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Jason Burns

My dad took me on floatplane trips to go fishing every summer in the ’90s. Though fishing wasn’t my thing, I loved flying. When I was 16, I got the itch to fly a plane myself, so I called the local airport near my house. I was taking lessons and at the controls within hours.

I returned to the air many times over the years, and I was 36 in 2021 when I caught the helicopter bug. This time, I called a flight school, and sure enough, they had a helicopter that could be ready in an hour.

After arriving, the instructor took one look at me and asked how much I weighed. I gave him a low-ball estimate, about 10 or 15 pounds less than the truth. Even so, he shook his head. Our combined weight exceeded the limit for the aircraft. “We can’t go up today,” he said. “You’ll have to go up with one of our lighter instructors another time.”

Was I disappointed? Absolutely. Embarrassed? A little. But had I seriously lied about my weight to avoid exceeding the maximum limit for a helicopter just for fun? Definitely not my safest decision. The Federal Aviation Administration would not have approved. At least people might assume my epitaph was a typo: “He died doing what he loved — LYING.”


Through age 10, I was a reasonably athletic kid and played a lot of hockey and baseball. But after my parents’ divorce in 1994, I lost interest and stopped playing sports. I was unhappy, and my parents tried to lift my spirits by letting me eat whatever I wanted — and I wanted junk.

I was often bullied about my weight at school. Yet by the time I graduated from high school in 2004, I’d learned that humor was my best defense mechanism. I had better jokes about myself than anyone else did, and that made high school a little easier.

In 2005, I went to work in promotions at several popular nightclubs in Minneapolis. Promotion involved getting creative with fliers — plus lots of walking: I pounded the pavement every day. It wasn’t intentional, but I felt my health transform from all that walking. I lost weight, but I didn’t gain muscle mass because I was only doing cardio.

Over the next few years, I changed jobs a handful of times, and few of them supported my health as well as the promotion gig did. In 2009, I began working security at a casino, which involved less physical activity and provided access to some pretty amazing high-calorie foods. Fast food had also become the norm.

I was ready to get healthy again in 2015, so I joined a basic gym and hired a trainer. I worked out a few times per week, but I didn’t change my diet. I just went through the motions, which didn’t result in lasting change.

Then even that motion came to a halt a year later when I had my wisdom teeth removed. It’s best to avoid strenuous exercise for a few days while recovering from the procedure, and it was hard to regain momentum after the break. I went back to being ­unhealthy. I wanted to change, but I came up with all sorts of excuses not to.


Jason Burns before his health change

I had a breakthrough in 2018 when I decided to try standup comedy for the first time. Comedy had always been a passion of mine, but public speaking was a fear. When I wasn’t terrible, I knew I was on to something. A few months later, I placed eighth out of about 500 comics in a local contest.

The next breakthrough happened in 2019 when I quit smoking. I’d started back in April 2007, and I’d wanted to quit for a while. The breaking point came when I tried to smoke a cigarette while hung-over. It was so gross that I decided it was time to get serious about quitting.

I learned a new habit takes 22 days to form, which didn’t seem so daunting. If I could abstain from smoking for 22 days, I could keep it going — and it worked.

Unfortunately, then the COVID-19 pandemic grounded me in terms of standup comedy. I kept the no-smoking thing going, though, and I haven’t lit up since.

At a routine physical exam in 2021, my doctor expressed concern over my ­elevated cholesterol levels, which was new. He said diet and exercise should solve the issue. I started using my rowing machine and eliminated fast food, but I wasn’t motivated to do more.

That is, until my weight kept me from going up in that helicopter around the time a tumultuous relationship ended. It seemed to be the perfect storm to bring change, so I embraced it.

When I thought about getting healthier, I didn’t know where to start. What I did know was that if I could go to the gym for 22 days, I could keep going. I visited a nearby Life Time to take a look, and I was impressed. The facility was great, but its amenities came with a price tag.

Then I thought, If I can spend $600 to fly a helicopter for an hour, I can afford a personal trainer and a health-club membership. I began working with a personal trainer right away.

The more I went to the club, the better I felt — not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. I realized I didn’t just want to lose weight: I wanted a new life.

I also wanted to eat healthier. Changing my diet seemed easier when I ate at the LifeCafe after workouts. On the way home, I’d stop at the grocery store for whole foods like chicken, steak, or a stuffed pork chop for dinner.

I saw results pretty quickly once I settled into my new habits. By day 100, I felt great. By January 2022, I was able to do a pull-up. I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I could do one of those. It felt amazing.

The more I went to the club, the better I felt — not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. I realized I didn’t just want to lose weight: I wanted a new life.

In March 2022, my trainer updated my strength program to shock my muscles and increase muscle growth. Almost immediately I noticed a positive change and progress toward that goal. We updated the workout program again a few months later with the same results.

Happy Landings

My daily workout is ingrained in me now. My top priority is to move every day. I alternate a push/pull/legs routine with sessions on the elliptical or stairclimber, which provide active recovery.

I’ve achieved my initial goal, and I know that I’ll continue to see results as long as I keep this up. That knowledge gives me room to breathe on the diet side, but I’m still careful. I know from experience that a visit to the bakery can be a slippery slope.

When I started my health journey in September 2021, I didn’t feel great about or confident in my body. Now, I look in the mirror and see a completely different person. My confidence has improved; my social circle has grown with it. Becoming healthy changed the whole dynamic of my life. I don’t even know what it’s like not to have fitness in my routine anymore.

I still love flying, but these days I’m spending my money on fitness instead. I returned to standup comedy, though, and last year I placed eighth — again — in the same contest.

I worked my butt off to become a fit guy, but apparently I didn’t get any funnier.

Jason’s Top 3 Tips for Success

  1. Create good habits. Embrace the 22-day rule. “This is how I am transforming myself,” Jason says. “What’s 22 days? Keep chipping away and eventually it becomes your life.”
  2. Make fitness a priority every day. “People often set up mental blocks: I can’t. This is too hard. Maybe tomorrow. If you make fitness a priority, almost any obstacle can be overcome.”
  3. Live a little. Grace goes a long way, especially when you’re committed to fitness. “I still hit up my favorite restaurant for a double bacon cheeseburger once a week and go out to a bar to have fun with friends,” Jason notes.

 My Turnaround

For more motivating, real-life success stories of regular people who dropped excess weight, transformed their fitness, overcame obstacles, and changed their lives visit our My Turnaround department.

Tell Us Your Story! Have a transformational healthy-living tale of your own? Share it with us!

Jason Burns

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