“To love our neighbours as we love ourselves means also to love ourselves as we love our neighbours. It means to treat ourselves with as much kindness and understanding as we would the person next door who is in trouble. Little by little then we begin to be able to look at each other’s faces, and at our own faces in the mirror, without the intervening shadows that unaired secrets cast.” (Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets)

“You’re disappearing on us.”

That’s what the woman working at the Big and Tall clothing store said to me as I paid for my purchases at the end of April. As a result of my weight loss, none of my old dress clothes fit, so I needed something new to wear to my brother’s wedding.

For the past few years, the store has been one of the only places I can find clothes in my size, and I guess I’m in there frequently enough that they recognize me when I come in.

“Yeah, I’ve lost 70 pounds,” I told the woman, thinking to myself, “Ultimately, my goal is to not have to shop here.”

Numbers don’t tell the whole story

In the four months since that visit to the Big and Tall store, I’ve lost another 30 pounds. The number on my bathroom scale indicates that, since I started my health and fitness journey in November 2011, I’ve lost a total of 100 pounds.

What the number on my scale won’t tell you is that getting more active has allowed me to do things I only dreamed of when I wasn’t taking care of myself. I’ve competed in two cyclo-cross bicycle races, appeared on a local television station’s morning news program and participated in an exercise demonstration, competed in a five-kilometre obstacle/adventure race, and flew to Tanzania this past July to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with my father.

The number won’t tell you those things, but they’re all true. The number also won’t tell you how I have a lot more energy and don’t crash at work in the afternoon like I used to. The number won’t tell you how, at least in my estimation, I’m a better son, brother and friend now.

So how did I do it? How did I go from a sedentary couch potato to someone who’s 100 pounds lighter, enjoys working out and participates in athletic competitions? People ask me that, and I tell them, “I ate less and I moved more.” And then I feel like maybe they think I’m being glib, but really, that’s kind of the answer: I ate less and I moved more.

A longer answer to the question, “How did you do it?” goes something like this: I started thinking about joining a gym; four years later, I joined a gym.

I went to the gym three or four times a week. I went to the gym when I felt like it. I went to the gym when I didn’t feel like it. I did squats, mountain climbers, push-ups, ground zero jumps and burpees (a combination of squat, push-up and vertical jump)—a lot of burpees.

A few months after that, I slowly started changing my diet. I focused on consuming three meals and two snacks consisting of protein, produce and water every day. I gave up drinking alcohol for long periods of time and stopped eating sugary desserts except on special occasions, like birthday parties or holiday celebrations.

I started working out at home. I went running with a friend and I went boxing with another friend.

I fell in love with movement and became fascinated with the way my body works. I identified my reasons for getting healthier, including, “I want to honour the body God gave me,” and, “I want good health so I can serve and be an encouragement to others.” I wrote them on a recipe card and carried it around in my wallet. I wrote out a plan for how I was going to achieve my fitness goals and I did my best to stick to it.

To get inspired, stay motivated and to learn, I listened to music, read books and articles, listened to podcasts, watched TV shows and movies, and followed pages on Facebook and Instagram that were health-related, be it physical health, mental health, spiritual health or emotional health.

When I lost a significant amount of weight and found I was still unhappy, I started seeing a counsellor. I prayed. I laughed. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. I snapped out of it.

I made mistakes. Sometimes I made the same mistake two or three or 19 times before I finally learned from it and did something different.

I journalled. I had honest conversations with family and friends. I started thinking long and hard about the kind of man I want to be. I got scared. I pretended to be brave, and sometimes I actually was brave. I thought about what I think I deserve in life, and how I want to treat myself and the people around me.

I prioritized myself. I worked to improve my work/life balance. I gave up some volunteer commitments so I could focus on my health. I got more sleep.

I went on Facebook less. I tried to stop comparing myself to other people. I eliminated the word “should” from my vocabulary in an effort to place fewer demands on myself. I became okay with being uncomfortable. I explored anything I was feeling that was unpleasant, and instead of numbing those feelings with food, I sat with them so I could find out what they had to teach me.

I got curious about my fears and the things that were holding me back. I tried new things. I questioned almost every habit in my life, both good and bad. I learned to forgive myself. I learned about procrastination, perfectionism and shame. I learned how to assert myself, as well as how to be open and honest about my thoughts and feelings. I read, thought and had conversations with people about building confidence and esteem.

I took responsibility. I asked for help.

I trained myself to think in new and different ways, in an attempt to change the narrative in my head. I let people know about my goals. I celebrated my successes with family and friends.

I surprised myself. I chose to be happy.

Sometimes I was spending so much time thinking about myself that it felt self-indulgent, and sometimes it felt like I was becoming too serious about everything in life. Sometimes I forgot why I was doing it, and sometimes I would have an identity crises, unsure of who I was becoming.

Sometimes I thought that maybe the November 2011 version of Aaron (see photo of me on page 27) was all I was ever meant to be, and I was foolish to think I could be, or deserved to be, anything else.

Sometimes the “Who do you think you are?” phantom—that shaming voice inside my head that creeps in, withers the accomplishments and progress I’m so proud of, and questions my worth as a human being—almost won out.

But that’s not a voice I was meant to give in to.

Sometimes changing felt easy, occasionally it felt natural, and every so often it felt like the changes happened overnight.

But most of the time, it was extremely difficult. Little about it felt natural at all, and my body and mind screamed for me to stop pushing myself in new ways.

It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.

Becoming physically fitter has had benefits that extend far beyond the digits on my bathroom scale. The number on my my scale won’t tell you how powerful and confident I feel today, and how, for the first time in a long time, I’m proud of myself and actually feel good about being me.

The number on my scale won’t tell you that, but it’s true.

No hocus pocus involved

Looking back to that brief conversation with the sales clerk at the Big and Tall store in April, it’s interesting to me that she used the word “disappearing,” because sometimes I don’t like to call it “losing weight.” Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a magician doing the world’s slowest disappearing act. It feels more intriguing that way.

A few pounds here, a few pounds there. I haven’t disappeared completely, but almost half of me has.

Really, though, there’s nothing magical about what I’ve done. There was no sleight of hand or hocus pocus involved.

For years, I looked for some magic trick that would lead to weight loss, as if I could get your attention and ask you, “Are you watching closely?” then maybe say a magic word or two and suddenly lose 100 pounds in mere seconds, right before your eyes.

But weight loss, or achieving any goal, can only happen when you make the decision to change.

Most people reading this don’t need to lose 100 pounds, but my guess is that there is some area in your life you would like to improve. Maybe you’d like to eat less, or compete in some athletic event, just for the thrill of participating or in hopes of placing. Or maybe you want to improve your relationship with a family member or a friend, or you want to start treating yourself better in some way.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about change in the 20 months since I started this process, it’s this:

  • Change can only happen when you formulate a plan, work hard and allow yourself to be uncomfortable.
  • Change can only happen when you ask for help, are disciplined and develop the ability to learn from, and forgive yourself for, the mistakes you make along the way, as well as the mistakes you made in the past before you decided to change.
  • Change won’t always be easy, but it will almost always be worth it.