It’s going to be hard at first and you’ll want to quit but don’t.

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That motivator in the picture right there is Michael Eckert, Marine Sgt. He holds the Guinness World Record for most pull-ups in 60 seconds. A video of him doing “Air Rowing” recently went viral, and he did an AmA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. In the AmA, he was asked, “What’s the best fitness advice you’d give someone working on getting in shape?” His answer: “It’s going to be hard at first and you’ll want to quit but don’t.”

This is probably the most important and basic piece of information anyone can give regarding starting a diet or a fitness plan. It’s going to be hard. You will want to quit. Don’t.

We give ourselves excuses all the time for why we should take the easy route and quit. Whether it’s during a run, in the middle of repetitions on a bench press, or starting a diet, it’s always hard in the beginning. Another quote of Sgt Eckert’s in the AmA applies here: “Remember the guy who quit? No one does.” Everyone knows you started something. Be known as the one who finished it, too.

I set out to lose weight, get healthy and fit, and weigh 165 lbs. I did it. It took me 20 months, but I did it. I am now in maintenance mode for my weight (although I’ll take any additional weight loss my body gives me!) and I strive to become more fit, albeit slowly. It was hard in the beginning, but I didn’t quit. That’s great advice right there.

It is at our most challenging moments we need to be the strongest

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Me with my son, Brendon.

My son and I were having a conversation yesterday about the difficulties in staying motivated when the scale is not being good to us. He was struggling with watching his weight go up despite his sticking to the Paleo diet and running regularly. This is very common in many people, and so is the typical response: he said he was ready to give up and eat all the things.

But he didn’t.

He said first of all, he didn’t want to let me down. That’s sweet of him. But then he said something that made me more proud: he didn’t want to let himself down. He said that he had a goal for being fit and healthy, and that giving up didn’t fit into that plan. That’s very impressive and it takes a lot of self discipline and motivation to stick with something that is showing us little in the way of tangible results.

I reminded him of where he started and where he is today. He weighed over 258 lbs, while today he weighs 234 lbs. He could only do 5 push ups; yesterday, he did 40. He was only able to run 1 mile at an 11:52/mile pace. Yesterday, he ran 2 miles at a 9:50/mile pace. He may not be seeing results as quickly as he would like, but in a month, losing over 20 lbs and making the fitness gains he’s made is very impressive and indicative of how serious he is about health and fitness and how hard he’s working.

I’ve done it. My wife did it. My son is doing it. You can do this. You just have to keep your eye on the prize: a healthy and fit you. Perseverance is the key.

Finding your inner strength

IMG_6470This is more about changing yourself and your mind frame than pure health or fitness, I know. But I’m going to discuss it, because it goes to the core of what I believe led me to successfully lose 144 lbs and to get fit where others have failed.

I’ve discussed wanting to lose weight as much as a drowning person wants air. I’ve talked about being better today than you were yesterday. I’ve discussed perseverance, motivation, and dedication. Yet, I find people still telling me that they could never do what I did because it’s too hard.

I don’t judge people. Honestly, I don’t. But I do call out fallacies and excuses where I see them, and many people lean too heavily on the excuse of, “It’s too hard.”

No. It’s not.

To me, what was hard was climbing up a flight of stairs. To tie my own shoes without having to hold my breath. It was hard to fly on commercial aircraft comfortably. It was hard to sit in a booth in a restaurant (if not outright impossible). It was hard to experience tingling feet and nerve damage from Diabetes. It was hard to watch my blood sugar levels rising. It was hard watching life pass me by.

Getting healthy is not hard. It’s actually very simple, yet people are so tied to their lifestyles that they can’t imagine themselves without things like bread, pasta, beans, or ice cream. I can’t imagine going back to a lifestyle that made me so incredibly unhealthy and was killing me.

Perspective.

You need to really take a look at what is important to you. Do you have kids? Do you want to see them grow up? Do you want to meet and know your grandchildren? Do you like to travel? Do you want to experience new foods, places, things? Do  you have a bucket list that you want to have a decent chance of finishing? Are all these things worth a slice of cake every day? Does eating pasta outweigh the things in life that really matter? Does eating beans really mean more to you than living past 60?

