Fact #1: losing weight is hard. Fact #2: keeping it off is even harder.
A few weeks back, Be Well reader and Hatboro resident Andy Aubin sent me an email saying he’d managed to succeed on both fronts. His weight loss story, I learned, was nothing short of dramatic. In one year, he took off a whopping 125 pounds—no surgery, no weight-loss pills, no trainer. Andy did it the old-fashioned way: with hard work, dedication, and a whole lot of encouragement from his friends, family, and a new community of online friends he discovered in the process.
I chatted with Andy recently about his weight-loss journey—how he went from struggling to run a mile to completing two (!) half marathons in 12 months. Hear his inspiring story, in his words, below.
Tell me about pre-weight-loss Andy.
I was always a bigger guy, but within the past 10 years it just ballooned. Even before I gained all the weight, it took on a life of it’s own. I went through most of my adult life that way. I got married, but the real game changer was when my daughter came along. I always knew I needed to make a change, but for some reason it was always acceptable to me that it was the way it was—that I was the way I was. Once you added my daughter into the mix, it was no longer acceptable to be that way. I didn’t want her to suffer for something I was too lazy to do.
What was your starting weight and date?
328 pounds. I started on November 18, 2011.
What were the first steps you took?
I started counting calories and using My Fitness Pal to get a handle on what I was eating, how much, and portion size. It was eye opening. It makes you aware and accountable for what you’re eating and makes you realize how out of whack your portions are and what they should be. So I used that to get a handle on the food and at the same time I started running.
I started out with the Couch to 5K program, but I wasn’t even in shape enough to do that, really. So I found a really similar one called Four Weeks to 1 Mile. It slowly works you up to run a mile straight. That was my primer, then I moved on to Couch to 5K, and it kind of kept moving on from there. Knowing myself, I knew I needed to set myself some incremental goals. I figured it would take about a year to get where I wanted to be.
I used the running as a barometer. I didn’t want to be hyper-focused on the weight number. Being a bigger guy, I’ve gone down the road of Weight Watchers and fad diets before. It works for a little bit but then it doesn’t anymore. So this time around I wanted to do it a little bit differently. I focused on the fitness aspect of it. My goals were really a distance-related thing. The first goal was a 5K, then a 10K, then I did a mud run in the summer.
My ultimate goal was a half marathon. I ended up doing two: the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in September and the Philadelphia Half Marathon on November 18th—a year to the day when my weight-loss journey started. I got through all of it. At the Philly Half, I shaved off six minutes from my finish time in September—that’s half a minute per mile. I ran the Philly Half in 2:17:03.
Did you pay attention to your weight at all?
Yes. I was very in tune with my weight. It gives you a hard-and-fast number. For me, it came off really, really fast. I lost 100 pounds in six months. I wasn’t starving myself. But running provided another format for setting and achieving goals so I didn’t get so obsessed with the numbers on the scale.
What did your day-to-day look like, workout-wise?
I ran three times a week. That was consistent throughout the entire thing. How long I ran depended on where I was in my training. When I started, I ran three times a week, 45 minutes each, a combination of walking and running. Later it would be a three-mile run for during-the-week runs, and then I’d do a long run on the weekend. So then I was going about a half hour twice a week and then up to an hour or hour and a half on the weekend.
The entire time, I was constantly pushing myself to do things I was pretty sure I couldn’t do, kind of hanging on to blind faith. Trust the process—that’s been my thing. I left the gym amazed more times than not. I can’t believe I just did that. You feel like you’re going to die a little bit while you’re doing it, but 15 minutes afterwards you’re back to being yourself again.
How about your eating?
It started out with smaller changes—portion size and getting used to that. But as you lose weight, the calories [My Fitness Pal] allots you per day go down with the weight you lose. So I had to make a change here and there to stretch what I was eating to make it fit within the calories. What used to be a hoagie for lunch everyday is now a bowl of soup with an apple. I eat a ton of fruits and veggies now, but I didn’t go from one extreme to another. It was a gradual process.
How did your blog fit in to this?
When I started this, I started to blog to hold myself accountable. I’d started weight loss programs before more times than I can even tell you. I realized if you’re not telling anyone you’re doing it, next thing you know it gets boring and hard and you quit, and no one’s any the wiser. So this time I told people with my blog.
I figured only my wife and my parents would read it. It was that way at first but then one day I posted it up on Facebook for everyone I knew to see. The response was—and continues to be—overwhelming. I started reconnecting with old friends I hadn’t heard from in years and hearing from complete strangers who said they’re going through the same thing.
What was the hardest part about losing 125 pounds?
Breaking old habits. Taking away how I used to do things and completely changing them. Getting and staying active. You’re so used to your routine: you get up, go to work, come home, plop on the couch and hang out. Now it’s, I come home from work, make some dinner, get my daughter down for bed, and get dressed and go to the gym. Most of my runs were late at night because it was the only time I could figure out how to do everything else I needed to do and still get them in.
If you could go back to when you started and tell give yourself some advice, what would it be?
1. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else. I found myself oftentimes talking to friends who were runners and comparing what I’m doing to what they’re doing, and getting down on myself. We’re all playing different games here.
2. Be flexible. I’m a big planner, so in the beginning I set out an entire year’s worth of structure for how my weight loss would go. It wasn’t until later in the game that I realized I can still stay focused and dedicated while being flexible in the plan. I can take a day off from running if my knee hurts and it won’t derail me.
Are you still trying to lose weight?
I am in maintenance mode, and I’m happy to be here. It’s still a learning process for me. When I was losing weight, I was doing it—logging everything I ate religiously, staying strict to the plan. But I realize that logging all the food I eat until the end of time is not realistic. I’ve been trying to use what I’ve learned and put it to the test. I’ve stopped logging food on the weekends. I don’t go crazy if I’m not measuring out a cup of rice. I’ve also gotten a little more loose and fast for things like, hey we’re going to go out for ice cream. That was unthinkable six months ago, whereas now I’m like, it’s fine. If I go over today but I’m good for the rest of the week, no harm will come of that. I’m getting more and more comfortable with what it means to make this a lifestyle.
>> Have an inspiring weight-loss story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with details.