Reinventing Yourself: Meet a Brand New You

Originally posted on Linkedin on Apr 8, 2015

People can try to reinvent themselves. I don’t think you can really change who you are, though, because who you are is pretty much where you came from and what you’ve done up to now. – Eminem

Can we change who we are today?

When I started my health and weight loss journey last year, I didn’t realize it would eventually lead to reinventing myself.

The concept of reinventing one’s self is not new. You can find articles written by Entrepreneur magazine to Psychology Today on the subject.

Being in my forties and 403 pounds, I was atime bomb with regard to my health. I was pre-diabetic, developed high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and a host of other obesity-related conditions.

Compound this with other complications like not being able to fit in a restaurant booth and needing a special “big man’s” chair at work. I was often stressed out, embarrassed, and felt hopeless.

So I took action to change all of that.

In retrospect it all makes sense. I had to reinvent myself in order to make these changes permanent. The old me had many bad habits, poor self-esteem, and was not confident in my abilities. All of these things were holding me back and my health was in jeopardy.

I asked myself:

What kind of quality of life do I want for my remaining years?

I won’t get into the specifics of what motivated me and what changes I had made in this post. In short, I realized that I needed to slowly undo all of the years bad habits by monitoring and gradually reducing my food intake and maintain regular, sustainable physical activity (primarily walking and weight training).

What I have discovered is that my journey was more than just a reinvention of myself with a finite end, I am constantly evolvingever improving.

Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it. –Anthony J. D’Angelo

This journey has been one of learning and self-awareness. Much like the Agile methodologies I have learned from Software Development projects, I am regularly taking checkpoints on my progress, assessing what works well, and taking action on things on which I can improve.

To date I have lost around 182 pounds and my outlook on life is positive. I have become more motivated in other areas of my life, taking on new challenges both at home and work, and become a mentor and inspiration to others. I no longer feel hopeless, handle stress much better (walking instead of stress eating), andreally enjoy my new life.

I am healthier, confident, and ready to take on the world!

Get ready for Mike 2.0

New in this version:
Improved overall health
Brand-new look
Faster processor speed

Check out my other articles:

Small Changes Lead to Big Results

Inspiring Others – Gives You Fuel (featured in LinkedIn’s “What Inspires Me” section)

400 Pounds and Lost the Will to Live: How I took My Life Back

Small Changes Lead to Big Results

Originally posted on Linkedin on Mar 31, 2015

I have to take a step back to reflect on some of the changes I have made in my life over the past 10 months. Since June 2014 I have lost around 178 pounds. I was 403 pounds when I started.Yes, you are reading that correct. And, I might add, I have accomplished this all without surgery, being ill, dieting or crazy exercise routines. I have done this by simply keeping track of what I eat and getting moderate exercise, primarily walking. The results have far exceeded what I had dreamed. I plan on sharing more about this as each day it seems that people want to know my “secret”. The answer is that I have no secret, it is just laser-like persistence and patience.

What I want to share here is that I have learned the power of making small changes to produce large results over time. We live in a society of immediate gratification. Everyone wants their quick fix, whether it is for material things like the latest cell phone, or large life-altering changes like I have made. Having fluctated in my weight over the past 20 plus years, trying every form of diet, extreme exercise routines, weight loss groups, pills… I have learned a few things about myself. In order to get healthier and lose all of this weight permanently, I had to change my habits gradually. For the purpose of this post I won’t get into what motivated me, but with the help of a tool to help me track my food intake and exercise I was able to make the change in small steps.

The part I underestimated was the other pieces of my life (and others’) that have been affected by this change. Obviously I have greatly improved my overall health having eliminated gastric reflux, I am no longer pre-diabetic, and on my way to improving a host of other co-morbidities (sleep apnea, edema, etc.). What has been just as amazing to me is the mental piece and how people are reacting to me. Needless to say I feel fantastic. This has been spilling over to other areas of my life- in my home I have been more motivated to do things I have been putting off for years, been more calm overall, and I have plans to do some exciting things this year like ride a roller coaster and perhaps take a martial arts class.

I knew that my wife, kids, mom and other family members would be relieved to see me get healthier. I have even inspired a few family members to start taking care of their own health. Even more amazing to me is how I have been inspiring other people, some of whom I barely know, to take charge of their health. My bus driver, who I hadn’t seen in over a year, was so astounded he went home and told his wife all about what I have done. My exercise mentor, who I have looked up to for years, told me that I am inspiring him! And, for the first time I can ever remember in my adult life, a person commented to me about how I was in “good shape…” Me? The man that once weighed over 400 pounds? Unbelievable!

