Name: Ben Carstens
Before Weight: 420 pounds
How I Gained It: I grew up on a farm and adopted my eating habits from watching my father. He was a hard-working man who put in 10 hours at his day job and then came home and put in another two to four hours on our farm. So, when he ate, he ate like a man who needed fuel to get through those hours. I adopted this eating style and carried it with me well beyond working on the farm and into my inactive life. I was always a bigger kid, but remained active enough that it didn't get out of control. As I got older, I started making horrible food choices and wasn't eating anything natural. It was all processed, fried, sugar-loaded foods with not much nutritional value. I ate any and everything put in front of me, no portion control, no concern over health benefits of the food I was eating. And, I never exercised.
The day I finally decided to step on a scale, the number that flashed was 420. I don't know what made me step on that thing -- I had avoided scales for years. I was shocked. Horrified. But even more horrifying was the fact that I knew it wasn't my heaviest. If I had to guess, I'd say I crept close to 450 pounds at one time.
Breaking Point: In the weeks following that step on the scale, I would find out that I was diabetic and then I lost my job. I started looking for places to put the blame, but every way I tried to spin it, it all came back on me. I was at my worst and starting to see myself for who I really was. I didn't like it. I couldn't control what happened at my job, but I could do something about my weight. I decided it was time to make changes.
How I Lost It: I felt compelled to sit down and make two lists on a sheet of paper. The list on the left contained the 10 things I wanted out of my life. The other side had the 10 things I knew about myself that would keep me from getting there. I made a commitment to try to change everything on the right, and I wouldn't stop until I had achieved everything on the left.
I folded it up, put it in my pocket and started over. No living through the rearview mirror. No regrets about what got me there. My focus from that point on was changing my old ways and getting healthy.
The first four months, the weight came off slowly. I was gradually training myself to eat the way I was supposed to and making it a daily occurrence. I began by eliminating empty calories from drinks, like alcohol, juice and soda, and transitioning to water. Then, I started adding more fruits and vegetables into my diet. I stopped buying things I knew I had a weakness for, like pasta and chips, and only allowed myself to have them if I was away from home. It was becoming habit, not a diet. I would get frustrated at moments, but then I would refocus and move forward. I refused to feel bad for myself.
The next phase was to implement exercise. I decide to purchase an elliptical machine. At first, I was lucky if I could do five minutes at a time on it. It had been more than a dozen years since I had really exercised. I kept at it and told myself I would do another minute every day. I started building strength and was able to go longer and longer. Then, I started working out on it every morning and every night.
Exercise and getting on the scale became my new addiction. I didn't always see the results I wanted, but I wouldn't allow myself to be discouraged. I moved forward. My life was changing for the better with every number that disappeared. I saw 350 pounds in the middle of the summer and I hit 320 pounds (100 lost) by early November, less than a year from finding out I was diabetic. By the new year, I was under the 300-pound mark. Fast forward to the summer of 2013, and I was weighing in at 220 pounds.
In the year since reaching my lowest weight, I've seen some amazing things happen in my life. I married an amazing woman who is the absolute greatest thing in my life. I put on a 5K in my hometown to celebrate losing 200 pounds and raised $10,000 for local elementary schools to purchase fitness equipment. I injured my knee, gained a little weight back and learned the struggle to recoup from that –- but I've appreciated every minute of it along the way because I'm able to do so.
I'm no longer being treated for diabetes and am off all medications. I've lost the constant heartburn I lived with. I've adopted a gluten-free diet and go to the gym at least once a day (often twice). My wife and I make the majority of our foods now. I've been lucky enough to speak to groups and share my story. I've been given a gift and know it's my duty to spread the word and help as many people as I can. So that's what I'm doing from now until I can no longer do so.
After Weight: 220 pounds
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As told to Sarah Klein