We all have within us what it takes to make the necessary changes to be healthy, lose weight, and even get fit. You just have to make it a priority. I know it sounds easy, and I also realize that actually getting past the sugar addiction is very hard. I went through withdrawals and felt like I had the flu for three days when I cut sugar out of my diet. But afterward? I had a lot more energy and felt much better. It got much easier to avoid the sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, and soy because I never wanted to go back to how I felt before I quit them. Add to that the fact that my food is delicious and filling and it became a no-brainer.

I’m not selling anything. I receive nothing for any products I have endorsed (which, to date, is only fish oil). All I am doing is giving people the information I have learned through my own journey in weight loss from 312 lbs to 166 lbs.

What is the secret to my success? I wanted to do it more than I wanted short-term gratification that food provides. I changed my perception of what food is: from entertainment to fuel. Do I enjoy tasty food? Of course I do, and I prefer it! But I no longer eat until I’m stuffed. I eat only until I am comfortable. Eighteen months later, my stomach size has reduced naturally, and I fill up much more quickly. It’s a great feeling, and I know you can get there, too. You just have to muster the same inner strength you used to acquire that degree, diploma, certification, or title.

Being Better Than I Was Yesterday

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I’ve come a long way within two years.

I came upon a realization recently that is probably as close to an epiphany as I’ve had in recent years. I want to be a better person today than I was yesterday; every day. I want to be healthier, run faster, put in more effort, be a better husband, be a better dad, be a better friend, a better member of my community. Life gives us an opportunity to improve ourselves, to live better, healthier, more fulfilling lives. It takes effort to be better than yesterday, but with baby steps, it’s doable. I know: I’m living proof.

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Me on the left and me on the right with a difference of two years.

Sure, I lost a lot of weight. That doesn’t make me a philosopher with all the answers to life’s questions. But I’ve done more. I went from living a sedentary lifestyle to one of fitness. I’m back in the military. I believe that I’m a more organized and harder working employee. I do everything I can to be a better husband, father, and friend. I continue trying to learn as much as I can about the people and the world around me. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge that grows every day.

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My daughter and I with the band The Naked and Famous.

I don’t want to live in the past. I don’t want to lead a life where I’m looking behind me, recounting the glory days. That’s why I wear new clothes, listen to new music, watch new movies, and try to experience new things. I’m making memories through these experiences, but now is not the time for me to look back. Now is the time for me to live! To make memories! To do as much as I can while I have the ability!

These things drive me to eat right, to get my exercise, to put my nose to the grindstone, and to be gracious to those who mean a lot to me.

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Sherry and I at the Habitat for Humanity Gala last weekend.

The Paleo Diet, Whole30, and running have led me to where I am today: a better version of myself. Every day, when I wake up, I wonder what I can improve on. At the end of the day, I reflect on my interactions, the things I read, the things I experienced, and I find opportunities to improve. It’s also a nice way to look back at how far I’ve come from that guy who weighed 312 lbs, sat in a chair all day, and had to hold his breath to tie his own shoes. The guy who barely went out because it was so much effort. I’ve come a long way, and yet, I still have a long way to go. It’s been a great journey; I’m looking forward to the rest, and being better than I am today.

Dedication

I was doing some research a few years ago about success, and I came across a quote that has resonated with me ever since. “You have to want success with the same intensity that a drowning man wants air.” That struck a chord with me, because I’ve wanted success in various things in the past, but never with such intensity. That changed when I embarked on this journey to become healthy.

I wanted to get healthy and to lose weight with more intensity than I’d wanted anything else prior. No food was as important to me as getting healthy and losing weight. No matter how beloved pizza, pasta, bread, or pastries were, I cut them out of my life. It was a fast, hard, and clean break, and I never looked back. Why? Because I wanted to be healthy far more than I wanted to experience the short-term gratification of any of those foods.

I have had family and friends who have told me that they admire what I did and that they could not do the same. To them, I say, “Bullshit.” They could all do it if they put their lives before their stomach. I never said any of those foods were bad; to the contrary, they’re delicious! They’re just not good for us! Besides, if I can eat a bunch of other foods that are just as good but better for my healthy, why not eat those foods instead? What is so special about bread, pasta, pastries, pizza, and hot dog (the buns are the killer here) that you can’t give up?

I love life. I want to keep breathing and experiencing things and being here for my family for as long as I can. I’m rather addicted to breathing. While I may accept a little risk in some areas, I won’t accept it through eating and being overweight. It’s something so easily controlled once you set your mind to it. Just like anything else, you can accomplish anything you want. You just have to want it badly enough.

