractive slob. I vigorously began to workout harder and eat better to prove to myself that I was not that person. I understand this is not a healthy way of looking at weight loss, but this is how it started for me. However, once I began to heal after she left it became more about a lifestyle change.
A co-worker told me about Nerd Fitness and the Art of Manliness. Being a fellow chemist and Nerd Fitness rebel, she recognized that I would appreciate the site and how helpful it could be for me. I remember the first article I read was Joe’s transformation story. That article very much inspired me to begin a new lifestyle. Along the way, I also picked up a fitbit charge hr (the model that monitors heart rate) to help me nerd out on the stats relating to exercise and calorie burning.
Steve: We all go through those struggles in our own way – some people more productive and healthy than others. Honestly, it sounds like you dealt with things in one of the most healthy and positive ways possible: using it as a catalyst to look in the mirror and get to work on fixing yourself.
Let’s fast forward: what’s the new you like?
As I write this it is 5:30 am and I’m eating a healthy breakfast. Then I’ll head to the gym to do cardio for about 45 min. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I incorporate free weigh training with my buddy where we workout most of the major muscles groups in these 3 days. I usually take Sunday off from cardio.
My diet is mostly Paleo however it’s not entirely so. For me it’s easier to count calories so I try to stay in the 1,800 calorie range for most days except weekends where I up my calorie intake a bit since I am weight lifting. My dinner (favorite meal of the day) is always entirely Paleo. It is either vegetable stir fry, or I make a huge veggie omelet.
Steve: Sounds like you’ve found a new routine that works for you, that you can live with permanently. Good on ya, and congrats on finding a stable and antifragile foundation of health. Tell me more about your exercise strategy.
My exercise strategy has evolved over this past year. It started out slow. I would typically work out four or five days out of the week for 30 minutes. However as I started to lose more weight (~40lb range) I desired to do more. I craved being more active. I started running around July of 2015 just to get outside.
I love being outdoors and running was a way for me to do just that. I started out doing a run/walk method to work up to running longer distances. Before I knew it I was running multiple miles without stopping which was huge for me. The joy of running also made me increase my workout frequency simply because I was really starting to enjoy being outdoors and active.
Instead of working out 5 days a week I started working out Saturday and even sometimes Sunday. Running was my workout from July to early November of 2015. However, I learned that I am a fair weather runner and when it got cold (Northern Indiana cold), I went back into the gym.
Gyms are not always the most fun, but for me I could get past the boredom of being on a treadmill or elliptical since my gym has a pretty nice movie room set up. Once it gets warmer I plan on heading back outdoors for more running. Also while at work I try to walk around my building as much as possible and do pushups in my office after lunch.
Steve: It ALL counts, and I love to hear that you’re exercising in a way that you enjoy, not one that you feel you HAVE to do. How did your diet evolve along your journey?
I started out tracking calories with an app. I did that for quite a while. The biggest part of my early diet was incorporating a cheat day where I could eat whatever I wanted and however much I wanted. Many people say that at first it should just be a cheat meal, but this was not the case for me. I would indulge on Saturdays…to the point where it would scare small children.
Even though this may have not been the best strategy, I still was losing weight because I started out at a high weight.
Having this cheat day gave me something to look forward to during the monotony of calorie counting during the week. However, my eating habits started to change, and the cheat day turned gradually into a cheat meal. To this day I still am more relaxed when it comes to my diet on Saturdays, but I do not actively go all out anymore.
I then started to find some delicious paleo recipes thanks to the eating paleo article on this site. I began with the vegetable stir fry. I still credit that recipe to this day, for getting me to enjoy vegetables. I then branched off into chilis, stews, and other easily frozen and storable meals that I could thaw and eat during the week as a lunch or dinner. Sundays are my meal prep night for the week.
This also introduced a love of cooking. I very much enjoy being in the kitchen, which to me is basically like chemistry in a lab… that you can eat!.
Steve: Veggies were hard for me to enjoy at first too, and like you stir fry was the big game changer. Tell me more about the diet – it sounds like it was a gradual adjustment instead of a cannonball into the deep end. Fair assessment?
