“Half the Man I Used to Be”: Howard’s Journey to Shed 200+ Pounds

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This aritcle is written by Howard Hedlund, winner of our most recent BioTrust Shape-Up Challenge.

I am ecstatic to have been honored as the Grand Prize Winner for the second BioTrust Shape-up Challenge of 2018! I must have really lost a lot of weight because I’ve been floating on a cloud ever since I got the phone call from Coaches Cristina Marie and Desarae! I owe so much to so many, because I certainly did not achieve my results without all kinds of help, support, encouragement, and assistance!

All of my VIP family are winners in my book. Even beyond the health victories won (lots of those!), they are all truly fine people who embody the best of what humanity should be. They show each other kindness, hold each other up, share in each other’s joys, and comfort each other when down. We are all strangers from different places, with different backgrounds, different goals, and different life experiences, yet we have become a family with bonds that rival those formed by blood and heredity.

With that being said, here are some important lessons I have learned. (If it looks like I have simply stolen these lines from BioTrust articles and podcasts, it’s because I have! I make no apologies.) I do not claim this as my own invention, although they may have my own twist. They’re my own condensation of what I found to be the most important and effective in my own journey.

My Tips for Success

Move more, eat less. Expend more energy than you consume. I know! You’ve all heard this before, but it is also the absolute primary instruction to anyone wanting to lose weight and gain health. It MUST be the underlying basis of all your decisions going forward. Nothing else will work if you do not follow this simple idea. Nobody has figured out how to break the laws of thermodynamics! If questioning a decision, plan, technique, or method to achieve your weight and/or fitness goals, always evaluate in light of this simple concept.

Eat real whole foods. Avoid processed, prepared foods. Again, you’ve heard this before. Yes, it generally takes more work to prepare. Yes, it is paradoxically often more expensive to purchase. But the differences in the nutritional value are HUGE. You get much more of the good stuff, and you end up with much less of the bad stuff. You also gain back control of how your foods are prepared and seasoned, including the ability to control both the salt and sugar that are so often added to processed foods as well as the types of fats that are used. Explore your creative side and develop some kitchen skills for the rest of your life.

Learn the art of food substitution. Eating is one of life’s truly great pleasures. Entire lives and careers are built around cuisine and the enjoyment of food. We cannot succeed long term if we deny that fact and deny ourselves the enjoyment of delicious food. We also, however, cannot succeed long or short term if we scarf down piles of pasta, loaves of bread, sweets and desserts, and so many other things. So what to do?!? Learn to substitute! My favorite example is substituting cauliflower for pasta. What I call “spaghettiflower” is simply delicious! You can make an omelet substitute for a pizza crust. Quinoa and chia seeds can be ground and used as a substitute for breading on things like chicken strips. Substitute salsa for salad dressing. There are more clever recipes and ideas out there for low-carb, low-calorie alternatives to conventional calorie-dense foods than you can count.

Plan your ventures off of the straight, and narrow path and make them worthwhile. Nobody can avoid the wrong foods all of the time. We have to live with that. The thing is, we need to avoid those foods most of the time. The only way to do that successfully is to plan for those occasions when you will taste the otherwise forbidden fruit. Many people refer to these events as “cheats.” I agree with Shawn and Tim (from the podcasts): I don’t like the term “cheat.” Personally, I look at it this way: I still refer to an unplanned impulse mistake as a cheat because that is a bad thing. I refer to a planned special food or treat as a reward or celebration. Using that distinction, I did not cheat a single time during either of the Challenges. But I did engage in just a couple of reward/celebration events. That was enough. By planning, you accomplish several things:

You provide yourself an escape from impulsive mistakes because you have something to look forward to as an alternative.

You can plan exercise and other meals to compensate. Hmmm… Family pizza party on Saturday? Have a light supper Friday night and fast until the pizza party. Get a good workout in before the party starts.

You can assist yourself with supplements like IC-5. Unless you carry your BioTrust arsenal with you everywhere you go, this is unlikely to be available in a timely manner for an impulse mistake. Again, looking at the pizza party above, you can take a CraveFix 96 at the optimal time before the party starts, and then take IC-5s along with the food as directed. This will help minimize the tendency to gorge yourself and maximize your ability to metabolize the carbs effectively.