I have so much more to share, and I do plan on writing more. I have never really been a blogger or writer, but I think this is the best medium to get the word out to those who have been asking me questions. Literally every single day someone comes up to me, telling me how fantastic I look now, but even more so wants to know my “secret”. The challenge is that the world we live in today expects the easy way to lose weight (pills, latest fad diet, Biggest Loser show…). Again, the secret for me was simple, make small changes to lead to big results. This can be applied to just about any large task you want to take on. And I plan on shaking up the world…

Check out my other articles:

Reinventing Yourself: Meet a Brand New You

Inspiring Others – Gives You Fuel (featured in LinkedIn’s “What Inspires Me” section)

400 Pounds and Lost the Will to Live: How I took My Life Back

Inspiring Others – Gives You Fuel

Originally posted on Linkedin on Apr 15, 2015

It still amazes me that I have gone from a guy merely wanting to lose weight to a person who is an inspiration to others. Granted I have lost over 180 pounds so far, all without surgery, dieting, or any crazy exercise routines. Considering that, I can see how it is inspiring to people. Sometimes I forget just how big this is. My family, friends, and coworkers help to remind me of that.

I’m honored if I can inspire somebody else. ~ Demi Moore

I had a lot of dreams growing up. In high school I wanted to become a doctor. By the time I had gotten through my first year of college I had given up on that dream. I didn’t think I was cut out for the work and the stress. I didn’t manage stress well, often turning to food for comfort. This laid the foundation for years of putting on weight, dieting and losing, then gaining even more back. By the time I reached my 40s I weighed around 400 pounds. All that weight was making me more miserable, holding me back in life, and creating a host of other obesity-related health conditions.

So in 2014 I decided to make some changes in my life that would be permanent and sustainable. I didn’t want to keep losing weight only to gain it all back. I knew that diets didn’t work, nor did all of the high-intensity aerobic workouts. After years of experience with weight loss attempts and a lot of research, I embarked on a health makeover. I started keeping track of everything I ate using a food tracking app and engaged in very moderate exercise.In a span of ten months I lost weight rapidly, but not too fast. I needed not only my body to get use to the changes, but my mind as well. About half way through people started to take notice. Everyone I encountered asked, “How are you doing all of this?”I think one of the biggest factors that has been key to my success has been mylaser-like focus and determination. I wanted to be a normal weight person. You can imagine that at over 400 pounds I led a far from normal life. At most restaurants I had to request a table because I could not fit in a booth. I had a very difficult time finding clothes and the choices were limited. And I was starting to develop serious health issues due to my obese body condition.

I hope I inspire people to dream bigger than what they are living, but a dream within their reach. ~ Michael Franti

There were a lot of things in my life that I wish I had done. Putting my health first was by far the best gift I have ever given to myself. And I knew that it was achievable. Hard work, but like I said, I wanted it badly. I won’t likely become a professional athlete, a Spanish guitar virtuoso, or grow any taller. But losing weight is a reasonable goal within my reach.Literally every day people reach out to me, compliment my achievement and tell me how I inspire them. I never dreamed that I would be an inspiration to people. Up until now I hadn’t really done anything that amazing. When I step back and look at my weight loss accomplishment, considering how I have done it,I am amazed.

I appreciate the recognition from my family, friends and coworkers. And when it started to become a daily thing, at first I was a little uneasy with all of the attention. Being big I had developed a dislike of being the center of attention. What I realize about the attention I am getting now is that it is inspiring me to challenge myself even more.I am finding that the more people praise my efforts and tell me how I inspire them to take care of their own health; I am even more motivated to continue.

People’s inspiration gives me fuel

It’s nice when they say I inspire them, it inspires me. ~ Lita Ford

This is what has made me turn to sharing with others. People want to know about my experiences and I feel honored to share. As I said, I had no idea all of this would turn out to be such a big deal. I just wanted to be healthy and feel like a “normal” person. My mind still hasn’t completely caught up with my new body, but day by day I am starting to get used to it. And, with the continued praise and compliments from others, I am going to continue to amaze, not just with my health, but in other areas of my life.Like I told my mom after she commented on how amazing all of this was:

“You ain’t seen nothing yet”

Check out my other articles:
Small Changes Lead to Big ResultsReinventing Yourself: Meet a Brand New You400 Pounds and Lost the Will to Live: How I took My Life Back

Feeling Like an Outsider

This is an article I wrote for the disAbility network I am involved with at work.

