working at it every day

A couple of weeks ago I published a series of posts about the transformative experiences I had during a one-week stay at the Biggest Loser Resort. Last week, I was thrilled to host a fellow guest and friend, Todd, as he shared his story here. And today, I couldn’t be happier because I get to introduce you to another friend, John Baker. His story plays out a little differently to Todd’s, but is one that may be very familiar to many of us: the struggle to stay on the path to better health.  


As I sat down to write my story, I looked back at my life, at my successes and failures.

As I considered them, I realize it really has been an amazing ride, with huge successes in education (two engineering degrees and an MBA), a very successful career that continues to be rewarding, and an amazing wife and children. But there has been that one thing….

I grew up an athlete. My first “type cast” happened in 3rd grade football when I went from tight end to offensive tackle after failing to make weight for the “skill positions”. From then on I was a lineman, a catcher, a shot-putter, a discus thrower, a competitive power lifter. Essentially all the sports/positions for larger kids.

Within my own family I was the youngest and always the littlest which led to a comfort level with my size that I should never have had. Additionally, I grew up in an environment where food was ALWAYS the center of every gathering, every day, and eventually with cable TV, with every show!

1Seriously, every vacation I took as an adult was preceded by a phone call from my father detailing the Food Network’s recommended restaurants for that destination. Oh. and some of them have been awesome! But I digress…

I am actually really good at losing weight.

Unfortunately, I am equally as talented at gaining it back.

I am NOT very talented at maintaining a healthy weight…. yet.

After a brutal 3-year period in my career, where I worked 7 days a week, I gained 50 lbs. This was my wakeup call. I decided I needed to try something different, and I wasn’t afraid of doing something drastic. I did some research and subsequently signed up for a two-week stay at the Biggest Loser Resort in Malibu.

Why there?  In a word: hiking, I really enjoyed hiking and, in talking with Biggest Loser representatives, Malibu sounded like the best choice for me.

2I went to BLR Malibu to work hard, and I did! The hiking was excellent and turned my previous enjoyment into something between and love and an addiction! The best part of that two weeks though was the people I met and the nutrition and life basics I learned.

My story has not been a fairy tale since I returned home though. I continue to stumble as much as I excel. Life has an amazing way of working against you when your will power is at its weakest.

So next I will focus on what has gone well and where I still struggle.

3My love of hiking has continued to be the one thing that keeps me moving forward in improving my health. I have been places I never considered before in my home state of Arizona.

I grew up in Columbus Ohio but had never been to “Old Mans Cave” in Hocking Hills. Now, not only have I been there, but I’ve hiked it!

We traveled many times to the Pacific Northwest when I was growing up; it was a favorite of my dad’s, but had never hiked there. I have now.

Theresa and I have been traveling to Kauai since we got engaged there in 2004. In 2013 I hiked about half the Kalalau trail and I plan to complete the rest of it in 2015.

Before that I had not stepped foot more than 500 yards from the car, admiring it instead from a distance.

4There may not be a more beautiful place on this planet than the Na Pali coast and the Kalalua trail and Hanakapia’i Falls! If you get the opportunity to visit, don’t hesitate!

Now the rest of the story. I struggle with nutrition EVERY SINGLE DAY!

I have gotten about 50% of my meals under control. Nine out of  ten mornings I nail my breakfast!  I love greek yogurt and blackberries, I love oatmeal with unsweetened almond milk. But occasionally I will give in to a bacon and egg burrito.

Lunch has become a crossroads, every day I plan to have a salad or healthy wrap/sandwich with fruit. Half the time I just make the wrong choice.

If anyone knows why PLEASE let me know.

Dinner is a disaster for me as eating at night has always been a challenge.  I do well for bursts, one week, two weeks, sometimes a month at a time but then I snap and fall into my old habits. This continues to be the biggest challenge I face every day.  Even as I type this I come off almost a week of being on point followed by a night of pizza… too much pizza, UGH!

5I spoke of hiking as my biggest positive, and it is but I have started over more times than I can count over the last 18 months.

I have crappy excuses like “I live in Arizona, and its 120 degrees out!”

I have “good” excuses like “I need to spend more time with my family” or “Work is too demanding right now. I have no time for hiking.”

And I have the real and irrefutable excuses that life throws at us: my dad passing away this past March, plus a couple of injuries that forced me to slow down.

At the end of the day though, they’re all excuses. And there will always be excuses. I just need to find a way to prioritize on hiking.

I have had some great support along the way! As you can see, my family has joined me in many of my hiking adventures.  I have friends that keep me motivated (or re-motivated) as well like my sometime hiking buddy Dave.  Additionally, I am in contact with a couple people from BLR, like Nancy and Todd and JD.

