Lifestyle Prior To Change
What was your lifestyle prior to your transformation?
Throughout my twenties and early thirties I made a large number of extremely foolish lifestyle choices. As so many young people do, I lived my life without any concern for the future. I felt invulnerable, and lived my life as though I were.
For more than a decade I consumed alcohol on a daily basis; I used marijuana all day, every day; I smoked between two and three packs of cigarettes every day; my diet consisted exclusively of highly processed junk food; I drank approximately twelve sugary sodas every day; I never exercised; I never drank water or juice, and I never ate fruit or vegetables.
Every morning I would wake up, pour a cup of coffee and plop down in front of my computer. I’d spend the first hour or two of my day attempting to crawl out from under my hangover by drinking coffee and chain-smoking cigarettes. After a few cups of coffee I’d switch over to soda and start smoking marijuana. I had sort of an unwritten rule to abstain from smoking pot until 10:00 AM (yes, that was my idea of “restraint” back then), but on most days that small and utterly ridiculous attempt at self-discipline proved to be too difficult for me.
Usually around 1:00 PM I’d prepare my first meal of the day. My lunch generally looked something like this: two tuna fish sandwiches made with large amounts of mayonnaise, two large hamburger buns, 4 slices of cheese, an entire family-sized bag of kettle potato crisps and a couple more sodas.
After lunch I’d resume smoking pot, chain-smoking cigarettes and drinking sodas until it was time for supper. A typical supper for me included a very large amount of lasagna or pizza, an entire loaf of garlic bread, a pint of ice cream and a bottle of red wine.
After my final meal of the day I’d continue drinking, snacking on junk food, smoking marijuana and smoking cigarettes until I passed out in the wee hours of the morning.
For more than 10 years I spent every waking moment of my life under the influence of drugs and alcohol. I was a complete mess. I can’t tell you how many times I looked down and found two cigarettes burning in the ashtray, forgot an important meeting or missed a critical deadline. My home office was perpetually enshrouded in a thick cloud of smoke. My home was always cluttered and dirty. Yard work and household chores were completely ignored for months on end. The only clothes I wore consisted of gigantic warmup pants and XXXL T-shirts. I’d go months without a haircut and weeks without a shave. I’d become a shell of a man; any trace of pride, self-respect or dignity I once had was long, long gone.
My poor diet, daily drinking, chronic drug use, nicotine addiction and complete absence of exercise were only part of my problem. During this very dark period in my life I regularly stayed up almost all night long, sub-existing on just a few hours of sleep. Lack of sleep combined with all of my other vices quite literally changed my personality. Over the years I slowly metamorphosed from a bright, positive, energetic young man into a sour, short-tempered, negative, anti-social misanthrope. I didn’t like being around other people, and other people sure didn’t like being around me.
As I allowed prime years of my life to drift past me in a drug and alcohol-coated haze, the combined effect of my myopic lifestyle began to wreak havoc on my health. I suffered from shortness of breath, high blood pressure, frequent heart palpitations, chest pain, severe acid reflux, Irritable Bowl Syndrome, dizziness, high cholesterol, constant fatigue, paranoia, lower back pain and chronic fits of uncontrollable coughing.
Over the years I went to several doctors complaining about the problems I just described. These “professionals” prescribed a ridiculous amount of medication, but not even one of my doctors suggested that I improve my health through diet or exercise. About the only really useful advice my doctors ever gave me was to stop smoking. Duh.
What Was Your Turning Point?
Anyone who has ever made a successful body transformation will never forget the exact moment at which he or she decided that enough was enough. For me, that life-altering event occurred after stepping out of the shower one morning and taking a hard, honest look at my horribly bloated body. I knew that I’d gained weight, but I barely recognized the person looking back at me in the mirror. Like many overweight people, I had become rather adept at convincing myself that I didn’t look all that bad. My repertoire of avoidance techniques included looking “past” my reflection, never stepping on the scale, rarely allowing myself to be photographed, wearing baggy clothes – basically anything that would allow me to sidestep the truth.
