William, a 31-year-old lawyer from Los Angeles, shares with Men’s Health how he burned fat and built muscle by overhauling his lifestyle and committing to consistency in his diet and training.
My job is incredibly stressful and lends itself to late nights, poor eating habits, and alcohol/substance abuse. Fortunately, I saw those risks ahead of time and tried to head them off from the beginning. I started working out in February of 2019 on my own, with the goal of losing about 20 pounds and getting a six pack, through a combination of running and weightlifting with dumbbells. While I lost weight and gained some definition, I did not see the type of results I really wanted to. I did that for a while through the middle of 2020 and ran my first half-marathon (virtually, due to Covid).
In October of 2020, I had a health scare and fainted in my apartment. I went to the ER, and the doctors’ best explanation was likely stress and a lack of sleep. After that, I was fearful to exercise. I worried that I might faint again and be in a place where either I would seriously hurt myself, or where no one could help me. I also gave myself a ton more leeway with my diet, and turned to comfort foods like pizza repeatedly throughout the week. Over time, the weight I had worked off slowly came back, and I found myself back at square one. By May of 2021, I weighed around 169 pounds with 27 percent body fat. I don’t remember being embarrassed by the way I looked, but I wanted to change. I knew I had to kick it back into gear and change my lifestyle for good.
I started working out at Ultimate Performance Los Angeles three times a week doing weight training: deadlifts, bench press, hack squat, pendulum, pull ups, lateral pull downs, and accessory work with machines and dumbbells. I also started running again, and would run a few miles a couple of times a week. And I made sure to get at least 10,000 steps a day every day. I also usually did a HIIT Peloton class once a week, along with a 10-minute abs video on YouTube a couple of times a week.
I had done work with dumbbells before, but no barbell work. Honestly, I was intimidated by barbell work and worried about looking like an idiot at the gym or worse hurting myself due to poor form. Lateral pulldowns were really difficult for me in the beginning. I felt a lot of work being done in my forearms and I would tire out pretty quickly. Kevin, my trainer, coached me to focus on feeling my shoulder blades lift and then focus on consciously pulling my shoulder blades down as I pulled through the exercise. Thinking more about that during the reps really changed how I was doing the exercise and made sure that I was getting the most work out of my lats. I tried to focus on the growth that the discomfort was going to bring me when I was in the middle of a tough set.
I cut out processed foods, and focused on eating whole foods with several servings of vegetables a day. I made sure I ate at least 165 grams of protein and tried to drink as close to a gallon of water a day as I could. For the first two weeks of the program I was on an extremely low carb diet of around 50 grams a day to sort of reset. For the next several weeks of the program I was more around 130 grams of carbs a day. It’s so simple. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.
A typical day of meals for me during the transformation was an egg whites and whole eggs omelet with spinach and onions for breakfast. Lunch typically was boneless skinless chicken thighs (which I prefer to chicken breasts, but had to account for with the additional fat) with cauliflower rice, zucchini, broccoli, or bell peppers. Dinner was usually similar to lunch with the protein either being chicken, salmon, sea bass, or a lean steak.
I also cut out alcohol almost completely. I like drinking, but don’t need it and didn’t really want anything to stall my progress. I did attend a bachelor party for one of my best friends in the middle of the transformation, but Kevin and I planned for that and I stuck to spirits rather than beer. As the transformation continued, I had the occasional glass of wine or cocktail, but by then I knew how to account for it properly and not let it get out of hand where it ruins my diet for the day, or how my body’s feeling the next day.
Kevin really helped me with being consistent and patient, and taught me not to overreact to fluctuations in weight, but instead focus on the trends over time. He also taught me so much about proper form and how to really get the most out of each exercise we did. I no longer feel intimidated walking into a gym and I’m way more comfortable with barbell work than I had been before I started working with Kevin.
I travel a lot with work, and I had a trial in the middle of the transformation. Kevin worked with me to develop a program that I could use while I was away form Ultimate Performance’s facilities, but it was up to me to make sure I get the workouts in. What I realized is that even when we seem overwhelmed with work, there’s still time that we can carve out for the things we really care about. So I found a 24 hour gym, and most days I would wake up at 4am to make sure I got to the gym, got a workout in, and then had enough time to get into the office to start working on things for the trial before court started that day.
Over the course of five months, I dropped from 169 pounds to 149 pounds, losing 30 pounds of fat and gaining 10 pounds of muscle. I also had a DEXA scan done that showed I had reduced my body fat to 9.7%. I’ve never really struggled with self-esteem, but my body composition now definitely makes me feel more confident about my physical attributes. The biggest thing I gain was increased confidence in my ability to accomplish any goal I set for myself. I haven’t tracked health markers or done any blood work, so I have no clue how those may have changed during the transformation. But generally, I feel healthier with my lifestyle now. I’m eating better, sleeping better, working better. Working out is a huge stress reliever for me. So even as work stress has increased in recent weeks, keeping my workout schedule consistent has helped me adjust and cope with work in a much healthier way than in the past.
The next goal for me is to run the L.A. marathon in March. I started training for that toward the end of my transformation and I’m looking forward to pushing my body in another way. I’ll say I’ve noticed that all of the strength training that I’ve been doing has had an incredibly positive impact on my running. I’m recovering quicker and not dealing with as many lingering injuries/ailments. Hopefully that good fortune continues.
If you want to improve your own fitness but don’t know where to start, my advice would be to not be afraid to ask for help. Just try to educate yourself on what you need to do to accomplish your goals. There are a lot of fitness snake oil salesmen out there, but you can find videos of proper form or different exercises for free on YouTube. The biggest thing isn’t about knowing where to start, but just starting in any way at all. As has been said by many so many times, nothing changes if nothing changes.
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