My diet has definitely improved over the course of my fitness journey. I crave foods now that I would never think of craving 2 years ago (mostly vegetables, my favorite being bell peppers and broccoli). My diet is still not perfect, but I continue to experiment in the kitchen to try to make delicious new things.
Steve: Perfect doesn’t exist, so props to you for not beating yourself up when you eat something not perfect. Overall, what was the toughest change for you to make?
Regular exercise was probably the hardest thing to make a habit of. I had some major setbacks in the beginning when it came to working out. Now, I try to never go more than 3 consecutive days without some type of cardio exercise unless I am deathly ill.
Steve: How did you track your progress?
My gym has a scale and I would weigh myself once a week. I probably should have weighed myself less frequently because I did have some weeks where I gained some weight. However, I have an obsessive personality and it’s hard for me not to have some sort of empirical evidence that I did something that week. The weeks that I did gain would quickly be offset by weeks where I would lose more than usual, so it all worked out.
Steve: Hey, us nerds need data sometimes, and it’s fun to track and can also help keep us ON track. It sounds like your frequent weigh-ins helped keep you accountable. I weigh myself about once per week as well. Was there a single big change you credit with your success?
This one is hard for me to pin down to one change. I would say that the most important thing for me was doing everything gradually. I didn’t expect to have results overnight and I wanted to ease into a new lifestyle instead of jumping headfirst into one and getting burned out (I credit this way of thinking to Nerd Fitness).
My workouts started out slow while I still had poor eating habits. I then slowly started to eat better. Then, gradually a healthy lifestyle began to fall into place. Nerd Fitness was a huge help and inspiration along the way.
Steve: We don’t level up over night, so when we have improper or unrealistic expectations on getting instant results (or results in 30 days), it can lead to disappointment and falling off the wagon. Thanks for putting NF’s words into practice and setting realistic expectations for yourself! Let’s talk about your support system – did you have people cheering you on?
I have the most amazing friends and family that saw me through tough times and helped me push past the pain. I got weekly texts and visits from friends just genuinely concerned about how I was doing and they would encourage me in my new fitness pursuits.
My mother (Kim Szczepanski), Father (Larry Ingol), Dan Lewis, Alaina Gilliom, Joel Harter (The whole Harter family), Grant Steele, and Carrisa Ormsby. These are the people who sacrificially gave up time in their lives to invest in mine. They encouraged me every step of the way when it came to my goals. I will forever be grateful for their friendships and I cannot give myself any honor without giving honor to them first.
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?
I would tell them to start out very slow. You don’t have to be some fitness guru in a day. Just start out by telling yourself you will work out a few days a week (for like 20 min) and make an effort to do it. If you miss a day it’s not a big deal, but keep at. You will be surprised how much momentum you can build by starting off slow. Set new goals for yourself on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Maybe it starts by working out 3 days a week and after 2 weeks you decide to work out 4 days. Then after another 2 weeks maybe you will start to incorporate healthy eating into your diet (whatever that looks like for you). Biggest thing is to just start by taking small steps. Oh, and if you have the willpower to stop after a day, incorporate a cheat day into your diet. Cheat days helped my sanity tremendously.
Steve: What are you excited to do now that you weren’t physically able to do before? Any activities in particular?
I can finally do an unassisted pull up! I was working on that for a couple of months and now I am able to do it. I am currently working on doing 2 in a row.
Steve: That’s a “Mission: Complete” for sure! Pull-ups might be my favorite exercise (along with deadlifts!) Any other goals you are using for motivation looking forward?
Over the next 2 years my goal is to hike the entire John Muir Trail with my best friend Dan, and my short term goal is to complete a 5k this spring.
Steve: Your physical appearance has changed…what else has changed about you?
I would say that I am finally starting to figure out who I am as a person. I can pursue activities now that I wasn’t able to pursue in my previous life. I feel more content than I have ever been, as if I am finally at peace.
Steve: Okay, we’ve come to the nerd cred section of the interview… but as a chemist, I wouldn’t worry too much. Let’s start off with the basics: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?
