I should say right off the bat that Walt Jacob wasn’t the one who contacted me about sharing his amazing weight loss story here on Be Well. His wife, Angela, did. “I know that he is way too humble to ever write about his achievements,” she wrote in an email. “But I am so proud of him, and I know that his story has the potential to inspire many people.”
I mean, how could I not?
Yesterday, I got to chat with Walt, who lives in Swedesboro, and learned two things: 1) he is as humble as Angela described, and 2) he really does have an amazing, inspiring story to share. Here, in his own words, Walt talks about how he lost over 150 pounds (!!) and gained a whole new outlook on health and fitness along the way.
Tell me about pre-weight-loss Walt. What was your starting weight?
I honestly don’t know what my exact starting weight was, but I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 310 to 320 pounds. I’m 5’11″, so that was pretty big. I’d always been up and down in terms of my weight. Before high school I was kind of chunky. Even though I played soccer and wrestled, my weight would fluctuate wildly. And once I was out of high school and on my own, it ballooned pretty quickly out of control.
In 2006, when I was 25 years old, I decided I should probably get myself on track. I would struggle to get myself into my extra-large clothes but didn’t want to admit that I might need sizes with more than one X in them. I was living at home at the time, and one night my mom came home with a one of those booklets to count calories. She’d bought it for herself but I picked it up and started thumbing through it. I started adding up what I eat in a given day. I guess I had always imagined I was around the 2,500-calorie mark. I was way way over that. I would easily put away between 4,000 and 5,000 calories a day. I remember thinking that there were meals where I would over 2,000 calories—that’s an entire day’s worth of food for a person, and I was eating it in one sitting. In college I was a math major, so looking at what I ate in terms of numbers made sense to me. And the numbers really blew my mind.
So I assume that was your wakeup call …
Yes, definitely. I decided to get my life back on track. I didn’t do anything fancy—just started eating better and keeping the amount of calories I ate everyday in mind. I ended up dropping quite a bit of weight. I met my wife in 2008, and by that time I gotten down into the 190s. After we got together, we starting going out to eat a lot, and I ended up ballooning back up to 235 or so within a short period of time. Then we got engaged around Christmas 2009. In early 2010, we talked about taking off a little weight to look better for the wedding, so we decided to try a running plan.
When we first started, it was a two-mile course to a park from our apartment. We would run for a minute and then walk for five. You do that six times, it’s a half an hour. I thought, I can do half an hour. Let me tell you, that first minute of running was as terrible as I remembered from high school. It was tough. The second week, I was supposed to increase it from 1 to 2 minutes of running. I thought I was going to die. Somehow I guess I pushed through that, and eventually we were running the two miles out and back without stopping.
Eventually, my wife and I stopped running together, but that that point I think my competitive nature really started to came out. One day I decided to make a right instead of a left to go to the park. I figured it would be like three or four miles total, so I just kept going. I remember the pain, the stinging in my legs, and breathing hard. But I finished it.
When I got home, I mapped the route online to see how long it really was. I realized it was just over a 10K. I freaked out. It was the most amazing thing. People couldn’t shut me up for days. I took my wife out when she got home to drive the route to show her, and I was describing it blow by blow. That was probably the run that completely did me in. It changed everything. Eventually, I got up to the point where I was running 2.5 miles four or five times a week, and started adding more distance on the weekends. As of now, the longest I’ve ever run is 15 to 16 miles. There was a time when I was doing a half marathon every weekend, but now it’s probably 10 miles on a Saturday and 3.5 to 5 miles on weekday runs.
What do you weigh now?
I weigh a little over 160 pounds now. I weigh about half of what I weighed at my absolute heaviest. It probably took me a year and a half to get into the 190s. And then 2010 is when it finally came off, and it’s off for good at this point.
Since you run so much, what is your eating like now? Are you sort of able to eat whatever you want since you’re burning so many calories?
I wouldn’t eat a donut or a Buffalo wing because it’s just not how I eat anymore. The bulk of my diet now is fruits and veggies. My wife and I eat primarily a vegetarian diet, although neither of us are vegetarians. So we eat a lot of beans and quinoa and all that. I also can’t get enough of Chobani Greek yogurt. I eat it pretty much every day.
What was the most challenging part of your weight-loss journey?
Changing my mindset. I find that with these things it takes me like two weeks to really make a big change stick. I have to commit or it goes by the wayside. So getting over the hump every time I changed something was a big challenge, like adding some mileage to a run or changing something about my diet.
If you could go back to when you started and give yourself some advice, what would it be?
I wish somebody had told me that once you get on the other side of the difficult phase and you accomplish something, that feeling will stay with you. I never wanted to get started because I saw it as constant drudgery and difficulty. But when you finally do it, it really takes off and you never forget how good it feels.