How Matthew Is Beating Depression With Healthy Living & Weight Loss

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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Two years ago, at just 25 years old, Matthew (NEOMATTLAC) weighed more than 320 pounds and had been battling depression for years. He'd been using food as an emotional crutch, often binge-eating to mask his feelings. Determined to repair his physical and mental wellness, Matthew embarked on a journey toward health, fitness and freedom. Today, with the help of SparkPeople and his other support systems, 27-year-old Matthew is 80 pounds lighter in weight and immeasurably lighter in his outlook on life.

Raised to View Food as Comfort


Growing up in southern Maryland, Matthew was never what he would describe as physically fit. His family had always been focused on food. Most meals included high-calorie, "countrified" fare like potatoes, heavy meats, loads of butter and sweet tea. They were also inactive, with most gatherings centered around sitting and eating.
 
A shy child, Matthew tended to use food as a security blanket. "I also couldn't handle my emotions well," he recalls. "When I felt bad about myself, I ate. When I wanted to celebrate, I ate. When I was angry, I ate." Looking back, he realizes now that he was most likely suffering from a binge-eating disorder.
 
Throughout high school, Matthew's weight steadily climbed. He remembers a time when a judgmental gym teacher mentioned that he should be able to run a third of a mile—but to Matthew, that seemed like an impossible feat. "I played mind tricks on myself, trying to believe that it was mostly muscle," he says. "Logically, I knew it wasn't, but it made me feel better."
 
At high school graduation, Matthew weighed 280 pounds, wore a size 44 pant and a size 3XL shirt. He vowed to lose weight in college, where he had enrolled in a culinary arts program, but instead, he ended up gaining even more. After college, Matthew got a job as a chef, but due to his weight, he couldn't move around a kitchen very well, nor could he stand on his feet for long periods of time.
 
Eventually, Matthew returned to school for computer science, primarily motivated by the promise of a generous salary, but found that he didn't enjoy it. During that winter, he sunk into a deep depression, convinced that his life was going in the wrong direction.

Turning Things Around


Matthew counts himself lucky in that he's had multiple "a-ha" moments that propelled him to move forward. His main wake-up call was the realization that he was spending several hours a day on Facebook.
 
"It hit me: If I'm wasting all this time on the internet, what could I achieve if I dedicated even some of that time toward something useful like volunteering, developing a skill or losing weight?" Matthew recalls. "Ultimately, I chose weight loss because, honestly, I have social anxiety and I could lose weight without talking to people."
 
His other "a-ha" moment was the emergence of some physical issues—like knee pain, back pain and an inability to stand for extended periods of time—that he knew he shouldn't be having at his age.
 
Matthew started by walking a mile or two every day and riding the recumbent bike for 25 minutes. Eventually, he worked up to three miles walking and 40 minutes biking, but felt like he needed even more of a challenge, so he joined a gym. For the first few weeks, he used only the treadmill and a few machines, intimidated by what he viewed as the "forbidden" part of the gym.
 
"I'd lost some weight, but I felt like my form could use a lot more work, and I was still pretty lost on my food," he says. "That's when I decided to get some personal training. I had the money and the time, so why not invest in myself?"
 
Matthew's gym offered some free personal training sessions, so he started working with Eddie, who provided a meal plan and designed short but intense workouts. For cross-training, Matthew added boxing to his repertoire and even dabbled in fitness dance classes. He also committed to working out with a friend once a week and eating a healthy dinner together afterward, which helped keep him accountable and motivated.
 
When it got tough, he just kept pushing—and the weight kept dropping.
 
From August 2016 to January 2017, Matthew lost 40 pounds. Then, from January 2017 to July 2017, he lost another 40. After that, he hit a plateau and has since been working with his trainer to build more muscle through intensity and endurance. "Just this past week, we changed to a routine that's mostly HIIT with some heavy weightlifting days thrown in," he says.
 
With Matthew's shy nature, he found support and camaraderie in several online communities, including SparkPeople. "SparkPeople has so many articles on motivation, getting back on track, fun exercise ideas and recipes," Matthew says. "And I post to the groups if I need specific advice. Also, SparkCoach was fantastic. It provided me with daily motivation and focuses, and helped me track certain [day-to-day] metrics, like mood. I was able to find certain trends. For example, I seem to miss more workouts on Thursdays, so I changed my schedule to not work out that day, which increased my consistency."


