We all fall down. Whether it’s literally falling down on a run or figuratively by falling off a diet or falling behind on a workout plan. Everyone falls. I fall all the time. But what I would rather be defined by is not how often I fall, but how I keep getting back up. It’s all about resilience.
In the Army, we have resilience training every year. Why? Because the Army feels that it’s important for us to receive continuous training on how to deal mentally and emotionally with the challenges of not only our garrison work, but of combat. How a person frames their ability to get past obstacles defines the result. An example of this is how you think you will do on a strength test. If you think you can’t do it going in, it’s likely you won’t be able to. On the other hand, pumping yourself up, psyching yourself up for a big lift makes it much more likely you can succeed.
I tried losing weight many times in my life before I was finally met with success through Whole30 and the Paleo Diet. Each time prior, I was always doubtful of either the program’s efficacy or my ability to follow through. As a result, I wasn’t as disciplined and I failed over and over again. Somehow, I tried one last time, but the difference this time was that I went into it with determination and a better mindset. I possessed pure determination to succeed. I told myself I would not fail, and I didn’t. I told myself I could not have cheat meals, cheat days, or succomb to temptation (or what I call sabotage), and I didn’t. I decided what my reality would be, and it came true.
This is a really powerful mindhack. Heck, it’s a lifehack. You can create your own reality by telling yourself that you will accept nothing else but your goal, and that you will do whatever it takes to get there. You’ll take however much time it takes to get there, but you will get there. Nobody can do the work for you; it’s all on your shoulders. There will be people who try to derail you or talk you out of the hard work; Don’t let them. You can create the best version of yourself you can, and you do that by believing in yourself, in your ability to get the work done, and your ability to dust yourself off and to get back up when you do fall.
You get to decide your future. Is it sedentary or active? Adventurous or safe? Are you going to sit on the couch and eat chips or are you going to take the time to make healthy food that your body will use as fuel to live your best life? It’s all about choices, and they’re all in your power to make. Sure, it requires resilience to reach a goal, but you can do this. We’ve all fallen down before. Just remember to keep getting back up.
When I was on active duty in the Marines, exercise was a way of life and a big part of our jobs. We had “PT,” or physical training at least once or twice a week with the platoon, once every other week with the Company, and about once per quarter with the Battalion. We were also expected to conduct “Personal PT,” or to exercise on our own for another three times a week to stay in peak condition. I have to admit that I rarely did personal PT, and when I did, it was usually not something I enjoyed. As an NCO, I had to conduct PT one-on-one with troops who needed extra help to pass the physical fitness test (PFT) or whose PT standards were slipping, but otherwise, I relied on the resilience of youth to see me through the regular PT sessions we had.
Once I left the Marines, I left behind exercise. It was a conscious rebellion; I wanted nothing to do with exercise ever again. This lasted almost 20 years as evidenced by my refusing to do any form of exercise during my first year in my new healthy lifestyle where I lost 110 lbs. I abstained from exercise not only because I wanted to see how much weight I could lose without any exercise, but because I truly disliked it. The Marine Corps had killed any enjoyment I possibly could have gotten out of exercise. It’s not because the Marine Corps doesn’t do fitness right (it does), but because past boot camp, I was never really fit, and my exercise sessions were filled with soreness and a lot of effort. There was the occasional fun run where we ran as a large group around the base, and we actually enjoyed ourselves, but those were few and far in between for me. As a whole, I didn’t enjoy exercise or fitness.
After leaving the Marines, I thought that exercise was what a person did to counter-act caloric intake or what a person did to get all muscled-up (aka ripped, jacked, swoll, etc). I felt like exercise was a punishment for eating unhealthy or too much food. In other words, every association I had with exercise was negative. That made it hard for me to ever get into a good routine, to make any lasting habits of an exercise routine, or to realize any real benefit from exercise. I did actually try for the sake of improving my fitness and (mistakenly) to try to lose weight, but no plan or routine ever stuck.
After losing 110 lbs, I began to see the need for exercise. I had lost a lot of weight, but I still looked soft. I wanted to look healthy, and I came to realize that the only way to accomplish that goal was to exercise. I actively thought about how I had succeeded with the weight loss and also thought about how I had repeatedly failed to sustain an exercise regimen. I came the the following conclusion: mindset was the key. I was able to stick to my new lifestyle (diet) through a very positive mindset and believing in the process. With exercise, I had always done the exact opposite and the results were exactly the opposite of the results from my diet. A lightbulb went off in my head.
