how to save a life
I have lived my entire life wishing and hoping to be in better shape. As melodramatic as it sounds, I can remember looking at G.I. Joes and Batman cartoons and thinking, "One day, I am going to look exactly like that." As a teen I fought to control my weight and generally fell flat on my face. Small successes were usually squashed by a lack of consistent follow-through and poor dieting. Don't get me wrong, I was very active, playing multiple varsity sports and not being addicted to video games or TV, I was usually on my feet and was easily labeled as the nimble fat guy of the group (think Jack Black or Kevin James).
Fast forward 10 years or so. I turned 28 years old and found myself weighing in at 230 lbs. Almost daily, I found myself once again "wishing" and "hoping" to look like those cartoon heroes and that it would just happen overnight. So I set a goal to arrive within 10 pounds of my high school weight (200 lbs.) before the age of 30. What I lacked in functional knowledge and nutritional know-how, I tried to make up for with effort. A change of career allowed me to dedicate more time to this pursuit and I started (unknowingly) to build a base of fitness and through various social channels gained the inspiration for what would follow.
When I started to work for Rhone it was incredibly refreshing to come into a culture that was supportive of healthy lifestyles and continually pushing each other to achieve fitness goals. In that vein, our CEO and my big brother Nate Checketts brought Rob MacDonald and his fiancee Lisa Fresard out to hold a private fitness and nutrition seminar with the entire Rhone team. For those of you not familiar with Rob or Lisa, the tandem is charged with certification and training some of the world's most elite fitness professionals from their home gym, Gym Jones in Salt Lake City. Widely regarded as one of America's toughest fitness facilities, Gym Jones is more than a facility or a trendy fitness system or even a community. What Rob, Lisa and their colleagues teach (or preach) is that fitness and nutrition are choices that you make each and every day and those choices can provide real power and genuine freedom.
When I sat down with Rob and Lisa, they were perfectly blunt and when I say 'perfectly', I absolutely mean it. It was the exact feedback I needed to hear and although Rob called me "The King of Queens," it was a precisely proportioned mix of honesty, insult and structure that frankly, was necessary to jump start a process that would change my life. What you may not be able to tell from his burger-laden social media feed or profanity-laced Instagram videos is that Rob or Bobby Maximus loves people. He is as supportive as he is strong and as benign as he is burly. Lisa, who is perfectly happy to work her tail off in the background with little or no credit, was equally instrumental in this journey. She required effort, diligence and heart - and all of it or nothing. Lisa made it clear that the standards they would set for me were high, they knew I could do it and that anything else was unacceptable.
Rob would oversee my training, laying out a preliminary plan of 5 days of training, 1 recovery day and 1 day of rest. On the training days, I was to do approximately 30 minutes of fasted cardio upon waking up and some hours later, would launch into a second training session which typically involved moderate weights, cardio and circuit work. Lisa would watch what I ate through a meal tracking app and give consistent and honest feedback. I was to eat just around 2300 calories focusing on lean proteins, good fats and vegetables. No carbohydrates after 3:00 PM, no food after 7:00 PM and plenty of water and sleep. That's it. Nothing ground breaking here, at least for most people, but hard and fast rules that would quickly turn into a lifestyle.
So I went to work. Day in, day out. Fasted cardio in the morning (typically a run or jump rope) and a second session in the afternoon. A big shout-out here to my training partner, my brother Nate who held me accountable and continually pushed me to be faster, stronger and better. The sessions molded my mind as much as they melted my midsection. The crucible of training taught me to believe that I could do anything that was laid in front of me. If I fell short, I looked forward all week to another shot. Rob checked in daily and offered advice and support, keeping me focused on the goals and sharing the joy of good results.
Nutrition became, for the first time, a priority. Here, I must give credit where it's due to my lovely wife Laura. When I told her about the plan, I knew it would require significant sacrifice on her end and to the surprise of absolutely nobody, she jumped in with both feet. Carefully selecting groceries, meal prepping and putting up with my low-carb rage, she was a rock throughout this entire process and just as soon as I felt myself giving up she was the first one to reach down and help me back on my feet. I cleaned up my diet and was focused on eating whole foods within the guidelines provided and kept the meals relatively simple. It wasn't always easy but I just tried to make the best possible choices in specific circumstances and never let something as small as a piece of pizza or a cookie break me. I remember reading something from the Whole 30 that said, "It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Quitting heroin is hard. Beating cancer is hard. [Eating healthy]. Is. Not. Hard."
Over the course of 4 months, I lost about 40 lbs. and completely re-shaped my life and habits to reflect a practical, consistent approach to nutrition and fitness. Now, I look forward to training on a daily basis and have completed my level II Gym Jones certification with an eye towards becoming a fully certified member of the Gym Jones community. I continue to stick to a diet made of mostly whole foods while allowing a strategic indulgence here or there and always supplementing extra calories with extra work. Rob, Lisa and a slew of supporting cast members (many of whom I have not mentioned) not only changed my life, they saved my life. Their support and advice paved the way for me to achieve things that previously were empty wishes or hopeful dreams. I still have goals to hit and things to achieve, but as I turn 29 this March I have achieved more in the past 6 months than I ever thought possible.
To borrow a line from the Gym Jones philosophy, "There is no magic pill." People may think you're crazy, call you a fanatic or even mock the way you approach your health, but why are any of those to be feared? To be completely honest, I think a little more fanaticism about health and nutrition in the U.S. would be a refreshing change. As for people calling you crazy, raise your hand if you haven't ever been called something worse. Respect yourself, respect the process and understand that in that struggle you will find much more than you could ever lose. I sincerely wish the best for people who set out to change themselves. I know it's not easy but stick with it and have high standards, nothing else is even worth your time.