Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.
Mike Harrington is 46 and weighs 194 pounds. In 2014, after experiencing the death of his father and suffering with obesity for many years, he turned his health around by embracing a new lifestyle of mindful eating and physical fitness. This is his weight-loss story.
The Turning Point
I began to struggle with my weight in my early twenties. The pressures of going to college and trying to raise a family were challenging and compounded by my negative self-image, which caused me to turn to food for comfort.
I had attempted to lose weight many times over the years. What was different about my approach this last time was my long-term health mindset as opposed to merely losing the weight.
There were many factors which contributed to my turning point, as so many aspects of my life were being significantly impacted by my weight. Some of the key points were:
Losing my dad due to his poor health habits
I was in the room with him when he slipped away and I saw regret in his eyes. He was just 63 years old. That moment was so devastating that I told my mom that we need to learn something from his poor health habits.
Difficulties wiping myself in the bathroom
Humiliating as this is to admit, I strained my right shoulder desperately trying to reach behind myself.
Sleep apnea, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, GERD, fungal infections …
Frequent thoughts of suicide
I had lost my will to live. On one occasion I half-heartedly took a small handful of sleeping pills and washed it down with half a bottle of vodka. I woke up the next morning feeling stupid for what I had done. There were many nights I would go to bed wishing I would just have a heart attack in my sleep and not wake up.
Self-hate and shame
Many people tell me that they had no idea I was unhappy or hated myself when I was morbidly obese. It was not merely the weight which caused me to feel this way, but my poor self-image as well.
I knew that I had to get a handle around how much and what I was eating. This meant I needed to track my food. So I did some research and discovered an online tool and app called MyFitnessPal. I didn’t really change what I ate right away, I just made sure to record every single thing that went into my mouth.
For exercise I initially used my Bodies In Motion 25 minute online aerobics videos five days a week. Eventually I incorporated walking and hiking into my plan.
As I ate healthier food and starting getting more physical activity, I began to feel better mentally. Many things kept me motivated, but the primary factor was a mental association I had created. I thought of my end goal as if I were going to win 10 million dollars. So each day I focused on that mental image, likening the feeling of no longer being obese with the feeling I would have if I won all of that money.
I made my plan public to enlist the support of others and hold myself accountable. I stopped identifying with obesity to reinforce that this wasn’t a temporary change. I was willing to try new things and adapt. I was always looking for sustainable changes and always remembered that small changes can add up to big results.
In many ways my life has changed. Sometimes I forget that I can just go into any store and buy clothes off the rack. I still hesitate when I go to sit in one of those white resin outdoor chairs for fear that I will break it. When I slide into a booth at a restaurant I am still amazed by how much room I have and that I don’t have to squish into it.
For the longest time I vacillated between being excited about my new life and being depressed about how I was going to maintain. There were so many stories coming out about people who lose all of their weight and gain it all back. I wasn’t going to be that guy again.
Overall I think people treat me different now. I get the feeling that people respect me now more than when I was super morbidly obese. I definitely remember times when people would make disparaging comments about my weight and size. Sometimes I feel like I am “invisible” now that I don’t stand out because of size. And some people who have known me for a long time seem to have negative reactions to my weight loss. What I discovered was that for some people my success was a reflection upon their inability to manage their own health.
I was surprised by how easy it was to lose the first 200 pounds compared to the last 10. Losing 200 pounds when you already weigh 400 pounds is much easier than me trying to skim off some of these remaining pounds now that I am near “normal.” I realized I had to stop chasing the scale. I was developing a new eating disorder, weighing myself several times a day, pushing my body to shed those remaining pounds. Eventually in my journey I met some people from Health At Every Size who taught me about emphasizing health instead of weight.
Right now I am eating a mostly vegan/plant-based diet, but I am flexible. I try to eat clean 80-90% of the time, and I am learning not to stress about it. That “wiggle room” allows me to enjoy other things that may not be so good for me nutritionally. I don’t eat a lot of sugar other than from fruit.
I don’t believe in “cheat” days per se, nor being too rigid either. If I feel like eating something, I do. Deprivation leads to more issues, like resentment. Ironically when I gave myself the permission to eat what I wanted, I began to crave healthier foods more.
I like to plan ahead and set daily goals to keep me on track. My current exercise routine is:
3 times a week I do weightlifting with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
2 times a week I do suspension training with HIIT
2 days a week I take a break from weight training and do stretching, yoga, and/or low impact aerobics
3-5 times a week I walk at least an hour (approx. 4 miles)
1-2 times a week I hike 6-8 miles
I find that walking has many more benefits than the physical aspects. It has an amazing effect for improving your mental state.
Each day I think about the healthy choices I make. I am far from perfect, but I can say that today the choices I am making are far better than ever before in my life. I want to live a long life in the best health my body can be for my age.
One thing thing that I found challenging after losing weight was living a lifestyle much different from my wife. We had to have many discussions about the changes I was making in my life and how they would impact us. We have also learned to meet halfway on some of these things.
Today, I sometimes struggle with balance. It is hard to know how much eating clean and staying active is healthy versus overkill. At one time in my journey I was exercising in all of my free time because I was so afraid that I would slip back. I have learned the importance of getting more rest to allow my body to recuperate from the physical activity as well as making more time with family and friends. I no longer track all of my food intake nor weigh myself as I want to learn to manage those things on my own. The tracking served a purpose at the time and now I am free to enjoy a little more “wiggle room” in my daily life.
My number one piece of advice is don’t focus on weight. Try to focus more on establishing a routine for improving and maintaining your overall health rather than what the scale says. During my journey I have learned that “weight” is not an accurate measurement of health.
You will likely feel discouraged, unmotivated, tired, and fail many times. The key is not avoiding failure, but how you deal with it. When you fail, try again. I made (and still make) many mistakes during my journey, but never gave up hope. Being healthy shouldn’t be a chore nor does it mean you will be deprived. You’re going to discover new things about yourself, new foods, and new activities. It is imperative to believe in yourself.
And remember, stay awesome!
All photos courtesy Mike Harrington. Read more about Mike on his blog.
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