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Extreme Inspiration: A story of weight lost and fitness regained

In November 2016, Matt D. turned 30 and decided to change his life.  Since that time, he has lost 160 pounds and gained strength, stamina and the satisfaction of achieving his goals. A fitness member at Fort Hill Activity Center, he graciously agreed to share his story with our Park District audience and the community.  Here it is, in his words:

Matt at the Rotary Ride at Commissioners Park, August 14, 2017

"Before" pictures from 2016 compared to "after" pictures from 2017

The beginning
I have always been a rather big guy, and growing up was active in sports and other activities.  I played college football at a small school in Wisconsin.  I was always pretty athletic during this time and my size didn’t really cause any issues.  
Once college football ended I did not adjust my diet to account for the decrease in activity.  Over the years I gained a lot of weight and developed some bad habits. During this time, though, I would always tell myself, “Well, I’m not 30 yet so I’ll be OK.”

Last November I turned 30 and I couldn’t use this as an excuse anymore so I decided to make a change.  On November 28th I started my journey.  Luckily during this time I was reading a great book called Extreme Ownership. To be honest it has nothing to do with weight loss but it’s about accountability and ownership as a leader. The light bulbs came on—and I decided to apply it to my life.

I started meeting with doctors and wanted to understand the options for my goal of losing 200 pounds. They said I could do it on my own or have weight loss surgery.  I have the utmost respect for individuals who do weight loss surgery because they have taken ownership and decided to make a positive change to their lives, but at the time, I didn't think it was for me. I gave myself 90 days to hit my first goal weight and if I didn't reach it I would have surgery.  My doctor put me on a low carb diet and I have been on it since.  I started with monthly check-ins with my doctors and nutritionist to help keep me accountable and now I go about every 8 weeks.  

The small amount of carbs in Matt’s diet include mostly vegetables, nuts and occasional fruit

The first 6 weeks were the hardest
After my first doctor’s visit I got in touch with my former football/strength coach who currently does nutrition and training.  At the time I could barely walk a quarter of a mile or climb up a flight of stairs without getting winded. He told me just to start moving. I basically just started walking and then built up to body squats and pushups. It was very humbling to see where I had let myself get to, but there was only one person who was going to change this, and that was me.

For the first 6 weeks I concentrated on my diet only with about 10 minutes of walking up my stairs at my house. The first 6 weeks were horrible.  I was having withdrawal from not getting the sugars and processed carbs that my body was used to.  After New Year’s it was like a cloud had been lifted and my body was starting to adjust. I finally felt good enough to head to the gym. This is when I found Fort Hill Activity Center.  I drive by it every day on the way to work and had seen it being built. So I went in to check it out. The equipment is very nice, a brand new facility, and it’s only 2 miles from my home.

Fort Hill Activity Center

Heading to the Gym
Walking into the gym for the first time can be intimidating for anyone but I will argue even more so for a big guy. You always feel like people are looking at you and judging you. It was frustrating to me because I'd see people do things that I used to be able to do. I just swallowed my ego and kept putting one foot in front of the other. Slowly but surely I started to be able to walk a little farther. Then I moved to the bike, then the elliptical, and now I can finally jog again. It has been very motivating for me to see my progress.  Fort Hill has been a great place for this journey as they have state of the art equipment and a motivating, friendly staff.

On the elliptical at Fort Hill Fitness Center, August 2017

Being a former athlete I had been around the gym quite a bit growing up so I felt comfortable with the weights and machines. I also understood the importance of programming.  I created a program for myself that was high in cardio but also incorporated weight training to help me keep/build muscle. I concentrate most of my weight training with dumbbells, kettle bells or body weight movements and rotate between upper and lower body.

I work out 7 days a week. At the beginning they were very light workouts but it was movement.  Since then these have picked up with both length and endurance.  I started with 10 minutes and I’m now at an hour and a half.  I have recently gotten into biking and on Sundays I do a long bike ride. I just completed 61 miles at the Naperville Rotary Club Ride!

Keeping it down
To date I’m down 160 lbs., which sounds like a lot but I had a lot to lose.  I’ve been monitored by doctors during this time and they are very happy with my progress. It was extremely important to me and the doctors that I lose this weight in a healthy way.

Matt working out with a Kettlebell

Fort Hill gives me a great place to work out with great equipment that is convenient for me to get to.  The first month is tough at any gym but once you get in a routine and start seeing the same people it becomes rewarding.  There are a lot of hard working people at the gym and it is great to see everyone “Get After It” when there.

One of the morning crew working out at Ft. Hill

I knew I had been going for a while when after about five months I went on vacation and when I got back people asked me where I’d been.  This helps you get back into the routine because you count on consistently seeing people. The front desk staff in the morning is kind and always friendly. It’s a huge thing to always feel welcomed.

I’ve kept up my workout program for 8 months—every day except a handful.   I understand the importance of recovery, but do an active recovery, for example, walking, and I rotate the weight training.   I get up at 4:30 a.m. and get to the gym by 5:15 on weekdays.  I never used to do that.  To help me get out of bed early, I check in to a group on Twitter (#0445Club) every morning and post a screen shot at 4:45 a.m.

If I’m traveling, I have come up with a quick workout that pushes me really hard for a short amount of time so I can get my workout in.  I heard a quote from a Navy Seal that says “You don’t need much room for burpees.” When I’m at a spot that doesn’t have the equipment I need I know there is always something I can do.

Another big motivation to keep going is to see the progress I have made thus far.  I’m still a big guy and still have a journey ahead of me but when days are tough I look back on where I have come on the journey.  After every 20 lbs. that I lose, I pick up the equivalent in dumbbells and walk up the stairs in the gym to remind me of what that extra weight felt like.

People have started to ask me what's the secret and I say the following:

1.    You have to want to do it and believe you are the only one who can do it. For me the weight didn't come on overnight and it wasn't going to go away overnight.

2.    Make your bed.  This helps create discipline. Yeah, it sounds crazy but I am a firm believer.

3.    Get up early. Go get your workout done before you go to work.  You then don't have any excuse after work. Yeah, the first month is hard, but just do it and you will soon find you are used to it.

4.    Discipline.  Some days you don't feel like working out or don't feel like eating well. These are the most important days that you keep it up. You can't let your mind beat you.

5.    I believe it is 60% diet, 30% mental, and 10% working out.  You can't outwork a bad diet and you can't pass on bad food choices without being mentally tough.

6.    Pick 90-day time windows.  I’ve done this and I post the date where I can see it (phone, desk, refrigerator).  It helps to keep me focused on a date that I know I’m working towards.

7.    Find a support group. This can include friends, family, an online community or doctors.  These people are there during the good times and bad times to help keep you accountable.

Congratulations, Matt!

Memberships are on sale now at Fort Hill Activity Center. Stop by for a tour and explore all of the ways that the facility, its people and its programs can help you on your fitness journey.

TD Friday, August 25, 2017
This is my son and I am very proud of him. Keep up the great job.

Natosha Walsh Monday, August 28, 2017
Matt I am so proud of you! You are a true inspiration to myself and many others.

PJ Monday, August 28, 2017
So proud of Matt! What a great journey and an inspiration to others.

Monica Thursday, August 31, 2017
Congratulations Matt!! Your an inspiration for the staff as well, I enjoy seeing you every morning way to go we'll see you next week!

Brian Friday, October 13, 2017
Late to the article. Matt, you rock. Met you after the Friday morning PT at the NYC muster. Keep crushing it.


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