My Fat Life: How and Why I Lost 30 Pounds in 30 Days

My career in personal training consisted of primarily working with elite level athletes and competitors. It was fulfilling, on many levels. Like most people, I was exposed to the media assessments and coverage of the health challenges of the American population, as well as the horrific statistics, but it didn’t hit home as well as it should have, primarily because they were images, statistics and stories of people I didn’t know. It didn’t really sink in that 7 of 10 Americans struggled with being overweight, half of those being dangerously obese, or that Type II diabetes was becoming an epidemic, and these two inter-related conditions were costing quality of life, and, in many cases, life itself.

Two events triggered my genuine awareness of the real extent of this crisis. My younger brother was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, and then I became involved in planning a high school class reunion. When I was slapped in the face, so to speak, with the dangers facing my brother, it got my attention. Then, as I became reacquainted with my old classmates and saw the extent of their health challenges, it was sobering, to say the least. People I had expected to be vibrant, healthy and active were talking about their pains, limitations and daily medications as their principal conversational topics. The 70% overweight number, when applied to people you know, has a much more dramatic impact.

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Although I wanted begin my metamorphosis into training “regular folks”, it dawned on me that I had little or no concept of what the people I wanted to help were actually going through each day, or the nature of the challenge to make the changes needed to find good health. It was easy enough to think  they should “Just do something about it”, but I suspected that was much simpler for me to say than for them to do.

I decided to become one of them. I was going to stop being fit, gain weight, and find out firsthand what it felt like, what they go through on a daily basis, and how challenging it was to get healthy again. In May 2012, I set about the process of gaining weight, stopped exercising, and found my way to the areas of my local grocery store that I had avoided for years. Candy, cookies, chips, sodas, high fat foods, bring ‘em all on!

My metabolism was pretty high, and gaining the weight took much longer than I expected. I even kicked it into overdrive with multiple visits to the Varsity, Krispy Kreme, local greasy spoons, and adopting every kind of bad eating habit you could imagine. After a few months, my metabolism began to slow, and my waist started looking like I was going to be a department store Santa. I finally hit my first stage goal of gaining 35 pounds just before Christmas 2012, and I enjoyed the Holiday meals enough to throw on another five.

Although I may not have totally fit the image you have of someone who is fat, my Body Mass Index was in excess of 30 (32.6), which the CDC categorizes as obese. I weighed 276.6 pounds, the most in my life, my body fat was 30.1% of my total weight, my waist was 45.5 inches, and my chest measured 51 inches. I was saggy, lethargic, grayish in pallor, seemed to stoop over when walking, and felt more like 72 than 52.

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Fashion was another huge change. I went from “what do I feel like wearing today” to “what will still fit me”. Shirts that were tapered to fit in a trim fashion when I was lean suddenly looked like the casing after it had been stuffed with sausage, or wouldn’t button at all. I had one pair of jeans that I could fit into, and I was miserable the couple of times I had to wear a suit, as none were sufficient in size to handle my girth, so a tight belt was the only way to get the waist button closed. I found myself anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get home and throw on shorts and a tee shirt.

My legs, which have always been strong, suddenly seemed taxed under my new load. I could feel slight pain in my knees when climbing stairs. Rising from a seated position went from a quick spring to a labored movement, requiring a pull on the chair’s armrest.

My energy level seemed at an all-time low. Normally one who seems hyperactive, I had become sedentary. I had gone from “can’t sit still” to glued to my chair. TV and movies were preferable to any physical activity. I actually became a touch winded on one flight of stairs.

I guess the changes really sank in the most when I visited my doctor’s office for a check-up prior to beginning my Challenge. We talked about my weight, and my plans. She had always been complimentary about my weight and physique, often mentioning how rare it was for a man in his fifties to be so fit. After a long chat (we are friends as well as doctor/patient), as I was leaving, she quipped “It’s kind of nice to see you down here on earth with the rest of us”

On January 2nd, 2013, I began the process of undoing what I had work so hard to build, my excessive weight and girth. My objective was to lose 30 pounds in 30 days. I knew that amount wasn’t a realistic goal for most, but I chose a goal that high to show that there was hope, that it could be done by everyday folks (not just on TV shows) in a reasonable time frame, and that one didn’t have to commit several hours each day to obtain impressive results. My restrictions were that I would take no diet supplements, exercise no more than one and a half hours each day, and utilize no gimmicks in the process. I combined cardio and resistance training, and published my success, or failure, to everyone who was interested, on Facebook every couple of days.

The first day I hit the gym, after a long absence, I will have to admit I was embarrassed to be seen by my fit acquaintances, and was appalled at how my strength and stamina levels had declined. Since I had gone public with my mission, I had no option but to labor on. Weight training boosted my strength and metabolism, HIIT cardio burned off the fat, and my food intake was properly coordinated with my exercise plan. Slowly but surely, the pieces fell into place.

In 30 days, on February 2, 2013, I had lost 34 pounds, dropped 6.5 inches in my waist, 2 inches in my chest, my body fat was down to 20.6% of my weight, and my BMI was down to 29.1, under the definition of obese.

The end result of all this is quite simple. I enjoyed splurging on the food, no doubt. However, it was an unfair trade off, as the baggage that came with splurging made me miserable. Only two weeks into my re-entrance into a fit lifestyle, I found my energy level coming back, clothes becoming more comfortable, sleep more restful, and the aches and pains of obesity began fading away. Mine was only a short glimpse into the world of being heavy and unhealthy, but I emerged from the experience with new clarity, and more passion than ever to help anyone who wants to put obesity and/or an unhealthy lifestyle in their rear view mirror. Regardless of the reason you want to get fit: overall health, appearance, to be active with your kids and/or grand kids, reduce your dependence on medications, whatever, I can help you. If not me, get someone to help. It is your life; there are no Mulligans, do-overs or rewinding the clock.

Jim Harris