Everyone meet Ben from New York City:
From 214 Down – Losing Weight As A Lifestyle, NOT A Diet!
As I sit down now to write this personal journey of mine, I honestly never thought I would be doing so ever so quickly. On September 6th,2014, I felt a tremendous amount of sharp pain on my left side of the groin area under my stomach. For those of you who have known me for a while, my last major episode in the hospital was when I was 12 and had Salmonella poisoning. I was there for a week and lost 20 pounds. However, the physical pain of the moment was worse here. I felt like someone was stabbing me. After I recovered, I described this experience to my family and friends as if someone is constantly stabbing you with a knife and it doesn’t stop. Those of us who have experienced the common cramp in that area, know that there is always a way to relieve ourselves of pain- whether by laying down, going to the bathroom, or waiting for that ultimate comforting soothe of relaxation we know coming to us. This was no cramp though.
If I want to make this situation sound more gruesome and intriguing for you, this all happened on Shabbos while I was at my roommate’s (Mordy) house in Brooklyn. I felt a little pain at lunch, some more pain closer to Mincha. It stopped for about two hours, but when we got to Ma’ariv, I began to sweat and pant. With the gracious help of Mordy’s mom who is a RN (and I thank her so much for spending the night in the hospital with me), I was rushed to the hospital, got my CT-Scan that I had two stones, and within two weeks, I was back on my feet. This story sounds a bit random, no?
I went home for some chiropractic work on my back a few weeks later. The Dr. told me that it is quite unusual for a man my age to get a kidney stone. He said that one of the reasons why I could have gotten the stone so early is due to an unhealthy diet and being overweight. Over the summer (June, 2014), my parents convinced me to go to the L.A. Fitness by our house where they go daily to get evaluated and perhaps hire a personal trainer due to my increasing figure. The trainer told me that I needed to lose about 35 pounds in order to be considered healthy again. I had no idea I was this overweight. Have you ever felt so sluggish that you knew you had to go work out, but you couldn’t do so due to the fact that leaving your dorm room to go to the bathroom sounded like a workout of its own? I was definitely on this boat. Iwas so scared to look at a scale. I remember that halfway through my first year of college, I reached above 190 lbs. for the first time. I finally decided to weigh myself after this whole kidney stone episode and I was at 214 pounds.
Let me tell you that I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life. I knew I was overweight and I was scared to categorize myself as obese but inside I knew I was. My stomach definitely looked and felt completely round like a beer belly of the classic middle age man you see with their stomach protruding a solid 8 inches away from their chest. I felt depressed. I felt defeated and embarrassed. My clothes didn’t fit and I was frustrated inside. I had to constantly go and buy new clothes. A suit I bought in August didn’t fit anymore in the middle of September. The worst part was that I was about to start off-season training for baseball and I was scared to show my coaches that over the summer I probably put on ten pounds, rather than lost ten like I should have.
A good friend of mine who is a very healthy and into fitness and being healthy, (also someone who I have to give so much Hakaros Hatov to for getting me started) suggested to me to read a book called Fit2Fat2Fit. The author, Drew Manning, is a personal trainer who lives in Salt Lake City. His clients told him that when he told them that they needed to keep pushing to lose weight, many responded, “You don’t know what it feels like to be 75 pounds overweight. It’s not easy to go to the gym and to do the workouts when you are so overweight.” Drew decided that he was going to make a point to hopefully teach a valuable lesson. Your will power is the strongest strength you have. Nobody can stop you from accomplishing the attainable goals that you want to succeed in. Drew spent the next six months gaining the weight and completely stopped going to the gym. He gained the 75 pounds, and then created a workout program to lose the 75 pounds over the following six months. Before he started, he thought that it would be easy since he has been in the gym since he was basically in diapers. However, once he started, he felt ashamed and embarrassed. His emotions were getting to him when he couldn’t finish a workout. However, he continued to push and lost the weight. For him, it was an emotional roller coaster, but he wrote (and told me in person), “If my journey could help inspire just one person to want to improve on their health, than this whole journey was all worth it for me.” This line spoke to me tremendously.
As I finished reading Fit2Fat2Fit while lying down on my couch on the first night of Rosh Hashanah after stuffing my face, I said that if Drew could make the personal sacrifice just to make a point, I am going to do this. I have accomplished goals before in my life, and after Yom Tov, I will begin my journey. On September 29th, 2014, I began my new lifestyle. I didn’t want to call this a diet. The word diet sounds too restrictive. I downloaded an app called “MyFitnessPal” just so I can keep an estimated tab on my caloric intake and how much I burned in the gym. For my size and BMI calculation, the app suggested I ate 1,940 calories a day. However, if I burn calories, I can eat a bit more to make up for the deficit. I stuck to this plan.I cut out white bread, pasta, all types of rice and pizza completely. Obviously, no sugary deserts or snacks as well. In terms of liquids, I only drank water, since I don’t even like coffee, tea or most sodas anyways. However, the most important secret- NO EATING AT NIGHTS. This means that with the exception of Friday night for Shabbos (since we have to wait to eat at night), I would make it my effort to eat latest by 7. More importantly, I tried to go to the gym after dinner, so the food won’t just sit in my system and turn into fat.
