Two years ago, at just 25 years old, Matthew (NEOMATTLAC) weighed more than 320 pounds and had been battling depression for years. He'd been using food as an emotional crutch, often binge-eating to mask his feelings. Determined to repair his physical and mental wellness, Matthew embarked on a journey toward health, fitness and freedom. Today, with the help of SparkPeople and his other support systems, 27-year-old Matthew is 80 pounds lighter in weight and immeasurably lighter in his outlook on life.
Raised to View Food as Comfort
Growing up in southern Maryland, Matthew was never what he would describe as physically fit. His family had always been focused on food. Most meals included high-calorie, "countrified" fare like potatoes, heavy meats, loads of butter and sweet tea. They were also inactive, with most gatherings centered around sitting and eating.
A shy child, Matthew tended to use food as a security blanket. "I also couldn't handle my emotions well," he recalls. "When I felt bad about myself, I ate. When I wanted to celebrate, I ate. When I was angry, I ate." Looking back, he realizes now that he was most likely suffering from a binge-eating disorder.
Throughout high school, Matthew's weight steadily climbed. He remembers a time when a judgmental gym teacher mentioned that he should be able to run a third of a mile—but to Matthew, that seemed like an impossible feat. "I played mind tricks on myself, trying to believe that it was mostly muscle," he says. "Logically, I knew it wasn't, but it made me feel better."
At high school graduation, Matthew weighed 280 pounds, wore a size 44 pant and a size 3XL shirt. He vowed to lose weight in college, where he had enrolled in a culinary arts program, but instead, he ended up gaining even more. After college, Matthew got a job as a chef, but due to his weight, he couldn't move around a kitchen very well, nor could he stand on his feet for long periods of time.
Eventually, Matthew returned to school for computer science, primarily motivated by the promise of a generous salary, but found that he didn't enjoy it. During that winter, he sunk into a deep depression, convinced that his life was going in the wrong direction.
Turning Things Around
Matthew counts himself lucky in that he's had multiple "a-ha" moments that propelled him to move forward. His main wake-up call was the realization that he was spending several hours a day on Facebook.
"It hit me: If I'm wasting all this time on the internet, what could I achieve if I dedicated even some of that time toward something useful like volunteering, developing a skill or losing weight?" Matthew recalls. "Ultimately, I chose weight loss because, honestly, I have social anxiety and I could lose weight without talking to people."
His other "a-ha" moment was the emergence of some physical issues—like knee pain, back pain and an inability to stand for extended periods of time—that he knew he shouldn't be having at his age.
Matthew started by walking a mile or two every day and riding the recumbent bike for 25 minutes. Eventually, he worked up to three miles walking and 40 minutes biking, but felt like he needed even more of a challenge, so he joined a gym. For the first few weeks, he used only the treadmill and a few machines, intimidated by what he viewed as the "forbidden" part of the gym.
"I'd lost some weight, but I felt like my form could use a lot more work, and I was still pretty lost on my food," he says. "That's when I decided to get some personal training. I had the money and the time, so why not invest in myself?"
Matthew's gym offered some free personal training sessions, so he started working with Eddie, who provided a meal plan and designed short but intense workouts. For cross-training, Matthew added boxing to his repertoire and even dabbled in fitness dance classes. He also committed to working out with a friend once a week and eating a healthy dinner together afterward, which helped keep him accountable and motivated.
When it got tough, he just kept pushing—and the weight kept dropping.
From August 2016 to January 2017, Matthew lost 40 pounds. Then, from January 2017 to July 2017, he lost another 40. After that, he hit a plateau and has since been working with his trainer to build more muscle through intensity and endurance. "Just this past week, we changed to a routine that's mostly HIIT with some heavy weightlifting days thrown in," he says.
With Matthew's shy nature, he found support and camaraderie in several online communities, including SparkPeople. "SparkPeople has so many articles on motivation, getting back on track, fun exercise ideas and recipes," Matthew says. "And I post to the groups if I need specific advice. Also, SparkCoach was fantastic. It provided me with daily motivation and focuses, and helped me track certain [day-to-day] metrics, like mood. I was able to find certain trends. For example, I seem to miss more workouts on Thursdays, so I changed my schedule to not work out that day, which increased my consistency."
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