I was a fat kid. I am not an overweight adult.
I loved science and nature when I was a kid. My favorite activities were playing in the woods, watching science shows on PBS and visiting local science museums. I dreamed of exploring high mountains and deep, green forests while rifling through National Geographic magazines and soaking in the photos of exotic places. I spent a lot of time outdoors playing in the woods and around the neighborhood with my friends. But I was also a latch key kid and spent lots of time indoors watching TV and playing Nintendo and eating bad food like frozen pizza, tortilla chips and day old danishes. By the time I was a teenager I ended up becoming chubby, weighing 214 pounds when I was 14 years old.
I became very self-conscious about being overweight and aware that my closest group friends were all fat nerdy kids. Back then, most young teenagers weren’t concerned about their weight, though my friends and I spent lots of time making fun of each other between junk food fueled movie nights. Later, as I became more interested in girls and concerned about my appearance, my weight became an obsession. At 15 I began reading Nutrition Facts Panels, keeping track of grams of fat and started running regularly. I followed a low-fat diet, kept track of how much fat I ate and ran at least three times a week. All of this work helped me get my weight down to 185 lbs. and lots of people at school commented on how much weight I had lost. Although I had lost weight and the loss was stable, I was still sort of chubby. My solution to the problem was just more exercise so I joined my school’s Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor track teams. I was good at Cross Country but despite all the exercise, I was perplexed with why I couldn’t get the extra weight off. This was the beginning of my health journey.
By the time I made it into college, I had gained much more than the typical Freshman 15…it was more like 20-25 pounds. Beer had become a regular part of my diet along with pizza and other junk foods. Late-night post drinking feeding sessions and other dubious college behaviors like all-nighters were a part of the weekly schedule. During my undergraduate career, I lost weight at least twice by strictly watching what I ate and diligently exercising. Unfortunately, these stints of getting into shape were interspersed with periods of weight gain. I easily regained weight and attributed it to allowing myself to slack off my regimen of diet and exercise.
These struggles with weight through my childhood and college years eventually kindled an interest into the science of nutrition. Human nutrition was not available as a major where I went to school, so I chose Biology as a major since I also had an interest in science, nature, animals and physiology. While nutrition was my first interest, I was afraid to pursue a career in the field as the conventional wisdom never seemed to work for me and the last thing I wanted to do was end up working as a nutritionist in a hospital telling overweight people how they should eat. The minor in nutrition introduced me to Food Science – which I found very interesting. In a basic food science class required for my minor, we learned how to make things like ice cream, cheese, yogurt, wine, sauerkraut and hot dogs. I loved it so much that I decided to add food science as second major along with Biology. This was a logical move as the nutrition and food science fields overlap and perhaps most importantly, this path lead promising, well-paying careers.
After I finished college, I went to graduate school for a master’s degree in food science. While there, I combined my interest in biology and nutrition by working on a project that involved probiotic bacteria. It seemed like the perfect interface between nutrition, physiology and biology. I found the idea of probiotics and the symbiosis between our gut and these organisms (an internal ecosystem!) fascinating. Despite this interest, I found the practice of microbiology difficult, monotonous and repetitive. All the science was so interesting, but the actual work was not for me. Discouraged and very poor, I decided to abandon dreams of a PhD in food science and go work in industry as soon as I could.
This began a 15-year career in the food industry where I worked on everything from cheese powder (like you find in boxed mac n cheese and on nacho chips), to mayonnaise, to frozen pizza, to energy bars. The food industry was very dynamic with lots of interesting things to work on and do. However, while working on these things and making a decent living, I found that my heart and interest was not into it and something was left out. I would work hard to optimize a product or bring a new one to market but one thing that really bothered me about all the work was that the most important were profit margins and marketing…how nutritious the food product was and how it fit into a healthy diet was always an afterthought.
Also, during those 15 years I had several swings up and down with my weight. In 2007 I read Gary Taubes Good Calories, Bad Calories and started following Mark Sisson’s Blog Mark’s Daily Apple and read his book The Primal Blueprint. I started following a Paleo/Primal/Low Carb diet and lost weight despite not doing a lot of cardiovascular endurance exercise (my old strategy) and found my sensation of hunger was much reduced. This amazed me as I thought that being lean and fit was all about burning calories and following an energy in/energy out paradigm. All I did was lift weights three times a week and occasionally run on the treadmill or ride the spin bike. I lost weight and got strong!
Unfortunately, external influences got the better of me again mainly due to the stress of having a premature child in a home with two working parents. I reverted back to a calories in/calories out paradigm for my eating patterns and soon gained weight back. I then began road biking four to five times a week and started a practice where I would wake up at four in the morning to ride my bike and burn off all the calories for the day. I had lost track of the Paleo/Primal/Low Carb way of eating and went back to a Standard American Diet and lost weight, even though it required a lot more effort.
In 2012, we moved from Chicago to Northern California. This was a very exciting time as I was ready to get away from the extremely long winters (by my standards) and into a place where I could ride my bike year ’round on some really great roads. While this was happening, my wife Samira was pregnant with our second child. Despite all the biking I was doing when we moved to California I found that my weight started to creep back up. The calories in/calories out paradigm had again failed me as I couldn’t maintain the dietary diligence. I recalled all I had learned from Gary Taubes’ books and discovered the ketogenic diet and decided to follow it since I wanted to again get back in shape but didn’t have time for food journals or lots of biking when my daughter was born. On keto, I lost 20 lbs without all the exercise. I started a program of bodyweight exercise (as prescribed by the Primal Blueprint) and lifting kettlebells for 20-30 minutes a day, first thing in the morning. The combo of keto, kettlebells and bodyweight exercise worked phenomenally well and I was able to get my weight down from 195 to 180 lbs with little effort and found that I leaner and in the best shape of my life.
Shortly after this health transformation I landed what was my dream job at a major energy bar manufacturer. Despite my health journey and what I knew about diet and exercise, this was the food company that I wanted to work for. I was so stoked that I had landed that job. Working at this company was a wonderful experience, but again, I found myself in the pattern of chronic exercise and calories in/calories out. While I still believed in Paleo/Primal/LowCarb/Keto, it was very difficult to follow given that a large part of my job was working with and tasting various high carbohydrate and higher glycemic foods. I tried my best to maintain a low carb way of eating while employed there, but after 5.5 years I found out that I had again allowed my weight to creep up to 195 lbs and that on top of that I had high blood pressure! This got my attention and I immediately went back onto a ketogenic diet. I rapidly lost the first 5 lbs in one week and continually lost weight over the ensuing months by diligently following keto. Since then, I’ve managed to drop my blood pressure and get into the best shape of my life, even surpassing my fitness that I achieved when I was younger. I decided to stop working in the food industry and become a health coach to find ways to help others that have had struggles similar to mine.