JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. — Losing weight isn’t easy. It took almost five months to accomplish my goal of losing 40 pounds.
I am physically average, but mentally I am tough. To lose the weight, I motivated myself after I experienced a humiliating personal setback. I was serving in a position my old eating habits did not support. In June 2012, I was released as a member of the Joint Base Charleston Honor Guard because my personal appearance did not measure up to their stringent standards.
I was devastated.
Being a member of the Honor Guard was my greatest and most humbling experience in the Air Force. I loved every part of the job — from participating in retirements, change of command ceremonies and parades, to providing military honors to those service members who had given the ultimate sacrifice. I had two months of experience and performed my duties with military bearing and dedicated professionalism.
I failed in one important aspect of the job; maintaining a high standard of dress and personal appearance. I knew I was breaking the rules and my uniform was feeling snug. I knew that my appearance was a crucial, highly visible responsibility and I was representing the Air Force and the sacrifices of the service members who wore the uniform before me. The Honor Guard was better off without me.
The day I left I felt a mix of emotions. I was upset I let myself gain extra pounds. I put the blame on genetics because it runs in the family. I blamed fast food, candy, soda and even my PT leader.
Those emotions and feelings were wrong. The only one to blame was myself.
Realizing I was to blame, I understood I was the only one who could make a change. If I gained all of the pounds, I knew I had to be the one to lose them. In order to improve my body, I had to change my mental state of mind and the way I felt about eating. I wanted to lose weight and get back into Honor Guard. Nothing was going to stand in my way.
Being hungry is not the same as starving to death. It took me a while to get used to eating proper portions. In my new mindset, when I was hungry I ate small meals. I would eat one turkey sandwich instead of the usual two. Then, I would tell myself I was full and I didn’t need another, although, 10 minutes later I was ‘starving.’ Your body can lie to your mind and tell it you need to eat more. But now, my mind is much smarter than my body, so I had to reminded it that I already ate.
After a week of consuming approximately 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day, my body adjusted to eating for one person again. I chose my meals carefully, too. A pound of cheeseburgers weighs less than a pound of grilled salmon, figuratively speaking. Cheeseburgers and sweets are my Achilles heel. It takes plenty of mind power to walk away from a perfectly grilled burger while watching your favorite team play at a sports bar. If your mind is strong enough to say no, your body will follow. A strong support network made the work easier. My wife was on board and helped push me to eat smarter, while my wingmen at work, offered their encouragement.
However, eating less and making better decisions wasn’t enough. I wanted to get back to Honor Guard as soon as possible. Many physical trainers will tell you that “pain is weakness leaving the body.” I say, pain is your mind fighting against your body. Waking up at 5 a.m. to go for a morning run when your body is sore from the workout the night before is rough mentally and physically. When you decide to push further and run that extra mile and your legs scream NO — now that’s pain.
A balance of eating less, working out more and being mentally tough enough to maintain my new habits helped me lose 30 pounds in six weeks. My uniform fit better than before. I had more energy for PT and to do my job more effectively.
I felt my age again. I spoke with leadership from Honor Guard about returning to duty and they were pleased to have me back on the team.. My goal to return had been accomplished, but my goal to lose 40 pounds was still in the works.
To be honest, losing the weight wasn’t the hardest part of my new lifestyle. It’s keeping the weight off that has become the real challenge. While in Honor Guard, I was on the road almost every day. Fast food and gas stations were our main sources for fuel. It’s hard not to reward yourself with a cheeseburger, large fries and a large milkshake, but luckily fast food and even convenience stores have some pretty smart food options. Now, I eat a chicken sandwich, without the fries and a shake at a fast food joint, or a protein bar, fruit and water from the corner quickie mart. Food is fuel. Would you put regular gas in a $100,000 sports car?
After about three months of chicken sandwiches, protein bars and running at 5 a.m., I lost another 10 pounds. My goal had been met. I finished my tour with the Honor Guard and went back to my shop.
Eating less and choosing better options for food is a mindset. It is harder to change a mindset than to change your diet. If you change the way you think about food and what food you put in your body, you’ll win the temptation battle.
I look better and feel better, but the journey to meeting my goal would have never happened without the right mindset and support. I recommend setting a goal, finding support and never quitting. If you conquer your mind, your body has no choice but to follow.
I am not a nutritional specialist. I am merely sharing my personal experience with weight loss. I recommend using base resources such as the Health and Wellness Center for professional advice.