Straight Teeth and Functional Fitness – How I got in the best shape of my life
By: Howard Weiss
Overweight And Out Of Shape
Just over a year ago, at the young age of 36, I had high blood pressure, NASH (fatty liver disease), migraines, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, gout, back pain, knee pain, and was my heaviest at 250 pounds. Most of my life I’ve considered myself overweight and out of shape. Sure, I had periods of “healthiness” but it never lasted very long, and over the years the list of ailments grew as my weight increased.
Around this time, I found out that my Father was in the hospital. It seems that his years of being overweight had led to numerous ailments, and his body just couldn’t handle it any more. This resulted in him being rushed to the hospital several times, with the latest one putting him into an induced coma and on a ventilator in critical care. Luckily he made it out of the hospital and is doing ok today, but how could I give him advice on how to improve his lifestyle when I wasn’t living a healthy life myself? It was at this point that I decided to get my act together to not only improve my quality of life, but also be a better role model for my Dad.
Step one, fix my crooked teeth…
I know, fixing crooked teeth doesn’t seem like a good first step to getting healthy, and to be honest – I never intended it to be. I had just started Invisiline (an alternative to braces) to help straighten my teeth. With Invisiline, you need to keep the retainers in for 22 hours a day, leaving just enough time to take them out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of course, after the meal was complete, I couldn’t just pop my retainers back in. I needed to brush my teeth, since the thought of plastic retainers going over dirty teeth just seemed gross! This also meant that snacking between meals was a thing of the past. Eating a cookie, followed by brushing my teeth, just wasn’t worth the time. What this helped me realize was just how much I was snacking throughout the day! This small act of not eating between meals resulted in my losing about 10lbs without too much effort.
Around August of 2012, my friend and neighbor, Charles Jaworski told me about a new gym that was within walking distance of our house. The place was called Function Factory and was owned by his friend Marko Sanchez. I knew that skipping snacks wasn’t enough, and that I needed to start exercising in order to really lose weight so I decided to check it out.
Getting Fit AND Functional at the Function Factory!
The gym was unlike any I’ve been to before. There wasn’t any fancy weight machines, rows of treadmills, or people trying to show off how much they could lift. There was just an elliptical, some dumbbells, a bunch of medicine balls and a lot of open space. My first evaluation was with Marko and a few members of his staff, Nick and Kerry. They started by asking me several questions about my goals, health problems, pain areas and more. I told them about how out of shape I was, and that I had limited mobility due to my bad knee, shoulder and back. This was further proven by the physical evaluation when I was unable to do a simple lunge or squat without holding my knee in pain. Even 15 minutes on the elliptical had me almost passing out, and in severe back pain. After seeing all this and taking copious notes, Marco and his team ensured me that they would help get me in shape with an exercise and diet plan. Their approach of “fitness for life” which incorporated physical therapy, and exercises to increase whole body mobility, convinced me that Function Factory was the right place. To start I purchased a personal training package. I knew the personal attention would be good since I needed a lot of work, and figured that paying for a group of sessions up front would help keep me coming back. Also, due my busy lifestyle, I made my next appointment after each session was complete so I didn’t have an excuse to give up attending.
I had quite a few points of “enlightenment” during my first few months of training. The first was on day one, when my trainers told me that my back and knee pain was probably not from some pinched nerve, or torn meniscus, but more from how I walked and my general lack of proper movement. We immediately went to work to fix these issues, and the next several training sessions were focused on just increasing my mobility. Unlike every other gym, where the focus is on lifting and alternating muscle groups, this routine was about stretching and whole-body exercises such as lunges, squats and push-ups. Not once did I feel like I was being pushed too hard, nor did I feel too sore the next day. This made it easy to continue going back, and after a few weeks of appointments I already started feeling better (more endurance, more mobility and less pain). After just a few months, my knee pain was gone completely, my back pain was much improved, and my overall mobility was increased.
What, I Shouldn’t Eat That?
The other point of enlightenment was with my diet. To start, Marco asked me to write down everything I ate. After weeks of excuses, I finally decided to do it. Its amazing what you put in your stomach when you aren’t thinking about it! Just the act of writing everything down helped me to realize that I wasn’t eating correctly. My job requires that I travel just about every week. While traveling, it was normal for me to have a buffet breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, toast and juice, followed by a big lunch of a burger and fries and possibly an appetizer, followed by a big steak dinner with an appetizer, salad, dessert, and lots of wine. For anybody else, this was a rare day of gluttony. For me, this was just about every day. When I started writing everything down and looking at the calories I was taking in, it became clear why I was so fat. What felt like a once-in-a-while “treat” was actually a regular habit when you see it down on paper. When you realize that it’s all about “calories in/calories out,” even with a good exercise plan you can’t get thin on a 5,000 calorie/day diet!
From there I made quite a few changes that I still follow today. I avoid the big breakfasts all together and stick to a healthy cereal (Kashi GoLean Crunch is my favorite) or egg white omelets with just veggies vs meat, no cheese, and no bread, juice or pastries. For lunch I avoid sandwiches (this was my usual go-to item) and stick to mostly salads with dressing on the side (I just dip the fork in for flavor). My dinner usually consists of a square meal: Protein such as steak, chicken or fish, with little to no carbs, and lots of veggies. I also avoid anything with heavy sauces.
Learning How To Get Fit
Along with the changes in my eating habits, I continued going to the Function Factory. I started off doing two personal training sessions a week, with one day on my own (following the F2 workout of the day, or one of the workouts we did on our 1on1’s). After I started feeling more confident, I switched to just one personal training session a week, and two days on my own. Because of my heavy travel schedule, I also asked them to show me exercises that I could easily do in a hotel gym with either a few dumbbells or nothing at all. This was an enormous help to keep me on my plan, even when I was on the road. Eventually I started joining the Power Hour classes, as well as doing my own workouts. I also added running to the mix! I always did some cardio on my non-gym days, which was either a brisk walk or time on the elliptical at the Function Factory. As I started building my endurance though, I found it harder and harder to get my heart rate up – so I started jogging. The light jogging eventually turned into running, and before you know it – I was running 3 miles! Even in high school I hated running, and was usually at the back of the pack on our 1 mile runs for P.E. Now, I actually enjoy it and run about 12 miles a week on average!
The result of the diet changes along with my continued exercise regimen was outstanding. By mid January, 2013 I hit my first goal weight of 200lbs. By May I hit my stretch goal weight of 185lbs (which was my high school weight), and even made it down to 180lbs. Since then, I’ve been able to maintain an average weight of 185lbs. Losing all that weight was a dream come true for me, but that wasn’t the only thing that got better! All of my previous health issues went away. Blood Pressure? Normal. Super high cholesterol and triglycerides? Normal. Liver enzymes? Normal. Gout? Gone. Back and knee pain? Gone. Sleep Apnea?? CURED (bye bye CPAP machine!) Oh, and my crooked teeth are now straight!
THANK YOU to the Function Factory team for teaching me the road-map to a healthier, slimmer lifestyle! THANK YOU to my friend and neighbor Charles Jaworski for introducing me to Marko and motivating me to go. THANK YOU to my amazing wife and best friend, for loving me no matter how I look, for keeping me motivated, and for listening to me talk endlessly about my new found joy for kale, broccoli, and egg whites! And of course, THANK YOU to my parents who helped make me who I am today.