What being fit buys me

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One of my recent slow runs under the hot Texas sun.

I’ve worked for over a year and a half on being healthy. I’ve worked for the past eight months on being fit. I’ve talked a lot about what losing weight and becoming healthy has brought into my life, but I haven’t talked about what being fit has changed for me.

I can go up and down stairs without getting winded or being in pain. Most healthy and fit people take this for granted, but when I was at my heaviest weight, even a flight of stairs would make me winded. Now, I can go up and down stairs, even running, without raising my heart rate.

I am more flexible. This one is weird, but true. As I’ve been doing more exercise, my joints, tendons, and ligaments allow for greater range of motion which makes me far more flexible than I have been for decades. I can sit on our couch with my legs up against my chest, and it feels not only comfortable, but good to stretch my muscles in my legs. It also makes tying my own shoes much easier.

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Early morning PT in the National Guard.

Service in the military. This one is pretty obvious, but without being fit, service in the National Guard would have been impossible for me. Now, I can run, do my push ups, do my sit ups, and more importantly, be physically ready for any task or challenge I’m faced with. I’m not the strongest guy in the unit, but I’m able to pull my own weight and do what’s expected of me in my job and then some. It’s important to me to set an example for the junior troops, and I am doing that with my physical fitness.

Ability to do projects around the house. This is something I struggled with when I was fat and unfit. Just lifting a drill would make me break out into a severe sweat. Putting up a shelf was a major job not due to difficulty of the task, but due to the physical toll it would take on me. Something I also never realized before was that the injuries I would sustain while doing these household projects was in large part to being out of shape and unfit. When you drop things or take shortcuts which are unsafe, you tend to get injured more often. I can now tackle projects without it being a problem for my physically.

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Running with my son. He motivates me to keep getting better.

Running. Duh, right? What I didn’t expect was that I would enjoy it. I didn’t expect that I would be continuously challenging myself to improve. I did’t expect to become an inspiration to my son who is currently getting into running with me. My wife also enjoys it and it’s something we can share together from time to time.

Body image. This one I didn’t expect either. When I lost a lot of weight, my body looked better (thinner) but I was “Soft.” Now, after seven months of running and push ups, my muscles are looking defined, and I don’t look “Soft” anymore. My arms are more vascular, and my muscles are more pronounced. This has improved my self esteem a bit, and I now like the way I look. I haven’t been able to say that in a very, very long time.

I’m sure there are more things I could list if I think about it, but this is a pretty solid list of the things that I’ve noticed on a daily basis. Losing weight is good for your overall health, but fitness is important to allow you to get more out of life by being physically able to accomplish any task put before you, whether it’s a task related to work or fun.

How do I stay motivated when all I want to do is snack?

It’s a question I’ve been asked a few times. When I did my first Whole30, it was tough. The first three days were the worst, and I was constantly wanting to eat snacks. I got through it by finding things to keep my mind busy and by the occasional handful of almonds. Coffee and tea also helped me a lot, but in the end, it was willpower that got me through. I was through with just “Trying” anymore. I was “Doing,” and I was going to make it this time. I wasn’t going to allow the sugar cravings to win.

I wanted to succeed more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life. I set my mind to it, and I did everything I could to follow the rules and to do it right. The only thing I cheated on was weighing myself; I did that daily. But I’m the kind of person who needed that type of feedback to fuel my desire to stick with it. I know many people can get demotivated when they don’t see movement on the scale; it only made my resolve stronger.

I don’t believe in cheat days, cheat meals, or even cheat snacks. Cheating is defined as gaining an unfair advantage on an opponent. Cheat meals are actually sabotage, as they ruin your progress, can derail your mental state, and make future sabotages easier. It’s a slippery slope that is best avoided completely.

Some things to ask yourself when trying to decide whether you should eat a snack or not:

  • How badly do you want to change your life?
  • How important is it to you to lose weight?
  • How dire is your health situation?
  • Is the sabotage to your progress worth the short-term gratification?
  • Are you really hungry, or just bored?
  • Are you thirsty instead? Drink a glass of water and wait a few minutes.

We all have it in us to succeed with cutting out sugar from our diets. It’s not easy. Hell, it’s probably the toughest thing you will ever do, but the rewards are substantial and you will feel so much better afterward, you won’t ever want to go back to your pre-Whole30 lifestyle again. Keep your head in the game and reach out if you need help, pointers, or tips.