Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.-“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”
The journey to optimal health and happiness is rarely easy and it never ends. My own personal story started like many others in middle America, filled with formula milk as a child followed by a steady 24 or so years of pure, chemically fueled ignorance. I have fond memories of Golden Crisp, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cap’n Crunch, and the best part of all — the mind-numbingly sweet bowl of 2% milk at the end to wash it all down. And for some reason, my mom and dad couldn’t understand why it was such a chore for me to finish the frozen vegetables at dinner every night (probably my only serving of the day if I was able to choke them down).
Therein started my heavy reliance on “stimulants” to get me through each day and the beginning of a SAD (Standard American Diet) life. This continued through elementary school and high school where I bounced from karate to little league baseball to soccer to football to track through the first half of my junior year. At that point, I decided the overwhelming stress of puberty was too much to bear and I needed something else to help me cope — enter Marlboro Menthol Lights. A minty fresh way to begin one of the most self destructing habits known to man. And what better accompaniment to nicotine than caffeine. At least three, 16 oz., Mountain Dew Code Reds a day kept me alive to make it through my classes and provided the fuel I needed to make it to the weight room at the end of each day where I struggled to understand why I couldn’t get stronger. I had even given up high school sports to focus purely on weight lifting. Attempting to add five pounds to each major lift each week, I plodded through two or three types of bench press, countless curls, and anything else that would build massive arms and a massive ego (I can confidently say the growth of the ego far surpassed any major muscle group).
My “rebellion” started here and lasted through college where weekends filled with binge drinking and dorm food continued my losing streak in life. I managed to graduate high school with what would be considered a strong GPA and squeaked through college with mediocre performance, but enough to get me my first job. My years in college were filled with constant ups and downs of continuing on my quest to get bigger and stronger while fighting with my addiction to cigarettes, which to this day I won’t admit was an addiction, but rather triggered by external factors like stress or other substances (i.e. Captain Morgan Spiced Rum). By my Senior year I had curbed the smoking habit to a reasonable level (only on the weekends when I was drinking) and had introduced supplements into my daily regimen (after all, what difference was more chemicals going to make after the beating my body was already taking). I experimented with a nitric oxide supplement called NO-Xplode coupled with 40-50g protein shakes. This became a daily occurrence and my first true year as a “meathead”. Finally the gains started to show and after years of being unable to gain weight or muscle, I started to see increases. Perhaps it was getting the smoking under control or the fact that I was buying my own groceries and eating most of my meals at home (even though most of the food was processed and laden with chemicals).
I was actually convinced that I was getting “healthy”. In all likelihood, it may have been an improvement from my high school years, but a far cry from what I now consider “healthy”. When college ended, the drinking and smoking continued, but started to taper off as the hard truths of the real world came into focus. College was over and therefore the party was over. Without my roommate to lift with everyday, I decided I would find a new fitness endeavor and take a break from the constant abuse my liver and kidneys were taking. I started mixed martial arts and took classes in boxing, muay thai kickboxing, and eventually a little Brazilian jiu jitsu (perhaps I lied about giving my kidneys a break). I favored the stand up fighting likely due to the fact that upper body strength was more of a factor and it was all I had. Despite being far more challenging than weight lifting and some light cardio, it still wasn’t enough to stop the drinking and smoking. After all, giving up on partying would leave me with nothing to look forward to on the weekends.
By 2009, two years out of college, I had been introduced to some blogs and what would be the start of some very positive influences. The list includes, but is not limited to:
By 2010, I had returned to my home town of Chicago from my college town of Milwaukee. Through an introduction by a former colleague, I became an avid follower of Tim (mentioned above) and learned of his upcoming book release, The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman. This was the beginning of my epiphany. For the first time in my life, I was learning about the damaging effect that my diet was having on my body. I soaked up everything like a sponge. Resting blood glucose levels, hyperinsulinemia, slow-digesting carbohydrates; the veil had been lifted and I eagerly took the “red pill” to venture down the nutritional rabbit hole. Coincidentally, during the same time I picked up the book, I had also taken an interest in a trend that had emerged as a result of the movie 300. Through the combination of a grueling fitness regimen and grossly overdone make-up and special effects, the cast of 300 had been transformed from mere men into “Gods”. The fitness world became crazed with an obsession over the “300 workout”. Articles flooded the internet and people across blogs and forums argued over the validity of each new post claiming to be the “real 300 workout”.