In the Marines, we used to say, “Fake it ’til you make it,” whenever we had to do something we were uncomfortable with. Leading PT for the first time? Act confident even when you aren’t, and eventually, you will be. Need to teach classes to the platoon and you’re nervous about coming off as scared? Pretend to be confident, and eventually, you will be. I decided that I would fake excitement for exercise until it became a reality. I reasoned with myself that if a positive attitude could have such a positive impact on my weight loss and overall health, perhaps it could carry over to my fitness.
Every day, when I awoke, I would start telling myself, “I get to workout today,” or “I get to run today.” I framed it as a gift because I know so many people who want to run or exercise but cannot. As a veteran, I know more than my fair share of men and women who are no longer with us that would likely rather be runnning or working out. I began to think of the many veterans who are physically disabled due to their service who would do anything to have one more run. I began to see myself as fortunate, and my ability to exercise as a gift. Even though I felt it was cringey at first to say, “I get to run today,” a strange thing happened; I began to believe it. The reasons behind the mantra became very real and evident to me, and instead of being an abstract statement, I began to see the faces of the many people I know who can’t run anymore. I began to think about people I knew and missed.
I took it a step further, and sometimes on runs, when things got tough or I felt like it was too hot to be running or that maybe I was too worn out, I would think of someone in particular who was no longer with us, and dedicate my run to them. It was a different person every time, but I felt like they were watching me, and since I dedicated my effort on that run to them, I was not going to let them down. It would lead me to pushing harder and pushing through the barrier.
Now, it’s become second nature to me. Every day that I wake up, I tell myself, “I get to exercise today,” and it makes me smile. At my age, my body still lets me exericse. I am still able to get out there, to lift weights, to do pull-ups, push-ups, and then run 3+ miles without pain afterwards, and that’s truly a gift. It wasn’t something that was given to me or that I inherited; I had to work for it, and in another sense, that’s what makes it truly valuable.
I have a 4 mile ruck (road march) coming up in three weeks, and if it’s like any of the other rucks I’ve done in the past few years, it’ll start with a shuffle, which is a sort of run you do with a 48+ lbs rucksack on your back while wearing a helmet and carrying a rifle. It’s not easy, but you do it to give yourself as much benefit to complete the ruck within the allotted time (under 17 minutes/mile). That sounds slow, but trust me; with all that weight on your back, on your head, and carrying a rifle while in full uniform wearing combat boots, it’s not that easy. But, strangely enough, typically about a mile into each ruck, there’s a moment when it hits me: I get to do this. There are so many people I know who would give anything to be in my boots, doing what I’m doing, discomfort and all. That makes me fortunate. And then it happens: I smile and I pick up the pace and shuffle some more.
Your mindset is the single most important thing as it pertains to your success in health and fitness as it is in any facet of your life. You’ve heard the saying, “You reap what you sow.” The same holds true for attitude. If you believe you’re going to fail, or that you have no chance for succeeding, the likelihood of success is greatly diminished. Sure, overconfidence is also a bad thing, but confidence is not. A positive mindset can never hurt you. Believe that you can do it, trust in the process, harness your motivations, and no matter what, remember that your ability to exercise is a gift that countless others would give anything for. Don’t squander it.
Those were the words my daughter left me with on Friday afternoon as I ended our call before I went on post to attend my first official week of Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS). I had expressed to her some anxiety and a little bit of fear about some of the physical aspects of the training I was about to undertake. Later that day, I was to take the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) which is a newly-implemented fitness test that currently has a high failure rate. I had taken one three weeks prior, but I was unable to complete one primary event (the leg-tuck) and had to substitute it with a 2-minute plank (which I was able to complete).
