Journey to Fit features an F&F reader with an inspirational weight loss or weight gain story to share. The men and women featured in Journey to Fit each paved their own path to a healthy lifestyle, and I am thrilled they are willing to share their journeys on my blog. Everyone has a unique story and approach to healthy living, and each person had to start somewhere. I hope you find this series inspiring.
Today we’re chatting with F&F reader Steve. Steve works with my friend Erin, and Erin recently encouraged him to share his story in this series. I am excited to share the first male journey to fit with all of you. It’s pretty amazing. Enjoy!
Steve, tell my F&F readers a little about yourself.
Hey there. My name’s Steve Coldwell. I’m 44-years-old and live in central Massachusetts with my wife (together 20 years this summer), daughter (age 10), and three cats. I work in the non-stop arena of public affairs and communications for the top pediatrics hospital in the world, doing work that is enormously satisfying, but tends to find its way home at night more than it should and doesn’t always make it easy to take care of myself physically or mentally. My outlets from the day to day stresses are running, friends and family, and my Nerdy Metal Dad blog, which combines my three great passions—heavy metal, comic books, and being a dad. You’ll also notice in this story that I tend to do a lot of things in threes.
What prompted your “Journey to Fit”?
But let me start at the beginning. I’m a “Fat Kid 4 Life.” My weight has always been a battle, and it’s always been a source of anxiety, self-consciousness, and poor self-image. I have friends who look at my before pictures from 2012 and say they honestly don’t remember me like that. Well, I do.
That’s how I see myself, every single second for the last 44 years. I’ve gone through periods where my weight and general fitness levels have gone up and down, and I’ve dabbled with workout regimens, diets, and Weight Watchers, none of which made a difference on a lasting basis. So, what happened in the fall of 2012 that got me moving?
1. On the first day of school in September 2012, I was rushing to get my daughter out the door and onto the bus when I pulled something in my right calf and went down like a ton of bricks. My parents, who had come over to see her off, ended up taking her to school, my daughter was completely traumatized, and I spent the morning in the emergency department waiting to get my leg checked out. I went home with a pair of crutches (which of course people at work found hilarious). It was a complete freak accident, but there’s nothing like a getting your daughter on the bus injury to make you question your lifestyle choices. Naturally, I had to ask myself if it would have happened had I been in better shape. I couldn’t believe it would have, and I was at a decision point. If I was going to be around as long as possible for my wife and daughter (and not ruin any more first days of school), I needed to make changes.
2. In October 2012, I had the opportunity to represent our hospital at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Meeting in New Orleans. Basically, this amounts to standing around all day talking to people about how great our hospital is. I’m being completely genuine when I say this is absolute heaven for someone who specializes in internal communications. I went on the trip with my colleague Erin (Athena’s friend and someone who shows up again later in this story), and at the airport on the way home, we decided to shoot a picture for a successful internal communications campaign that I had launched over the summer. The picture was a turning point. It’s just the two of us holding a sign, but to put it into your heads in the clearest possible Disney terms: one of us has a distinct Disney princess vibe going on, while the other one looks like the schlubby, overweight security guard who runs afoul of some precocious kids or a wacky Saint Bernard in a family comedy. I looked like the guy who always ends up slipping on marbles for big laughs during a chase scene. Decision point: If I was going to be representing our hospital on a national stage—particularly if I was going to be teamed up with someone who always looked stellar—I needed to make changes.
3. I’m playing fast and loose with the timeline here, because my third inspiration didn’t come about until close to the end of the first year in my journey, and it almost derailed me. But it’s the one that still drives me now, long after I’ve passed both of my original goals. Since August 2013, cancer has crept into my family’s life—more like barreled in, full force. We lost my dad to it a little over a month ago, and it’s circling my uncle as we speak. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that my turn will come, and when it does, I want to be in the best shape of my life, because even when we can’t win, we Coldwells like to go out swinging.
What was your starting weight and where are you now? What lifestyle changes have you made since the beginning of your journey?