After reading Todd’s guest post here on Nancy’s blog, I guess I have no excuses left! Wow!

6So to wrap up my story, I’ll share where I’m currently. As of today I am 10 pounds lighter than where I was when I started at BLR in November 2012, and 35 lbs more than I weighed 18 months ago.

Still, I know that every day I have the opportunity to choose what I put in my mouth and where I take my body.

This is my focus now. What will I choose for my next meal? How will I be in better shape tomorrow than I am today?  How will I lead by example for my family and provide a different path in health than we have followed in the past?

…And how do I make sure I hike all 22+ miles of the Kalalau trail in April? 🙂


Thank you John for having the courage to share your whole story with us: the triumphs and the obstacles. This is real life. And real life isn’t always easy. You are an inspiration to anyone who continues to strive for better health. I cannot wait to hike with you in AZ. Soon, right?? 🙂 

Keep moving!

xoxo nancy

84 thoughts on “working at it every day

    • Both are hard work, right? That’s why I focused so hard on the exercise side in 2013: because I knew I didn’t want to starve and/or eat tasteless stuff all the time. 🙂
      It takes a whole lotta sweating to work off a consistently bad diet though, so moderation is key.

      Any advice for John?

      Mine would be to pick a cheat day OR to track his meals and ensure he’s sticking to an 80/20 plan. 80 = healthy choices, 20 = not so healthy.

      • both are definitely hard, but I seem to find exercise much easier than food!

        tracking is definitely a good idea…track everything so you can’t lie to yourself about the portion size or extra biscuit (my downfall!) and if you are tracking, you can ask yourself the question do I really want/need this!

        I would also so, look at the definition of healthy food, and if the healthy choices are a long long way taste and food wise from normal choices then it is less likely to stick.

        for example if your normal choice was steak and chips (fries?) with a creamy sauce and buttered vegetables, and your healthy option was green salad with no dressing and steamed chicken then the healthy choice is not likely to win very often.
        however if you went for a healthy choice of steak with no sauce, a baked potato and no butter on veg then that might work better.

        I hope that makes sense…it is about changing your perception of a healthy choice, and not limiting your self to conventional “health food”

        as for pizza…I had to just stop eating it…I have not yet found a healthy and satisfactory way to have it…

        for this I find tracking calories if helpful, that way you can figure out exactly how much difference the sauce makes.

        but I would also say, make sure you are restricting calories to a sensible healthy amount…calculate your BMR and from that your required calories and take it from there…too few calories is a downfall as you feel deprived or get hungry!

      • Excellent advice, Sam! And that’s exactly what I mean when I say I try to make healthy(ier) choices. I don’t eat plain salad and steamed chicken. Ever. Not ever. For real. But, like you said, I do avoid the extra sauces; I try to go grilled versus fried as much as possible (although I absolutely still do fried — I just make sure to sweat extra hard those days!) and if I indulge one day, I try to make much healthier choices the next.

        Very sound advice. I think John will find this helpful. (He’s on the Pacific Time Zone so probably hasn’t even read a single comment yet.)

      • I hope so…
        I know how hard it is, especially in the face of bereavement!
        the other thing to remember is that one bad meal doesn’t have to mean a bad day, or week r a failure, just make a better choice the next time and eventually the better choices will out weigh the bad ones 🙂

      • More sound advice! You’re so right. I had a meme a while back that said, Saying “oh I’ve already ruined my good eating today. I’ll just eat crap.” is like saying, “Oh, I dropped my cell phone on the floor. I’ll just smash it til it breaks.”

        The good thing about making one bad food choice is that you have the power to make a good one right after that.

      • Seriously, it would be fascinating to hear from a psychiatrist on this one. Why are we so willing to throw in the towel after one bad food choice? We wouldn’t apply that logic to anything else in life, yet to food it seems to be the default position for many of us.

      • food and exercise it seems…

        people do say…oh I missed the gym today, I’ll start again next week.

        I have a psychology of motivation module included in my PT diploma, I will start it once the PT workshop is out of the way then maybe we will know 🙂

      • Yes! Food AND exercise. Can’t believe I forgot about that. I was one of those people. I would get into a good routine of working out, and then something would throw me off schedule. I would miss one or two sessions and then I would be out of it for months at a time. So weird!

        I’m so glad that in this one area (exercise) I haven’t fallen into those old (bad) habits. Not exercise is just a part of daily life. On the days I really don’t get a sweat in, I am DYING to get it done the next day. I actually miss it. 🙂 Progress!

