Chaz has never been into fitness. As a child he deplored gym class. “I grew up in the South with corporal punishment,” shared the 59-year-old father of three and resident of Princeton. “My experience with gym class was grouchy men yelling at me.” This association always made it difficult for him to feel comfortable joining a gym. Always considered husky, but not overweight, his weight became a problem when he started practicing law 30 years ago. “I went into law because I could not figure out what else to do,” he reflected. “I liked my clients, but law was not a passion of mine.” Chaz felt miserable during the day in a sedentary job that he didn’t like. “When I came home from work, I would have a few scotches, some cheese and then have dinner. I felt that I deserved the food.”
This pattern continued for several years and his weight started to climb. Eventually he began to experience health problems. Chaz had elevated blood pressure and his blood sugar levels were high. His doctor told him he was prediabetic. There were periods when he felt motivated to improve his health and would set strict dietary rules for himself that included no alcohol or simple carbohydrates and drinking lots of water. He would lose some weight, then the pounds would creep back up when he resumed his previous habits.
In 2011 Chaz learned that he had a congenital heart problem called aortic stenosis that would probably require surgery in the future. “I knew it would be wise to start taking better care of myself in preparation for surgery, but I felt too tired to pay attention to myself,” he recalled. “I promised myself that once I retired from the practice of law, I would take care of my health.”
During that same year, Chaz made the decision to go back to school. He had majored in anthropology in college and that has always been the field he felt called to. He reduced his time at his law firm and studied part-time for the next few years, eventually earning a PhD in Human Sexuality. This was his first step toward creating the life he had always wanted.
Finally, in 2016 Chaz retired completely from the practice of law. He felt so much happier and he looked forward to having time to take walks outside, an activity he had always enjoyed. However, when he attempted to walk, he experienced trouble with his gait. “I was waddling from side to side,” he mused. “In cold weather it was hard to walk, and I had pain in my back.” At one point he ended up at the emergency room and was told he had a compressed disc. Chaz’s concern for his health felt more imminent. He wanted to be able to walk long distances again and be in optimal condition for the surgery he anticipated. But he became especially concerned when he noticed that his sexual functioning was not what it was. “I felt it was an indication that something was systemically wrong,” he shared. “I believed it might be due to my weight and the medications I was taking for high blood pressure and depression.”
Chaz’s final wake-up call came one day when he was having lunch with a former co-worker who complained that he was having trouble with his balance. His friend also shared that he was having difficulty putting his shorts on. Hearing such similar health concerns from a friend really hit home for Chaz. He knew it was time to get going on a path to better health.
His first step was to join a gym. Since he had no idea what activities he would want to participate in, he thought it would be helpful to join one that offered lots of choices. Life Time Athletic Princeton, located in Plainsboro, was appealing since it is a large facility, offers many classes and has two pools. Since it was summertime when he joined, he began swimming daily and tried a few aqua aerobics classes. Then he started experimenting with other exercise classes like barre, small group training, Pilate’s and yoga. He also tried walking on the treadmill. Yin yoga proved to be the most beneficial for him and he now takes classes four times a week. “Yoga has helped me with my walking, posture and balance,” Chaz explained. “During each class, I have an hour to not think about anything other than paying attention to my body,” he continued. “In the past, my whole life has been in my head and now I am experiencing my body. It feels so good to move.” Chaz is finding that yoga has helped him emotionally as well. “When I feel myself getting dysregulated, I can calm my mind by removing myself from the situation, sitting still and breathing. I spend a lot of time now just being still and thinking about how I am feeling.”
Chaz’s next step was to change the way he eats. He decided to avoid “white” carbohydrates like white bread and pasta, opting for lots of leafy green vegetables, citrus fruit and berries instead. He also eats fish several times a week, especially small canned fish like sardines and herring which contain omega three fatty acids. He rarely eats red meat and prefers poultry instead. He continues to eat cheese, one of his favorite foods, as well as nuts. Sugary desserts have never appealed to him, but he will join in on celebrations. He also decided to limit his alcohol consumption to social situations. “I haven’t given up anything I like, because I know I can’t sustain that,” he explained.
Since Chaz loves walking outside, he has traded the treadmill for the four mile round trip walk to the gym. He has also discovered his love of the sauna. “Initially, I viewed going to the sauna as a treat to get me to the gym,” he shared. “However, now I believe that I receive many health benefits from it. The sauna allows my muscles to become soft so I can relax them. When I don’t feel muscular tension, my mind is less tense as well.”
Chaz’s effort has really paid off. He has lost 50 pounds and has maintained his weight loss for seven months. His glucose and cholesterol levels are down, and he is no longer considered prediabetic. His blood pressure is now stable, and he has been able to reduce the medication he takes for it. Chaz has changed in other ways as well. He takes time to go to the theater and visit museums, filling up on life instead of food. “I don’t find it a struggle to maintain my weight,” he explained. “When I eat in restaurants and I am out of my routine, I can revert to old habits and gain a few pounds. But then I get back to my routine and my weight drops back down.” Chaz weighs himself 4-5 times a week and this helps him stay on track. Since he is no longer depressed, he has stopped taking antidepressant medication. “My sexual mojo has improved a lot and I feel happier than I have ever been,” he shared proudly. Most important is that he feels so much happier. “Now when I go to the pool, I don’t mind showing off my body,” he beamed. “It has been a thrill to buy new clothes. I went from an extra-large to a small.” Additionally, he is enjoying the many compliments he receives about how he looks. “Someone in the class will say ‘You are so flexible!’ It is such a nice feeling to think I am good at something physical.”
Chaz feels so good about all he has achieved. But his proudest moment came when his 26-year-old daughter saw him three months after he started his new routine. “Her jaw dropped, and she said ‘Wow, I have never in my life seen a person make such a transformation!’ Like many of us, I have spent a lot of time and energy seeking (and generally receiving) my parents’ approval, but receiving my child’s approval makes me feel so, so happy.”
The following are Chaz’s recommended best practices:
- Hydrate more by drinking water as often as possible. This helps to prevent hunger and clear toxins from the body
- Eat small canned fish. Small fish are a great source of high-quality protein and healthy fat. Eating small fish is also good for the environment because catching them doesn’t burn as much fossil fuel as large fish
- Weigh yourself regularly at least 4-5 times a week
- Eat what you want. Don’t give up foods that you enjoy. This is the only sustainable way to lose and maintain a healthy weight
- Eat when you are hungry. By responding to your body’s natural hunger, you won’t need to eat that much
- Go to the sauna. It decreases stress and increases well-being
- Avoid being in the car. Walk to places like the grocery store instead of driving
- Try not to multi-task
- Don’t be concerned about the speed at which you lose weight, just create a lifestyle that works for you that you know you can stick with
Are you are interested in reinventing yourself?
Fay Reiter, M.A. is certified Social Worker, Lifestyle Fitness Coach and Personal Trainer. She has been helping people overcome health challenges for the past twenty years. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-468-4045 to schedule a complimentary coaching session.