My father told me when I started this new lifestyle that there are two types of “dieting”- one when you eat the right foods to stay in shape, and the one you are doing to lose weight. Therefore, I also cut out legumes (until about 2 weeks ago), and I also hit the gym hard everyday. It is very important to stretch before and after to prevent soreness. If you do this, you’ll feel durable and strong coming into each workout. Obviously, when you first start you’ll feel sore, but the more you do it, the more routine you body will adapt to the workout. I read various articles stating that if one eats a healthy balanced 2,000 calorie diet (not just 5 slices of pizza a day) and burns about 500 calories in additional workouts on a daily basis (5 times a week), you can burn a pound a week. Now my goal originally for this seemed scary for me. I wanted to go down 25 pounds (to 189 lbs.) in 5 months. This would put me at a week before baseball season and I thought it would be impossible to burn 1.25 pounds a week.
Each body is designed differently. Usually when one is overweight, the first 5-10 pounds come off easily when you start to lose weight since most of it is water and fluids. However, I was told not to feel discouraged if my weight is at a standstill for a while, but to persevere and continue. At first, I was in the gym doing 20 minutes of cardio on the elliptical (level 1) and 20 minutes on the treadmill (going 3.5 mph). For those who do cardio regularly, those are both baby steps for these machines for someone my age and size. However, in most goals that people try to attain, you need to start small and slowly work your way to the top. Also, since I am a bit of a picky eater when it comes to eating vegetables, I ate a lot of proteins (lean meats, fish, and grilled chicken) to keep myself full and have the proper nutrition I needed. I also started to eat multigrain and whole wheat bread. To be honest, when I used to eat it, I thought it had a terrible taste. That is not the case today. In fact, if I had a cheat day, I would still have multigrain over whitebread. It has more flavors in my opinion. The combination of going to the gym, eating happily and healthy, and not snacking or eating at nights seemed to work and thank G-d continues to do so.
Today, I am happy that 15 weeks into my lifestyle, I am down an unheard of 42 POUNDS down weighing in at 172 pounds. I am being totally honest when saying this: I never thought that this would happen. I am trying toget down 8 more pounds while training right now for the upcoming baseball season beginning March 8th. Many people have asked me how I can just go cold turkey on the foods that I am used to eating. I don’t promote cheat meals when you are trying to lose weight because I know I have a hard time controlling myself and you need to develop self-control. Having pasta once a week turns into twice a week, and then we lose a grasp of our self-control. For me, I found it best to have cheat goals. When I lost the first ten pounds in the first 5 weeks, I was jumping for joy that the fruits of my labor were beginning to show itself on the scale. That is when I decided to implement an incentive that if I lost 20 pounds, I would treat myself to 16 handles frozen yogurt (which is in fact not that unhealthy- not much sugar and about 130 calories for 4 ounces [I had 2 servings]).
On November 20th, I hit my 20-pound goal. I went with my friend (who was and still is my biggest motivator to continue) to 16 handles and celebrated the goal. I then said that I know that this is a stretch, but if I get to 40 pounds, we have to go for a slice of pizza as my next cheat milestone. This same friend who introduced me to Drew’s book told me that he was in town with his wife and we definitely wanted to meet them. They had a meet and greet in NYC that coming Sunday so we went to go meet them. I was so happy to show them how I was down 20 pounds already. It was a bit frustrating because I only saw results on my face, not my stomach or pants size yet. Drew and his wife are really nice and my friend and I were so happy that we got to meet our “fitness idol” that inspired me to start. Drew told me that when I get to my ideal weight, he wants me to send him a body shot of the before and after so he could write a blog about me. He also was so supportive and happy for me that I honestly will never forget that day for the rest of my life.
