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Name: Dave Andrade
Before Weight: 220+ pounds
How I Gained It: Years of gratuitous pasta and bread consumption in an Italian household, coupled with an equally long stretch of physical inactivity. Ever since age six or so, I was always a bit on the heavier side. As a very young child, I had severe but correctable vision problems that had gone undiagnosed for the first few years of my life, which made it difficult for me to participate in any sport-like activities, so from a young age, I fell into a trap of a rather sedentary lifestyle. Couple that with being raised in an Italian family where every gathering centered around high-carb foods in large quantities, and it's no wonder I ended up the way I did.
The pounds just kept piling on throughout middle school and into high school, especially as I developed a marked fondness for sugar. One morning at age 17, I stepped on the scale and was absolutely mortified by what I saw: 220 pounds. As a teenager who barely stood 5'6" at the time (cursed Italian genetics!), I did not carry this weight well. Understandably, I shied away from photographs -- I didn't want there to be evidence of me looking the way I did. I can't be exactly sure how much I weigh in that picture, because I was so horrified by seeing 220 on the scale that I couldn't bring myself to weigh myself for about 2 1/2 years after that. I finished high school still overweight, and thought that college wouldn't be much different.
Going off to college in San Francisco gave me no choice but to leave my car at home and get used to walking everywhere, mostly uphill. That, coupled with the wide variety of surprisingly healthy cafeteria choices, allowed me to lose about 22 pounds in my freshman year without any real conscious effort.
Although I managed to slim down somewhat, the typical pressures and pitfalls of college did eventually catch up to me -- alcohol, late nights, burritos and root beer became all too common in my life. While I managed not to gain much more, I was still quite overweight. While I still had quite an active social life and made tons of friends, I can't help but imagine how different things may have been had I actually been in shape during those four years.
I graduated summa cum laude with two majors and a minor back in May 2011 (I always put my studies before my health). Right after graduation, I continued working as an intern in the finance department for a large San Francisco technology company -- long, sedentary hours which left me mentally exhausted at the end of the day. The mental fatigue coupled with my general lack of physical energy usually resulted in me eating something frozen or delivered for dinner because I was too burnt out by the end of the day to actually cook something decent for myself. That, and I would buy my lunch from the company cafeteria about 90 percent of the time. At the time, I had no idea how many dollars and calories I was wasting.
Breaking Point: The realization that an otherwise-healthy 22-year-old male shouldn't constantly feel the need to nap in the middle of the afternoon almost every single day.
How I Lost It: The first thing that enabled me to be successful was keeping a simple record of everything I was eating. I wasn't counting calories or portions necessarily, but simply logging the foods I was eating into an Excel spreadsheet gave me some visibility into my daily eating habits, and forced me to be accountable to myself. I even took it a step further by formatting cells to be bright red whenever I logged something that wasn't the best idea (pizza, greasy burgers, greasy dim sum, etc).
Seeing exactly what I was eating enabled me to pinpoint the things that had to go -- excessive refined carbohydrates and starches. It was always easy to make pasta and rice at home -- and being a recent grad with the "broke college student" mentality still fresh in my mind made this all the more appealing! The next step was starting to cook a week's worth of food over the weekend and portion them out into individual meals for the week, so that I would have no excuses to eat poorly at the end of the workday. My go-to meal was oven-roasted chicken breast with a heaping helping of mixed vegetables and a small side of quinoa. Lunches usually consisted of salads or homemade chicken or tuna wraps. Also, I ditched my morning bowl of cereal for eggs and steamed vegetables -- this kept me so much happier and more satisfied during the day. The difference I saw in my weight, mood and energy levels, even after just two weeks of eating better, was phenomenal. But there was still the pesky matter of exercise -- I was still very much out of shape. I wouldn't even need both of my hands to count the number of times I went to my campus gym during my four years there.
Now, exercise and I have a long and tumultuous history (middle school and high school P.E. class are two things I don't have particularly fond memories of). I was wracking my brain over the options I had -- gym membership? Yoga? Spin? I didn't know what the hell I was going to do, but I knew I couldn't keep sitting on my ass. I soon received an e-mail that made it perfectly clear. Groupon -- $39 for six weeks of fitness boot camp.
The offer promised 30-minute, highly-rigorous cardio and resistance-based workouts at 7:00 a.m. three to four times per week. I signed myself up and eagerly awaited orientation. When orientation day came (on a Saturday, with class to start on the following Monday), I found myself nervously sitting in a fitness studio with a few dozen fellow Groupon'ers, absolutely befuddled and reconsidering this huge mistake I was about to make. I thought to myself, "In my four years at college, I can count the number of times I went to the campus gym on one hand, and I'm about to start something called 'boot camp'?! What the hell am I thinking?" I spent the rest of that weekend ruminating and trying to think of valid excuses not to go.