      • I would also say, avoid a “cheat” day as to my mind, a cheat day promotes the wrong mindset, in a healthy balanced diet, there is no cheating because in theory there is room for everything, just in sensible proportions.

        I also feel that some people tend to go overboard on designated cheat days and undo the rest of the work

      • I can see your point. I don’t have a cheat day. I eat what I want to eat, within reason, and knowing that when I eat something more calorie rich, that I will do a lot of extra work exercise-wise to work it off. If someone doesn’t have that discipline or mindset and just views the cheat day as a free day to go nuts, then I can see where it would be difficult to reign that in and/or to not undo the good eating of the previous 6 days.

      • It’s all very confusing to me – having to remember when to cheat or what 80/20 amounts to. I prefer to just make the decisions, with full awareness (no blind eating) and then knowing that I will have to pay the price in the amount of sweat it will take to work it off. 🙂

        I know that’s not a formula for everyone, but so far, it’s the only thing that’s been sustainable for me — and allows me to live a life that feels like …life, not a meal plan or short-term weight-loss system.

      • me too, I track food, just to make sure I am on the right lines, but not all the time as I have got the hang of it now.
        you are right, the only thing that is generally successful for me is, as you say, conscious eating, not just blindly putting snacks in my mouth because they are there!
        on saying that, I am considering doing something really strict as a kind of kick in the pants to get down to a better running weight…I am just not sure what as everything just seems like a quick and therefor unsustainable fix… :-/
        I may have to post about it soon as I am stuck

      • Yeah, it’s clear that I’ve officially plateaued. I’ve been at this same weight for almost a year now. On the one hand, I couldn’t be happier: I’ve maintained my weight for a year, while easing off on the crazy gym time I used to put in, and while still eating really, really well.

        On the other hand, I wonder, if I worked a little bit harder, could I lose my last 20 to put me at “goal weight”? I’m actually debating going back to BLR for another week to re-kickstart myself on a refreshed journey…

      • I would love to do something like that…but it all seems prohibitively expensive!

        and, in theory, with my almost qualified PT status, I should be able to kick-start myself!!

        I just need some time to figure out how…and in the meantime I am just carrying on with what I have been doing 😀

      • I keep watching for their discounts/specials/groupons but so far none as rich as the one I took advantage of in Nov 2012. It’s actually not too expensive when you really work it all out. Around $250/day gets you your accommodation, all your meals, and the fitness program: hiking plus 4+ hours of structured gym classes every day. Add to that the daily lectures/learning modules on nutrition, etc., and it’s actually a really good value for money. (Of course you’d have to get yourself over to this side of the pond.) If you ever considered doing it, you could fly to Vegas, meet me there (and stay at my place) for a few days and we could drive to Malibu together for a week there. 🙂

      • One of the guests who was there that week was a Scottish woman, working/living in Hong Kong. Had come over from HK for a 2 week stay! I think she had traveled the farthest out of all the guests that week. 🙂

      • and then click on locations: Malibu

        last week they did a deal where you buy one week at full price and get the second week at half off (but you can share the second week with a friend). So two friends buy the 2 weeks and share the savings. I think that was the math I worked out to be approx. $250/day.

      • the malibu one looks a whole lot more appealing than one I found in the UK (not BL but similar) which is in wales, which although lovely has a tendency to be cold and rainy!!

    • That has been true for me, eating has been my biggest struggle. I get lazy from time to time but for the most part it is all about the food!

  1. great story! I know how hard it is to admit that we fail as much as we succeed (give or take depending on the day! LOL) This is a good example of why I’ve been learning to forgive myself when I do mess up and not letting it stop me, but to continue to keep at it.
    Fall 7 times, get up 8.

    • As much as I’ve taken the stance: move more, diet less for my own journey, I do know that it’s impossible to out exercise a bad diet. You’d literally need to spend 6-8 hours in the gym every day to combat a diet of burgers, pizza, etc. So I *try* to make healthier choices as often as possible, but I don’t deprive myself. For instance, if I order a burger, maybe I’ll do salad on the side instead of fries. I also try to avoid “empty” calories: i.e. those drinks disguised as coffee at Starbucks. As many calories as a full meal in many of them. That to me is just a waste. I’d rather eat my calories than drink them! 🙂

      Do you have any tips for John, Kate? I know he’s eager to hear from this group as to any advice he might follow to help him along his journey.

      • Ha, ha, ha…guess Starbucks is getting slammed this week by us! Anyway…I am in agreement with you….I like to have a burger, fries etc…..Usually I will have the burger AND the fries…but just in smaller amounts. For sure all of this stuff is easier in Italy where portions are smaller and cooking is very simplistic….still there is the vino problem 🙂

      • Portion sizes in the US are killer! One of my biggest takeaways from the learning at BLR was that it’s perfectly okay to share main courses in restaurants. Hubby and I have done that many times, especially at the places we know serve portions that are way too big.

