Name: Joel Almonte
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Start Weight: 425 pounds
End Weight: 170 pounds
Time Running: 8 years
I had struggled with weight most of my life. For most of my childhood, I was always the pudgy, stocky kid, and I was bullied a great deal, which made me believe I wasn’t worth much. Those feelings carried on for years.
When in college in the early 2000s, I was the world heavyweight champion of fad diets. If it promised weight loss, I’d give it the time of day. But I always responded by putting the weight back on and more when I finished the diet.
For example, I latched on to the Atkins Diet right as it was gaining nationwide momentum. By following the diet and working out six days a week for 12 weeks, I lost 60 pounds, bringing my weight down to 175. But those habits eventually went out the window, and I promptly put on more than 230 pounds over the next year and a half.
After losing weight on Atkins, I arrogantly thought I could get back in better shape because I’d done it before. I always said, “I’ll start tomorrow.”
After college, I worked from home, and before I knew it, the scale at home, with a capacity of 350 pounds, read error. I had to use the scale at the doctor’s office. I peaked at 425 pounds.
I love my friends to death, but no one said anything as I kept putting on weight; I think they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Then, when everyone told me, my spirits plummeted. Depressed with a bad relationship with food, I moved back home to Brooklyn in 2007 to get help.
Before I made changes to my diet, I ate things like a McDonald’s breakfast of several thousand calories six days a week. Dinner would include a two-liter soda. I probably kept the Chinese food buffet near me in business. My Starbucks order was two venti mocha frappuccinos a few times a week.
While I knew this wasn’t the healthiest, I felt that could just stop—but you can’t just stop that behavior. You need to identify what’s causing you to lean on food for support instead of its intended purpose. I began having a better relationship with myself and understood finally that there is no quick fix. I had to take it one day at a time. In some cases, that was one meal at a time.
Over time, I was able to get my diet loaded with clean proteins, fruits, and veggies. I would look at what activities I had done that day and think about what I needed to eat to maintain strength and energy. What are you feeing yourself that helps you do the things you want to do?
Also, I aimed for consistency, not perfection. Some moment were considered personal failure, but I started looking at the whole. Of the last 15 days, how many were you better about your foods and exercise?
By making these changes, I was able to lose 150 pounds by 2009. That’s when I realized I still needed to make other changes.
While reminiscing with a friend one day, we asked each other when had been the last time either one of us dropped to the ground and did 10 push-ups. Humbly, we were only able to complete two very sloppy push-ups.
Next, I realized my running must be a hot mess, too. I waited until the sun went down so folks couldn’t see me. It must’ve been a quarter-mile at most before I was completely out of breath and frustrated that I allowed myself to get to this point. This is common thought for those dealing with any number of mental health issues.
But I passed someone sitting on a bench, who told me, “nice job,” That was really cool to hear.
I took it as a personal challenge to be able to run a mile again without stopping—and I reached that goal in two weeks. I also tried going back to the gym, but that was counterproductive, because I would talk myself out of going to the gym on the drive over. For a run, I just needed to lace up and go.
Sure, there was a lot of walking at first, but I was getting out there. By 2011, I became a weekend warrior jogger. That’s when a friend said I probably couldn’t finish my hometown New York City Marathon. It wasn’t meant to be mean, but it planted a seed.
It would take three years, but in 2014, I crossed my first marathon finish line in New York.
Through running and eating habit changes, my weight now sits at 170 pounds. I’m 42 years old, and I’m quicker, more athletic, and stronger than I’ve ever been. I have healthier relationships, and am now seriously considering getting an Ironman under my resume by 2022.
To anyone who wants to go on a similar journey, my advice is to make a plan and that plan sometimes should just be for the next 24 hours and not a challenge of a whole week or month.
Also, be your biggest cheerleader. People will support, love, and encourage you, but if you aren’t your biggest fan, then get there. This is for you and your long-term health. Those people you see in those transformations, that can be you, but none of that happened in 12 weeks. Have a carrot at the end of a stick, and run until the world is your carrot. For me, my next race was motivation to keep it going and stay on top of my heath and training. I don’t need that much these days. Now, I look forward to races just to be around other runners.
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