[Success story] How a daughter with Down Syndrome sparked an incredible change

I’m going to turn this post however to my pal Nathan in a moment, but before I do, let me set this post up for you.

There is a lot to be learned from experience, but we could fast forward the success experience in our life, whether it be with changing how we look, work or live, by studying the lessons learned of those who have achieved what we desire.

The past 18 months I have been shamelessly stealing every great idea I come across. BUT the big difference this time around is I take the lesson and I customize so that it fits the context of who I am and how I life my life.

In other words, I make it uniquely Dean.

With that I am proud to introduce Nathan. Nathan emailed me a few months back and shared his story. He had managed to take a body that at one point ballooned up to 280+lbs and transform it into a chiseled 190lb masterpiece.

When I saw his pics I was like, “Holy Crap!”

Might I suggest you read this story with a pen and notepad at the ready so you can write down the valuable lessons he is going to share. They will help you greatly on your journey.

So enough from me, let me pass you off to Nathan! Enjoy!

*****

Sometime around Easter 2010, I realized that I had been focusing all of my time and attention to my career, and completely ignoring my personal fitness level. As you can see from my picture below, my level of health had gotten out of control.

In addition to looking like a slob and being embarrassed to take my shirt off in public, I also found that I would tire easily and become winded when trying to do simple tasks, such as taking out the trash or even tying my shoes. It was at that point, that I had an epiphany.

You see, in addition to being a loving husband and busy professional, I am also the father of three wonderful children. And, as if that weren’t enough, my 5-year old daughter was born with Down syndrome. After a period of internal reflection, it dawned on me that I was no longer living just for myself. I had a group of special people relying on me to be here for them. And, my daughter, in particular, needed me to stop being so cavalier about my health (and, in turn, my longevity) and pull myself together.

It was with that stark realization that I decided to make a change.

In May 2010, at the ripe old age of 34, I knew that I had my work cut out for me. As a former college football player who had spent eight long years away from exercise and transitioning entirely to a full-time desk job, I saw my playing weight of 285 migrate south – from my chest and shoulders, ultimately settling around my stomach and love handles. I weighed approximately 280 pounds, and my body fat percentage was somewhere north of 30%. As you can see from the photo above, I was not a pretty sight!

One night, I looked into the mirror and couldn’t believe what I had become. I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what (I didn’t want to go to the gym because, let’s face it, I was embarrassed).

Late one night I saw an infomercial for a popular workout regimen on television and was impressed by the energy, the fact that I could do it inside my own home, and – most of all – by the amazing “transformations” of people who looked similar to me. I had to try it! Before I committed to the program, I did my homework and researched others’ success stories thoroughly. I formed a plan, I was ready to go and I was excited!

Day One came and the exercise program knocked me straight onto the ground. Day Two, same thing. Day Three, same thing, etc. It was difficult, no doubt, but I could tell that a change was underway. I struggled through the workouts those first thirty days, never giving up, no matter how sore I was or how tired my body was telling my mind I was. I persevered. During the next thirty days I started to get a handle on the program, and as you can see from this photo, it worked.

I got VERY lean, however, dropping from 280 pounds to 195 pounds in a manner of about 4 months. Due to the nature of that program, and my lack of knowledge about proper nutrition, I didn’t add any quality lean body mass, and actually turned my physique into that of a marathon runner.

Once again, I was NOT where I wanted to be. Being a relative “newbie” to working out for mass, I decided to do a second round of the workout program, but attempted to modify the schedule to drop some cardio and incorporate more resistance workouts. I gained some additional definition during that period, but my weight stagnated at 198-201 pounds.

At that point, I realized that I needed to invest time researching nutrition and fitness from an overall standpoint to understand what was happening. I had been spoiled by instant results, and couldn’t figure out why my appearance wasn’t continuing to change at a rapid pace.

Since that time, I have spent the past couple of years experimenting with nutrition and workout programs in an attempt to continue making improvements. I think, from looking at the following pictures, that I have continued to make improvements, although the “mass gaining” is a much slower and more arduous process that the “fat burning”. So my journey continues…

Let me state that the confidence and sense of accomplishment gained by finishing two rounds of an extreme workout program and committing yet another year or so to growing and continuing to improve really cannot be described. Those who do commit to this type of change, and thereby fully commit themselves to overall fitness and nutritional improvements, will know that they are clearly in the best shape of their lives. I’m now 36 years old and can do things today that I never dreamed of at 26, or even 16!

As I said before, your blog posts, interviews, and podcasts have inspired me, and I would like to help you spread the word. There are many things I learned along the way, mostly through trial and error, that were crucial to my success. I now feel the calling to INSPIRE others to make a change and, through learning about my stumbles and struggles and successes, I feel like I may have something worthwhile to offer.