Somewhere in all of the noise, I stumbled upon CrossFit. At the time it had not yet become the mainstream phenomenon that it is today. This attracted me to it and ultimately lead to me taking a leap of faith and showing up at the door of what would appear to be nothing more than an old warehouse. As I stepped inside, I was met by a large “box” filled with barbells, squat racks, and a pull-up rig with rings hanging from it. I was greeted by the owner of CrossFit Defined, Noal. After a five to ten minute discussion about my fitness experience, it was decided that I should try out a sample and if I liked it, I was welcome to return for a full class. At the time, I was roughly two years into my experience with martial arts and felt like nothing could stop me…
Approximately eight minutes later after a “half tabata” I realized this was going to be a game changer. More than anything, I was motivated by the fact that it would be physically impossible for me to continue destroying my body through my weekend escapades and still participate in CrossFit. I was faced with a choice: quit smoking and partying like a rock star or piss away my monthly membership fee (literally) and fall back into the habits that were destroying my body and limiting my physical and mental progress.
I started going to CrossFit three to four times per week and eventually worked up to five. I was officially drinking the Kool-aid. It took some time, but after about a year, the smoking had dwindled significantly and I had become even more interested in the diet and nutrition aspect of this newfound lifestyle. By 2011, I had been consistently going to CrossFit for a year and was fully committed to the slow-carb diet from The 4 Hour Body. Around this time I was introduced to the Paleo diet, which was similar to my existing way of eating, but with a stronger focus on the quality and source of the food. Once again – hook, line, and sinker. I dove in. By 2012 I was all in on CrossFit and made the decision to get my Level I Certification (completed in March of 2012). Shortly after, I moved to San Francisco for two years for a job opportunity (I will save that experience for another post as it opened my eyes even further to what it means to live a healthy lifestyle).
For the past four years, since that day I walked into a CrossFit gym, I have relentlessly experimented on myself and measured the impact of each change by analyzing my body composition, blood work, biomarkers, weight, productivity, and overall energy and mood. Through my own transformation I have become deeply inspired and have used my experience as fuel for the fire behind my passion to help others transform their lives through simple dietary and lifestyle changes. I truly believe that the majority of us are operating at the very edge of our potential and have everything we need inside of us to break through and make the most of the gift of life we’ve all been given. I never could have imagined 5 years ago that I would be sitting here today writing about my personal journey to quit smoking and embrace a healthy lifestyle in a way that would quite literally change my life forever. This may sound like some corny hyperbole, but had I not found my way out of the life I was living, I would simply be plodding through mediocrity and missing out on the opportunity to help change the lives of everyone around me.
The latest step in my path to optimal health was getting certified as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. The Institute for Integrative Nutrition takes a holistic approach to health and wellness with a focus on “Primary” and “Secondary” foods and a concept called bio-individuality. In the eGuide I’ve compiled, I detail exactly why IIN resonated with me and why I decided to pursue their certification as the first step in my journey to helping others change their lives for the better. I wrapped up the curriculum in October of 2014 and have been working with clients for the past six months to take ownership of their wellbeing through small, lasting changes that promote a healthier and happier lifestyle.
Throughout the site, you can learn more about the details of my coaching style and practice and the programs I offer. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’ve found inspiration in this story and at least some part of it resonates with you. As the story goes, I’m still in the process of pursuing the summit of my health and wellbeing and it took a lot of falling down the mountain to get here. I hope you’ll join me in my quest to live a stronger, happier, and more fulfilling life.
If you feel inclined, share your personal journey to health in the comments below. We can all benefit from some humility!