Sometimes I forget that I look “normal” now. I had spent so many years knowing that I stood out because of my extreme obesity that I still catch myself feeling like an outsider. Some people made obvious comments about my obesity which equated being really fat with having no self-control. We always hear that ‘words cannot hurt you.’ But they did. Over time I began to believe them.  Other people meant well when they said things like: “You’re such a handsome man, if you only lost some weight…” In general, most people liked me and thought I was a nice guy. But looking back, I realize that I felt like a loser. It’s sad that I judged myself based upon how I believed others saw me.

“Big Guy”—I’ve lost track of how many times I heard that. It was people’s subtle way of pointing out my “big problem.” Most people didn’t mean any harm. In fact, it was a term of endearment among some of my friends. Over time I began to identify with the label “Big Mike.”

Most people with disabilities don’t have the option of changing their appearance, but in 2014 I embarked on a fundamental change in lifestyle—not a “diet”—which enabled me to lose over 200 pounds in about 11 months. I cut back gradually on what I ate (as well as portion size) and increased my physical activ

ity. I used an app to track daily food intake and exercise. In the early days I mostly used my “Gilad Janklowicz’ Bodies in Motion” DVDs and walking. I still do that today but have added weight lifting and a lot of hiking. The most challenging part is not the exercise or the foods you eat, but the power it takes in the mind.

Some people might say that my story just goes to prove that obese people have only themselves to blame if they can’t lose weight.  But the truth is that how I felt about myself, coupled with my declining health, is what motivated me to change. My health did improve, and I looked much better. I still felt fat, even though I knew that I was now thinner than people I deemed “normal” sized. Over the years I had learned to identify with and accept my condition so much so that it became a part of me.

Despite everything I put myself through to get healthier, I continued to be my own worst critic, and I had to realize that my self-worth needed to come from within, not from what others thought of me.  This is easier said than done. Human beings are social animals, after all, and are conditioned to seek the approval of others. We want to be liked and not judged in a negative way. I know there many who say they don’t care what others think of them, and if that is truly the case, I wish I could learn to be like that.

It takes a conscious effort each day for me to learn to love myself and accept how I look. I am still critical of my body and have had to learn not to push myself too much to try to achieve a physical appearance that may not be realistic. After all, who am I doing this for? In the end, I am still doing this for myself, because keeping active and taking care of my body makes me feel good.  Even people who have looked “normal” all their lives feel intense social pressure—no matter their age or health limitations—to look young and “hot” because of the many unattainable cultural ideals imposed by the media on both men and women in 21st-century America.

I now view all of this as a journey, not a destination. I learn a little more each day about my new self, slowly letting go of past injuries to my self-esteem and actively encouraging the people around me to find their own inner core of strength.

That “holy $@#&!” moment from people who see me after my weight loss transformation…

<Originally posted on myfitensspal July 23, 2015 2:37PM link>

Having lost over 200 pounds in less than a year gets some funny reactions from people. The majority of people who knew me, some even for years prior, literally do not recognize me. I work for a very large corporation and I often run into people with whom I had worked prior to my weight loss. I get a kick out of seeing if they can recognize who I am. Almost every single person does not at first, but upon realizing or revealing who I am I get some priceless reactions…

“Holy —-!” is by far the most common. And take into consideration that this is often exclaimed out loud in the hallways of where I work.

“Did you get the surgery?” – People cannot conceive that I did this without surgery in the amount of time I did.

This one is kind of funny and I have heard it in varying fashion- “Are you okay?” or “Were you sick?”… often followed by “You don’t look sick. You look fantastic!”

The best of all is merely the stunned look on people’s faces. I have literally had some people get speachless.

When I started this whole plan, I didn’t even consider how this was going to affect others. It is amazing to me sometimes how far I have come and how much I am inspiring others to take care of their own health.

Let’s hear your stories!

The emotional aspects of a large weight loss

<Originally posted on myfitnesspal August 12, 2015 7:28AM link>

I never dreamed I would be here telling all of you that since June 2014 I have lost 209 pounds without surgery or being on a “diet”. The feeling both physical and mental is amazing. And, as you can imagine, people around me are inspired by my accomplishment. This only motivates me more to continue on this journey.

