No need to keep looking over your shoulder as you scroll down this page. Just admit that you want to lose weight, and that you’re searching for a way to do it right this minute.
There. Feeling better? Yes? You should, because you’re among friends. Two friends, to be exact, who have just gone from the higher margins of 200-something pounds to the upper-middle peripheries of 100-plus, by taking on a three-month fitness challenge at their local gym.
James Kuhlman, a singer who does gigs with his band Trumpo, is 34 years old and fantastically reborn. The guy with long, curly hair, Ultimate Fighting Champion-worthy biceps, and a cheery disposition used to weigh 280 pounds. He went on crash diets, complemented by trips to the gym, and weighed 217 pounds when he began the competition. With the guidance of a nutritionist and a fitness instructor, he made a healthy transition to 160 pounds.
“I didn’t want other people to tease me about my weight, so I would tease them first,” said Kuhlman on what his life was like before he began the competition. Now, he revels at how confident he feels. He relishes the simple activities that are much easier to do for him with his slimmer body—being able to sprint from one covered area to another when the rain suddenly starts pouring, being able to sing without having to catch his breath after every other line, being able to put on clothes that fit.
“Clothes!” Sanndra Orosa screeched, echoing her gym buddy’s sentiments. The art gallery project manager has been wearing hand-me-downs for a while now, and is more than excited at the prospect of buying a closetful of new outfits as soon as she’s down to her ideal shape and size.
At her biggest, she was 245 pounds heavy, and might have been heavier because she stopped looking at the weighing scale as soon as she saw those numbers. “I couldn’t stand it. It was too gross,” she said. At the weigh-in of the fitness challenge, she was 205 pounds. After losing the recommended “safe” amount of one to two pounds each week, she is now 172 pounds.
“I feel like I matured,” said the 26-year-old, who noted that she has more self-respect now. “The commitment that started with myself spilled over to other parts of my life: work, family. And for that I’m really grateful.”
Though they were already gym members when they began the challenge, everything else—counseling sessions with their nutritionists, fitness sessions with their trainers—was free.
It was a difficult path to tread on, to say the least. “You’re given this chance only once, and if you don’t get thinner, it’s no use. Why’d you enter the competition in the first place? Why not just give the opportunity to some other person who’s willing to get thinner?” said Kuhlman.
For Orosa, each day was a day to be conscious of her performance. “You have an audience, and you have to get thinner. Failing was not an option. We had to lose weight.” Not only was a Facebook page created for online spectators to keep tabs on them, but their friends and family knew they were doing the challenge, as well.
“They see you on a regular basis, and they know you’re going through this. You have to own it, stick to it. You have to struggle for the change you want to happen,” she said.
While she would go to the gym five to six times a week during the challenge, spending an average of two and a half hours each session, Kuhlman would go six to seven times a week, for at least three hours each session. Their routine was a combination of cardiovascular exercises and weight training. While the former involves jogging, running, and biking, the latter involves lifting weights and the use of gym equipment. The first improves strength, while the second improves endurance.
“When you do cardio, that’s the time that you lose the fats, the weight,” said Kuhlman. “With regards to weight-training, you continue to burn even after you’ve left the gym, after you work out. You do this so you won’t disregard your strength when you lose weight, because the tendency when you lose weight is, you don’t just lose fat, but also muscle.”
He added that medical advice was important before undertaking any form of exercise. You wouldn’t want to just stroll into the gym and do this and that without knowing if your body can actually take the strain or not.
Nutrition was as integral to their weight loss as exercise.
“The most difficult period for me was the first two weeks because this was the adjustment stage,” admitted Kuhlman. “I could no longer eat the things I used to before: fried food, oily food, sugar, salt, fast food, soft drinks, iced tea, juices. It was such a big adjustment to make. My way of life was: the more tasteless the food, the healthier it is. I had to eat sweet potatoes, bananas, chicken breasts. But you get used to the food, in time.”
Orosa piped in: “I still haven’t gotten used to it.”
“You just have to learn moderation. If you eat this,” Kuhlman said, gesturing a plate of deep-fried, well-seasoned chicken chops, “eat it, but not a lot of it. If you’re eating fast food, divide your burger and your spaghetti in half. Then keep the second portions. Eat only the first.”
The contestants had to find better alternatives to food they were used to eating, said Orosa. Rice, for example, which was not necessarily “bad” but did trigger your cravings, could be replaced with potatoes. In same amounts, the two have the same number of calories, as well. Both also make you full, but potatoes don’t make you want to eat more.
They also had to increase their fruit and vegetable intake. Fruits, while high in sugar, have a different kind of sugar that burns within minutes. Plus, they have a lot of nutrients, too.
“It’s about picking what’s going to make you full with the least or most healthy type of glucose or sugar, and the least calories,” said Orosa. “For example, for a volume of a cup of vegetables, the sugar and the calories are very low, and it makes you feel very full.”
“You should know what to avoid,” added Kuhlman. “For chicken, remove the skin. Pork, don’t eat the fat. Don’t smoke, don’t drink. This was difficult for me because when I was taking the challenge, I was doing gigs, playing in a band. When everyone around me was drunk, I was having juice, water. But it was fun to see people drunk when you yourself were normal.”
His friends would poke fun at him, telling him he couldn’t do it, that he was fooling himself. When alcohol was their beverage of choice, his was milk. They’d be eating fries and he’d be having cereal. “You have to resist it.”
The two had to learn how to count calories as well, to the point that their friends would get annoyed at all the number crunching. To lose weight, their calorie intake had to be less than 2,000 per day.
“It’s so difficult to ‘diet,’ especially when you’re out with your friends and they’re eating what they want,” said Orosa. “You really have to control yourself. You shouldn’t be defeated by self-pitying thoughts. You really have to think differently. It’s okay, I’ll abide by my decision; it’s going to get better.”
The two don’t really like the term ‘diet.’
“A diet has a time frame: three, two months. Eventually you’ll stop,” said Kuhlman. “Say you’re taking on a lifestyle change. Stand by it. If you see yourself eating a lot or getting heavier, just keep an eye on your weight, go back to the gym and work hard. It’s not that you’re not allowed to eat delicious things, but make sure you know how to watch yourself.”
Weight watchers will have to acknowledge that there will be good diet days and bad dietdays. You will not always be able to watch what you eat. The important thing, in Orosa’s opinion, was to bounce back after those bad days. In fact, you might even need those days to keep yourself motivated and on track.
“It’s all in moderation,” she added. “We’re all born with different genes. Some people are born with fast metabolism; they won’t get fat no matter what they eat. For people like us, these are the cards we have, deal with it. There areways to deal with it; that’s the bright side.” She stressed the need for getting a good night’s sleep, as sleep was the time for the body to recover, repair muscles, and replenish energy.
“When you wake up, don’t give yourself an excuse not to exercise,” said Kuhlman. “Do it immediately or else you might end up not doing it at all. It’s a difficult battle against frustration. You think, ‘Why am I not losing weight?’ It doesn’t happen after two days. Wait for two or three weeks until you check your weight. Don’t keep looking at it. Wait for other people to notice.”
“Be patient with yourself,” advised Orosa. “Give yourself your best efforts. When you focus all your energy on yourself, you’ll get there faster. The mantra is ‘I’ll get there.’ Don’t quit.”
Kuhlman is glad for the discipline he went through. The Physical Therapy graduate hopes to become a gym instructor so he can help those who are in the same boat as he used to be.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” he said. “It’s difficult, but it feels so good after you go through it.”