What follows is the first chapter from a book I was working on in 2010. This chapter details my back story and why I decided to make a transformation. Unfortunately my agent had to get out of the business for personal reasons. I’m currently looking for representation, so if you are in the publishing business and feel that this project has potential, please contact me.
If you are interested in reading the original About Me page (which I wrote just a few months into my transformation – April 2003), I have preserved it here. Even though many things about me, my diet and my training have changed since I wrote that piece, it’s still relevant in many ways.
Anyone who has ever made a successful body transformation will never forget the exact moment at which he or she decided that enough was enough. For me, that life-altering event occurred after stepping out of the shower one morning and taking a hard, honest look at my horribly bloated body. I knew that I’d gained weight, but I barely recognized the person looking back at me in the mirror. Like many overweight people, I had become rather adept at convincing myself that I didn’t look all that bad. My repertoire of avoidance techniques included looking “past” my reflection, never stepping on the scale, rarely allowing myself to be photographed, wearing baggy clothes – basically anything that would allow me to sidestep the truth.
As I carefully studied the stranger staring back at me in the mirror, the reality of what I’d done to myself through years of neglect slowly began to sink in. My face – once lean and handsome – now sported a prominent double chin and was bloated beyond recognition; flabby chest muscles hung lifelessly over my pasty, rotund gut; my legs were large, shapeless and weak. I could no longer escape the truth: I was fat.
I remember feeling intense waves of emotion on that fateful morning. The first thing I felt was shock. I’d done such a masterful job of hiding the truth from myself that I quite literally was having a difficult time accepting what I saw. After a few minutes my shock began to give way to sadness. I’m not talking about what you might feel if you find a scratch on your new car, or if your favorite team loses a big game: I’m talking about the sort of depression that one feels when something is so tragically wrong that fixing it seems almost impossible.
My problems ran much deeper than personal appearance. A far more serious byproduct of my indulgent lifestyle was that I was suffering from a number of health issues. For the most part my health problems started as minor annoyances that I ignored and learned to live with. Over the years, however, my health continued to decline, and the many ailments from which I suffered began to affect my life rather profoundly.
I need to rewind a few years to explain how I managed to put myself in such a dire situation…
Throughout my twenties and early thirties I made a large number of extremely foolish lifestyle choices. As so many young people do, I lived my life without any concern for the future. I felt invulnerable, and lived my life as though I were.
For more than a decade I consumed alcohol on a daily basis; I used marijuana all day, every day; I smoked between two and three packs of cigarettes every day; my diet consisted exclusively of highly processed junk food; I drank approximately twelve sugary sodas every day; I never exercised; I never drank water or juice, and I never ate fruit or vegetables.
Every morning I would wake up, pour a cup of coffee and plop down in front of my computer. I’d spend the first hour or two of my day attempting to crawl out from under my hangover by drinking coffee and chain-smoking cigarettes. After a few cups of coffee I’d switch over to soda and start smoking marijuana. I had sort of an unwritten rule to abstain from smoking pot until 10:00 AM (yes, that was my idea of “restraint” back then), but on most days that small and utterly ridiculous attempt at self-discipline proved to be too difficult for me.
Usually around 1:00 PM I’d prepare my first meal of the day. My lunch generally looked something like this: two tuna fish sandwiches made with large amounts of mayonnaise, two large hamburger buns, 4 slices of cheese, an entire family-sized bag of kettle potato chips and a couple more sodas.
After lunch I’d resume smoking pot, chain-smoking cigarettes and drinking sodas until it was time for dinner. A typical dinner for me included a very large amount of lasagna or pizza, an entire loaf of garlic bread, a pint of ice cream and a bottle of red wine.
After my final meal of the day I’d continue drinking, snacking on junk food, smoking marijuana and smoking cigarettes until I passed out in the wee hours of the morning.
For more than 10 years I spent every waking moment of my life under the influence of drugs and alcohol. I was a complete mess. I can’t tell you how many times I looked down and found two cigarettes burning in the ashtray, forgot an important meeting or missed a critical deadline. My home office was perpetually enshrouded in a thick cloud of smoke. My home was always cluttered and dirty. Yard work and household chores were completely ignored for months on end. The only clothes I wore consisted of gigantic warmup pants and XXXL T-shirts. I’d go months without a haircut and weeks without a shave. I’d become a shell of a man; any trace of pride, self-respect or dignity I once had was long, long gone.
My poor diet, daily drinking, chronic drug use, nicotine addiction and complete absence of exercise were only part of my problem. During this very dark period in my life I regularly stayed up almost all night long, sub-existing on just a few hours of sleep. Lack of sleep combined with all of my other vices quite literally changed my personality. Over the years I slowly metamorphosed from a bright, positive, energetic young man into a sour, short-tempered, negative, anti-social misanthrope. I didn’t like being around other people, and other people sure didn’t like being around me.
As I allowed prime years of my life to drift past me in a drug and alcohol-coated haze, the combined effect of my myopic lifestyle began to wreak havoc on my health. I suffered from shortness of breath, high blood pressure, frequent heart palpitations, chest pain, severe acid reflux, Irritable Bowl Syndrome, dizziness, high cholesterol, constant fatigue, paranoia, lower back pain and chronic fits of uncontrollable coughing.