If you plan for it, you will make better choices. If nothing else, those choices will be much more worthwhile and satisfying. A Twinkie is going to do the same damage to your calorie count as a truly wonderful delicacy, so why waste that special treat on a Twinkie, unless, of course, a Twinkie is truly your favorite treat in the world?!

• For me, carbohydrates are the enemy unless they come from vegetables or small amounts of fresh fruits! I have NEVER been able to reduce weight while consuming even relatively small quantities of simple carbohydrates. Don’t be fooled by the health claims of many whole grains either. They may have many good qualities for people without weight problems who burn lots of calories in highly active lives, but for those of us who are already struggling with weight, and who may have desk jobs or other limitations on our ability to be in constant motion, they are weight-loss poison. I avoid them at all costs! I have to!

Be flexible and expect the need to adapt and change. Over the course of these two Challenges, I have made at least a half dozen major changes to my overall strategies of eating and exercising. In many respects, it is my own belief (another one I’d like to see rigorously tested) that our bodies are too adaptable for any specific plan to work long term. Our bodies figure out how to be most efficient with whatever we throw at it, so the road to success involves keeping your body guessing. I have changed up my eating schedule, my exercise schedule, and my menu. If I feel a plateau starting, I change things up. This goes back to the first point I made (stole) regarding burning more energy than we consume. As your body becomes more efficient with any particular plan you are following, the “burn” part of that system will decrease because your body is using less energy to accomplish the same thing.

My Story

• I was born a poor… No wait! That was Steve Martin! Never mind…

• In the winter of early 2017, my weight was over 412 pounds. I don’t know exactly what it was, because I refused to get on a scale, but it had been 412 pounds at my December 2016 doctor visit, and I can assure you I did NOT lose any weight over the 2016 holidays and into the cold start of 2017. I have been using 412 as the starting weight for my journey because it is the only number I can substantiate, but it would not surprise me if I reached as high as 420 or even 430 pounds before adequately kicking myself in the butt to do something. Using 412, the 199.2 weight this morning represents 212.8 lb. of banished blubber. That’s 51.7% of my “official” starting weight obliterated. I am now truly “Less than half the man I used to be!”

• I have battled obesity since childhood. I am an emotional and stress eater, and I consider myself a food and especially sugar addict. I don’t get full and can eat enormous quantities of food at one sitting. Not only can I eat a whole lot, but I get hungrier as I go instead of becoming satiated. At times I can feel like a shark in a feeding frenzy. And this, after I have already eaten enough food for several “normal” people. Several life events over the past few years have further fed my stress levels and have led me to feed my face in a most unhealthy manner!

• There were several things that led me to my transformation journey. Earlier, in the summer of 2016, I blew out my left knee trying to dash across a busy street because I was too fat and out-of-shape to walk down to the light at the crosswalk. This put me on crutches and faced me with a tough decision: surgery followed by physical therapy (PT) or try just PT alone. I opted for the PT alone. However, my shoulders were never designed to support my 400+ pound bulk on crutches, and before long, both shoulders were trashed as well. Trying to compensate for all of this with all of my excess weight also led to worsened lower back problems just to make life more interesting. So, I was getting PT for my knee, PT for my shoulders, PT for my back (along with one of those horse-needle injections), and was making some progress, but not much. We all knew I could never recover without lowering the weight burden on my poor joints. That still wasn’t enough to get me started. I still couldn’t do it—not yet!

• One of my colleagues at work had also been morbidly obese since I had started here at Astro-Physics. A wonderful, brilliant, hard-working, beautiful lady, despite her size. In 2016, she had begun a serious transformation journey of her own. She adopted healthy eating habits, started exercising, and lost a huge amount of weight and was a completely new woman. She was a tremendous inspiration for me. But it still wasn’t quite enough.