In October 2012, when I formally started my journey to fit, I was 5’7” and 225 pounds, which categorized me as obese on any standard BMI scale. I had two goals, although eventually I realized that one of them was the wrong goal for me:
- My town holds an annual Thanksgiving fundraiser 5k, the Gobble Wobble. It also includes a 3K walk. My family had plans to walk the 3k the next month, but goal #1 was to run the 5k by Thanksgiving 2013.
- Losing 50 pounds (from 225 pounds down to 175 pounds) would officially move me out of obese, down through overweight, and safely into normal on the BMI scale. We’ll get to why this goal, even though I made it, wasn’t right for me.
I made three major changes to my life that fueled the entire journey. One in my fitness, one in my food, and one in the way I approached my daily grind:
My department operates off site from the main hospital, and we have a gym in our building. If I was going to get this together, I couldn’t join a gym near home. My work hours are chaotic enough that I knew if I was going to the gym at the end of the day on my way home, then I wouldn’t be going to the gym much. It had to be somewhere near work where I could slip in before most of the office arrived, drop off my stuff to establish a presence, and then go work out. It helped to have a boss who was completely supportive of this plan. Looking at the other options available to me—elliptical, stationary bike, stair climber—I chose running for one simple reason: I really, really, really didn’t want to do it. We Coldwells are not natural runners. My grandmother always said that a good pair of Coldwell legs would last your entire life—that’s because they’re sturdy like tree trunks and about as fast. We are more lumbering rhino than graceful gazelle. I picked the treadmill because it would be the hardest, but also because I knew if I picked an option where I could cheat and let the machine do some of the work, I would. I chose running because I couldn’t cheat—you’re either running or you’re not. And if you’re not, then you’re falling off the back of the treadmill.
I know a lot of people need to overcome a sweet tooth in their journey to fit. For me, it was a crunch tooth. I love salty and crunchy. Outside of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, there’s no food I have trouble resisting like a good bag of Doritos, Sun Chips, Tostitos, etc. It wasn’t necessarily a case of going cold turkey, but I at least needed to get them out of my daily routine. I actually made two changes to my daily routine when it came to eating. I started spacing food out through the day: I’d have coffee and an Eggo with a little peanut butter on my drive in, a yogurt around 10 am, sandwich around noon, and some fruit in the afternoon. The fruit was the other change. Before I started my journey, it would have been a bag of chips with my sandwich. I dropped the chips and swapped in two bags of fruit. One is always blueberries, and the other alternates between grapes and blackberries. If I really need my crunch fix, I’ve got an emergency bag of almonds. Realistically though, the exchange of chips for fruit was one of only two significant changes I made to my diet. I’ll get to the second one shortly.
3. Get off your butt
Even after 6 months of working out and running on the treadmill in the morning, something wasn’t right. I’d feel great coming back to the office to start my day, and then spend most of the next 8-10 hours sitting on my can, either at my desk or in meetings. In April 2013, I took a cue from my friend Tom and switched to a standing desk. On the first day, a colleague came by, rolled his eyes and asked, “how long is this gonna last?” Because I’m obstinate, as soon as the question was asked, the answer had to be forever. Two years later, I still stand for the majority of the day. I feel more energized, I don’t get the 3 pm blahs anymore, and when I get home at night, it actually feels like I’ve earned the right to put my feet up.
Did you encounter any challenges along the way, and how did you overcome them?
Determination is all well and good, but I don’t believe you can make any major changes to your life and expect them to last without the right support system in place. Initially, establishing that support was a challenge, because my wife and daughter were not on board. While they both agreed that me getting in shape was a fine idea, they also both felt that this was something I was doing without them and that I was leaving them behind on my journey to fit. And I was, because they weren’t ready to start their own journeys yet. It’s a journey that you can’t force someone to undertake. You start when you’re ready, and while they joined me in the second year of my journey, they weren’t ready at the beginning.