Having been morbid and super obese since early adulthood, I had a lot of emotions wrapped up in all the fat my body was carrying. I was ashamed of my body and myself and eventually to the point of giving up the will to live. Compound this with all of the co-morbidities I had developed: pre-diabetic, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, gastric reflux, fungal infections.

I had a number of things that triggered me to lose all of this weight once and for all, but the biggest factor was the loss of my dad in 2010 to lung and colon cancer. He was a heavy smoker, drinker, and ate poorly. The event was so traumatic to us all that I told my mother that I wasn’t going to let his death be in vain. We need to learn from his poor health habits.

After I lost a large portion of my weight I still felt “fat”. I have read that many people felt that way after a large weight loss. Especially if you carried it for the majority of your life like I did. Now that I am “normal” I am starting to feel normal. But it is still taking time to adjust.

The other interesting thing that I had not considered when I embarked on this journey was how others react to me. The majority of people are very happy for me and inspired to take on their own health journey… because of me. But there are others who have had strange and even negative reactions towards me. I still find it puzzling, since I saved my own life and would think they would be happy for me.

I want to hear others’ stories about your emotions and the reactions you have gotten from others after your weight losses.

The Moments That Transform Us

As I approached my father’s room in the nursing home I met my great aunt just leaving. I barely remember what we said to one another, but I didn’t forget her face. It was one I recognized well having many medical professionals in my family, but didn’t want to acknowledge it. I was still in denial about my father’s terminal condition.

My brother and my dad’s best friend were in the room. My dad was semi-lucid as they were talking with him and one another. I noticed a cart of pastries and coffee on the left-hand side of the room as I entered. In the month that my dad was there I had not seen this before. There was also a box of tissues on the cart.

I asked my brother how dad was doing. He said dad was acting a bit weird, but that was to be expected with his condition. I asked him why there was a cart of food in the room. He said did not know. We continued chatting and I remember calling my mom to see if she was coming soon.

At some point there was concern about the way my dad was reacting to the medication he was just given which lead up to the nurse being called into the room. She checked my dad’s vital signs and looked him over.

    “It’s time.”

    “Time for what?” I asked knowing what the nurse meant.

    “He’s dying.” she responded.

    “Right now?!”

Everything became sort of surreal after that. I seem to remember the nurse leaving the room and closing the door. My brother and my dad’s best friend were each on opposite sides of my dad’s bed. They were talking to him, but he was not able to respond. He looked scared. I felt my stomach drop as the roller coaster, my dad’s life, rounded the top and began to gain speed towards the bottom.

    I braced myself.

My brother and my dad’s friend were each gripping his hands tightly as he began to struggle. His eyes were wide bulging and staring forward as he leaned up in his bed. Slowly he leaned back down into this bed.

I watched in horror as my dad, the man who was one of the toughest guys I ever knew, slipped away.

    On April 28, 2010, at 12:20 p.m., my life changed forever.

My hero, my dad who was legendary in our family for being tough as nails, had withered away. And I just watched him slip through my fingers with nothing more I could do.

​He was the bad boy. Some even describe him as Elvis or the Fonz. He was cool, grew up in a wealthy family, and very good-looking. He loved fast cars, smoking, ate what he wanted, and generally did not give a crap what people thought of him. He was not a follower and he was a handful to deal with at times. And as much as it use to drive me crazy, I admired him for not being a follower. He once told me that he admired the same about me. That meant a lot to me.

Everyone had tried to get my dad to change his ways and take care of his health. He tried many times over the years, but his habits had a tight grip on him. He continued to eat poorly after having part of his colon removed from the cancer. Even after having his left lung removed due to cancer he continued to smoke. I remember begging him to quit.

Months before the doctors had told him he was terminal, he was telling us that he was “not afraid to die”. He had given up on life.

I was crushed.

I was in poor health myself. I had just turned 40 years old and weighed over 400 pounds. I was a time bomb.

I was  rapidly accumulating a host of obesity-related health issues, and was losing my will to live  as I was giving up hope of ever losing all of that weight. I was pre-diabetic, had developed sleep apnea, high blood pressure, constant fungal infections, and acid reflux…

 

My father had developed lung and colon cancers from years of smoking cigarettes and poor eating habits. He did not have good skills for managing stress, so he turned to these addictions as a coping mechanism. Much like him I too had poor stress management skills and, although I was not a smoker, I turned to food during times of stress. So much so that it was slowly killing me. And I knew it.

