My Turn: How I Downsized Myself

It all began in January of 2006. I woke up with bad abdominal pains. The pain was so severe that I called in sick to work and immediately went to see my doctor. There I had some blood drawn and had a urine sample taken. The doctor suspected that my kidneys may not have been working properly due to the pain around that region of my abdomen and because of my urine, which had a funny color to it. But a few days later, after the test results came back, my doctor told me my kidneys were fine. I was relieved, for the moment. He then told me that my liver was producing more of one amino acid than it should, and that was a cause of concern. He tested me for hepatitis C, but that came back negative too. Finally, he concluded that my lifestyle was the culprit. "You are slowly killing yourself," he said.

The weekend after that consultation I rented the documentary about fast food, "Super Size Me," by Morgan Spurlock. I saw too many parallels between my own life and that movie, which documents Spurlock's daily consumption of McDonald's meals and his body's reaction to it. My office was a one-minute walk from a Burger King, Taco Bell, Sonic, Godfather's Pizza, Subway, Pizza Hut and Krispy Kreme. I never woke up early enough to eat breakfast at home, so it wasn't uncommon for me to be at my desk with a breakfast sandwich or a doughnut in the morning. I estimated that I averaged at least one or two fast-food meals a day, seven days a week. On top of all that, I'd been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for five years. I had made several attempts at quitting with nicotine patches and self-help tapes, but they didn't help.

At six-foot-one I weighed 235 pounds and had no motivation to improve my lot in life. I thought I was content to be overweight, out of shape, and in a job that, while not terrible, gave me no fulfillment. I was also having problems with my girlfriend. I thought things couldn't get any worse—until I figured that I was running out of money to pay my rent. I had a decent-paying job, but I was spending all my money eating out, buying the latest gadgets and partying with my friends five hours away in Chicago. I was forced to move in with my parents (not fun at 26) to save money. Additionally, I was put on formal review for my lackluster performance at work. After I helped my girlfriend move out of her old apartment, she dumped me on the drive to dinner the same night. This was also the time I began experiencing the abdominal pain. All of this occurred within a three-week period.

In other words, I had hit rock bottom. Yet something inside me told me I needed to change my lifestyle and I needed to do it soon. A few weeks after I moved home I woke up one morning and decided right then and there to quit smoking. In the shower that same morning I thought back to my glory days in high school and how I enjoyed running on the cross-country team. When I went to read the paper before I left for work, there was an article about how to start a running regimen. I saw it as divine intervention.

I went for my first run that night. I ran for the initial eight minutes and walked the remainder of the two-mile course I had planned. My goal was to someday run those two miles nonstop, and I made a plan to work toward. I kept trying to run one more minute than the previous run, and I worked at that five days a week, never taking a night off.

I also changed my diet to one that did not contain processed foods. I ate only lean cuts of meat (I have since gone to a vegetarian diet) like turkey and chicken, and I ate only at predetermined times, every three hours—three "regular" meals supplemented by healthy snacks like fruit or granola bars. This system worked really well for me, and I never felt as if I was starving, despite the fact that I was eating less than I was used to.

The weight melted off. Within four months I lost 30 pounds. Ten months after my visit to the doctor, I was down to 170. I am now two years removed from the first day of my "new" life. Besides one cigarette a few weeks after that day, I have not had another. As of this month I have lost, and kept off, a total of 75 pounds.

I kept up with my running, too, and ran my first marathon in October, with the people I care about there to cheer me on. With eight miles to go in the 26.2-mile race, I was reduced by pain almost to shuffling. I resorted to walking the last mile due to a leg cramp. Coming up the last turn with a quarter-mile to go I was clearly in pain. A man jumped out of the crowd and into the middle of the route and put his arm around me. He said, "Here is what we are going to do, we are going to start by running a little bit. Not very fast, but we are going to run. Then, when you get up there closer to the finish line, you are going to go all out. You can do it!" I did not know this man at all, and he didn't look to be a marathon runner. But it inspired me. Before that moment I had sworn off ever doing another marathon. Now I plan to run my second one this summer.

I still don't know why I decided to quit smoking, start running, and eat healthy on that cold Tuesday morning in February. But I knew that once I made that decision, I would follow it right away. I didn't wait until the next week or the next month or the next year. I made the change effective immediately. To me, that was the answer: don't wait, don't talk about it, just go out and do it.

Without anyone to cheer me on at the start, I decided to make major changes in my life, and I did. I now believe that anything is possible.