Early in 2017, I started my year-long project to adhere to the federal Physical Activity Guidelines and Dietary Guidelines with the support of the Science & Research Team of the American Council on Exercise.
We mapped out a six-month incremental process of behavior change that allowed me to establish and then build upon new habits over the remaining six months. It was a year full of stops, starts, plateaus, struggles and triumphs. Through this process, I changed so many things about my life. I learned how to incorporate more physical activity into my daily routine (and I learned to enjoy it, or at least enjoy the way it made me feel). By making a series of small, manageable changes, I completely altered the way I eat and my overall relationship with food. I inspired my wife to get more active and helped a number of friends and family members make similar changes in their lives. I learned how to make changes that made me healthier without negatively impacting my overall quality of life.
In many ways, I still struggle with certain aspects of my new lifestyle and will admit to having gained a few pounds since my project “ended” a few months ago — though we all know that true lifestyle change never ends. In other words, it still is — and always will be — a work in progress. But I’ve learned how to live a healthy lifestyle, how to forgive myself for slip-ups and how to inspire myself to get back on track.
Of course, when people ask me how the project went, they don’t want to hear some inspirational speech. They want numbers!
At the end of the year, I met with my doctor to discuss the journey and capture his reactions to the results. He admits that when I first told him about my plans, he greeted me with a healthy amount of skepticism and a bit of an eye roll, but also a lot of encouragement and well wishes.
As you can see in the graphic above, one year ago I had stage 1 hypertension, prediabetes and elevated cholesterol numbers. I also weighed 244½ pounds and had a body-fat percentage of 26.9%, placing me firmly in the obese category.
Looking back, we realized that I had chosen the exact right moment to take on this challenge. I had no symptoms of illness, but things were clearly heading in the wrong direction. I was on the brink of several illnesses that would likely have forced me to make lifestyle changes (and take medications) in the not-too-distant future.
Now, my blood pressure, cholesterol and hemoglobin A1C (which is used to test for diabetes) are all in the normal category. In addition, my body-fat percentage is now considered average.
I learned how to make changes that made me healthier without negatively impacting my overall quality of life.
I also met with my personal trainer on day 365 to repeat the circumference measurements we had taken on day 1. The most striking numbers are the 14½ cm (5.7 inch) reduction in my waist circumference, the 9 cm (3.5 inch) reduction in my abdominal circumference and the 7 cm (2.8 inch) reduction in my chest circumference. No wonder I feel so much more comfortable in my clothes than I did a year ago.
When it comes to health, the most important data is the change in my waist-to-hip ratio, which went from 1.08 to 0.99. While I am still considered “at risk” for cardiovascular disease and other diseases associated with obesity, I am substantially closer to the 0.95 threshold that takes me out of the at-risk category entirely.
While it’s clear I’ll never challenge Usain Bolt, my physical performance improved in all categories over the course of the year — including muscular endurance in my upper body, lower body and core, as well as my overall fitness. I’m stronger, have more endurance and am even faster (remember, it’s all relative!).
To say I am thrilled with the results of my project would be an understatement. I feel better, physically, psychologically and emotionally. I look better and am more comfortable in my own skin. And I am better able to enjoy activities that had started to become a struggle. Most importantly, I’ve finally learned how to live a truly healthy life in a way that suits the rest of my lifestyle. Physical activity and better nutrition are no longer vague notions that I have to figure out how to make time for, but instead are normal parts of my daily routine.
I’m honored that NBC News BETTER invited me to share my journey with you through the completion of The Lifestyle Project and beyond, and now I want to hear from you.