The average person cannot relate to what it is like living in a 400+ pound body. Having to ask for a table at restaurants because you cannot fit in most booths. Not being able to buy the clothes you want to wear. Squeezing into theater seats. Needing a seat belt extender in your car to fit around a massive stomach. The shame of walking around in public knowing that people are staring at you thinking, “Look how fat that guy is.” People calling you things like “Big Guy” or “Big Mike”.

I hated those labels and I did not want to identify with them.

I was not happy with myself and with life in general. I hated myself and very few people around me knew it other than my wife. She knew that I didn’t want to live anymore. It was a horrible “weight” for her to carry but she honestly did not know what to do.

And I ate and ate not caring about my health. Wishing I would have a heart attack in my sleep.

It seems sort of pathetic and sad to me now, but it is the reality of what I felt. I just gave up on life, much like my dad.

    See my article: 400 Pounds and Lost the Will to Live: How I took My Life Back

The day after my dad had passed away I told my mom,

   “We can’t let dad’s death be in vain… We need to learn from his poor health habits.’’

And I didn’t want my kids and the rest of my family and friends to go through the pain again with me like we had with my dad.

So I decided to stand up on my own two feet and do something about it.

It took me four years and after a lot of soul-searching, but I figured out how. After all, I had over 20 years of experience losing some and gaining back even more.  I needed to slowly undo the years of bad habits and damage I had done to my body. I knew that I couldn’t simply go on a diet and exercise. I needed to change my life in order to make the it sustainable for good. I had to reinvent myself.

    See my article: Reinventing Yourself: Meet a Brand New You

I wasn’t going to do this only to gain it all back again and more like I had in the past. It had to last this time. For good.

What I realized about myself is that in order to get control over what I was eating, I had to track everything I was consuming. I did some research on cell phone apps which could be used to keep a food diary. I knew this would be useful as I typically have my cell phone with me the majority of the time. This way I wouldn’t have to carry a paper diary and try to figure out calories later.

For my exercise I started with my Total Body Sculpt with Gilad videos 5 times a week. These were great for me to start as they were not too intense and allowed me to gradually build up my endurance. I have used Gilad’s videos for over 20 years so I knew they would be a great combination of low impact cardio and light weight training. Over time as my endurance increased I added new activities like walking and hiking into my routine.

And as the pounds began to drop, people started to take notice and ask me how I was doing it. By the time I had reached my first 100 pounds lost, people were in awe. I had done it in 6 months without surgery, being on a “diet”, or doing crazy high-intensity exercise… slow and steady. I began to tell people, “Small changes lead to big results.” That became my mantra. As I lost even more weight more and more people wanted to understand what I was doing. So I began to write about it. And after hundreds of people have read my articles, I was asked to speak on my “Small Changes Lead to Big Results” article.

I had no idea this would all eventually lead to me becoming legendary for being:

   “The guy who lost 200 pounds in less than a year!”

    See my article: Small Changes Lead to BIG RESULTS

I just wanted to lose some weight and get healthy. I wanted to be normal.

I am happy to report that I no longer feel ashamed of myself. Additionally I have discovered that I have a gift for reaching people on an emotional level with my vivid imagery and motivating stories. In fact I find it inspiring when others are inspired!

    See my article:Inspiring Others – Gives You Fuel

    (featured in LinkedIn’s “What Inspires Me” section)

So now I am on a mission to help others. I have launched this website as a central place for people to find out what is going on in my world, to share tips and stories in my upcoming newsletter, and grow in this new endeavor.

This sad story leading me to realize that I needed to make big changes in my life is one of many which I am writing about to compile into a book of my life as a “super obese” man. I plan to detail my journey from hell and back and how I battled my obesity demon bare-handed and won*. I believe it is just as important to share stories and lessons about how I got to where I was as it is how I got out. I believe we should focus on prevention and teach our children about health early in their lives.

* Since I had written this article, I am changing that statement as I have learned that you never really beat your obesity, you learn tactics to manage it. – Mike

Let’s get the word and give some hope to the world!

    small changes DO Lead to BIG RESULTS!

I am living proof of that.

Dedicated to my dad, Patrick Harrington, without whom I would not be the man I am today.