Over the years I went to several doctors complaining about the problems I just described. These “professionals” prescribed a ridiculous amount of medication, but not even one of my doctors suggested that I improve my health through diet or exercise. About the only really useful advice my doctors ever gave me was to stop smoking. Duh.
So, let’s return to the morning that would be the genesis of my new life…
There I was, standing in the bathroom, fat, naked, fighting back tears and feeling sorry for myself. It was then that something very surprising occurred. This event happened so abruptly that it was as if someone flipped a switch in my head. In fact, several moments passed before I was able to recognize the emotion I was feeling: it was anger!
Anger is often perceived as a negative emotion, but I don’t think that is always the case. A healthy dose of properly channeled anger can actually provide an incredible amount of motivation. So my very first suggestion is to do what I did: get mad – fighting mad – about your weight problem! I think you’ll find that anger is a heck of a lot more productive than continuing to float along with indifference. Feeling sorry for yourself is another common cop-out that will only lead to more late nights parked in front of the television eating junk food.
I used all that repressed anger and frustration as fuel for a major lifestyle change. One by one I began to change my bad habits, and I never looked back.
The very first thing I decided that I needed to do was quit smoking cigarettes. I set a “quit date”, and swore to myself that no matter how bad the cravings got I would never pick up another a cigarette as long as I lived. I didn’t use any “stop smoking” aids or tricks; I went 100% “cold turkey”. Some people may find that they can’t quit smoking the way I did, but for me it was the only way. I liken it to taking a band-aid off: I’d rather rip it off rather than remove it slowly.
Quitting smoking was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I remember one evening about three weeks after I quit smoking particularly well. After an especially stressful day at work I drove to the store with the intention of purchasing a pack of cigarettes. I’d made up my mind that I “deserved it” because I had such a horrible day. I sat in the parking lot of the store for 10 minutes struggling to find the inner-strength that I needed. I thought about how far I’d come, and how difficult the past three weeks had been. I decided that I was not willing to throw away three weeks of suffering (and I definitely suffered), only to go through it all again – or, even worse, continue smoking for the rest of my life. I’m proud to say that I lived up to the promise I made to myself, and drove back home without cigarettes. I never smoked again.
After more than a decade of abusing my body, as you might expect my self-esteem was in the gutter. Quitting smoking felt very empowering, and I believe that small taste of victory gave me something I desperately needed: a bit of confidence. It took awhile longer before I was ready to take the next step, but I firmly believe that my success at giving up cigarettes provided the foundation for the rest of my transformation.
And what was that next step? I needed to lose weight – a lot of weight! It was late 2002 when I finally made the choice to do something about my obesity. I decided that I would start my diet on January 6, 2003.
While I was mulling over how I was going to go about my weight loss, an interesting idea came to me. I had no way of knowing this at the time, but that one seemingly insignificant choice (it was practically an afterthought) wound up changing everything.
My idea was to take front facing and profile progress pictures every single day until I reached my goal. Of course lots of people take “before” and “after” photos, but I thought that taking pictures every day would help me stay motivated and focused on my goals. When dieting it’s all but impossible to see the very small changes that take place from one day to the next, and I figured if I had photographs to compare side by side it would make those very small changes more apparent–thus providing me with constant, positive feedback. Also, I thought it would be really interesting to take all those photographs (once I reached my goal) and then create an animation of my weight loss.
As an adjunct to the progress photographs I decided to create a very simple web site to which these photographs would be posted each and every day. Initially I only gave out the hidden URL to my very close friends and family, but after a period of time I went “public” with the web address, and invited comments from strangers. This was the birth of what would eventually become John Stone Fitness.
Taking these pictures every single day without fail required a fair amount of additional self-discipline, but that was just the sort of structure my life needed. In fact, even after I reached my original goal I continued take the daily pictures for quite some time – 479 days in a row, to be exact!
I’m not suggesting that you take daily progress photographs, or even weekly progress photographs. Of course if that is something you’d like to try, then have at it! I do strongly encourage that you take a set of “before” photographs. I know that it can be difficult to take half-naked pictures of yourself when you’re not pleased with how you look, but you don’t have to share them with anyone. I know quite a few people who have made incredible transformations, but neglected to take “before” photographs; every single one of them regretted not having a set of starting pictures. In general I recommend that you take front, profile and back progress pictures once a month while you are transforming.
My own transformation took about five months. I dropped from 215 pounds and 30% body fat to 160 pounds and 8% body fat. I lost almost 13 inches from my waist, and over 8 inches from my hips. For the first time in my life, I had “six-pack” abs.
Along with the dramatic changes to my personal appearance, my health improved markedly. I stopped drinking alcohol. I gave up drugs forever. My IBS went away completely. My heartburn disappeared, never to return. My resting heart rate dropped to 38 BPM. My cholesterol dropped from 238 to 181 (106 LDL and 57 HDL). My chronic cough was totally gone.
Think about it: five short months of hard work was all it took to completely change my life! I transformed from a fat, alcoholic, drug addicted, negative, lazy and out of shape shell of a man into the happy, healthy, strong and fit person I so desperately wanted to become.
I am just an average guy who finally had enough. I did it, and so can you.