Like many people that are overweight, there is a valid medical reason that led them to their love-handles. For me, it was a massive hip surgery in 2006.
Massive to the point that before I was given the medical diagnosis, my doctor (a hip specialist a Children's Hospital in Boston) told me to call a loved one into the room for the news. I had a form of advanced dysplasia, that, if not treated, would lead to a hip replacement by the ripe old age of 23.
Dysplasia (more commonly found in dogs) is a disorder that causes the hip bone to be turned just slightly in the wrong direction where the femur connects. This creates a small gap that causes extreme discomfort and a need to walk with a limp. It's also a hard condition to catch as many doctors write off the symptoms to growing pains or sprains (this happened to me more than a few times). If one never gets the corrective surgery, the hip just gives out completely, eventually causing the need for a replacement.
The doctor told me that if I chose not to operate, opting instead for the hip replacement, I could shave 20-30 years off my life due to the stress the body takes in the numerous hip replacements I would need to have over the span of my life. I decided to have the corrective surgery, and in short, the procedure was a success. Despite the positive outcome, the recovery time raised a whole new set of challenges. One of these was time spent in a wheel chair. And even more time spent on crutches. I spent so much time in pain, not wanting to move an inch. Unless that moving involved eating, of which I did plenty. Prior to the surgery I wasn't in great shape—afterward I was much, much heavier.
A year or so after the surgery I had to appear in a promotional video for a library program. Reluctantly I did what I had to for my job, but made a point to avoid watching the finished product. These efforts were put to rest one night when I was flipping through the television and caught a brief glimpse of the library show on local access. I was caught like a deer in the headlights to the image I saw on the screen. That saying about the camera adding 10 pounds was no myth—despite looking in a mirror every day, this was the worst version of myself I had ever seen. It had to change. So I put down my pizza, and planned to join a gym the next day. Then I remembered I had a birthday party to go to. And then it was a work function with good food. Then it was something else, and something else, and well, I became a master of making excuses.
I spent the next few weeks with the full intention of beginning a fitness journey. The time was just never right. I can tell anyone thinking about starting their own journey that there is NEVER a perfect time. There is a lot of hard work and sacrifice that goes into dropping any weight, and nothing that is worth getting is easy to attain. Eventually though I did take the first step in the right direction, and that step was joining World Gym in White City Plaza.
When you're out of practice, joining a new gym is petrifying. First, aside from a treadmill, I had no idea what any of the machines were. This gym looked like a dungeon full of various devices intended for torture. As I would come to learn, that's exactly what most of them were. One perk in joining was a free session with a trainer so I could set up a workout plan and learn how to operate the machines. I don't remember much from that meeting, but one thing she told me was to “Remember the way you look today as motivation never to look this way again.”
She wasn't friendly, but she was shooting straight. Part of me was angry with her bluntness, the other part of me appreciated the tough love approach. The second thing I recall her telling me was “Losing weight is 70% diet, 30% exercise.” This was hard to hear as the most meaningful relationships I had outside of immediate family were with carbohydrates. Donuts, pizza, ice cream, french fries, etc.—I loved horrible food. I decided though, for the sake of my health and this new venture, I would ban myself from junk food completely for six months. No cheating whatsoever.
I hate the saying “Everything in moderation” because that is NOT for people looking to lose weight, that's for people who are where they should be. You don't tell someone who is recovering from alcoholism that just one drink is okay, because it's a slippery slope. That being said, I want to stress that I am not a medical professional or dietitian—I'm just someone who is passing on the same methods I did that led me to an eventual loss of 100 pounds.
I began going to the gym three to five times a week. It was really hard finding the time at first, but if you wake up to the realization you could prevent diseases that WILL take years off your life, I'm pretty sure watching all six hours of this week's American Idol won't seem as crucial. That's one great thing about most gyms—they have crazy long hours. For instance, World Gym opens at 5 a.m. during the week and closes really late most days. They make it hard for people to justify the “I don't have the time” excuse.
During the summer months, I took a majority of my cardio to the streets of Shrewsbury. I would get up as early as 4:30 a.m. and create different routes all around town. It was much more interesting than walking in place on a treadmill. In the winter, I mostly stayed indoors on various machines. There were times it did get dull, but every time I was tempted to end a workout early out of boredom, I thought about the end goal. Having a loaded iPod certainly made it easier too!
After the first three months, I was down around 20 pounds. In six months, I was down 40. In a year, I was down 60. There were some weeks where I only went to the gym couple of times, but for the most part I stuck to a fairly consistent frequency.
One tip is not to expect the weight to drop drastically after just a week or two. Looking back, it's easy to say the weight dropped quickly overall, but in the early days of the diet, I began wondering if all the sacrifices were worth what I was giving up. I got on the scale way too much was would get discouraged at how little I lost after a really rigorous workout. In time though it was absolutely worth everything I passed by in sake of a transformation.
It took a few years for me to hit the big 100-pound drop, but when I did, it was an incredible feeling. It was so much fun packing all my size 38 pants (now I'm in 32s) and XXL shirts (now I'm a medium) into bags and donating them to charity. As I was losing weight, I was gaining confidence.
The 'petrified to see myself on television' version of myself turned into the 'auditioning for (and getting cast on!) a reality show' new me. I began challenging myself in other new ways as well. Last summer I joined CrossFit in Worcester for four of the most intense workout months of my life. It was great fun and so beneficial. I took up running and did my first 5K. I recently joined in Shrewsbury for the next phase of my physical transformation. I now have a whole new set of goals, and my past successes encourage me to smash these as well. I also know that if I can be motivated to get moving and start losing weight, anyone can. It's so much more fun than I ever imagined—and certainly more satisfying than polishing off an entire large pizza on my own.
I would encourage everyone who is overweight to speak to a trainer and their doctor about a smart routine. There were days where I went too far with the health kick and had episodes of dizziness. I didn't do it perfectly, but as I sit here so much healthier than I was five years ago at this time, I don't have any regrets. In a few years, or less, hopefully you will have your own story to tell. That decision is ultimately up to you.