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Tamaqua man takes charge of his health

Published December 31. 2010 05:00PM

I love receiving e-mails like Mike's.

He wrote to tell me that he takes many of the exercise and eating tips suggested in this column, tweaks them to best suit his situation, and gets good use out of them. In fact, he wears the same size pants he did 20 years ago yet he's packed on nearly 30 pounds of muscle.

Considering it's New Year's Eve and that many people will be looking for motivation to help them implement their health-related resolutions, I thought Mike's e-mail merited mention. Then I discovered just how daunting Mike's "situation" is, how rock solid his approach to eating is, and realized Mike's story deserved a full column.

Last year at this time, Mike, who'd rather not have his last name revealed, had little motivation to do anything athletic because of severe pain brought on by arthritis. He also enjoyed eating the typical junk pizza, steak sandwiches, hoagies in amounts that increased the weight burdening his 5'10" frame to 307 pounds.

Now, he jogs 3 to 5 miles a day, lifts 5 to 6 times per week, walks daily, and drum roll, please! weighs 187 pounds.

It would be good to read about Mike on this day of resolution for he certainly has resolve. "I had to take control of the situation," Mike typed in a follow-up e-mail, "instead of letting [the situation] control me."

At first, taking control was difficult. The arthritis was so bad that Mike could barely walk. Working a full-time job, for example, was out of the question.

But he would walk, pain or not, just a short distance, a time or two a day.

Simultaneously, he went to work on his diet. He began eating a ton of vegetables and fruits as well as drinking 8 liters of water a day.

He discovered that the fiber in these foods along with his high level of hydration lessened his cravings for junk food.

As his weight reduced, he was able to walk more, lift weights, and eventually jog.

That's the element that's so noteworthy in Mike's story. Constant experimentation, the desire to learn and seek answers, is what reversed such a grave situation.

And like all successful experimenters, Mike doesn't fear failure.

The abdominal work in his weightlifting routine, for instance, has been eliminated. At one point Mike was working his abs 45 minutes a night, but that wasn't productive, despite changing equipment and exercises, so Mike stopped wasting his time.

In hindsight he feels the failure was a result of his lack of flexibility, a result of the lingering arthritis, yet that "failure" hasn't stopped his waist from shrinking along with his weight loss.

That's because his aforementioned jogging and lifting routines are ambitious enough to keep Mike in caloric debt and burning fat though they don't always keep that lingering arthritis at bay. "There are still some days when I wake in the morning and for two or three hours can barely walk," Mike writes, but that doesn't stop his workouts or get him down.

He finds strength in keeping positive people around him, "friends that provide encouragement and are straightforward . . . not the babying sympathetic kind," and he also uses the negativeness he sees towards health and fitness in society as motivation. Mike believes that "society needs to start changing how [we] look at food and exercise or we are going to have an even worse health crisis than we are having now."

What I found so gratifying about our exchange of e-mails is that Mike's practices and beliefs vindicate much of what I've theorized through the years.

He tried losing weight before, for example, but this was the first time that he lifted weights concurrently. The added muscle mass is what Mike credits to allowing him now to "eat pretty much" because his body now requires far more calories at that weight than it did before.

For years, I've written that tastes for foods are often acquired and that it takes about three weeks of eating a healthy food for it to taste good if you've been eating junk. About this, Mike writes, "I've also found by trying different fruits and vegetables that I never [ate] before that I actually like [them]. For example, I never ate Brussels sprouts before, but now I crave them the same with squash."

Finally, Mike has made unbelievable progress without being too obsessive about it. After totally eliminating alcohol from his diet for six months, he has resumed consuming it albeit infrequently and moderately.

He also "treats" himself to a "junky" meal once a week or so. Again, Mike does this in moderation "maybe a hoagie, two slices of pizza, five or six fried pierogies, or even cake or cookies" and he often makes the treat himself.

Mike has found this treat tricks his body into believing it's not on a diet and gives him additional motivation for the next day's workouts.

So if you've been meaning to lose weight and start an exercise program, take Mike's lead. Read his story a second time for some pointers and inspiration create a program that you believe will work for you, and then begin it.

Today, New Year's Eve.

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