I had set my goal on improving each of the six areas of the ACFT which include:
Repetition Strength Deadlift (three deadlifts)
Standing Power Throw (throw a 10 lbs medicine ball behind you)
Arm Extension Push-Up
250-Meter Sprint, Drag, Carry
The 2-mile Run
My results last time were good enough to pass:
140 lbs deadlift
7.2m standing power throw
20 arm extension push-ups
2:30 250m sprint-drag-carry
0 leg tucks, but successful 2-minute plank
19:47 2-mile run
Those were good, but personally, not good enough. I wanted to not only be able to show improvement through my efforts between drills, but I wanted to push myself to improve for personal reasons. I never like passing any sort of assessment with bare minimums; I want to have some wiggle room just in case I’m not able to perform at my best, I know I can still pass. So, I put in the work, and the following were my results:
180 lbs deadlift
8.5m standing power throw
26 arm extension push-ups
2:12 250m sprint-drag-carry
4 leg tucks
19:17 2-mile run
These are good improvements, but I’m setting a goal for myself to reach the next level of success. There are three levels of testing: Moderate, Significant, and Heavy. As a Warrant Officer, we are required to pass the ACFT at the Moderate, or “Gold” standard which is:
140 lbs deadlift
4.5m standing power throw
10 extension push-ups
3:00 250m sprint-drag-carry
1 leg tuck
21:00 2-mile run
The Significant standard is:
180 lbs deadlift
6.5m standing power throw
20 extension push-ups
2:30 250m sprint-drag-carry
3 leg tucks
19:00 2-mile run
Comparing my results against the Significant standard, I completed everything go Significant standard except for the run. For me to get there, I just needed to run a little faster. It is kind of painful knowing I missed making the significant standard by 17 seconds. 17 seconds is what seperated me from making significant standard across the board.
However, like anything, I have a goal, and I have a process to get me there. I will continue to train and push myself to attain the results I want. Will I ever make it to Heavy standard? Here’s what it takes for the Heavy standard:
200 lbs deadlift
8m standing power throw
30 extension push-ups
2:10 250m sprint-drag-carry
5 leg tucks
18:00 2-mile run
I think that getting the deadlift will be easy. My workouts will have me at 200 lbs deadlifts within the week, so doing a three-lift repetition for the test when I do 5 lift repetitions will be easy. I already can meet the standing power throw, and getting to 30 push-ups shouldn’t be problematic. The 2:10 sprint-drag-carry is a goal I’m already very close to, and with some more High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), I should be able to meet that standard. I’m only 1 leg tuck away from meeting the 5 leg tucks standard, and I think I will be able to get there and beyond soon enough. The most challenging of the six events for me will be the 2-mile run in 18 minutes. I have short legs, and running has never been my forte. However, I’ve actually run as fast as 16:47 in my two-mile runs in the past, but not after a smoke session like the ACFT.
The ACFT, unlike the older Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) is an endurance event that tests not only our physical capabilities and strength, but also our ability to balance our effort between the six events. If I smoke myself on the deadlifts to get a high score, that could detrimentally effect my ability to complete the sprint-drag-carry and the 2-mile run later in the test.
So, how does my daughter come into play with my experience this past friday with the ACFT? It’s because her words echoed to me throughout the entire text period. Every time I had some sort of doubt in myself or my abilities, I heard her saying, “You’re stronger than you think you are. You’ve got this.” Every time I heard those words, I pushed harder. I didn’t want to let her down, and I also needed to take her words to heart. It’s easy to slow down on a run when you’re feeling tired, but her words made me analyze how I was feeling. Am I out of breath? No; just breathing hard. Are my legs smoked? A little, but they aren’t sore or hurting. Can I push a little harder? Probably; let’s do this!
I challenge anyone reading this to consider that you are stronger than you think you are. There is more inside you than you likely are willing to admit, or want to admit. It’s easy to slow down or to stop, but if you slow down and aren’t breathing hard or aren’t exerting yourself during exercise, are you realling going to get the results you’re after? My dad always used to say if you’re going to do something, do it right the first time. That can apply to exercise: put in the work, and make it good, solid work. You will never see the results you’re after unless you push yourself, and the strength within you is greater than you think.
In the past, I failed repeatedly whenever I tried to lose weight and get healthy. Regardless of the method, the plan, or the diet, my attempts always ended in failure. Fortunately, I never tried the same bad plan twice and kept trying.
Dr. Andrea Dinardo has a wonderful blog I’ve been following for years, and this post of hers really resonates with me. Embracing failure has allowed me to succeed where I never thought I could. Be willing to see failure as feedback.
