Eric Naiman and Paul Antonelli |
First Steps - Eric's Perspective
There was a point in my life where I wasn't always big. In fact, I was becoming fairly athletic. I felt I had a good grasp on my health and the thought of obesity never crossed my mind.
However, when I started a career in restaurant management in a casino in Las Vegas, I put myself into a vicious cycle of work more, eat more-blocking everybody and everything else out. That first year in management I gained about 100 pounds. I felt I was wrapping myself tightly in heavy chains. Over the next eight years, I continued to gain weight and the chains got tighter, and no matter what I tried to do on my own, I could not get loose from the chains.
Prior to beginning his weight loss journey,
Eric weighed nearly 400 pounds.
I woke up one morning in February 2014, after only 4 hours of sleep. I had previously worked a 15-hour shift, and I had to get ready for another 12-hour shift. I had trouble getting out of bed. As I made my way to the bathroom, I looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself, "I look horrible, I feel horrible, but how did I get here?" The light in my head came on!! I needed to make some serious changes and I needed to make them quickly. Shortly thereafter, I put in my resignation, and, for the first time, I felt those chains were starting to loosen up. I felt this was the beginning of me getting my life back.
When starting from rock bottom, desperate for information, and seeking the secrets of weight loss, it was fairly easy to fall into those "lose weight quick" schemes of pills, wraps, and patches, the allure of "simple" cookie cutter diets, and being misled into believing that if I would spend two hours at the gym, I would see instant results. There was so much "information" out there, I didn't know where to begin.
As I started a new job as a server at a new restaurant, I met Paul, who at the time was going to school for exercise physiology. Paul started to do a significant amount of research on how to properly lose weight from a scientific standpoint, in conjunction with all the other fitness research he was doing for school. Eventually he started putting theory to practice and began his own 70-pound weight loss journey.
The wheels in my head started to turn; despite how much heavier I was versus the weight Paul started at, I wondered, "could he use his research and adapt it to me?" I sat down with him to understand what he was doing. He started by going over the basics, as well as some of the tools that he used. He said that once I picked a date to start, he would help guide and coach me, but I had buy in to his theories and to do it his way.
It took the final months of 2014 to prepare myself for the journey, even though I wasn't sure where it would lead. I looked at other weight loss stories to try and get some guidance and perspective. Paul also reminded me how hard the first week was going to be, and the different factors that would contribute to how I was feeling. We started to take a deeper look at all my habits. Whether good, bad, or neutral, we needed to understand what may be causing me to binge eat or be unsuccessful at losing weight. Finally, I felt like I was getting the necessary tools that would help me be successful.
First Steps - Paul
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." ― Lao Tzu
Before losing weight, Eric was sidelined
when visiting theme parks as he was too
heavy to ride most of the attractions.
How do you summarize one man's 176 pound weight loss? I don't want to make it seem too simple or too complicated. Honestly, Eric and I's partnership started quite organically with small conversations over many months. I wasn't trying to sell him a training package or a diet plan. I was building a friendship with someone that had a similar background to my own and it turned into an incredible weight loss journey.
Here are the raw numbers: When I met Eric he weighed nearly 400 pounds. Research shows that only about seven percent of the population is this heavy, and unfortunately the route that most people at this weight resort to is bariatric surgery. Moreover we do know that only about five percent of people that lose more than 10 percent of their starting weight are able keep it off. So 95 percent of people gain all the weight back and this fact filters through every decision I make with my clients. I constantly ask myself: "Is this sustainable for them?"
I remember seeing Eric for the first time. I'd like to say I thought incredibly positive thoughts, and that I thought,"I can help him," but the truth is my first thought was "that's an extremely heavy guy…. I wonder if he feels comfortable walking around." At the time I was working a second job outside of the fitness industry and we worked together side by side. We became friends over late night dinners and work related small talk. Eric is smart, funny and was a good drinking buddy. As I remember it, a year would pass before we ever talked about his weight.
"I've been trying to lose some weight," Eric said while we were eating a late evening dinner.
Late night meals sparked Eric and Paul's friendship
and lead to conversations about Eric's habits and
their decision to work together for his weight loss.
(Eric on left in blue shirt, Paul on the far right.)
"Oh, yeah? What's the plan?" I asked without much thought.
"I'm going to do some cardio in the morning, and then a spin class, maybe lifts some weights after that, and finish with the treadmill while The Price is Right is on" Eric stated very matter-of-factly.
"Yeah…I think that might be too much," I said.
Eric shrugged and went back to eating his Chinese takeout. I knew what he was talking about wasn't sustainable. But I wasn't sure if it was my place to talk to him about his weight.
A few nights later over another meal, Eric brought it up again and I decided to speak up.
"Eric, I really feel like I could help you."
"Hmm, what are you thinking?" Eric asked cautiously.
To be honest the plan was simple.
Step One: Research shows that you are 30-40 percent less likely to be overweight if you track your calories so Eric was to track everything he consumed via a fitness app on his phone.
Step Two: I knew Eric was fairly active so I wanted to track his activity levels, so we used an activity tracker to monitor everything he did. "This will work, if you work the numbers," I told him.
When we synced those two things together, Eric could actively see how eating less and being more active helped him burn more calories each day. Each night when he completed his diet log, the app would give him a positive message: "If every day was like today… you will weigh _____ in five weeks." I felt this allowed him to see how making each day count led to long term progress.
Step Three: Perhaps the most crucial step was changing Eric's mindset. Instead of Eric focusing on attempting to lose nearly 200 pounds, I wanted Eric to focus on a very small goal of one to two pounds per week. Each Monday first thing in the morning Eric would wake up and weigh himself. He would write that number down, and good or bad, that was his number for the week. His focus would then become losing just one or two pounds from that Monday number.
To prevent Eric from burning out we kept the focus on small daily accomplishments. Did you nail your calorie goal that was provided by the mobile app? Did you hit your step goal as we had established with your activity tracker? Did you get the proper amount of sleep? Did you drink enough of water? We considered it a perfect day when Eric could answer "Yes" to all of those questions and then we just pushed to make every day perfect.
On Day One I met with Eric first thing in the morning. He weighed in and we took measurements and three photos. He told me what his day was going to look like, where he was going to be, what he was going to eat, and when he would be in the gym. I encouraged him to text me at each stop along the day. This started the journey that would result in him losing 176 pounds in a healthy and positive manner.
I consider myself first and foremost to be a scientist, and I wanted Eric to understand things like energy balance and how the human body burns calories. I felt that if he understood why he was doing all of this it would be easier for him to commit to it. I accomplished this with daily text messages and positive affirmations. I strongly believe that mantras can change your mind and I encouraged Eric to develop daily positive mantras that he could focus on when going about his day. Eric knew to text me recaps of his day and when he had questions about nutrition or fitness he should text or call right away.
It's important that we never referred to these changes as a "diet." It wasn't a diet. Eric made a long-term lifestyle change. Constantly along the way we both asked ourselves, "Are these decisions/choices sustainable?" If it wasn't something that could be sustained than we knew it wasn't a positive decision.
It's not a sprint, it's an ultra-marathon. It's about making the rest of your life the best it can be.