Alex Smith played competitive sports all through high school and remained so active even after graduation that he was able to make money as a professional wrestler.
Over time, that profession wore his body down, and he eventually decided to quit. It took six months for his body to heal, he said, and during that time he developed some bad habits that he clung to for the next eight years. His 6-foot, 2-inch body swelled from about 300 pounds up to 552 pounds. Instead of going to wrestling tournaments and paying attention to his diet, the Dawnville resident sat and ordered takeout.
As a Southeast Whitfield High School student, he got up early so he could run two miles before school started. Years later, at his heaviest, Smith would sit around hoping he could get someone to walk 50 feet across the street to bring him his lunch.
“I was kind of embarrassed of the shape I was in, and I took that as motivation and started walking because that was all I could do at the time,” he said.
Smith said that began a several-years process to lose the weight and change his lifestyle. He said he lost 150 pounds last year by doing a combination of exercises including weight-lifting, Brazillian jiu-jitsu and cardio workouts. He also limits his diet to 2,200 calories a day and plans to lose 50 more pounds in 2013 to bring him down to roughly 250 pounds.
While not everyone wants or needs to entertain such a major lifestyle shift, a study by the University of Scranton shows the No. 1 New Year’s resolution for 2012 was to lose weight.
“And there’s a pretty good chance that losing weight will be the most popular New Year’s resolution again this year,” said Rebecca Miller, a fitness consultant at the Bradley Wellness Center.
Miller suggested following three simple steps to achieve success: 1) Find a partner or group, 2) set a schedule and 3) remember why. She said people are more likely to go to the gym regularly if someone is there waiting on them. Smith said that when he was so large walking was the only exercise he could do, he often met friends at the track.
Focusing on why you’re exercising — whether it’s to lose weight or become more fit or for other reasons — is a big motivator, Miller said. She said setting a schedule and sticking with it is also important.
“Whenever you choose to exercise, be sure to put it on your calendar,” she said. “If you think of your workout as an appointment, you will be less likely to miss it.
Dalton Seventh-day Adventist Church health educator Vivian Raitz, who is 82, said she isn’t trying to lose weight, but she does pay close attention to the kinds of foods she eats and as a result feels healthy and energetic. A lifelong vegetarian, she became vegan in the last few years meaning she eats no meat or animal products like milk, cheese or eggs. She also avoids processed sugar.
“It’s good to make the decision ahead of time so there’s no debate when you’re looking at that wedge of pecan pie,” she said. “For a few years now, every six months I promise God that I will eat only one unhealthy dessert this month, and every six months I renew it. It works for me because there’s no debate, the decision has been made.”
Sidonnia Reece, a manager at Super Body Fitness Center in Dalton, said workers there are preparing for their usual post-holiday rush of new customers coming in and old ones returning after time off. She said that even though she’s been healthy and active nearly all her life, she sometimes has to push herself to get through sluggish days too — but the effort is worth it.
“Unless you’re running a fever or something, pretty much it makes you feel better to exercise,” Reece said.
Exercising can alleviate a number of health issues, too. Smith said he was diagnosed with diabetes after his weight gain, but his blood sugars have since stabled and returned to a non-diabetic level. He has also dropped out of a high-risk category for having a heart attack. Smith said he’s had a strong support system along the way from a wife who allows him to devote several hours a week to exercise to the jiu-jitsu trainers at Veritas in Dalton who provide classes and inspiration.
“When you’re having fun, it doesn’t seem like work,” he added. “It doesn’t seem like exercise.”
Tips for staying on track
• “If you look in the mirror and you’re not happy, remember that is why you are getting up early to get to the gym. If it’s because you want to be fit and healthy as you age, remember that’s why you make the effort to go go the gym each day. Whatever it is, if you focus on why you are exercising, you will be more likely to continue making it a priority.” — Rebecca Miller, Bradley Wellness Center fitness consultant
• “If your goal is losing weight there’s only one thing that matters and that is burning more calories than you are eating. As long as you are operating at a calorie deficit you have to lose weight.” — Alex Smith, lost 150 pounds in 2012
• “Set a schedule. Find a time that works for you every day, or at least two or three days a week. ... Whenever you choose to exercise, be sure to put it on your calendar. If you think of your workout as an appointment, you will be less likely to miss it.” — Miller
• Decide ahead of time to push through the days you don’t feel like it. “The thing is when you weigh 500 pounds you feel bad every day, and you don’t feel like going every day. It wasn’t a different thing for me. I had made my decision.” — Smith
From Dalton Seventh-day Adventist Church health educator Vivian Raitz, adapted from “Eight Weeks to Wellness” by Don Hall
• Take personal responsibility. Others can assist, but you have to take charge of your health and life.
• Choose to make changes because you want to. For goals and values to be permanent, they must be chosen freely. Make a list of the reasons why you want to make changes.
• Set realistic and measurable goals. Be specific. Set a time line to achieve your goal (a short-term goal should be no longer than six to 10 weeks). Plan a reward when you reach your goal (not food!).
• Enlist the help of a buddy, someone you can work with in achieving your goal. Tell family and friends your new goal and ask for their support. If needed, join a support group.
• Learn as much as you can about the best way to reach your goal. Attend a class, if possible. Read. Study. Talk to those who have reached a similar goal.
• Get help from a health professional, if needed, someone you can get reliable information from and someone to report to on how you are progressing. It may be a doctor, nutritionist, fitness trainer or counselor. It is a sign of strength, not weakness to ask for help.
• Don’t give up. Any worthwhile goal takes persistence and commitment. Experiment. Try something new. Share what you are learning with your family and friends. If you do this, you will gradually be a little healthier and will feel good about the new you.