Today, I sit here in YU writing this as a changed person. My stomach has shrunken, and my friends and family have finally approached me with the question, hey you look good, did you lose weight? I never realized how good of a feeling it was to respond yes to them. I’ve worked hard and I deserve to smile and be happy for this. None of my clothes fit anymore, but this is a good problem to have. I have gradually bought more clothes, donated some, and kept some in case in the future I would gain back the weight. I don’t go to the gym 7 days a week like I did the first 12 weeks of this journey. I now let my body tell me when I need a day off here and there. Also, with strength and conditioning (for the upcoming baseball season) on Monday-Friday (except Wednesday) at 6am, and night practice 5 nights a week from 8-11pm, I can go tothe gym for an hour and burn my 1,000 calories like I normally do like three times a week (as oppose to 1,400 calories a night- 7 days a week). I also have begun to incorporate legumes back into my lifestyle. I don’t do it daily, but once a week has been nice to start. Finally, since I called this a lifestyle from the beginning as oppose to a diet, I do not want to abandon Pizza and Pasta. I am going to wait to go out with my friend for the 40-pound milestone for a slice of pizza, and incorporate either whole-wheat pasta or pizza once every two weeks.
Why did I write this? I personally feel that inspiration is contagious. Sometimes, we need outside sources as motivation to gain confidence in ourselves to try to succeed in our goals. My friend and Drew are two of my biggest inspirations for doing this, and without them, I would still be sitting at over 210 pounds and feel like a giant ball. In my opinion, when you read my story, you can see how I am a regular person who just saw that something needed to get done in order to make my life better. I was motivated, driven, and focused the whole way through. My advice is to do the following even if it is not your style: tell everyone what you are doing. Tell them that you are trying to lose twenty pounds for example. Why should you do this? When you tell everyone, they will remember and keep asking you how it is going. Now you feel like you are bound to this decision you made. If I succeed, everyone else will notice and see. Unfortunately, if you still look the same and feel the same, you’ll let yourself down, and everyone will know. The goal of this is not to embarrass you. This technique puts a bit of extra pressure on you because everyone is now cheering and counting on you to live up to your word.
When I started this, I was still in an embarrassing shock as to how much I weighed as I said beforehand. If someone asked, I always just said 190 and I would feel somewhat good because most of my friends weighed between 160-180, so I was close. However, I did tell my close friends and family that I was going to start and lose 25 pounds. Baruch Hashem, once again, I am still shocked I am writing this being down 42 pounds only 15 weeks in as oppose to down 25 pounds in 20 weeks. There were times that were tough for me. I get a bit perturbed inside when people tell me after complimenting me that it was probably easier since I am younger and I am a guy. Let’s get this straight. I don’t want to sound harsh, but this was probably the hardest physical task I’ve ever tackled in my entire life. At first, my stomach and fatty chest started to sting while I was on the machines. The pain would extend after even when I went to bed each night. My legs felt like jelly. If I tried to do a sit-up, I had to lie down because I couldn’t breathe. Also, I’ve told this to some of my friends, but when you are in college with all the on-campus events that takeplace, it is so hard to reject so much free pizza and other food. I have probably rejected 5 pies worth of slices for me at least. It is hard not to be able to eat what everyone else is eating. I am also an out of town student, and I don’t live in an apartment. This resulted in a very limited variety of food for meals. I’ve had one type of snack for when I needed this entire time. Aside from all of this, I didn’t “get through this”. I conquered it. I lived my lifestyle and continue to do so. I also want to emphasize that if you lose weight, you can’t just stop working out and eating right. Your body needs the right nutrients to function properly each day. The best advice I can give for those who have lost weight is to do what my mom does. My mom lost 80 pounds over the course of a year (years ago) and she has a system with a +/- 5 pounds system. If she gains, she eats only healthy until she goes down the five pounds. If she loses more weight, she can treat herself. Stay within 5 pounds of your ideal weight since weight always fluctuates throughout the course of your life.
If you have read my whole story, I thank you for reading. I hope you have gained something from it. I too, like Drew, think that if this will help one person, this whole story was worth writing. Even if you have only read bits and pieces of it, I think it is good and hope you got something out of it. If you ever have any questions pertaining to this topic, you can always feel free to call/text/email me at your convenience. I am confidential about this, and I won’t share with others that you asked me for health advice. I remember it was embarrassing to admit to others I was dieting and asking questions, so I know how you feel. I want to thank HaKadosh Baruch Hu for giving me the power and physical ability to be able to learn a lot and physically go through this experience successfully. I want to thank my friend for being there to listen to my weight updates and for all the continuous health advice and for hearing me out in times of good (and many whining tough times as well), and especially for suggesting Drew’s book. I want to thank Drew and Lynn Manning for the inspiration and for the advice when I met them. I want to thank my parents and my brother for their help- both in health advice and obviously for monetary help to get me back on my healthy feet for the first time since I was 14 years old. Thank you to the rest of my friends and coaches for their support, and thank you to you, the reader. The first step to accomplishing your goals is to start. By reading this, you have definitely started! Keep on going!! Good luck!