Throughout the course of my health and fitness journey over the past couple of decades I have learned so many things. I have tried many different things to try to optimize my health and I’ve finally found the winning combination for me. An optimal diet AND exercise. Sound familiar? It’s the magic secret that’s not such a secret. It’s what you’ve heard your whole life, if you’re lucky. The thing is, what I thought was an optimal diet back in 2009 surely was not. While I’m a little embarrassed to show some of these progress pictures, I’m sharing anyway because I’m hoping they can help inspire someone else. I really struggled for a long time trying to get to where I am today, and I hope to save someone a little bit of that hassle and heartache.
Intense Exercise with a high protein, low carb diet. Below are the results of 60 days following the 6 days/week exercise program P90X, and following a diet heavy on “lean” protein (lots of chicken, turkey, low fat dairy), and low carbs – limiting my intake of bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. I lost weight fairly quickly but with an incredible amount of effort, lots of willpower, and eventually injuries. (2009):
Switching from Standard American Diet (arguably a health conscious version, but still very high in animal protein) to a vegan and oil-free diet. Active lifestyle but no consistent exercise routines. I lost 15 pounds in 2 months and maintained weight loss. This was when I truly felt the impact of a plant based diet. It was the first time I had been able to control my weight with food alone. But still I wasn’t as lean as I would later become. Appearances aside, I didn’t realize how sick I was becoming after years of following the low carb high protein fad diets. More details in my full story here, but as many readers already know, my blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting glucose, and triglycerides all fell right into normal and optimal ranges within a few months. The only side effects were weight loss, increased energy, and lack of chronic headaches and migraines. This was all right after my physician told me I really needed to start daily medication for high blood pressure because I had been dealt a bad hand in the family history game of genetics (2011):
Chef AJ and John Pierre’s Ultimate Weight Loss Program (UWL) Following a Whole Food Plant Based Diet free of sugar, oil, flour, alcohol, and salt. Call it Unprocessed, SOS Free, but essentially eating whole natural foods as much as I wanted any time I wanted. The biggest difference between this and my healthy vegan diet was that I seriously increased my veggies and eliminated sugar, flour, and alcohol. I lost 25 pounds in 3 months and maintained weight loss (with one little hiccup). Exercise was predominantly cardio because I was so focused on getting all my “steps” on my Fitbit that I started training for long distance running! I completed 2 half marathons and a few 10Ks, a serious accomplishment for someone who had never been a runner! I neglected to focus on strength training even though it was frequently recommended… (2015):
UWL plus Dedicated Strength Training. In May of 2017 I was looking for a new challenge and I decided to shift from long distance running to obstacle course running. Think Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, BoneFrog, etc. I knew I needed to become stronger to survive these events and I found Burn Bootcamp which had just opened nearby. I joined instantly and began training 5-6 days a week in order to prepare for my first race. I completed the Terrain Race in June, the BoneFrog (the Navy Seals course!) in July and the Tough Mudder Half in September. Instead of going back to old dietary habits after reaching what feels like an ideal weight (though it continues to evolve!), I eat even more cleanly now than I did before. I still follow Chef AJ’s recommendations diligently and remain tuned in to the UWL Tribe which has been so instrumental in this journey. I have learned to strike a balance between hardcore full-on exertion and gentle stretching and breathing through yoga and meditation. John Pierre has been a tremendous influence in finding this balance and I highly recommend his book The Pillars of Health for anyone that’s interested.
The photos on the left below show my starting point in May 2017, in good shape from eating a super clean diet. On the right you can see the difference made by adding strength training into my regular routine.
It’s true what they say – weight is just a number. In my first Before picture I was 148. At my “thinnest” in 2015 I was 123. While I gave up on weighing myself regularly, I did check recently just to prove a point. Today I hover somewhere around 132-134. I’m 10 lbs higher than my thinnest weight but there’s no question the added weight is lean muscle and healthy tissue. In fact, I have recent results from a Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis that prove just that! My cholesterol has decreased from 210 to 122. My blood pressure dropped from 140/90 to 106/66. My fasting glucose is now at 87 having previously been on the borderline for insulin resistance, a pre-diabetes marker. But more important than all of these numbers is the way that I feel when I wake up, throughout the day, and when I go to bed at night. Never better! Fueled with plants, LOTS and lots of plants, I feel stronger, faster, and more fit than I did when I was a teenager.
I owe a million thank you’s to everyone who has supported this journey. I feel so grateful to have found these people when I did. Rather than sending you all a thank you note, I’m just going to commit to continuing the journey to keep on striving for optimal health!