June 5, 2013
Weight loss is one of the most commonly cited fitness goals, so it’s no surprise that many of the people who are helping individuals to lead their most fit lives and shed pounds have also struggled with their weight. ACE-certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach Lee Jordan shares his weight-loss journey in which he dropped 281 pounds and gained a career as a fitness professional.
What inspired you to want to lose weight?
You might think that being suddenly hospitalized for several days due to obesity symptoms run wild and suspected congestive heart failure would do it. Or perhaps being told I weighed too much for the diagnostic machine needed for my heart and that I would have to be transported to a nearby city that had a machine they used on large primates that would accommodate me for proper diagnosis would do it. Or maybe even being diagnosed with lung disease (COPD), diabetes, high blood pressure and given two years to live would do the trick. But the truth is that, at more than 450 pounds, it was meeting over a cup of coffee with the lost love of my life after 20 years that turned the tide on this weight struggle for me.
On that day Beth, an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and my now my wife, saw me for the first time since we dated in college—when I was 165 pounds—and although I was now trapped inside a 450-pound body, she only saw me for me. Her eyes revealed none of the pity, shock, judgment or disdain that I had grown accustomed to seeing in others as they viewed me. Her eyes only reflected acceptance of me and saw past my body and into my soul. This is what truly gave me hope. Fear and pain may get people started, but I believe only hope can carry them through to a successful life.
What did you weigh at your heaviest, and how much do you weigh now?
My heaviest recorded weight was 454 pounds and I am 5 feet 8 inches tall. I wore a 72-inch waist pant and a 7x shirt. I was plugged into an oxygen machine at home and had a roll away tank as needed. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lung disease (COPD), sleep apnea and diabetes. I currently weigh 173 pounds and am continuing to lose weight and trade body fat for muscle mas. And all of the diseases I suffered from have been reversed, including the COPD, which was supposed to be incurable.
What steps did you take to get started with weight loss?
Step 1: I traded my new car and associated payment for an old car with no payment and used the money to get the Lap Band, the least invasive bariatric surgery available. This involved no rerouting of my insides or removal of part of my stomach—it was simply an adjustable band that helped to slow the eating process and aid in satiety.
Step 2: I began exercising immediately. Given my physical limitation,s this meant I literally started with 30 seconds of walking in place. Each day I added 30 seconds and built slowly from there. About three months into the process I could walk 30 minutes, and I began working with an ACE-certified Personal Trainer who had experience with elderly and injured people. Working with the trainer was critical to my success.
Step 3: I worked with a coach who was experienced in guiding morbidly obese people through the wide range of challenges and stress that often come with making such dramatic life changes.
What challenges did you face along the way?
Like many obese people, I had a hard time believing that even though I could only exercise a tiny amount—30 seconds in my case—it was still worth it. I also had to realize that to avoid the yo-yo effect of losing and gaining back the weight, I really did have to change my life. You always read it’s about lifestyle and that’s true, but making that happen cannot be accomplished completely on your own. I needed a lot of support and solid coaching to help me find my way. A big challenge that I discovered and now share with my clients is that you cannot “fill a glass until it’s emptied.” In other words, to really make a true lifestyle change I had to first “empty my glass,” which means giving up using food in certain ways (as a reward or to combat boredom, for example). I also had to stop using food as a companion before I could add new healthy behaviors, like relaxing through yoga, rewarding myself by entering a really cool race like 5k, etc. For this critical bridge to be crossed, our “glass” has to be empty for a while, and I know how scary and uncomfortable that can be.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to become a fitness professional?
Because of my experience coaching others and developing training programs in the corporate world, both Beth and Mariana—my first ACE-certified Personal Trainer—suggested that I would some day make an excellent trainer and health coach. It seemed like a ridiculous fantasy at the time, even after dropping 150 pounds, knowing that I still weighed just over 300 pounds. After I lost about 200 pounds and had completed my first 5k and triathlon (which is a whole story in itself), I began to think more seriously about becoming certified and starting using my own journey to map out a program that could be used by other morbidly obese people to find freedom.
Do you find that your own weight-loss journey has helped you to better relate to and connect with your clients?
One thousand percent yes! This is especially true in dealing with people who are morbidly obese, but it’s also been very helpful with my non-obese boot campers as well. Many people come into camp with a lot of fear and doubt about things like push-ups or running. I am able to more easily guide them toward success by combining the knowledge gained through my ACE training, along with my own personal experience of once not being able to do a single push-up and barely walking to now doing 50 push-ups and running half marathons. The program I designed is called “30SecondsToVictory” and has proven successful with people who need to lose 100 pounds or more. My first “client” was my sister, who has lost almost 240 pounds and now embraces a life of freedom having once weighed nearly 420 pounds. I continue to work with others who have lost between 100 and 160 pounds and are still dropping. I recently was asked by a fellow ACE-certified Health Coach to assist him with a client who is well over 400 pounds, because he knew I am able to relate and connect more effectively due to our shared experiences.
What words of advice do you have for someone who is struggling with his or her weight?
It is important to understand that losing weight—whether 20 pounds or 200 pounds—is not about doing extraordinary things. Instead, it’s about doing ordinary things daily. Try to move away from the all-or-nothing thinking that leads to thinking things like, “Well, I ate a slice of cake at the office birthday party, even though I shouldn't so the whole day is shot and I might as well go out for pizza and ice cream,” or “I missed two days of boot camp this week, so I might as well sleep in and start back up on Monday.” The key to success is action! Start today with anything you can—even the smallest step toward your future puts you closer to your new life.
What are your top three tips for losing weight and keeping it off?
Tip #1: Exercise first thing in the morning, as I have found that it sets you up for success and pays significant physiological as well as psychological benefits that will have a “halo effect” on the rest of your day.
Tip #2: Have a food plan—this means preparation—that is nutritionally based on your goals, not just a calorie-based plan.
Tip #3: Pre-decide your actions around “slippery areas” like picnics, dinner with friends, going to the movies, vacations, business trips, birthday parties for your kids and exercising on the weekend. This means defining your plan, writing it down and sharing it with your coach or accountability person so that you know what you will do and/or eat before the event.
Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYTContributor
Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT is assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College. As a leading fitness expert, writer and educator Jessica is a regular contributor to numerous publications, including Shape and Oprah.com. She holds a B.S. in physical education teacher education from Coastal Carolina University and M.S. in physical education from Canisius College. She is a certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) as well as an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) through Yoga Alliance and trained stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga instructor. Prior to teaching at Miramar, Jessica worked full-time ACE, serving in a number of key roles including exercise physiologist, certification director and senior health and fitness editor. Her past work also includes serving as aquatics director at Conway Medical Wellness and Fitness Center and designing health and physical education curriculum for grades K-12. Full Bio Jessica Matthews »