I couldn't come up with any. Fast forward to Monday, August 1, 2011. Alarm clock goes off at 5:30 a.m. -- thankfully, I'm very much a morning person. I fix myself two eggs and a half-cup of rice, and pack a gym bag for the first time. I get to the facility early as instructed, only to see the pained faces of the brave souls from the 6:15 a.m. class as they finished their last set of lord-knows-what. I was literally shaking in my gym shorts. After they finished their warm-down stretches, it was my turn to hit the floor. After a bit of group stretching, it was finally time to begin the first circuit. I'd be damned if I even remember what we did in our very first circuit, because 30 minutes later, I found myself in the bathroom, on the verge of throwing up. It was then that I realized just how out of shape I was and how I was not okay with it.
I managed to get myself over to work and into the showers in my office building. I got dressed and headed up to my desk, and fought tooth-and-nail to stay awake for the rest of the morning. I returned home from work that day absolutely exhausted and wondering if I would make it to another session. I spent all of the next day intermittently popping ibuprofen and trying not to move too much. As much as I was hurting, I was determined to make it on Wednesday morning.
And make it I did. And it sucked. And on Friday. That sucked too. And all three days the next week. And every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for four weeks afterwards. But each time, the workouts became ever so slightly easier, and I found myself getting less and less winded after each one. Soon, I found that I was feeling more energetic during the day -- no more 2:30 crash at work! But the good changes didn't stop there. My clothes began to feel more like blankets. I went through each item in my closet individually, and had to say goodbye to so many clothes that had served me well in the past.
Although I loved the boot camp immensely, it was too expensive to continue at a non-discount price, but the confidence, knowledge and motivation I gained in those six weeks have carried on with me ever since. I made the resolution to be more active in general, and to capitalize on my alumni membership discount for my old campus gym.
While I had slimmed down considerably during 2011, I neglected the importance of strength training, and ended up in the awkward "skinny-fat" category. That's when I decided that it was time for me to hit the weight room. At the recommendation of a friend (who happens to be a personal trainer), I picked up the book "The New Rules of Lifting," and I can honestly say that it's probably the best $15 I've ever spent on a piece of printed material. Armed with the knowledge and confidence to hit the weight room for the first time, I started the beginner’s program at the beginning of 2012. The energy, confidence and muscle I've built from seven months of lifting weights has been nothing short of incredible, and I can't stress the importance of strength training enough when it comes to weight loss and overall fitness.
The renewed sense of invigoration I got from losing the weight and becoming healthy gave me the courage to do something else that I never thought possible -- ride a bike. A couple of bad experiences as an overweight, uncoordinated, unathletic child basically put me off bike riding for good. I was always embarrassed by the fact that I was in my 20s and still didn't know how to ride a bike. I then turned to my uncle (who is quite knowledgeable about bikes), and he was kind enough to provide me a very basic hybrid that I could use to get my bearings. I told my older brother that I wanted to go riding with him, and he took me out to an empty parking lot near his house to practice. I couldn't believe that I was actually riding within a matter of minutes -- all I had to do was try. Ever since then, I have become absolutely smitten with biking. In June, I decided to treat myself to a brand new bike and ride the hell out of that thing. Discovering amazing parts of San Francisco by bike brings me unimaginable happiness. I now put 30 to 40 miles on my bike per week.
Also, if this process has taught me anything, it's that one should never be without goals. I am thrilled to have participated in my first mini-triathlon back in April, something I never thought possible one year ago. Even though I finished at the back of the pack (I'm a horrendous runner and swimmer), just finishing was the real victory for me. Going forward, I have a number fitness goals that I aim to accomplish in the next year, including:
- Participate in a proper 5K race (bonus: complete it within 30 minutes)
- Participate in the sprint-distance Golden Gate Triathlon (bonus: complete it within 2 hours)
- Put 1,500 miles on the odometer of my bike by July 2013 (bonus: 2,000 miles!)
- Complete a half-century [50-mile] bike ride (bonus: complete it within 3½ hours)
- Participate in the NorCal Warrior Dash this October (bonus: complete it within 45 minutes)
- Participate in the NorCal Spartan Race in April 2013 (bonus: survive)
For anyone who is looking to lose weight or get healthy, just remember this: There is no magic pill, shake or gizmo that will take the place of proper eating, hard work and personal diligence. It is remarkable to me how quickly the weight came off once I took control over what I was eating. At no point in this journey did I feel starving or deprived -- when you're full on tasty, nutritious, wholesome foods, your body no longer craves the processed junk anymore. Losing the weight and getting fit has simultaneously been the easiest and most difficult thing I've ever done; the diet and exercise is easy, but casting aside all of the self-doubt and excuses was definitely the challenging part.
In one short but amazing year, I have experienced a significant transformation, both physically and emotionally. Although I lost nearly 80 pounds of body weight, what's far more important are the things I gained during the process: a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the human body and its workings, a renewed sense of passion and gusto for life that simply wasn't there this time last year, and an unrelenting desire to help others discover the same joys of healthy and active living. Lastly, if I have any advice to impart, it would be this: Don't fall into the trap of "I'll start tomorrow/next week/next month/after vacation/whatever" -- right now is the best time to take that first step towards dramatically improving your life.
After Weight: 145 pounds
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