• In April every year, my bosses, one or two colleagues, and I always attend the NorthEast Astronomy Forum and Telescope Show (aka NEAF) in Suffern, NY. This trip is a helluva lot of work, but it is a total riot, and we always have a great time. My bosses are really good to us on these trips, and it is something we look forward to every year. As the time approached to start thinking about our plane reservations, my bosses informed me they did not feel I was healthy enough to make the trip. They were concerned I could not safely handle the effort required. I was crushed. That was the last straw. It was early March of 2017, and it was finally time to start my transformation!

• I had lost weight before, and I knew many of the things I needed to do already, so I started doing them. I was still in PT, so I began trying harder to use the PT as a means of getting some supervised exercise. I was actually a bit scared to exercise on my own since I have had a heart condition now for eight years or so. I also began a serious research effort to learn more and find things that would help me both to succeed in my transformation and then to maintain any losses I achieved. By May, I had gotten below 400 pounds, and my PT was coming to an end. My 3 therapists were very pleased with the weight I had lost to that point and strongly encouraged me to keep at it.

• Toward the end of May, I also got connected with BioTrust. I started out actually looking for a good source of Omega-3 supplements and also for another protein powder source. It was the OmegaKrill 5X that really got me started with BioTrust. I had been using other protein powders as breakfast replacements since long before I started my serious transformation in March, but I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about any of them. The more I studied BioTrust, the more I liked both the product line and the company. I tried my first products that May and have been a loyal customer ever since. Weight continued to come off the rest of the year, and by the fall of 2017, I was already healthy enough to attend our other big work conference in San Jose, CA. Friends, customers, acquaintances, and competitor attendees were all already amazed at the transformation. At that point, I would have banished somewhere around 50 pounds total. That felt great and reinforced the drive to proceed.

• Toward the end of May, I also got connected with BioTrust. I started out actually looking for a good source of Omega-3 supplements and also for another protein powder source. It was the OmegaKrill 5X that really got me started with BioTrust. I had been using other protein powders as breakfast replacements since long before I started my serious transformation in March, but I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about any of them. The more I studied BioTrust, the more I liked both the product line and the company. I tried my first products that May and have been a loyal customer ever since. Weight continued to come off the rest of the year, and by the fall of 2017, I was already healthy enough to attend our other big work conference in San Jose, CA. Friends, customers, acquaintances, and competitor attendees were all already amazed at the transformation. At that point, I would have banished somewhere around 50 pounds total. That felt great and reinforced the drive to proceed.

• In December, I flew down to Florida for a quick visit with my best friend since high school. We celebrated his 60th birthday by attending a Kansas concert that somehow just happened to have been scheduled on that same day. It was awesome! He and his lovely wife were completely blown away by my changes—about 80 pounds by then. We also celebrated their 3-year-old grandson’s birthday at a huge outdoor party. “Papa Howie” had enough energy to have a blast with all the kids, and since my friend and his wife were the only grown-ups I really knew at the party, that suited me just fine. By the time it was time to go, I had kids climbing all over me and hugging me. Mothers were shaking their heads in disbelief that their kids would take to a stranger like that, but I credit it to my improved health and energy.

• At the end of 2017, I started getting emails from BioTrust about their VIP group and about this upcoming “Shape-up Challenge,” whatever the heck that was. I had never been active on Facebook and actually had to look up my account information just to log on! I did not belong to any groups and hadn’t “friended” anyone since I was first coerced into joining many years ago. I had never been big on things like these competitions and was a bit reluctant to give it a try. In spite of this, I joined the BioTrust VIP group and did a bit of lurking for a while. Plain and simple, I was impressed enough to give that first Challenge (for me) a try.

• My starting weight for that first Challenge was 308.2 pounds, so I had already lost over 100 pounds before the start. I figured I already knew how to shed pounds and could give it a good run. It was a tremendous experience for me, and I lost over 60 pounds, creating 3 new “Pounds Down” clubs in the process. During that Challenge, I passed several personal milestones including getting below 300 pounds and then at the end getting just below 250 pounds. As important as anything, I learned a tremendous amount—about health, nutrition, exercise, and about myself, and I made many dear friendships in the process. Gym Bob Wieder, my most excellent friend, won that challenge, and we all started to look ahead to the next one, which had been tentatively set to start at the end of April.