This question is torture for me because I love them both very dearly. I am a huge Tolkein fan and have read most of his work regarding Middle Earth. I have also read the Silmarillion which his son Christopher helped put together. However, I also knew Star Wars since I was like 8 years old. I think I am going to have to lean towards Lord of the Rings.
Steve: Favorite video game?
Hmm, Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time.
Steve: You’re in good company! Any other nerdy passions/pursuits?
I very much enjoy comic books! I don’t discriminate as I love both DC and Marvel.
Steve: If you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be, and why?
Hmm, I have always enjoyed Spider-man comics. I think it would be awesome to have spidey sense, awesome agility, and super strength.
Zach’s Super Powers
All too often we respond to negative and stressful events in our life with more negativity and more stress, which can create this brutal downward spiral.
We use these hardships as reasons to shut down – life is hard, it isn’t our fault, so we are going to sit down and take a break and stew in our anger/depression. And we all know what anger leads to…
We all go through tough times in life. It’s how we act in the hard times that make us who we are. We aren’t responsible for the hard times hitting us, but we are responsible for how we respond. We get to choose how to move forward. Lets see how Zach kept making right choices:
Go Slow and make small changes: In Zach’s own words: “My workouts started out slow while I still had poor eating habits. I then slowly started to eat better. Then, gradually a healthy lifestyle began to fall into place… I would say that the most important thing for me was gradual change. I didn’t expect to have results overnight and I wanted to ease into a new lifestyle instead of jumping headfirst into one and getting burned out (I credit this way of thinking to Nerd Fitness).”Yep – Zach bought-in fully to the NF Philosophy – there’s a reason we tell you over and over and over again to think small and make small permanent changes: because it works. You may hear stories about people who made drastic changes and are still chugging along, but in our experience these are the exception to the rule. We hear from thousands of people on this quest to get healthy, and most of those who succeed make very small, strategic, deliberate changes in the right direction. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be!
Find help (support system): Having a strong support system can be the difference between success and failure. Zach got weekly texts, and felt accountable to his friends and family. This feeling – no matter how you create it (online support, texts, in person support, or a combination) is the force behind making a good decision when we really don’t want to. It’s the thing that helps us avoid the Dark Side when we’ve had a tough day, or a long week. It was so important in Zach’s story that he felt he needed to credit them first and foremost – before himself.Community and support can be a powerful thing. And it doesn’t have to be in person.Check out our forums – The Nerd Fitness Academy has private Facebook groups that are incredibly active. Or if you want the ultimate community power up, consider coming to Camp Nerd Fitness (The best five days of the year and a year-long support network of amazing people).
Eat Real Food: It’s very common to avoid eating right when first starting the quest to get fit. It’s daunting… even more daunting than just working out a few hours a week. It feels like such a huge change, that so many people actually avoid making meaningful changes to their diet for a long time. But not Zach – he found his gateway veggie (well, gateway recipe), stir fry.
Just like me, gaining comfort and confidence in a single recipe opened up an entire new world and interest. Suddenly, veggies weren’t so scary. Suddenly, cooking seemed doable. Okay, maybe not so suddenly: for me it took quite a while of cooking the same thing before I started to branch out. But this is a step in the right direction. In fact, it’s taking the right train track. You know it’s going to take you where you need to go.
- Zach understood his limitations and set himself up for success: Zach’s story is real; he didn’t make every change according to the book (or in our case, the blog). Instead he understood his own life and his own personality, and built his path around it. Rather than tell himself to power through the winter and go out to run no matter what, he shifted his strategy and adapted: he started training in a gym. Zach made concessions where he needed to, but made the big wins – those 80/20 wins. So, don’t sweat the small stuff so much – put your attention on the stuff that really matters and can make a huge impact, and make tweaks as you go.
Have you struggled with something in your life, or are you struggling with something right now and need to make the right decision?
How can we learn from Zach’s example and other success stories?
Be sure to drop by and leave a comment or question for Zach.
We’re all in this together – those who have walked the path and those of us who still have a long way to go.