Life Quest Inspiration Series focuses on inspiring people to improve their own lives. LQIS features individuals who have made conscious decisions to improve different aspects of their life. The goal is to show that through hard work and dedication you can make important changes. If you would like to nominate someone as a future feature, please email information to email@example.com.
[LQ] You made a conscious decision to improve an area of your life, what was this decision and how old were you when you made it?
[VH] November 19, 2017, I made the conscious decision to improve my life by losing weight. I was fifty-two years old.
[LQ] What made you decide to lose weight?
[VH] This is a much harder question to answer. I feel like I need to give a little backstory before I answer. I have always been overweight, all of my adult life. Therefore, I am always either about to go on a diet, on a diet, or depressed because I blew my diet. I have also been a big drinker most of my life. This never helped my diet attempts. In July of 2012, I spent five days in the ICU. I am an attorney and the straw that broke the camel’s back was having to stop and sit four times between my car and the courthouse one morning.
I went to the doctor and he immediately admitted me to the ICU. My lungs were full of fluid. The initial diagnosis was pulmonary embolism. I got the feeling that the doctors did not think I was going to make it out of the hospital. I had family and friends come visit me that I haven’t seen in years. My brother asked me if my affairs were in order. It was a scary thing. Turns out it wasn’t pulmonary embolism. With diuretics and changes in my medication, the fluid retention subsided and they eventually let me out. The final diagnosis was congestive heart failure. The doctors said that they couldn’t get a good look at parts of my heart because of my weight, but that was what they thought it was.
This event scared the hell out of me. I had three teenage kids at the time that I had to get grown before I leave this place. So, I quit drinking and quit smoking cigars. My last drink and cigar were the night before I entered the hospital in 2012. Of these three addictions, my food addiction was the hardest one to conquer. Additionally, I was hesitant to start an exercise program because I was convinced that I had congestive heart failure. I rocked along for five more years, sober and fat; and got all of my kids to the age of eighteen.
I began to question whether or not I had congestive heart failure. Although no doctor has confirmed this, it is my opinion that my heavy doses of prescription naproxen caused the fluid retention. I was taking a lot of prescription strength naproxen because of knee pain in both knees. Imagine that right? When I went into the ICU, my family doctor immediately stopped the naproxen. My fluid retention cleared up. I began to notice that whenever I took the naproxen after that visit, I began having symptoms of fluid retention. When I stopped taking it, the fluid cleared up. This is just my lay opinion and no doctor ever verified this. Also, I never followed up with a cardiologist after leaving the ICU because I didn’t like the cardiologist that treated me in the hospital. He was the one that diagnosed me with pulmonary embolism and scared the hell out of me. And further, I just didn’t like him.
Fast forward to 2017, my new internal medicine doctor recommended I go see a cardiologist. I got a recommendation from a family friend that is also my neurologist, and got my heart checked out. I spent two days getting five different tests done to my heart and cardiovascular system. The end result was that my heart was basically normal. A little issue showed up on the stress test, but the cardiologist cleared me to exercise. This motivated me so much that I took several months to finally get off the couch.
Now we come to my answer to what made me decide to lose weight. Of late, I have become an avid podcast listener. I love the comedians podcast. I listened to Joe Rogan’s and Bert Kreischer’s podcast pretty religiously. In October of 2017, Joe Rogan, Ari Shaffir, Bert Kreischer, and Tom Segura bet each other that they couldn’t stay sober for a month and do fifteen hot yoga sessions. Of the three, Bert Kreischer is the one I can relate to the most. His persona is that of a party animal. He was named as the Number 1 Party Animal in the Country by Rolling Stones Magazine in the 90s when he was at Florida State. Rolling Stone was doing an article on Florida State about being a party school and came across Bert. This notoriety helped him get his start into comedy, television, and public life. Although in his late forties now, Bert still has the reputation as a party animal. Joe, Ari, and Tom aggravated Bert relentlessly that there is no way he could stay sober for a month. Bert was successful in both the month of sobriety and the hot yogas.
After the success of Sober October, the comedians began picking on Bert that he could not run a half marathon. Bert boasted that he has a Mickey Mantle Gene that can allow him to do anything. A second wager was created and two weeks later, Bert completed a half marathon without training. Sunday morning on November 19, 2017, I woke up and was drinking coffee and preparing for a day of football, when I ran across Bert’s videos of himself completing the half marathon on his Instagram. He did this on two weeks and no training. I thought to myself, if this party animal can run a half marathon on two weeks notice, I can get off this couch and start exercising.
I made a video to Bert about his inspiration to me from my chair that Sunday morning and posted it on my social media accounts. Sunday night, Bert retweeted or tagged Tom Segura and replied, “changing lives.” This was all I needed. I got up Monday morning and recorded my first weigh-in. I weighed 475 pounds. I posted this Monday Morning Weigh-in on all my social media accounts, and have done so weekly since that time.
[LQ] Before making this decision, did you do any exercise regularly?
[VH] No. This one is easy to answer. Walking to the mailbox to get the mail was difficult. I avoided sporting events, big stores, and other places that I might have to walk very far.
Sedentary activity was a goal for me. I remember seeing in my medical records from the 2012 visit that I was called super morbidly obese. I have never been called super anything in my life, so I had very mixed emotions about it.
[LQ] Did you find it difficult at first? Do you find it difficult today?
[VH] Unbelievably difficult. I remember the first time I tried to walk in the park. A classmate of mine from high school had seen my posts on social media. He called me and said we are going to meet the park on Wednesday nights and start walking. I told him yes. Wednesday came around and I tried to back out, being the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and all. David said nope, see you at 5:00 p.m.
The walk around the park is about three-fourths of a mile. The first night around with David and Charlene, I had to stop at least six times. I was out of breath. My sides, hips, and back hurt, but I made it around. Each Wednesday after that got easier and easier. Our Wednesday group turned into an quasi class reunion every week, with classmates and friends showing up to support me. It was an awesome thing. Bert Kreischer continued to support me on social media. I made the local paper and two stories on the news. With each passing day, exercise became easier and easier. It is weird how your body can adapt and rebuild itself.
Today, exercise is tremendously easier than it was at first. The difference is night and day. Don’t get me wrong. It is still difficult at times, but nothing like at first. I look forward to doing it now. Sometimes excuses and complacency tempt me. Sometimes they win. But, if I do make myself exercise, I feel so much better afterwards. Additionally, I am doing things now I haven’t done in twenty-five years, and some things I have never done. I have swam 4000 meters in the pool, walked 12.5 miles, walked 10 miles overnight for suicide prevention awareness, rode a bike 20 miles, done Body Pump, done Camp Gladiator, done DDP Yoga, and the list goes on. It is much easier now, but it still takes discipline and commitment to put in the work. Once accomplished, I have almost a euphoric feeling now.
[LQ] Is there anything extraordinary about you that would allow you to do yoga, workout, and lose weight that would prevent others from doing so?
[VH] Absolutely not. I am just a normal guy with an addictive and emotional eating disorder. I am insulin resistant, hypoglycemic, and have suffered many traumatic injuries. I lost two toes and some use of the big toe on my left foot from a on-the-job injury in my twenties. A three thousand pound crate fell on my foot. I suffered a severe trauma to my left hand from a car wreck in my twenties. I have had a knee surgery and broken leg from football in high school. Additional surgeries and injuries to my left thumb. Both my knees are bone on bone. My orthopedic told me that I qualify for two knee replacements, but he would not do it unless I get under three hundred (300) pounds. The list goes on. If I can do it, anybody can do it. You just have to get into the mindset that failure is not an option. I can’t give up this or I can’t do that are not responses for me anymore. I am going to do whatever it takes to get this weight off and keep it off.
[LQ] What has been some of the biggest benefits you have seen from this journey?
[VH] First of all, at 475 pounds, taking care of your personal needs is difficult. For me, around 400 pounds certain daily tasks become difficult if not impossible. Unless you have ever approached these weight levels, you will never know the struggle. Going to the restroom, taking a shower, getting dressed, getting in and out of vehicles, finding chairs strong enough to hold you, picking things off of the ground, etc. each hold their own challenges. You begin to buy helpful tools or figure workarounds to accomplish these tasks. You avoid situations where you may have to accomplish one of these tasks in public. Just to be able to physically do these tasks without thought or help is awesome. For example, I don’t have to beg my wife or daughter to clip my toenails anymore. This was humiliating to say the least.
Secondly, just having the energy and capability of doing things. Walking, standing, being outside, attending events, taking care of chores around the house, just enjoying life again, these are all huge benefits. I am in the process of putting in a fall garden. Gardening is something that I love to do. My last attempt was in pots, on boards, on cinder blocks, because I thought I might could handle this. My thought was this may be high enough that I could reach the plants. I knew I could never bend over or do anything on the ground. I couldn’t get up and down; and I couldn’t bend over and reach the ground. I didn’t even have the energy to do that. The last two weekends, I have cleaned up the pots situation. I have installed two raised beds. I received my organic/non-gmo/heirloom seeds in the mail last night. This weekend I am going to have seeds in the ground. I am pumped.
[LQ] Was there anything that surprised you along the way?
[VH] This is another easy question to answer, the support. It is absolutely amazing the support that I have received from family, friends, and strangers. There is no way I could ever thank them enough. From day one, friends and family have come forward and helped me stay on track. They come out and walked with me. They checked on my progress. They provided advice. They provided emotional support. They kept me disciplined. I’ve had strangers send me Kindle books to motivate me. Old classmates, I haven’t seen in twenty or more years, donate t-shirts and hats for my supporters. I have people show up day in and day out to do whatever workout I am doing, just to keep me on track. I’ve had reporters, comedians, and fitness experts support me on this journey. These men and women reached out to me and asked for nothing in return. This is definitely the easiest question to answer. I don’t even know where to start thanking people for their support. They have changed my life.
[LQ] What keeps you motivated?
[VH] So far this has not been too big a problem. I believe it is because of all of the support of my family and friends, as well as the accountability of making my journey so public. Also, one of the motivating factors when I began the journey was to show my kids that they could accomplish anything, if they put their minds to it. I didn’t want their memories of me to consist mainly of a drunk, out of shape, fat man. This was a huge motivating factor. But somewhere along the way, something in my mindset changed. Of all of the tens, if not hundreds, of times I have started this journey before, I always knew in the back of my mind that, I would go back to my old ways. This time feels different. I don’t have that feeling floating around in the back of my mind. I know that I am going to do whatever it takes to accomplish this weight loss journey. I am going to hear the words out of my doctor’s mouth that I am my ideal weight. I want that super morbidly obese nomenclature replaced in my medical record.
[LQ] Do you have any favorite tools, apps, workouts, machines, etc. that you would recommend to others?
[VH] Number one on this list is the DDP Yoga Now App, without a doubt. As I said before, I have suffered from terrible knee pains for many years, as well as many other chronic weight related issues. I have also described some of my traumatic injuries that have chronic limitations and pain. I credit DDP Yoga for giving me the ability to do all of these other physical things I have described. Diamond Dallas Page reached out to me in January. I have been doing his program ever since. There is no way I could have gotten to this point of my journey without his help and without doing DDP Yoga. My knee pains are dramatically reduced. I can still feel them grinding, but the pain is incredibly less and sometime nonexistent. All of my nagging pains fall under this category, but the knees are spectacularly different. I cannot recommend this app and program highly enough. Whatever else you want to do, add this as a supplement to your program.
My favorite exercise is swimming. Because of my knees and weight related issues, I try to find low impact exercises. Swimming is my overall favorite. I put in headphones from a waterproof iPod Shuffle, and get after it. My newest obsession is the row machine at the gym. I love this thing. I also love to ride my bike. I put on an audible book or podcast and hit the roads. This has been a lost pleasure I thought I would never do again. I also like the Les Mills Body Pump class at the gym. What a good overall body workout.