• In between the two challenges was my triumphant return to NEAF—the Astronomy trade show in New York. Now, I was very careful on this trip, but I knew that I would gain some of my hard-lost weight back, and I did. However, it was worth it, and I think it is worth mentioning how I mitigated much of the damage that could have been done:
I packaged up and brought my shake mixes for every day of the trip along with my complete line of supplements and meds. I did not eat anything else in the morning.

  • I tried as often as possible to get up early enough to go to the hotel gym and work out before having my protein shake and getting to the show. That wasn’t always possible since many of the nights went very late, but I gave it my best effort.
  • I made a concerted effort to offer to be the “go-fer” any time we needed something at our booth. This gave me an excuse to get up and move. Coffees? I’ll get ‘em. Water? How many do we need?
  • I did not eat lunch. In retrospect, in light of what I have now learned about intermittent fasting, I will change how I do this next time: I’ll break my fast with my BioTrust shake when others are eating lunch. Have I mentioned what a great learning resource BioTrust is (Blogs, Radio Podcasts, VIP Group, Coaches, etc.)?
  • In the evenings, we always went out for some sort of fantastic dinner. I always was careful to avoid some of the more blatant, refined carbs, but I also avoided depriving myself completely and was able to totally enjoy the various cuisines and fine food.

• Despite my success in the January – April Challenge, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to hit it again already at the end of April. Coach Desarae Quinn, however, talked me into it.

• This second Challenge was more difficult than the first. Work and family commitments took much more of my time. Then weeks 8, 9, 10, and 11 turned into a bit of a plateau, and I got scared I wouldn’t hit my goals. As I will describe below, flexibility in my approach saved the day, and I descended from the plateau just in time.

• On the deadline day for “after form” submission, I made a quick post with my 199.2-pound weight because I was so excited to have cracked the 200-pound milestone that I simply couldn’t wait.

The 200-Pound Milestone

So, what does this 200-pound milestone represent? In short, it is the result of over 16 months of hard work and effort to regain my health. It represents over 212 pounds of blubber banished since the start of my transformation journey; over 60 pounds of that banished since the start of this Challenge—the second time in a row that I’ve done this. And finally, it’s the first time I have been below 200 pounds since 1984! (That’s 34 years!)

I have again reached several milestones and achieved my goals for this Challenge. I was so close to two of those at Monday’s weigh-in that I held off submitting my form until the last minute on Thursday. That worked! My main goal had been to become “Less than half the man I used to be!” I passed that milestone on Monday, making it official for the 12 weeks. However, that had me very close to two additional goals I had thought unattainable for this Challenge. I gave it a huge effort and nailed both of those Thursday before turn-in: I lost over 60 pounds for this challenge, and I got below the 200-pound mark on the scale. To say I was (and still am) thrilled would be an understatement!!!

That’s the story of my journey so far. I say so far, because this will be a lifelong journey. It has to be!! Those of you who have read this far may be wondering: “OK, Howard. That’s a nice story and all, even if a bit long-winded, but how did you actually lose all that weight? What can you tell me to help me with my own journey?”

My Tips for Losing Over 200 Pounds

First, I did not follow any rigid sort of plan. I’ve always resisted rules that were there for rules’ sake. I’m terrible about keeping records, journals, logs, and such. This is an area where I definitely need improvement—not just for my health improvement journey, but for life in general.

One important thing I have found that relates to this is that you must be flexible. Things change. As you lose weight, your body changes. As you become accustomed to different foods, your body changes. When you begin to reap the effects of the supplements, your body changes. As you build muscle and increase fitness, your body changes. Your entire purpose is to change, so don’t think that your approach to making those changes can remain rigidly unchanging! You want to change, so be willing to change as you change!