And so I found my support among the people I spent the most time with: my colleagues. In hindsight, there were three key roles that needed to be filled to help me on my way:
1. The Coach
My friend Fawn is a Beachbody coach, fitness nut, and single mother of two. She filled the role of both inspiration and coach without even knowing it at first. Fawn is a frequent poster on Instagram and Facebook, typically something about her workout routine or motivational slogans (what I call inspirational cat posters). She’s also completely fearless about her before and after pictures (it took me two years to embrace that concept). Every time I decided that I didn’t feel like running, I’d check in with Fawn on social media, and think “we’ve got the same commute, we work similar hours, I’ve got half as many kids as she does and a boss that’s got my back in this. I have no excuses.” During that first year, Fawn unknowingly kicked me in the butt more times than I can count.
2. The Cheerleader
As personal as this journey is, you need to have someone you can confide in, right from the start. This is a tricky role to fill. It’s got to be someone who will support you, cheer you on, and let you know when they’re seeing a difference, but also someone who will put the brakes on your usual excuses and BS. If you’d rather go running in 25 degree freezing winds than look this person in the eye and tell her you’ve given up, you picked the right cheerleader. I went with my friend Erin (yes, the same one holding the other half of the sign in my before picture). For the first year, right up through the first 5k, she was the only one outside of my family who knew there was an actual journey underway.
3. The Innovator
You may encounter a number of Innovators along your way. These are the people who add something new and game changing to your journey, the ones who introduce a new element that helps you past a roadblock, and the ones who push you just a little farther than you think you can go:
First, there was Tom with the standing desk.
In the last few months of year two, when I had dropped 40 pounds on my own, but couldn’t seem to shed that last 10, Fawn introduced me to Shakeology, which I used to replace the Eggo and peanut butter in my morning routine. Boom. 10 pounds gone, just in time for my self-imposed second year deadline (and yes, I’m sure there are plenty of you who thought, “he should get rid of that Eggo” 850 words ago. Hindsight rules.).
Most significant was my friend K.C., who introduced me to Zenlabs’ C25k app just in time to save me from missing my first goal. In August 2013, my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which derailed me from a training regimen that was, honestly, haphazard at best. By the time things started to settle into a new normal, my running was essentially back to where it was in October 2012. I had less than two months until the Thanksgiving 5k and was starting from scratch. That’s when I discovered what my training had been missing: structure. Left to my own devices, I’ll muddle along, some days better than others, running varying distances with no rhyme or reason to it, just what I feel like doing. With an actual plan, being TOLD what I need to do, even by a smartphone app, I will absolutely freakin’ nail it. I had 7 weeks to master an 8-week training program. I did it, and I ran the 5k on Thanksgiving. Or more accurately, I ran most of it and walked parts of it. It was still a success, but that was the day I discovered the difference between running on the treadmill and running outside on Thanksgiving. They’re basically the same, except for the freezing cold air in your lungs, potholes, black ice, and hundreds of other people to dodge. Enter the next innovator on my journey, Lisa, who goaded me into taking my running outside in April 2014, which is where it’s stayed ever since.
Aside from the weight loss, what has been rewarding for you? What differences do you notice in how you felt then versus how you feel now?
It’s been two and a half years since I started this journey. Two and a half years, 55 pounds, 5 pant sizes, 2 t-shirt sizes, 6 belt notches, and a world of difference in my confidence and happiness. Self-esteem is always going to be shaky (once a fat kid, always a fat kid), but I’m finally learning how to take a compliment on the way I look without immediate suspicion. I’m not constantly self-conscious about the way I look—the way I fill out a shirt, or the way pants hang off me. I’m wearing clothes that fit, instead of conceal, for the first time… possibly ever. In the last year, there were three key moments that defined my success for me:
1. When Fawn and I first started discussing Shakeology, she asked me a question that completely shook the way I looked at my goals: “Why is 50 pounds so important to you?” I’m not a metrics and measurements kind of guy. In my work and in my life, it’s always more about gut instinct and whether or not something feels right than what the data shows. And yet I spent most of the first two years focusing on a very specific number, simply because of what it meant for me on the BMI scale. I never took into account that by summer 2014, I was an honest-to-God runner. I felt amazing, I was in the best shape of my life, and working from an athletic BMI scale, I was already a “healthy weight.” I went ahead and lost the last 10 lbs (15 pounds now), but by then, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that I felt great, and that goal was much more in keeping with who I am.
