The reason I first put on weight can be summed up pretty easily: video games and eating anything I wanted, whenever I wanted. I even remember the first time I was considered “overweight”—I was staying with my grandparents for a few months, and when my mom came to pick me up, she almost didn’t recognize me.
Part of the reason was also that I had moved from Kiev to New York as a kid, and suddenly I had access to any food that my wildest imagination could desire. Grocery stores filled with snacks and sweets, fast food restaurants like McDonalds, it was all like a dream. As the years went by, my desire to eat anything I wanted, coupled with a lack of physical activity, resulted in tremendous weight gain. Throughout my middle school and high school years, I was on the computer for roughly 14 hours a day playing video games. When it came time to eat, I had no control whatsoever over my diet.
For breakfast, I may have had a toasted bagel with butter, sausage, bacon, egg and cheese and a large sweet coffee. Lunch was routinely either two slices of pizza with a hero and an egg roll, a lunch special from a Chinese food shop with fried wontons plus an egg roll and a soda, or two Subway footlongs with extra meat and a large bag of chips, plus a soda. Dinner was just like lunch. In-between the meals, I also had an unlimited amount of snacks like ice cream, cookies, trail mix, candy, and pastries.
The Emotional Toll of Gaining Weight
It’s hard to describe how I felt at my heaviest: The emotional baggage is what I think about the most, even though my physical well-being was at its all-time lowest point. I was 365 pounds at my heaviest weight—at 6’4” tall—and 20 years old. Physically, I would sweat profusely when walking to the bus stop to get to school, or walking to a nearby supermarket to buy groceries. Walking up a flight of stairs caused me to run out of breath quickly, and bending down to tie my shoes made me turn red in the face. I had high blood pressure on a daily basis, and often times I would randomly feel like I was fainting because my blood sugar was all over the place.
Emotionally, I was also a mess. I stayed inside as much as I could due to not wanting anyone to see me, which resulted in video games becoming my main hobby. I wore mostly black, since I thought it hid all my imperfections and gave me a little bit of confidence. I used to sit in back of the class so that I got as little attention as possible. I never approached girls. My confidence level was rock-bottom, and any thought of a social interaction made me create excuses to get out of it. All of these things combined turned me into a kind of recluse—I didn’t want any interaction with anyone. I wasn’t living; I was merely existing.
When I Decided to Get in Shape
The turning point came during a doctor’s visit. I hated doctor’s visits since they always told me things that I didn’t want to hear: You have to lose weight, you need to get on a diet, or You’re heavier than your last visit. During one visit, though, a doctor told me what I didn’t want to hear, but needed to hear: I I had an extremely fatty liver, my blood pressure was very high, I was borderline diabetic, and if I didn’t lose weight immediately and get on a diet, I wouldn’t live to see 30 years old., I pictured everything that I would miss out on—seeing my family grow old, meeting a girlfriend, getting married, having kids, attending my friends’ weddings, traveling the world. That day completely shifted my mindset.
I started Googling diets and how to lose weight. A good majority of articles 10 years ago mentioned eating “clean,” which meant essentially chicken breast and broccoli, tilapia, brown rice, vegetables, and so on. I started to eat like a “bro” because that’s what I believed I had to do in order to lose weight at the time. I absolutely hated every second of every meal while eating like this because I was literally forcing myself to eat foods that I had no desire to eat. I lost around 60 to 70 pounds by doing nothing but eating like this combined with endless amounts of cardio at the gym. I barely picked up a weight. Slowly, as time went on, I began to dabble in different diets such as keto and the carnivore diet.
How I Found a Sustainable Diet and Workout
After spending a lot of time and effort trying various dieting methods and failing, I realize that just because someone else is having success with a specific diet, that doesn’t mean that that diet approach will work for me. I began to take things that I liked from different diets and make my own. I discovered calorie counting one day, and was fascinated that I had the ability to eat anything I wanted (within moderation) as long as it fit my calories and macros. Around this time, I also fell in love with weight training after losing a bunch of weight and looking sickly in the mirror due to lack of muscle mass. Once I got the hang of working out with weights, I discovered powerlifting, and began using powerlifting exercises in conjunction with other exercises.
Staying motivated was the hardest part: It took me a long time to realize that relying on motivation means setting yourself up for failure. No amount of pre-workout, good music, motivational videos, or friends hyping you up will work as well and for as long as a proper plan. Creating a goal with a timeline to achieve it, and how I’m going to achieve it, has been the biggest driver of success. For the first two years in the gym, I lost around 60 or 70 pounds by doing strictly cardio for around an hour to an hour and a half, every day. Over the next two years I lost another 30 or so, but with strength training and bodybuilding splits. In total, I lost 135 pounds over the course of 10 years.
The Mental and Physical Benefits of My Transformation
As a result, I feel better than I have ever felt in my entire life. Not only do I feel physically better, but mentally I’m a whole new person. For instance, I have more confidence and energy doing daily activities—I have the ability to walk into a clothing store and not feel limited to one clothing rack that has my sizes, and I don’t need to restrict which stores I shop at. Now, I’m just trying to keep the momentum going: I want to get leaner, while keeping as much muscle as possible. I’d also like to hit a 405-pound front squat, but that may take a few more years. Overall, I want to keep pushing my body to new levels, not only physically, but mentally. In recent years, I’ve also transitioned to coaching people online—my expertise is in weight loss since my own transformation allowed me to become pretty knowledgeable in that area.
My Weight Loss Advice for People Just Starting Out
For anyone getting started, my best advice would be to just do it and not waste time figuring out every little detail. Imperfect action is better than no action, and the amount of time you spend researching or figuring out the perfect way to do something would be time that you could’ve spent being closer to your goal. Worry about the details later, and simply focus on being more active and eating a little less. Once you’re more consistent about working out and eating better, then you should spend a little bit of time figuring out what other little things you can change in order to see better results—if they even need to be changed at all. Don’t wait for the perfect time to start—it’ll never come, and you’ll always just be sitting there hoping that the stars align. —As told to Mike Darling
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