By Daniel Flahiff | Personal Trainer
Have you struggled with weight gain, strength loss, low energy levels and depression? I have. It’s the true ‘State of the Union’. But today, just two months shy of my 50th birthday, I’m stronger, faster, lighter and have more energy than I have in decades. As an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach I use the lessons I’ve learned on my own journey back to health to help others trade in their bodies for one that is ten or twenty years younger.
I can hear the skepticism out there, but bear with me. This is no “Low-T” commercial. It’s the truth and it can change your life. Consider the case of one of your peers; Pastor Brad Beeman.
Have you ever met a complete stranger who, after just a few minutes, feels like a friend you’ve known your entire life? I feel that way about Pastor Brad. The first time we sat down together for coffee at Tully’s we were both grown men; Brad was 55 and I was 47. But even before the caffeine had a chance to kick in, we discovered that we were both PKs with comically complicated families. We both lived itinerant childhoods that made it difficult for us to make friends. Those childhoods gave us both a competitive drive which led us to the world of sport and eventually to broken backs that ended our careers. We’ve both founded companies and lost them, both escaped LA, and we both know just how long it takes to split a cord of wood based on the species you’re cutting. But most importantly, we’ve both been fat, sick and nearly dead.
When we met that morning over coffee, Brad was just beginning his journey back to health, and I had just come through mine. I’d just returned from Auckland, NZ where I represented the United States at the ITU World Aquathlon (swim/run) Championships, racing with some of the fastest age-groupers in the world as a member of Team USA. That heady experience was the culmination of a three-year journey back to health.
While I was strong and fit in my twenties, over time my health deteriorated, and my weight fluctuated dramatically. I tried everything—juice cleanses, Jenny Craig, infomercial workouts, South Beach, Zone, Atkins, Paleo, etc.—and honestly they all worked, for a while. But the weight and fatigue always came back.
By the age of 44, I tipped the scales at just over 230 lbs., BMI 32, officially obese. My cholesterol was 280, so I was on statins. My sleep apnea meant using the dreaded CPAP machine. I regularly abused alcohol, and eventually I found myself a therapist with a liberal prescription pad and was soon cycling through the anti-depressants.
Add to all this the responsibility of raising two young boys, keeping a small business afloat and trying to be a sensitive, understanding husband, and you get the picture. I was a tired, fat, depressed alcoholic at risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other ailments. It was time for a change.
What was the catalyst? Facebook. I know, right? But stick with me on this one.
Late one night I read a Facebook update, I don’t even remember who posted it now. It read simply:
“Wow, December already. Time to start training for the STP.”
If you don’t already know, the STP is the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, a 200-mile bicycle ride in July that about 10,000 people ride in one or two days.
When I read that Facebook post, I thought, how ridiculous! But I was in a rut, and I knew that nothing I did in that chair in that office was going to get me out of that rut. I didn’t have the answer, but I believed that simply walking out the door—doing something different—would be a step in the right direction. So I dusted off my old, red mountain bike and headed down the hill. It wasn’t pretty. Eight sweaty miles later I had to push my bike back up the hill to our house, exhausted and ashamed. I could only hope my boys and their friends didn’t see me. But two days later I went back out the door for another ride. And I just kept going back out that door.
Was it easy? Of course not. Some rides were so cold I couldn’t feel my feet for hours. But after six months of working what I call the other NEA: proper Nutrition, Exercise and Accountability—on July 28, 2010 I finished the STP. With a smile!
When Brad and I sat down the next time for coffee, we began to build a health plan for him around the NEA, like I do with all my clients. It’s no secret. It’s simple and it works.
Proper nutrition begins by finding ways to add more of the good stuff—fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds—allowing those to replace the processed foods and sweets. In Brad’s case this led to a whole-food, plant-based diet that excludes animal products entirely.
Brad is goal oriented so it was easy for him to pick an event that inspired him (the STP again!) and together we designed a progressive exercise program that safely built his fitness. When you work with a goal and a coach, accountability has a way of taking care of itself in a few different ways: 1) by paying his entry and telling others, Brad used financial and social pressure to his benefit, 2) weekly meetings with me and the online journal we used to communicate held him accountable, and 3) training with others with the same goal helped him maintain his daily motivation.
Working the NEA, in concert with his other health care professionals, Brad completely changed his health and wellness. According to his physician, he extended his life by decades.
The ‘State of the Union’ does not have to apply to you either.
Accept yourself right now, no matter how heavy or out of shape or depressed you feel. Own it and forgive yourself. God has. He is the God of second chances, is he not?
Then just start. Today. Literally, just walk out the door. Even if it’s raining. Even if you’ve started a hundred times before, take that first step again. In faith.
It’s not magic. It’s nothing short of miraculous.