#TwistFit: How A Heart Attack Saved My Life

How having a heart attack at 30 led me to a healthier lifestyle after dropping close to 80 pounds.

This post is long overdue.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a while.  For those that know me personally, know I try to advocate for young folks, men, in particular, to take care of themselves and get checked out at the doctors regularly because, in the end, your health is all you got.  If you have bad health, your quality of life decreases tremendously.

I found this out the hard way, but I was blessed to bounce back and be able to tell my story, hoping that it resonates with someone.

I am often asked for my best advice in regards to losing weight, maintaining fitness, as well as weight training and nutrition. The best way for me to give advice is to simply tell you my story first.

Me and Debbie Phelps, the mother of Michael Phelps, at an event back in 2013.

My weight loss and health journey began sometime after I had a heart attack at age 30. Yes, you read that correctly, I had a heart attack at 30.

I remember eating General Tso’s chicken for dinner, going to bed and then my heart attack waking me up in the middle of the night with a pain so sharp that it traveled in between my stomach and chest regions.

I thought that it was just the spicy food, that I had eaten the night before, giving me indigestion.  I never in a million years would have thought that it was a heart attack.

I ran the gamut of emotions.  I was sad.  I was angry at myself.  I was depressed.  I was questioning God, like “why am I still here?”

Around the time I had a heart attack, there were a few celebrities in the news who passed from heart attacks so those stories really hit home for me that made me question him more.  I just knew that I was blessed and still alive for a reason, but it’s human nature to question these things you don’t understand.

I was a broken individual.  In hindsight with me recalling these memories, I should have sought psychiatric help because it was that bad.  I’m saying all of this to say that these are the emotions that I still carry with me to this day that helps fuel my fire to stay in shape.  I never want to be that person again.

I never considered myself to be a fat guy, just big.  I’ve been called “big” most of my life.  And looking back at it, I think with myself and other guys I know mostly being called “big”, it’s almost like a badge of honor to be labeled as such even though we’re probably more on the fat side.

It’s kind of similar to how women, in particular, would call themselves “thick” knowing that they’re fat as well.  All this does is give you a false sense of security about your health in general.

When you’re not honest with yourself about how physical fit you are, it could lead to many unforeseen problems down the road.  I found this out the hard way.

The doctors never found out the exact cause of what happened other than I had a blood clot in one of my heart’s arteries.  But deep down I knew  that my weight wasn’t helping the situation.

So off to cardiac rehab I go. And basically what cardiac rehab was, is a place where they had all this equipment and monitors hooked up to my chest to monitor my heart’s movements to make sure that I wouldn’t encounter any problems for when I began to workout on my own.  It was also a place where they had trained and certified nutritionists come in and educate us on how to eat properly.  It was also a place my doctor ordered me to go three times a week.  It’s also a place where perhaps the average age of patients in attendance was in their sixties and seventies.  So obviously I felt out of place.

One thing that I’ve always remembered in my childhood was something my mother has taught me as she battled her own illnesses was that your health is all you got.  She never wanted for me or my brother to become as sick as she had throughout the years.  And of course, as a youngster, it would go through one ear and out the other. But now I understood what she meant because being in a hospital is not fun.  Neither is having doctors and nurse question you over and over again about whether or not you’re a drug user since most heart attack patients my age used drugs according to them.

So I took the rehab seriously.  I dropped a few pounds.  Got down to maybe 235 (from about 270) after about three months then around this time I left the facility and began working out on my own.  All was good.

…until I got down to about 230 pounds, which was my initial goal, and started feeling a whole lot better.

My blood pressure was fine.  I no longer felt like I was on the brink of death and so I slowly regressed back into my old habits of fast food and soda and just sitting on my behind and working on the computer, trying to play catch up on all the work I missed during the last few months of me being relatively withdrawn from society.

It got to the point where I eventually gained the weight back that I lost during rehab.  I remember going to a friend’s wedding and seeing this picture of myself.