Matthew's Typical Meal Plan


In addition to designing his workouts, Matthew's trainer has also helped him learn to eat the right foods to fuel his activities and meet his weight-loss goals. A typical day might include the following meals:
  • Breakfast: One fried egg, five egg whites, one tablespoon of coconut oil and one tablespoon of almond butter
  • Mid-morning snack at 10:30 a.m.: One cup of oats and one scoop of protein powder
  • Lunch #1 at 1 p.m. and lunch #2 at 4 p.m.: Half a chicken breast, half a cup of rice (or a small sweet or regular potato), one cup veggies and one tablespoon coconut oil
  • Dinner: Same as lunch 
Although Matthew eats the same types of food for lunches and dinners, he mixes them up to keep from getting bored. For instance, one day he might have Cuban-style chicken for lunches and chile-flavored chicken for dinner. For one lunch, he'll swap out an apple for the rice and sesame oil for the coconut oil and have mixed greens for the veggies, along with some lemon juice. The next lunch might be steamed cauliflower and green beans with coconut oil.

A Newfound Self-Awareness


In addition to gaining a stronger, leaner physique, Matthew has become a much more positive, mindful person. Throughout his lifestyle change—which has included not only nutrition and exercise, but also meditation and therapy—he has learned two key lessons: how to recognize and process his emotions, and how to be aware of his physical self.
 
"Becoming mindful of my body allows me to know when I am full and when I'm hungry," Matthew says. "I used to eat until I hurt because I was so out of tune with my body's signals. That's like running toward a wall and only stopping when you've already hit it."
 
Being more positive has also helped Matthew to better manage his anger and frustration. He's learned to forgive others, and also to forgive himself when he has setbacks. This has enabled Matthew to improve his self-worth, self-esteem and, eventually, to curb his depression.
 
He feels more comfortable doing things he avoided before, like buying new clothes and traveling. "I'm not ashamed of others seeing me, and the problems they do see are ones that I'm already working on," he notes.

Matthew's Advice to Newbies


Matthew remembers well what it was like at the start of his journey, and he has some words of advice for those who may feel hopeless and helpless:
  • Start small—even if it seems insanely small. "Sometimes it feels like what you can do is so little that it doesn't matter, but I assure you that it does," he says. "Walk to the mailbox and back. Do bicep curls with a bottle of water while watching TV. Don't eat seconds. Brush your teeth. Choose any of these or your own. Like in a cave, where a little drip eventually builds a huge stalagmite, a little work can progress to a big shift."
  • Set your targets low, then exceed them. In the winter, when Matthew's depression tends to deepen, it’s tougher for him to stay motivated. He started setting a five-minute minimum at the gym, which seemed much more attainable than an hour or two. Once he has those first five (hardest) minutes under his belt, he usually ends up completing a full workout.
  • Customize your healthy habits. Matthew stresses the importance of customizing your healthy new habits to suit your individual goals and preferences. "When you change your food and incorporate more activity into your life, you're free to do what you want," he says. "If you hate lettuce, don't eat salads. Be careful with that though, because sometimes your preferences aren't what you assume. I used to think I hated running but later realized I just hated being out of breath and having ankle pain, but it turned out I could solve those things. Slowly build habits that you actually enjoy and can see yourself doing for a long while, and don't be afraid to customize them."

What's Next for Matthew?


Although he's proud of how far he's come, Matthew has his sights set on even loftier goals. He wants to lose another 30 pounds and gain more muscle. He'd also like to be able to run 10 miles, complete a pull-up and do 100 consecutive pushups (he's up to about 15 with good form, compared to not even one just two years ago). Matthew also wants to participate in some HIIT competitions and obstacle course races—he finished the Spartan Sprint in Washington, D.C. in 2017, and in 2018 he hopes to be able to complete most of the obstacles.
 
"I'm as stubborn as can be, and I'll get there much sooner than expected," Matthew predicts. "I just know it."

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