2. I’ve travelled to the AAP National Meeting with Erin twice more since we took the picture that helped kick-start my journey. The truth is, even when you confide in someone about your goals, you never really know if it’s going in one ear and out the other. Just because it matters to you doesn’t guarantee that it matters to them. That’s why I was so touched in October 2014, on our trip to AAP San Diego, when—out of the blue—Erin proposed a toast to it being the second anniversary of me starting my journey. That fact is, you’re going to do 100% of the heavy lifting on your journey, but it’s a lot more fun if you bring a friend along to celebrate the milestones with you. Two years after the first attempt, we retook that picture holding the sign, and y’know what? We both look great in this one. (And in a neat turnaround, in the 2014 version, she’s using the sign to hide just the slightest hint of a baby bump—the start of a journey that I’ve had the honor of being her Cheerleader on.)
3. I ran my first 5k on Thanksgiving 2013. My wife, Michelle, ran her first 5k onThanksgiving 2014, having started her own journey to fit in January of that year. We ran together, and even though I had been running for over two years at that point, we stuck together right up until the end, when she asked me to leave her in order to beat another mom she can’t stand across the finish line. In the last mile, the daughter of some friends of ours, who plays competitive soccer at a national level, paced me. She and I traded leads for the last mile, and I crossed the finish line less than 2 seconds behind her. In other words, at 44, I can run like a 13-year-old girl. That’s not too shabby.
What tips would you offer others who are trying to lose weight or exercise more?
Everything takes time—much more time than you’d think, and much more time than you want. Especially when you’re trying to undo a lifetime of bad habits. And especially when you’re in your forties. It took months before I stopped craving something crunchy with my lunch and actually started being in the mood for that bag of blueberries. By the time I ran my first 5k, I had still only lost the first 20 pounds towards my goal. I didn’t hit the full 50 until literally the day before the end of year two. I ran for 14 months, thinking, “I really don’t want to do this, but I need to,” and I was three months past my first 5k the first time I had to skip a run and actually thought, “Aw, come on! I really wanted to get my run in today!” Today, my run is one of the things that gets me through the day without taking a swing at anyone, and that 5k I worked so hard to beat is nothing more than an easy morning run. It takes time to make new habits. It takes time to change. But because I took time, the change has stuck. You’re not perfect, and you will backslide from time to time, but keep going, and lean on your support system. You’ll make it.
What are the next steps in your journey?
I once said I’d be satisfied if I could run a 5K—that I wouldn’t have anything else to prove. I lied. I didn’t know it at the time, but I lied. It’s not that I didn’t have anything else to prove, just that I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone other than myself. Things changed after I read Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run,” recommended to me by my other friend Erin (no, not all of my friends are named Erin). I’m the first person to roll my eyes when someone says that a book or movie or the songwriting prowess of Bono changed their life. Consequently, I won’t say McDougall’s book changed my life, but I will say that it fundamentally altered my perception of running and what I’m physically capable of achieving. I’ve found myself becoming my own Innovator, opening myself up to training methods I would never have considered a year ago, whether it’s something as simple as running with a partner (totally inconceivable to the brutally self-conscious 2012 version of me) or as completely out-of-left-field as running in bare feet (5 effortless miles around an indoor track recently—try it).
If I’ve learned anything on my “journey to fit,” it’s that the journey doesn’t end. We just set new goals—bigger goals. And while I’ve been very public about my journey for the last year, as I aim for targets that I never even considered possible before, I’m finding that what works best is what worked originally—keeping it quiet and keeping your confidantes close. I’ve started training for the next two goals—my wife and daughter know what they are. So do Erin and K.C. When I started this journey, my goals were about health and fitness. Now, feeling happy, healthy and fit, the next stage is about pushing myself to accomplish things I never thought I was capable of.
I’ll let you know how that turns out next January…
Readers, any comments for Steve? Leave them below! Thank you so much, Steve, for sharing your inspiring journey.
If you or someone you know has a weight loss or weight gain story to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to feature you. This series will run as long as I receive enough content to keep it going.
For past Journey to Fit posts: