How I Kept Quarantine from Ruining My 140-Pound Weight Loss

Early on in this pandemic, a lot of people joked about putting on the “quarantine 15,” a reference to the famous “freshman 15.” But as we were confined to our homes, I couldn’t let that happen—for the sake of both my physical and mental health.

Something you should know about me is that I do everything to the extreme. I see your freshman 15 and I raise you my junior and senior 80. And it only got worse after I graduated and struggled to find a job in my field. I had only two real hobbies: food and TV. A day off from my part-time gig would often revolve around catching up on my DVR and eating…a lot. My go-to meal on these occasions was a large pepperoni pizza, one pound of wings, and a two-liter of Cherry Coke (I told you that I go big). This routine became such a part of my life that I was on a first-name basis at my local pizza place. Think Norm from Cheers, but with more calories. Hell, there were more than a few times when I finally decided to drive to the gym, only to arrive in the parking lot and never get out of my car, opting rather for a fast food run.

The rollercoaster aha moment

I can tell you the exact moment when I truly realized how out of control things had gotten. Obviously the XXL shirts, sweating just walking around the mall, and looking in the mirror were hints, but it didn’t fully hit me until I almost was deemed too big to ride a rollercoaster. I’m not sure how many things are more embarrassing than an amusement park attendant having to use all of their might to get your buckle to click in. Yep, that will do it. But it’s also not like I hadn’t tried to make a change before. In fact, I lost track of the amount of times that I said to myself, “Today will be the day.” And yet, by lunch time, I’d think, “Well, today is Thursday, and it would be foolish to start before the weekend.” And then Monday would roll around and there’d be some other reason to hold off. “The first of the month just makes so much more sense.” Finally, to my surprise, that elusive day finally came.

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One success on top of another

I’ll never forget June 10, 2013 (not the beginning of the month, but a Monday!). I was living in Michigan, working a job I didn’t care about, and weighing in at 314 pounds. But I was feeling good because my siblings and I decided to go mini-golfing, and I vividly remember telling them that the diet was starting now. Surely they were all thinking “heard this before,” and still, they were very supportive, and one of my brothers even worked at GNC so he advised me on some helpful supplements. And I’m not sure how or why, but I made it past that first day. On Tuesday, I stepped on the scale and I couldn’t believe my eyes: 309. Whoa! On Wednesday, I went to a movie, an event that usually meant ordering a large popcorn and soda. My snack of choice for This Is the End: a Lean Shake from GNC. I remember the movie, because this healthy choice felt like the most important win yet. The daily weigh-ins continued to keep showing drastic progress, and so I kept going. I would meticulously watch what I ate and I began going to the gym daily, which became my new favorite hobby. I even purchased a treadmill so that I could still indulge in those TV binge watches.

Within a year, I lost over a hundred pounds and I got all the way down to 170 before I started using weights and bulked up, comfortably settling into the 185 range.

In no world could I have imagined finding that much success in such a short period. It reinvigorated my life. I suddenly had more confidence than ever, and it gave me the push to pursue getting back into writing, a passion and career choice I’d fallen away from. So, desperate to make another big change, at 27 years old and on only three weeks’ notice, I quit my full-time job, packed up my apartment, and drove across the country to start an internship at Entertainment Weekly. I knew no one, I was making minimum wage, I had no guarantees, and I’d still never been happier. I quickly signed up at the nearby LA Fitness, my new home away from home, where I’d spend a couple hours each day lifting and playing endless games of pickup hoops.

Then, COVID-19 happened, and the gym closed

And then, like everything, that comfort zone was recently taken away. Even as I was sent home by my company for the foreseeable future, I cautiously got the last few days out of the gym, knowing those doors would also soon be closed. As we all faced much scarier concerns, I couldn’t help but think what this new reality of no access to the gym and full access to food would do to me and all of my progress.

Even when I cheat now, I still go big. Maybe not large pizza, pound of wings, and two-liter Cherry Coke big, but at least whole pizza big. And this causes everything in my life to suffer, whether it’s my social habits, work, or bouts of depression. Unsurprisingly, that is exactly how the first two weeks of quarantine played out. I ate only junk and accomplished essentially nothing — unless you count my quick binge of New Girl. Once again, I knew something needed to change.

The workaround

With no definitive return date for gyms in sight, I sought out solutions. I scoured Amazon for workout equipment and ordered the first flat bench and set of weights that could arrive. These new purchases proved to be the perfect additions to my new makeshift home gym, a.k.a. my living room. This was the much-needed start of a new routine. The plan was simple: I’d wake up at 7 a.m. each day and lift weights and ride my stationary bike for an hour before work, my “lunch break” would be spent doing a short session of Hip-Hop Abs (a collection I’ve often returned to over the years), and I’d wrap up the evening with either a jog around my neighborhood or a second helping of Hip-Hop Abs. As restrictions have loosened, I’ve added in solo early morning hikes and beach runs. This led to feeling more productive than ever in all facets of my life, which seems ironic since most of this comes without ever leaving my apartment.

Trust me, it’s still a daily struggle, as my recent streak of consecutive days with a Chick-fil-A milkshake suggests, but I’ve managed to mostly avoid an unhealthy mental and physical state that has never been easier to fall into. With no clear signs of normal society reemerging as we knew it on the horizon, this could be what we’re all looking at for the foreseeable future.

When will I feel comfortable going back to the gym, a place that has become so important to who I am? I don’t know that answer, but I do know that I can make the best out of the situation I’m in, and I urge you do to the same. Go for a walk while you’re catching up on the phone with friends. Work in some push-ups during your latest Netflix rewatch. Whatever works for you, do it.

While mostly gone are my days of stepping on a scale, as I approach seven years since the beginning of my successful journey, I recently weighed myself out of curiosity and discovered that I’ve actually managed to lose a few pounds over the last few months.

This seems like cause of celebration. In the past, that meant a lengthy food and TV session. Now, I’ll go for a run…and then continue that milkshake streak.

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