[LQ] Favorite workout music currently?
[VH] This is probably the hardest to answer. It usually takes a song to around for twenty-five years before I notice it. Also, my tastes are eclectic and dependent upon mood. The music on my Shuffle represents my older tastes before I switched to Android and Spotify. On the Shuffle there’s Todd Snider, Rolling Stones, CeeLo Green, Afroman, Charlie Daniels, The Commodores, Clarence Carter, Corey Smith, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Cross Canadian Ragweed, David Allan Coe, Deana Carter, Donavon Frankenreiter, The Doobie Brothers, The Gourds, Jamey Johnson, Jerry Reed, JJ Grey & Mofro, John Prine, Johnny Cash, Keb’ Mo’, Kris Kristofferson, Little Feat, Lowell George, Ludicris, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Paolo Nutini, Ray Stevens, Robert Earl Keen, Sara Bareilles, Stephen Lynch, Sublime, and Toots & the Maytals, to name a few.
My Spotify playlist has over 9,000 songs. This is what I listen to outside of the pool and when I am not listening to an audio book or podcast. I leave my workout music to the tastes of the music gods. I don’t even know where to start naming bands on this list. I know that the Grateful Dead has the largest number of songs on the list. I added all of the Grateful Dead in the Spotify library to my playlist. Grateful Dead and Todd Snider are a couple of my favorite bands. But there is everything from Louis Armstrong to Tom T. Hall to Alabama Shakes to Taj Mahal to Hayes Carll to Bill Withers to Kid Rock to Houston Marchman to Colt Ford to B.B. King to Dave Matthews Band to Everlast to Shaggy to The Allman Brothers to Lucero to Bob Dylan to Widespread Panic to Otis Redding to Action Bronson to Jim Croce to Leon Bridges, as well as those named above plus many more. I don’t really have an answer for this question. I sort of leave it up to the music gods. I know that Louis Armstrong is not really working out music though.
[LQ] What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a weight loss journey, but has been hesitant to do so?
Just do it. When I started this journey, I had two simple rules:
Commit to Yes. When someone says they will do something with you or invite you to something new. Say yes. Period. Get out of your comfort zone. If someone says I will walk with you. Pin them down on a date and time. Go meet them. If you like it, make it a routine. If someone invites you to a class, say yes. Go try it. Say yes. Get out of the routine of saying things like, “that sounds good”, “we will have to plan a day”, “I don’t have time”, “I can’t do that”, “I won’t do that”, “I will call or message you”. Commit to yes. You can fret over it later but say yes.
Post everything online or make it public. All of my other attempts, I did on my own. I didn’t want to bother anyone else. I didn’t want to let anyone else down. I wanted to do it my way. I knew the best way. Posting it online makes you accountable. Everyone knows you are doing it. You will get support that you never imagined.
To these two, I would add ink it down. Write it down. Set your goals. Make them as high as you like. Then figure out a plan to start working toward those goals. The goal may been to walk to work, or walk the trail near your house, or lift so much weight, or be able to take care of your personal needs, or hike to the top of Mount Everest. Set your goals. Start working toward them. Having a goal like a specific triathlon, or a specific charity walk, or trip to hike a trail on a specific date, keeps you on track and working toward your goal. If you have a date swiftly approaching, this will keep you motivated and working toward this goal.
Lastly, set your mind that failure is not an option. There are going to be setbacks. These are just speed bumps on the road to your goal. Do not let them derail you. Look at them as an educational experience. Study them and learn from them. Your goals may need to be adjusted or the path to your goals need to be adjusted. But quitting is not an option. It is not going to happen. This is a marathon for the rest of your life. There is no going back to the life that got you to this point. To change your life, you have to change your life. It is as simple as that. We Got This!
To start your own personal improvement journey, check out Life Quest Cards.