        As for vino, I won’t apologize for that. Drinking wine just makes us civilized. 🙂

      • Portion control is the only advice I have. I still have to watch and BE AWARE of what I’m putting in my mouth. So now, I still have pizza, but I have 2 slices instead of 4. I still have those empty calories at Starbucks, but instead of the 500 calorie version, I have the Skinny version which is 130 calories. I research my food now more than ever!
        But, by paying attention and being aware of what is going in my mouth, I’ve discovered I really don’t need to eat as much as I was!
        Portion Control – not as hard as I expected it to be! (And My Fitness Pal has been the easiest way for me to track my calories and keep me accountable)

      • Great advice, Kate.
        Oh, on my end, besides the no drizzle, no whipped cream drinks at Starbucks I also don’t do pop/soda. Ever. The regular version is just a stupid amount of sugar. The diet version has more chemicals than eating asbestos straight from your elementary school walls (am I dating myself? :-))) Anyway, it’s those “empty” calories that I think trip a lot of people up. They’re not chewing so they don’t realize how many calories they’re actually taking in.

      • Portion control is a challenge for me especially when I eat something I shouldn’t…. like pizza. When I eat good the portions are usually really good as well, when I eat bad I eat it all!

      • Have you tried eating more slowly, John? One of the tips I got at BLR was to eat more slowly and then to do the mental check-in halfway through the meal, asking myself “how full do I feel?” We have a tendency Toledo eating because there is still good on the plate, even if we’re no longer hungry…

      • I did pick that up there as well! I will stall and walk away for a couple minutes at a time during a big meal to try to make sure I do not just over eat without thought. It does help for sure!

      • That and sharing main courses. Sometimes we’ll order two appetizers but just split a main. It’s still plenty of food and no temptation to keep eating!

  2. Good share, John.

    If you’re looking for tips, here’s mine ~> eat more fruits and veggies, beans and grains.

    1. Life is too short to give up pizza (or any other favorite food). These days, when we get a pizza, we eat one slice and fill the rest of our plates with fruits and/or veggies. Now a large pie for the 2 of us lasts for 4 meals with rotating sides.

    2. Eat more meatless meals. We’ve been vegetarians for 17+ years and find it easier to maintain our weight when the focus is on beans, grains, fruits and veggies. The food has more fiber, is more filling, and the tendency is not to over indulge.

    Instead of making a lasagna with pasta, cheese, meat, and a little tomato sauce, we add layers of broccoli, carrots, spinach, onions, peppers, tomato sauce, etc.

    3. Instead of eating chips and dip, try homemade Hummus with veggies or pretzels. Etc.

    And tip #2. Listen to NT . . . Keep moving!

    • Hahaha! Definitely keep moving!

      I wish I could explain, in a way that would really resonate with others, how much exercise does for me beyond the physical benefits (weight loss/maintenance), etc. For me, the mood-lifting effects of a good sweat are worth their weight in gold.

      If I had one piece of advice to give anyone or a journey to better health and wellness, it would be to get sweaty every day. Do something that makes you sweat. Every. Day. 🙂

      • Exercise is the fountain of youth. It’s a mood booster. It keeps our joints well lubricated. It keeps our parts in working order. Etc. Etc. Etc.

        That said, my favorite work out is a work out IN the pool . . . where I’m covered with Wet, not Sweat. :mrgreen:

        I loved your anecdote above:

        I had a meme a while back that said, Saying “oh I’ve already ruined my good eating today. I’ll just eat crap.” is like saying, “Oh, I dropped my cell phone on the floor. I’ll just smash it til it breaks.”

        My days of chasing one bad choice with a series of more bad choices is over. Each decision stands alone. And if I’m having a hard time staying “on track” . . . I start writing those choices down. That returns me to a more mindful keel.

      • Yup! If I eat a BIG lunch, I eat a smaller than usual dinner. If I eat a BIG dinner, I am more careful the next day. But I try to enjoy ALL my meals and snacks.

        And I almost never drink my calories (excepting adult beverages). I want to savor flavor not gulp down sugar.