As I carefully studied the stranger staring back at me in the mirror, the reality of what I’d done to myself through years of neglect slowly began to sink in. My face - once lean and handsome - now sported a prominent double chin and was bloated beyond recognition; flabby chest muscles hung lifelessly over my pasty, rotund gut; my legs were large, shapeless and weak. I could no longer escape the truth: I was fat.
I remember feeling intense waves of emotion on that fateful morning. The first thing I felt was shock. I’d done such a masterful job of hiding the truth from myself that I quite literally was having a difficult time accepting what I saw. After a few minutes my shock began to give way to sadness. I’m not talking about the sort of sadness you might feel if you find a scratch on your new car, or when your favorite team loses a big game: I’m talking about the sort of deep sorrow that one feels when something is so tragically wrong that fixing it seems almost impossible.
So there I was standing in the bathroom, fat, naked, fighting back tears and feeling sorry for myself. It was then that something very surprising occurred. This event happened so abruptly that it was as if someone flipped a switch in my head. In fact, several moments passed before I was able to recognize the emotion I was feeling: it was anger!
Anger is often perceived as a negative emotion, but I don’t think that is always the case. A healthy dose of properly channeled anger can actually provide an incredible amount of motivation. So my very first suggestion is to do what I did: get mad – fighting mad – about your weight problem! I think you’ll find that anger is a heck of a lot more productive than continuing to float along with indifference. Feeling sorry for yourself is another common cop-out that will only lead to more late nights parked in front of the television eating junk food.
I used all that repressed anger and frustration as fuel for a major lifestyle change. One by one I began to change my bad habits, and I never looked back.
John's Exercise And Diet Approach
What Was Your Exercise Plan?
Initially I had no idea what I was doing. Early on I bought "Body For Life" and did basic pyramid training and HIIT cardio for the bulk of my initial six-month transformation. Over the years I've done quite a few different training programs and styles of training, all of which can be found on my web site (http://www.johnstonefitness.com).
What Was Your Diet Plan?
My early diet plan was effective for fat loss, but was far from optimal. I made a lot of mistakes, but I also lost some muscle. I fell into the common beginner trap of staving myself in order to see faster results. I definitely got fast results, but I don't recommend that people follow my early diet plans. Over the years my meal plans have become much more solid. I have all my diet plans from over the years (including, for completeness sake, my early meal plans) on my web site.
What Supplements Did You Use?
For my initial transformation I stuck to the basics: protein powder, EFAs, creatine, glutamine, glucosamine and a multi. Over the years I've tried too many supplements to name (but I've never used pro-hormones or steroids), but right now I'm back to the basics. My complete supplement intake over the years is shown in my food logs on my web site.
What Is Your Life Like Now?
My life is completely different than the way it was prior to 2003. I train with weights 4-5 times a week, I eat very healthy foods, I don't do any drugs (been 100% drug-free since 2003), I rarely drink alcohol, I'm very active and love to do things like mountain biking. I'm positive, energetic and upbeat now, where before I was anti-social and negative, My wife, who stuck by me through all the "bad" years, was totally supportive of my transformation, and loves all the changes I've made.
Advice For Others
If you want to make a major transformation, then you've got to be dedicated. If you go at it halfway, you'll never make it. I'm not saying you have to live the rest of your life counting calories and being "perfect", but staying motivated though a major transformation is hard when you're not seeing results. Results require effort, and a lot of it.
In addition to staying focused, you've got to stay positive. It really helps.
Don't give in to temptation or listen to those people who try to bring you down. You're on a mission, and the success of that mission comes down to one person: you.
Visualize your end result. Do this every day.
I took progress pictures every single day for 479 days in a row. Doing this allowed me to stay focused and see small changes. I'm not saying everyone should do this, but I think most people should take pictures at least once a month while they are pursuing their goals. All my daily/weekly/monthly pictures (and a billion more) are on my web site, by the way.
Take measurements once a week. Take your body fat measurement once a week with a caliper. These things, along with pictures, are far more important than a number on a scale.
Most of all, you've got to believe in yourself. Don't make excuses, just get the job done. Get into it. Learn to live outside your comfort zone. Comfortable is boring.