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A wise young employee once told me, “In life, my greatest misfortunes have always led to fortunes.” When I was 340 pounds, at age 25, if you had told me that being obese for my entire life was actually the best thing that ever happened to me, I would have laughed in your face.

Now, having dropped 160 pounds and transformed my body and mind in countless ways, I know that to be the truth. Being obese and eventually overcoming this tremendous life challenge has led me to consciously create a life that is awake, alive, inspired, joyful, and empowered.

From the age of 8, I'd been on and off as many diets as I could count. When I was 25 years old, I finally got a physical, after avoiding doctor’s offices for my entire 20s due to my weight. I hopped on the scale, assuming I was around 300 pounds, and saw 340 pounds. I knew it was time to do something.

It took me 10 years to lose the full 160 pounds, with most of the weight coming off in a four-year span between 2009 and 2013. I never did "diets" and I didn't initially set a weight goal. I simply kept finding ways to live a healthier, more conscious life and doing experiments to see what made me feel good and what didn’t.

Here are the top 10 factors that led to the dramatic change:

1. I stopped drinking calories.

My journey started with a choice to drop the soda, juice, and sweetened teas. At my biggest, I estimate I was drinking more than 2,000 calories a day. While I don’t recommend this to clients — I'm now a wellness coach — I first switched to diet drinks. Eventually, I dropped sweetened beverages outright. And in just three months, I lost 50 pounds!

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2. I prepared lunches for work.

I used to buy lunch at work daily without thinking twice about cost or the health impact. I soon learned that you can eat amazingly for less money than you'll spend buying lunch at work.

One trick is to make large batches of delicious food to take to work. Some of my favorites are a kale, quinoa, garlic, lemon, tahini salad in the spring and summers, or hearty veggie and legume stews and chili in the winter. I also love to prep lots of veggies chopped and in containers for the week — that way, throwing a hearty salad together happens in seconds. Don’t skimp on protein or healthy fat. You'll save calories and money and you'll have ultimate control over what goes in your body.

3. I shortened my commute.

One of the biggest challenges to getting healthy is the time you lose and the stress you endure keeping a long commute in your routine. You might think your commute is impossible to change, but I promise there's a way. I worked hard in my retail career to get transferred to a store that was within minutes of my home and eventually started my own coaching practice so I could work from home.

You'll be far less stressed, and you'll gain lots of time to cook and exercise.

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4. I learned to cook.

Many of us are overweight because we're eating too much processed foods and restaurant foods. We all know how challenging it is to lose weight while eating this way.

The good news is that there are so many amazing food-related shows today, and between picking up skills watching mouthwatering programs and using Internet recipes, we can all be fabulous chefs. I also joined a community-shared agriculture (CSA) program, which forced me to learn to cook veggies I’d never even heard of before.

Over the years, cooking has become a process of stress reduction, meditation, nourishment, and joy for me.

5. I understood the value of real food.

While I was losing weight, I began to learn about the industrial food system, mostly through food, environmental, and animal-welfare-related documentaries. This inspired me to understand my options for local, fresh, amazing produce, meats, and cheeses. My world transformed, my taste buds repaired, and my body kept shrinking.

I can’t put enough emphasis on switching to a mostly home-cooked, whole food, body- and earth-honoring menu.

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6. I got a dog.

Of course, you don’t have to get a dog yourself, but one of my top recommendations is to find a way to get moving in the morning.

Having a dog forced me to take a long walk every morning no matter what. To this day I still move my body every morning because I know it's one of the best things I can do for my metabolism and my brain function.

7. I went organic.

This is about more than just a “certified organic” label. It’s about choosing higher-quality foods. I made a commitment a long time ago to eat organic, and it forced me to really think about my purchases.

Yes, it can be more expensive. But when you start cooking more, eating out less, and buying less processed food, you'll have a lot more room in that food budget than you thought.

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8. I ate less meat.

I began to focus on quality of meat over quantity, so cutting back wasn’t difficult. It started with vegetarian lunches, then reserving one night a week for vegetarian dinners. Eventually, I'd only eat meat at a restaurant if they could tell me where it was from.

This might seem snobby, but it was about being more conscious and intentional about where my animal protein came from. I lost more weight, saved lots of money, and expanded my enjoyment and awareness of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.

9. I got dumped.

Potentially the best thing that ever happened to me was getting dumped by my ex-wife. It motivated me to create my life anew in a healthier, more powerful, fully conscious way. It also inspired me to get serious about fitness and drop the rest of the weight, so I could be more confident in my body and mind as I re-entered the romance scene.

10. I transformed my inner world.

This is the reason I know that I will never be obese again. I've done deep transformative work to create emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.

When my relationship started to fall apart, I began to wake up. I started reading relationship books, and the obsession was launched. When things didn’t work out, I was determined to figure out what went wrong. In the process, I learned to focus on who I was and how I show up in the world.

I’ve read countless books, participated in online learning programs; I’ve attended workshops, retreats, and initiations. I’ve taken facilitation trainings, joined a powerful men’s work community, and hired coaches. I currently integrate everything from exercise, meditation, food, breathing, learning, men’s groups, mindfulness, and most importantly helping others, to manage my inner world on a daily basis.

Once we break away from the old patterns, habits, and beliefs, we can see ourselves clearly — and the desire to create our lives in a powerful, loving, authentic, and bold way just flows effortlessly. Commit to creating awareness about your life in a deep and profound way. You will lose weight more easily, and you will sustain the weight loss you’ve worked so hard for.

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Joe Bernstein
Joe Bernstein

Joe Bernstein is the owner of Drop the Armor Wellness . After spending 30 years obese, he lost 160 lbs through a series of lifestyle changes that helped him to step into a more passionate life. Never through dieting.

In his practice as an Eating Psychology and Mind-Body Nutrition Coach Joe empowers his clients to work on relationship with food, and body in a unique and nourishing way. He helps people with the skill set and the mind set to adopt habits, beliefs and behaviors that lead to sustainable weight loss and deep internal growth. He focuses on developing self-compassion, confidence and understanding of your unique biology and psychology.

We all need a healthy dose of both science and soul to truly Drop the Armor. To learn more about Joe and his work check out his blog, Join the Drop the Armor Nourishing Wellness Community on Facebook or download his #1 Tip for Losing and Maintaining Weight.