Myself, far left, at my friend’s wedding.

And it was something about this picture that when I saw it, knowing that what I’ve gone through mentally and physically, that I had to drop the weight again.  And this time keep it off.

I don’t know if it was this pic itself or the emotions of me catching up with friends at the wedding, some of which I had told about my ordeal, but a light bulb went off and I decided to make preparations for my weight loss journey…again.

Now, I didn’t get started right away after this.  I procrastinated.  Off and on, for about three or four months, maybe more.  I’d go to the gym one week and then skip the next 3 or 4 weeks.  You know how that goes.  Although I had my mind made up that I needed to conquer this, I kept making excuses for me not having the time to do so.

So I hem and haw and finally came up with the ultimate strategy to get the ball rolling.  That’s when I came up with the Netflix Workout Method, patent pending.  🙂

And basically what the Netflix Workout Method does, is that it’s a way for me to forget about the time that I’m putting in working out by watching, you guessed it, Netflix.

Forget About Time

One of the biggest complaints that I’ve heard from people reaching out to me for advice, in regards to working out is that they don’t have the time, and that’s completely false.  I used to feel this way.  And that’s nothing but an excuse to NOT workout.

Another ‘Before” pic. Me on the far right.

Most people that say this to me, watch television on a daily basis.  The reason I know this is because I see or hear them talking about shows all the time. I mean literally, all the time.  It got to the point that I’d stay off Facebook or Twitter on certain days to not catch a spoiler or two for a show that I may want to watch myself.

If you can watch TV, you can work out.  It’s as simple as that.  You can even use your love of television to help spark your fitness commitment, which is what I did.

With my main goal being fat and weight loss, I knew that cardio would be key.  I knew that I’d have to put in a lot of cardio to shed the weight.

They say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. I wanted this to be habitual for me eventually, without me having to think about doing it.  I wanted this to become my lifestyle.  I needed it to become my lifestyle.  I needed a spark to help me form this habit.

So with this in mind, I created a list of shows that I haven’t watched but wanted to.  I planned things out for the first 3 weeks the shows that I’d want to watch.  I then went to Netflix to see if these shows were streaming.

Breaking Bad  was the first show on my list.  Needless to say, I was hooked on Breaking Bad on the very first episode.  And because I was hooked, putting in an hour on the elliptical eventually felt like light work.  I didn’t mind it at all.  I go through one episode, take a 5-10 minute break and watch another episode.

I went through all of the seasons in probably two weeks, which made me eager to start my next show.  24  was next.  Then Scandal .  The Blacklist.  Daredevil.  Narcos.  Better Call Saul.  All these shows and then some I binged watched while working out.

Find Some Like-Minded Friends

As you drop the weight, ignore the haters.

And I don’t mean “haters” in the literal sense.  I mean in the sense that they’ll say things like “you don’t need to lose weight,” “you’ll be too skinny,” or “why are you always at the gym?”

Things like that.

I cannot stress enough how much I hated having someone come up to me as I shed my weight, to just say to me that I looked sick or that I don’t need to lose any more weight.  And keep in mind, I was still in the 200’s at the time, so I was far from being skinny.

All you can do is block it out, and don’t let these people get to you.

It’s nothing but outside forces trying to prevent you from accomplishing the goals you have set out to do.  These friends, and although they mean well, can create a sense of complacency in you that prevents progress.  This is why you need to find some new friends.  Fitness friends are what I call them.

I use an app called MyFitnessPal, which is basically a community of people just like yourself, trying to lose weight and get healthy, or maintain their healthy lifestyle.

I used this app to log in all of my meals and chat it up with others to draw inspiration from one another.

A tale of two weddings: my friend’s on the left and mine on the right. A little over a year apart.

I also eventually began lifting weights and following the various programs on bodybuilding.com. The site has loads of free information that can be utilized by beginners to advanced weight lifters. Some people decide to leave weightlifting out of weight loss. However, weight lifting helps motivate me due to its competitiveness and ability to push my body to limits I never imagined possible me.

