In October 2017, I was in a dark place physically, mentally, and spiritually. Despite a lifetime of diets and weight loss resolutions, I was obese and out of shape. More alarmingly, I was lethargic, irritable, and self-degrading. For years - actually, two decades - I set out to lose weight, failed, rebound, and repeated the cycle. I chronically pursued diet after diet in hopes of a miracle solution: Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, Cabbage Soup, Low Fat, Low Calorie, Jenny Craig, The Zone. You name it, I tried it. And while each diet had a different philosophy, they all shared one common thread: they were restrictive. At a certain point - usually after the first 5, 10, 20 pounds - I’d crave the foods I felt deprived from, jump back into my old habits and eventually gain back all the weight, then some. The psychological impact of constant defeat amplified my already negative mentality. In late 2017, at close to 300 pounds again, I dreamed up something wild: out of shape as ever, I decided I was going to complete a Half Ironman within a year and a Full Ironman within 2 years. I had no athletic, running, cycling, or swimming background. A full Ironman is a 140.6 mile race consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles of cycling, and a full marathon (26.2 miles). An athlete must complete all disciplines in 17 hours or less. People thought I was crazy. But truth be told, I was tired of my habits. I was tired of being my own worst enemy. I was tired of not being in control of my body. I was tired of living a life dependent on sub-par food choices. And most important of all, I was tired of being average. I always fantasized about being better, it was time to finally become better. The journey has not been easy, but prioritizing my health has been one of the best personal decisions I’ve made over the course of my life. The aspirational goal of becoming an Ironman has given me the perspective to improve and conquer every facet of my life with a new, refined, and positive mindset. It may be tied to a race, but it's become a way of life. In August 2018, I completed the first major milestone of my journey: I completed my first half Ironman. And in September 2019, I plan to complete my first full Ironman. I have a long way to go, and I am learning more about becoming a better version of myself each day, but here are five of my most important lessons learned so far:
1. Make a commitment. Not a resolution
Studies have shown that over 90% of resolutions fail. And I was a big contributor to that statistic. I spent the overwhelming majority of my life just kind of wanting to be in shape. Just kind of wanting to lose weight. Just kind of wanting to fit into a slim fit suit. My day-to-day actions were based on comfort and convenience rather than necessity. I did things when I felt like it. It wasn’t until I had committed to myself to reach my goal that I realized I was never going to feel like eating the healthier option, never going to feel like working out, and never feel like running in off weather. But I knew I had made the commitment. It needed to get done. No excuses.
2. Set short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals.Setting goals helps give you purpose. Gives you hope. Gives you an indicator on how you’re trending towards your longer-term vision of becoming your best self. If I had set out to just complete an Ironman I would have surely signed up to disappoint myself. I could barely run a mile without burning out. So instead, I broke down my massive task into smaller pieces. I set monthly and quarterly goals in a number of areas. I set goals on pace, on distance, and on my weight loss process. In the running discipline for example, I started with a goal of completing a 5K by gradually reducing the amount of walk to run ratio. Then a 10k, then a half marathon, and then focused on improving my pace. And it didn’t happen overnight - it took months and months. In the past, I had just said “I need to lose 100 pounds”. This time was different. It wasn't tied to a specific number on the scale, but instead, about the ancillary aspects of the weight loss process. I trusted that the scale was going to move, and in cases when it didn't, I re-assessed my approach. Goals need to be specific, actionable, and measurable. If you are looking for a good goal setting method, checkout the SMART goal process. While it’s primarily used in project management, it applies just as well in personal settings.
3. Rethink fast food. Plan your meals.
In the amount of time it takes to drive to a fast food restaurant, wait in line, order your meal, and drive back to your home or office, you can make at least a week’s worth of lunches at the same price and with a ton more nutrition. I always make sure I have plenty of ready-made high quality meals on hand to eat throughout the week. As the saying goes, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. I prepare at least 4-5 lunches and 3 dinners in as little as 30 minutes. My go-to meal is a power bowl with wild fish, dark leafy greens, half an avocado, and a little crunch with walnuts or macadamias. Wild Planet’s Wild Tuna, Wild Salmon, and Wild Sardines keep me satiated for hours. “Diet food” doesn’t have to be bland and boring, and on my Instagram account, I’ve set out to prove just that.
4. Stay flexible and be realistic.
If there was one thing my 20+ years of resolutions and diets had taught me, it was that I didn't do well with restriction. I needed to learn from those failures. So while I now follow a primarily low carb, moderate fat diet, I do allow myself to enjoy my favorite foods. Birthdays will continue to be celebrated. Pizza and movie nights will continue to happen. Ice cream (with chocolate sprinkles, of course) are meant to be enjoyed. Rather than shutting out entire food groups or categories, I have given myself permission to indulge sparingly. This is a lifestyle, and you should find a way to incorporate your favorite foods. A good rule of thumb for me has been to allow myself to eat whatever I am craving one day out of the week.
5. Be willing to change. Often.
If there is one thing I can guarantee is that the weight loss and the fitness journey are not a linear path. There will undoubtedly be setbacks, plateaus, and times where your progress is not in line with your expectations. These moments are profoundly important. Arguably, the most important. One of the biggest changes in my approach has been how I view plateaus. In the past, in these moments, I viewed myself, my approach, or my diet as a failure. And I quickly threw in the towel and quickly proclaimed that “this doesn't work”. Now, instead, I view these moments as times where I need to change something up. My body has gotten more efficient, needs different fuel, needs more/less calories, or my body has become used to operating at a certain speed/level. As you begin your new year, I urge you to think about your dreams and your aspirations. What does the best version of YOU look like? Feel like? Act like? And are you doing enough to unleash the best version of yourself? Share with us in the comments below! ----- Want to follow Arash’s journey to complete his full ironman? Follow along on his Instagram and check out his giveaway with Wild Planet Foods.