Since rigid plans and rules will not apply throughout the length of your journey, try to think of plans and rules as guidelines. That does NOT mean you ignore the wisdom in those plans, rules, and guides, or that you can break all the rules and still succeed. It merely means that over a long journey, the terrain will change, so you may need to occasionally shift gears or stop in for a tune-up. Now and then you may need to rotate or even replace the tires. Understand the concepts and the “whys” and you will stay grounded in how you travel this road.

Evaluate your plans and methods and your strengths and weaknesses, not just your weight, exercise stats, and dietary macros. This is vitally important! The weight, exercise, and dietary macros you record are useful in that they can be used to guide you into the future. You should always be asking yourself why those values are what they are and what can you do to improve them.

Don’t be afraid of fasting. I firmly believe that most of the ill effects people claim to experience from fasting are simply their minds and bodies trying to trick them into providing a quick and easy energy boost. Tough through it the first few times. It takes very little time for fasting to become quite easy. For some of the benefits of fasting, listen to this BioTrust Radio Podcast.

Break your fast with healthy fats. This is another hypothesis of mine: As you fast, your body seeks energy sources. What we want is for our bodies to learn to burn fat efficiently. This is the beauty of the keto diet approach. It is also one of the reasons that intermittent fasting is so effective. So, if we want to train our bodies to burn fat, let’s help in the training by supplying a fresh quantity of healthy fats as the only or dominant available energy source to shift our bodies into fat metabolizing gear with the first meal of the day.

Follow the Tammy K. Rule: Don’t eat until you have exercised! Many of us in this group love this little trick. We all love Tammy too!!

Slow down when you eat. Fast food isn’t just a phrase used to describe garbage food that we all need to avoid. Fast food is how we eat in this country. We won’t allow ourselves the time to eat properly. We wolf food down, often with only a small amount of chewing. The only thing lacking (sometimes) is the snarling, slavering, and grunting. I am as guilty about this as the next person.

  • Take time to talk during a meal, and that doesn’t mean to talk with your mouth full.
  • Pause to listen to what others have to say during a meal. Bring social interaction back into mealtimes. It slows you down and you will eat less. It’s healthy for the mind, soul, and body, and it’s good for your relationships as well!
  • Chew your food completely. My Grandpa used to say at least 32 times per bite. Tim Skwiat recently quoted 40 chews per bite. The bottom line is that you should never swallow food that is still in hunks or chunks.
  • Brush your teeth to end a meal and stop eating. This was always my mother’s trick. My mother was the only one in our family who was never obese. When a meal ended, she would dash off to brush her teeth.

After a meal, do at least 10 minutes of light exercise or activity. This was a hint from Tim Skwiat for me to help me stop eating since I have such trouble feeling full. I used it to great effect toward the end of this last Challenge and wish I had applied it much earlier. Eat slowly and then get up and do something. Don’t do anything too strenuous, but get up and move.

Work on getting adequate sleep. I’ll include this one because I know how terribly important it is. If any of you can figure out how I can actually do this, please let me know.

Start your day with exercise. This is something I TOTALLY believe in! I have no rigorous research to back this up, but anecdotally, my own personal experience is that in those weeks I consistently got up and immediately got myself sweating for at least 10 minutes, I had far greater weight loss. It affected my entire day. It doesn’t need to be a full-fledged workout, but it needs to get the heart rate up and get the sweat going.

Use BioTrust supplements, but remember: They are supplements! They are not magic pills and formulas. They don’t do it for you. They supplement your efforts, and they help you along. They are NOT a substitute for burning more energy than you consume!

This may be a challenge, but don’t obsess about competing with the rest of the VIPs. Instead, compete with yourself. Every day, be just a little better than you were yesterday. THAT IS ALL THAT MATTERS!! Focus within and worry about you.

Now, having said that: Use the VIP group and the friends you make in it as an important motivator. Learn all that you can from the coaches and the other VIPs. Take advantage of the accountability this group affords. Pick a few VIPs you think are in similar circumstances to yours, and make them your “FRIENDLY” rivals. Pick a few others you really like and/or admire and vow that you WILL NOT disappoint them! Find those things in this group and in yourself that will make you succeed, because although we can all help each other, no one else can do it for you.

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