Track Your Food, Track Your Workouts, Track Everything!

Tracking your food intake should be the first thing you do before everything else when you’re trying to lose weight.

You’d be amazed at the garbage you’re eating and how many calories you’re consuming when you log in the numbers.  By logging in the food, it makes you more conscious of this fact.

The average American is overeating quite easily, without realizing it.  And that’s how the pounds creep up on you.

That burger, fries, and coke from McDonald’s, although we already know that that kind of food isn’t healthy, but it could be a whopping 2,000 calories or more.  When you’re trying to lose weight, you need to cut back on calories and depending on your weight loss goals, 2,000 calories may be more than what you need to consume to drop the pounds.

To put it in better perspective, there’s around 3,500 calories in a pound.  To lose weight, you will have to create a 3,500 calorie deficit below what you’ve been accustomed to eating.  So to lose a pound a week, shed 500 calories a day from your normal diet and you should see a difference.

If you’re not burning the calories at the gym you think you are, or only going once a week or something like that, that 2,000 calorie meal from McDonald’s is a major setback.  That’s equivalent to four days of you trying to cut back on 500 calories.  You can now see how important it is to log in your meals.

There’s a handy calorie calculator you can use here to find an estimate for your caloric starting point.

At the time, without any exercising, if I had kept my calorie intake to around 2,500 calories a day, I should have lost a pound a week.  Since my plan was to lose more than that on a weekly basis.  I was aiming for 2-3 pounds a week, I set a 1,700 calorie goal.  Now this goal was based on me not working out and was just a starting point.  I, of course, ate more than this on those days when I knew that I worked my ass off in the gym which leads me to my next point.

Track your workouts and calorie burn as closely as you can.  And be honest with your workout.

What I mean by this is as newbies starting out at the gym, we have a tendency to think that we’re “feeling the burn” more than we actually are.

[easy-tweet tweet=”No matter what you think you do at the gym, you can never outwork a bad diet. There are no shortcuts for that.” user=”brennenjones” hashtags=”#TwistFit, #WhatsYourTwist” url=”https://theurbantwist.com/2016/09/07/twistfit-how-a-heart-attack-saved-my-life/”]

For example, when I first started working out, before I knew any better, I’d work out for about 30 minutes, think I did something and because of that I would go to KFC or Burger King or someplace like that and rationalize that “I did well at the gym” and get some nuggets or fries or something.

Me, at yet another wedding, a month ago.

The problem with this rationale is that it’s obviously counterproductive and false.  Those 30 minutes I spent at the gym, I might have only burned 300 calories on a good day, maybe a little more than that,  but in my mind, I thought I burned way more than that to justify me going and getting some fast food.  The food I got was not only unhealthy but also far exceeded the 300 calories I might have burned at the gym.

No matter what you think you do at the gym, you can never outwork a bad diet.  There are no shortcuts for that.  It’s easier and quicker to cut out 500 calories from your diet than it is to burn 500 calories at the gym.  It took me a while to understand that, but once I did, the weight came off fast.

I use MyFitnessPal to log in my calories, and I have a Fitbit with a heart monitor to help monitor my workouts.

Stay Motivated & Have Fun

Find something that motivates you.  Don’t wait to get sick like I have, if you can.  And try to hold onto that motivation and use that whenever you feel yourself slipping.

Take pics of yourself on a monthly basis.  Preferably at the end of the month.  Use these pics as a way to visually see your body transform.  Sometimes when you hop on the scale, it may not seem like the weight is coming off but the pictures never lie.  And even if you aren’t losing weight, your body may become more tone, which is something a scale will never be able to gauge but the pictures tell the story.

I would take pics like these for myself to see.  And it would give me something to shoot for the next month.

My inspirational quote/collage. I look at this pic from time to time to see how far I came.

Without a doubt, my weight loss journey has been the hardest thing I have ever done but the last thing that I want to leave you with is for you to have fun. 😉

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