Lessons Learned…

1. Track everything and audit your results

I believe that the importance of this first step cannot be overstated. I suspect that many people will be amazed when they begin to actually track their fitness and nutrition habits. By way of example, when I began my journey, I did not closely monitor my nutrition habits. I followed general rules about eating fewer calories and focusing on protein over carbs and fat (which I now realize was too rudimentary to sustain any long term success). However, once I found the online resources for tracking food intake (first Livestrong, now using MyNetDiary), I realized how much I was ACTUALLY taking in from all sources. This led to many revelations (like when I realized that the “protein bars” I was eating had the same macronutrient profile as a 4 oz steak, baked sweet potato and handful of almonds, but without all of the additional ingredients whose names included were practically unpronounceable due to the seeming lack of enough vowels). There are now so many tools available that make this task so much easier, including apps, websites, and other technical gizmos, that no one should have a good excuse not to give it a try. It is a VERY enlightening practice.

2. Find your motivation and cultivate it

My motivation was easy. I knew that my daughter would likely need additional care and support throughout her entire life. If I was playing fast-and-loose with my own health, I would likely be doing her a disservice in the future. I cultivated that drive through several techniques, one of which I will share here. Early on in my journey, I began wearing a band around my wrist to serve as a constant reminder of my purpose. At first, it was a rubber band. Now I wear a Phiten band that looks a little classier than my initial approach. But the main point of that practice is to remind myself, every time I use my right hand (which, coincidentally, is my dominant hand that I use for most tasks, including eating) what and why I make the choices that I do.

3. Develop a plan to deal with others

I was surprised to see the many different reactions I received to my fitness transformation. I originally anticipated that the reactions would be generally positive. That has not been the case in most instances. From snide remarks made by jealous co-workers (“Of course Nathan won’t be having a donut this morning.”) to family members initially concerned by my change in habits (parents and in-laws were offended when I turned down something that had cooked or purchased), it has been a learning experience. I have developed a way to deal with these people, though. My main approach: Keep it simple and positive. I have found that trying to educate those naysayers often leads to more confusion and conflict. It seems many people don’t want to think about their bad choices. However, when I present my approach in a positive light (“I have eliminated processed and refined foods because it makes me feel better”), it is generally well-received (even if oversimplified). In time, many people will actually let down their guard and seek your advice.

4. Live your life as a science experiment

Decide what part of your life you want to change or improve. Research ways to affect that part of your life. Form your own hypothesis about what might work and why. Then, give it a whirl! One handy example of this approach is deciding to give up a certain food (e.g., grains or dairy) that may be causing a health problem. If you commit to running a one month “science experiment” on that change, the worst thing that can happen is that you spend a month without a certain indulgence and experience no change. Your only “cost” at that point is simply a month without a certain food. Form there, you can easily go back to living the way you were. But you may experience change. This is empowering and could motivate you to try other things (e.g., supplementation, fitness routines, other nutirition modifications, etc.). The proverbial snowball effect may take over. And, even if you don’t experience change, you have at least learned more about YOUR body and what works for YOU. I would add, however, that the tracking component is very important to this point. Many changes start small, and are not very noticeable to individuals, who are typically overcritical of themselves to begin with and can selectively ignore or refuse to accept that they may actually be making progress.

5. Patience is a virtue

The phrase “slow and steady wins the race” is very true when implementing change that is intended to have long-term lasting effects. Many changes are subtle, and slow to gain momentum. I learned this lesson the hard way. Once I started my fitness routine, I experienced significant weight loss in the first couple of weeks (which I now understand was due to a calorie deficit from nutrition and exercise that was actually unhealthy). That approach ultimately sent my hormones out of whack (another area where I have researched and learned MANY lessons). Since that time, I have slowly and steadily worked to rebuild my body. At times, the slower speed of “good change” can be maddening. Particularly when I have been spoiled by the seemingly fast results of my initial push. But I have learned that this slow, gradual change is healthier and, ultimately, more rewarding.

6. Know why you are deciding to make certain modifications to your routine

I fell prey early on to reading the internet and trying the greatest workout routine (P90X/Insanity), newest diet modification (no carbs of any kind/intermittent fasting/Bulletproof coffee), or amazing supplement (natural testosterone boosters/various herbs and powders). While each one of these may be fine choices to implement into your own personal program, one needs to first research and truly understand why and when to implement each. I came to this realization early when colleagues would ask me why I was incorporating a certain element into my nutrition or exercise routine. When I found that my answer was often, “because I read somewhere on the internet that it was a good idea”, I knew that I needed to spend more time understanding why I was implementing certain practices and make an informed decision as to whether and how it actually fit into my current fitness goal.

*****

So let me end with a few suggestions.

First, if you have additional questions for Nathan add them in the comments below.  Nathan will respond to any questions you have of him.

Second, make your own notes based on his suggestions and insights.  This is important on the journey.

Third, for those who are looking for additional motivation, I have three products available that may REALLY interest you.

1. Voicemails to the Unlived Life.  See more—> HERE.

2. NEW!  Lessons in Leanness: 365 days, 365 lessons, 1 new you??—> HERE!

To making shift happen,

Dean