Some people really want to lose weight, yet they struggle with motivation. Whether that is motivation to start, motivation to avoid foods that are bad for them, motivation to stick with a diet, or motivation to get up and move a little here and there. Lack of motivation is something we all struggle with from time to time, and I’ve given it a lot of thought over the years. While running last night, I had a thought: when people lack motivation to do something, it’s because they are unable to visualize the goal they are working toward.
I was running at a good clip and I was on my second to last lap. As I thought of the fact that I was almost done, I had an overwhelming desire to stop running. I could have stopped, really. I had run 2 and 3/4 miles at that point, but I have a goal of 3 miles minimum. As soon as I pictured me finishing the 3 miles, the desire to stop went away. My legs became more energized, and I felt an inner-strength well up inside me to get it done. As I neared my goal, the energy was enough to propel me past my goal and into another 1/10th of a mile. I could have gone on further, but I didn’t want to keep Sherry waiting too much longer for us to have dinner, so I stopped. But I learned something: visualizing my success gave me motivation and energy to finish.
When people can’t find the motivation to start a healthy diet, it’s likely because they can’t visualize themselves being happy on the diet. They can’t see themselves being successful. The more diets overweight people try to lose weight and fail, the harder it is to adopt successive diets. I get that; I have lived it. That’s why it’s important to set realistic goals and to set phases, or checkpoints. That’s what I did, and it’s how I became successful. I had monthly goals that were loose enough for me to be able to succeed even if I didn’t quite meet a certain number.
That brings me to another point about goals; don’t make goals scale-based. Weighing yourself on a scale is an easy measure of weight loss (duh!) but it’s not the only measure of your success in attaining good health. How your clothes fit, results from blood tests and physicals, mobility, flexibility, and improved ability to perform physical tasks are all things that are greatly improved once you start a healthy lifestyle with a clean diet and some exercise.
Exercise: the hardest of all things to be motivated about. In my experience, it’s hardest to get motivated about exercise because we have all been in programs where you work out, run, or ride a bike, and the next day, you feel tired, worn out, and sore. Sometimes, so sore, that just doing normal, every day things are difficult. Nobody likes that (well, some people thrive on that feeling; I’ve never been one of them). I have found that taking things easy and slow makes attaining fitness far easier and it requires even less motivation. My plan is simple: walk for 30 minutes. Then have a rest day. Then, walk for 30 minutes followed by another rest day. See the pattern? Walk every other day. After about two or three weeks of walking, my legs felt like they just weren’t getting enough, so I began to jog. It was a ridiculously slow jog, but I did it for 20 minutes straight without quitting and I walked the last 10 minutes. I increased my jog time to 30 minutes and then worked on increasing pace once I could run 30 minutes straight without walking.
I added push ups to my routine early on, and started with 10. That’s all I could do, but I didn’t care. I could do 10 comfortably, and I stopped when my arms started feeling struggle. I did my push ups every other day, and if I felt I could do 2 or 3 more, I would do them. If I felt I could do less, I would. I never pushed myself past my comfort. Now, I am up to 100+ push ups every other day and I run 3+ miles every other day at an 8:30/mile average or faster. It took me 8 months to get there, but I wasn’t in any hurry to reach those numbers, and I just do what I can. My goal each and every time I did push ups was to have an increase each week and not every day. If I did 10 for three days and then was able to do 15 the following week, that was a win. It allowed me to stay motivated as I was seeing progress which mean I was achieving success.
Motivation to avoid foods that aren’t clean, whole, or good for us is tricky because it’s hard to measure success against failure. Coupled with the fact that each temptation is a test of one’s fortitude, failing and succumbing to temptation hits us harder than missing a push up or run time goal. It feels like a personal failure. Going into a new diet, it’s important to know that you will not be perfect. It’s impossible. But what is well within your power is to keep trying. The difference between a successful person and a failure is that the successful person didn’t let failure stop them. That’s all it is; literally, just getting back on the horse. Now, it’s important to eat clean, and to do that for as often as you can, but if you are defeated by a temptation to eat a donut when there is a stack of them in the office, don’t beat yourself up. Dust yourself off, and make sure the rest of your meals that day are good for you. It literally is that easy.
Motivation is an energy to harness, and it’s something you have done before. Apply it to your health, visualize your attainable goals, and for a final goal, visualize yourself as the healthy, thinner, and fit person you want to be. Don’t let anything get in your way of being the best you that you can possibly be. In this race, you are your own worst enemy, and the only person who can defeat you.
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.
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.