      • I like how you offset your larger meals with smaller. I know this is the right way to go but I am still have a “low carb diet” psyche where once i eat bad I have the urge to continue until I start over. I am attempting to ingrain that cell phone analogy as I type! If I can get that burned into my brain it will help.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story, John. I can definitely relate to your food choice dilemmas. I have a love affair with food and have yet to come up with a way to curb it. I blame it on my taste buds. They work on overdrive and love everything they come across. I wish they weren’t as accepting and would discriminate against SOME foods, for crying out loud! Keep on hiking! 🙂

  4. Hi John…thank you for sharing your honesty and challenges with us all. Chances are good that everyone who reads this can relate from one perspective or another. And while I’ve never had a serious problem with weight I do need to keep it in check–especially as I age. (no one mentioned that yet but trust me, I can’t eat NEARLY what I used to!) So what are my tips:
    1) all the advice already given is great. You know what to do about that–you just have to come to terms about doing it. I think a BIG part of maintaining a healthy weight is also balanced living (I call it SMART Living) If you aren’t balanced in work, play, relationships, purpose, etc. you (or any of us) will find ways to compensate–food??? Find a way to balance yourself. Meditation, journalling, counseling, etc.
    2) Get your family to help. While it sounds like your family is hiking with you and exercising–are they on board with how you eat? It’s REALLY hard to cut back on things like bacon and ice cream if everyone else is doing it. Going out to eat or keeping stuff we know isn’t good for us in the house is very difficult.
    3) Find other things you love to do as much or more than eating. This one might not be easy but when we do find those things we replace the habit of eating with something else we love. Haven’t found it yet–keep trying.

    These are obviously not the ONLY tips but I didn’t see others mention them and I can vouch for them for myself. I also agree with NR’s comments in that as my DH and I cut back on meat focused meals it is much easier to move away from food we “used” to crave. Now I crave salads in such a way I NEVER would have thought when I was younger.

    Good luck John. I don’t doubt that with focus you can reach every goal you set for yourself. ~Kathy

    • Thank you Kathy, these are great tips! In the last year I have made huge strides in reaching balance of work and family which has been a great move forward for me! I have also found ways to help balance exercise as well though i am not at 100%. My family helps some and hurts some, with 5 kids there is ALWAYS questionable food around and temptation with it and at the end of a long day it sometimes just seems easier…. The third tip is my current focus! It gets easier this time of year in AZ too now that the high temps are actually double digits!

    • Kathy – I think the advice about meditation is good. When I was at BLR I took advantage of their stretching/basic yoga classes. They really helped me to slow down and relax. It has always been hard for me to get to sleep. Practicing deep breathing and stretching really helped me to sleep better and by sleeping better I think it helped me make better food choices and gave me better overall focus. When I go through a rough patch I know if I take the time to clear my mind, stretch and relax it is fare easier to get back on track.

  5. Hi John, I hope you take lots of photos to share after your April hike on the Kalalau trail! Everyone has a different approach to weight loss but I have found the M&M (anything in Moderation and just keep Moving) diet works best for me.

    • I love that John’s story is not all unicorns and rainbows. This is REAL WORK, and there will be twists and turns along the journey to better health. He is brave to share his story. John is an inspiration!

  6. Another great story that highlights losing weight isn’t a one time thing but rather a daily life adjustment. Some days go well; some not so well. But I suspect the important thing is to get right back on track after one of those not-so-great days.

  7. Thanks to John for sharing his story. It’s so real life. And real life is not always straight forward. I still remember how work stress is easily eaten away by having a “reward” dinner. My blessing now is that I’ve killed all the excuses to remain stationary, and do well for breakfast and dinner….lunch still work in progress. Aren’t we all a bit of a work in progress?

  8. As always, it helps to share your story and then find out that you are not alone! We all struggle with food and exercise (some more than others!) and I have used a lot of the tips already offered too. I think for me it was getting away from dieting and forbidding myself things, and moving toward mindfully choosing what to eat and drink. I like Nancy’s idea of 80/20, and I can live with that most of the time. I too try not to waste calories on drinks like soda or coffee with gobs of stuff, and I try to choose small changes, like no mayo or salad instead of fries sometimes, or eating a burger open faced. I love pizza too, but now only eat thin crust pizza and not very often. It is a learning process, and takes time, but some of these things have become habit now, which makes it so much easier! Good luck, John and thanks for sharing!

  9. Thanks, I have made real progress. I would call my eating 50/50 where I started closer to 10/90! I have been moving towards that 80/20 which hopefully will afford me a gradual sustained reduction over time! I cut soda out but drink coffee, trying to minimize creamer though!

  10. John thanks for sharing! Kauai is one of my favorite places. The hiking trials are incredible!! I hear you, I wish making good food choices was easy. It is a one day, one meal at a time deal for me too. Keep up the good work. I know not only you but your kids and family will all be better off by your example.

    Take care & next time you are in the Northwest let me know!

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