It’s no exaggeration to say that I used to sleep with my laptop and cell phone. As a senior tech executive, I led a global team with international clients, so I needed to be available when they were working, halfway around the globe and many time zones away.
I often got calls in the middle of the night. I would sit up in bed, brush the sleep from my eyes, and immediately begin reeling off a PowerPoint presentation.
I was traveling a lot, too, which meant many redeye flights, working in flight while other people were sleeping, and eating at strange hours in restaurants — or, worse, on the plane.
I’d change into my business clothes and brush my teeth on the plane, and then land, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the meeting ahead, even if I’d been awake for two days. I’ll sleep when I’m dead was my motto.
Don’t get me wrong — I loved it. It was go-go-go. I was a jet setter, chatting midflight with celebrities. (I once sat next to Tommy Lee, and another time next to Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the father of aerobics. He drank tomato juice while I knocked back champagne. I should’ve taken a cue.) I felt needed. And I was rewarded, ascending the ladder at work. My job was awesome.
Then I visited my doctor in 2010, when I was 44, for an annual checkup. She told me that at 323 pounds, I was morbidly obese. I needed to start taking at least eight drugs to save myself — otherwise I was about six months from a major “health event.”
I realized just how easy it was to get caught up in the whirlwind outside of me and forget what was happening inside of me.
That was the beginning of a two-and-a-half-year journey.
Starting From a Standstill
Imagine this: I was so big I had to buy men’s size XXL workout clothes. I couldn’t bend over to tie my shoes. I couldn’t walk a set of stairs without huffing and puffing. I was embarrassed about getting down on the floor to do exercises because it was such a process to get up again.
So, I decided to make some changes. I started with information culled from various websites, a gym membership, and a calories-in, calories-out mentality based on online advice that kept me on a diet of about 800 calories a day. I soon lost about 30 pounds.
Then my progress came to a halt — and began to reverse itself. Fortunately, serendipity intervened.
I was sweaty, red-faced, and struggling on an elliptical when Life Time Fitness trainer Bruce Cooper struck up a conversation with me. After we talked for a while, I could tell that he understood me and my peripatetic lifestyle. I asked him to create a program specifically for me, including workouts I could do in a hotel room.
Bruce suggested dietary changes, including supplements, because he said I was doing too much cardio and eating too few calories. Before he even developed my fitness program, he tested my resting and active metabolic rates to determine my heart-rate zones, ideal calorie count, and macronutrient requirements.
Next, I met with a Life Time nutrition coach to step up my eating program. I had little understanding of healthy eating or meal preparation. Under the nutritionist’s direction, I started eating more and better food — and losing more weight.
My primary challenge was twofold: to eat whole foods and to start seeing food as fuel for health, rather than the thing that got me to 323 pounds. Eating became pleasurable when I learned how, what, and when to feed my body to help it heal and stay healthy.
Becoming a New Person
A few months later, I completed Life Time’s Longevity and Vitality blood test, as well as the Stress and Resilience test. Registered dietitian Cindi Lockhart interpreted my results, which showed I had a major cortisol imbalance, thyroid-function issues, inflammation, and adrenal fatigue. So, we recalibrated my program again, scaling back on the cardio and adding mandatory yoga for relaxation and sauna time for detox. I also cut gluten from my diet.
In 22 months, I dropped 170 pounds. My blood work now looked optimal. During this time, I stayed in my job and even was promoted twice. I kept working on my program.
Next, I decided to enter Life Time’s Alpha Showdown. I knew it sounded crazy: I was 47 and entering a fitness competition with numerous 20- to 30-year-olds and trainers at their peak performance.
Trainer Trevor Stringer worked with me to prepare. I placed fifth in our club, surpassing people 20 years younger than me — as well as some trainers.
To date, I’ve lost 195 pounds. I started at 55 percent body fat (at least I think I did; the calipers didn’t even fit around me, so we had to estimate). I’m now about 21 percent body fat. I began in a size 22 dress. Now I’m a 4.
It’s even hard for me to believe. Sometimes I take my jeans out of the dryer and think to myself, “Those look awfully tiny.” But I pull them on, and they fit.
In many ways, I am a new person.
About three years after that fateful doctor’s appointment, I began reflecting on my second act. While I loved my old career, I knew I was ready to provide a different kind of service. I was ready to help others on their fitness journey.
So I started studying and got certified as a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) personal trainer, and also got my Precision Nutrition certification.
When clients come into the gym, embarrassed and scared, I give them a nod of understanding, and maybe even lean over and tie their shoes for them. Then I tell them it’s go time. Let’s create your new happy, healthy life.
Now I’m needed in a whole different way. I love it. I’m good at it. I’m where I need to be right now.
Meet: Former technology executive, Michele Martin, 49, now a fitness professional, based in McKinney, Texas.
- Big Achievements: Losing almost 200 pounds and overhauling her dangerously unhealthy lifestyle. “I’m healthy, happy, and I’m still here. I was able to turn a dire health situation around.”
- Big Inspirations: A wake-up call from her doctor and customized, data-driven support from trusted fitness and nutrition professionals. “My trainer, Bruce Cooper, provided a map for what I needed to do.”
- What Worked: Being willing to ask for help. “It was humbling to admit that I didn’t know enough to do it myself — but it was probably the most important step toward transformation.”
- What Didn’t Work: Trying to do it on her own. “I could elliptical myself to death and cut calories — but that only got me so far. Getting into a science-based weight-loss and healthy-living program was what I needed.”
- Words of Wisdom: “This is your life. There are so many other things that will seem more important than taking care of yourself, but if you aren’t around, it doesn’t matter. If you believe it, you can do it. It’s about focus and a new way of living that will carry you for the rest of your life.”