Happy to be half the man he was
In his humble opinion, too many medical professionals take the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide as gospel, despite the fact that the document has often been criticized as flawed and influenced by special interest groups and business. But that’s not to suggest that Don didn’t make mistakes, or learn some hard-won lessons, along the way.
From 350 pounds …
Don knew he had to do something about his weight when his own doctor threatened to drop him as a patient because he wasn’t taking his health seriously enough. He had reached 350 pounds and suffered from high blood pressure and leg ulcers.It wasn’t difficult to understand why. Since high school, he had been known as “Big Don” and always consumed far too many starchy, fatty foods. The problem only worsened after university, when a well-paying, but sedentary, job allowed him to regularly eat out and order in.
Before that confrontation with his doctor, Don had never given serious thought to losing weight. He had never seen someone his size successfully do it and therefore didn’t consider it possible. But a chance invite to the gym by a work colleague got him moving. He developed his own cardio workout routine, and the pounds began to melt away. That encouraged him to take a hard look at his diet and connect with a local weight loss support group.
“It kind of snowballed from there,” he said. Don is a vegetarian. People would often question how a vegetarian could gain so much weight. But it isn’t animal protein that adds pounds, it’s sugar and starchy carbs. So he switched to better vegetarian choices like broccoli, bananas and beans. “The secret was eat less junk and move more,” he said. “There is no shortcut or magic bullet like everyone is looking for.”
However, the faster you lose weight, the harder it is to maintain the weight loss. “This process should be a marathon, not a sprint,” Don said. “Don’t rush to the finish line. If I had to do this over again, I would have done it gradually.” He connected with people who had been successful in maintaining such dramatic weight loss and learned that many of them practiced weight and resistance training in addition to cardio. Lean muscle burns more calories, but it must be worked to be maintained.
Don realized he hadn’t only lost fat, but vital muscle mass, too.
“Once I talked to these people, and I realized my arms were like pencils, I knew I had to do more than just cardio,” he said. “But, I was afraid I would hurt myself because I didn’t know how to use (weight training) equipment.” The need for a trusted coach led him to Free Form Fitness and personal trainer Vania Hau. At Free Form Fitness, he learned the solution to his hunger cravings wasn’t more carbs, but more protein. It was easy to incorporate Free Form Fitness’s recommendations for increased protein intake into the nutrition plan he had developed, with vegetarian options like eggs, quinoa, hummus and lentils. “my personal trainer Vania was instrumental in helping me, not only with nutritional advice, but also giving me the confidence to trust myself more than the so-called experts,” he said.
Six months later, the 41-year-old has maintained the same body weight, but seen his percentage of body fat continue to decline as he adds muscle. He often tells others to educate themselves rather than take what a medical professional says at face value.
“There is so much mixed information out there, people don’t know what they should be eating,” he said. “You have to figure out what’s right for you.”