Have you ever looked at a to-do list so staggering you didn't even know where to start? At 440 pounds, that's what it was like to stare down at the scale and know I needed to do something.
I couldn't stand up without feeling like death. My sleep apnea was so severe that I stopped breathing once almost every minute. Internally, I lacked confidence and lived in constant fear that I was having a heart attack when I was short of breath, which was frequently. I started taking aspirin daily — each heartbeat was a reminder of impending cardiac arrest. I wore ankle braces because my body struggled to hold my weight.
I was so far gone that I didn't believe there was a path that led back to health.
I privately wondered: Could anyone ever love me? Did I love myself? Were loved ones ashamed of me? Will I live to see my two daughters marry? Graduate? Even grow up?
It was one November day when I hit my emotional rock bottom. I realized I was slowly committing suicide with each passing day of apathy. Until that day, I'd never even considered that food and my addiction to it was hurting my relationships, shortening my life unnecessarily and taking away from the quality of time with my beautiful daughters.
That first morning, I decided to get outside and go for a walk. It was 4am. When I returned home after what was probably a quarter of a mile, I was breathing so hard it sounded like I was having a heart attack. But I didn't die. And that told me I could go again tomorrow and I might not die then either.
A week or so later, a fitness-minded friend helped me develop a whole foods-based meal plan. He became my accountability partner and was there when I had questions or needed encouragement. Perhaps most importantly, he told me that by the following Christmas, I could be 100 pounds lighter.
When I first started eating healthy, the weight poured off me. My body had always wanted to be fit and I'd been fighting it my whole life with my addiction. Despite hitting a few plateaus along the way, by the following Thanksgiving, I had doubled Bret's vision and lost 200 pounds.
I ran in my first 5K on Thanksgiving. As my family cheered me on at the finish line, I knew I had become the man they'd always known I could be: healthy, strong and happy. Loved by others always, but finally for the first time and forever by himself.
Why was I so successful? I've thought at about this a great deal, but if I had to point out a few things:
I was completely consistent in my gym attendance. When I looked back at the first two years of my weight loss journey, I averaged 19 gym workouts per month (roughly 5 per week).
I never felt overwhelmed or daunted because I stayed focused on the task ahead. To this day I tell people: "I didn't lose 200 pounds, I lost 1 pound 200 times."
This attitude made my journey feasible and manageable. I don't care how much you have to lose, just focus on the next pound and then focus on the one after that. Anyone can do this if they take it one step at a time.
Clear rules and no cheat days.
I still haven't consumed a single sugary dessert since the day I made the decision to change my life. I don't think this extreme nature is necessary for everyone, but I was addicted to unhealthy food and I knew that if I allowed myself cheat days, things would spiral out of control.
I did it for me.
This wasn't the first time I'd attempted to change my life, but it was the first time the decisions stuck. Every other time I'd set out to lose weight and be healthier, the catalyst had been my daughters or another reason. This time, I did it because I realized that I deserved to be happy and healthy, and that I deserved to live.
Today, I love not having limits. If I want to hike, I hike. If I want to run, I run. I bench press two plates but eat just one. And I never have to say to my daughters, "Not tonight, Daddy is too tired."
Most importantly, my daughters can now sit on my lap without my stomach getting in the way. They can wrap their arms completely around me. My oldest daughter once told me that my transformation was a "complete metamorphosis. You are a butterfly now, Daddy."
I have never been more proud of her brilliance and to have shown her that she never has to stay a caterpillar.
Photo courtesy of the author