What happens when you experience that “aha” moment?
Not the good kind. I’m talking about the moment where you realize that your clothes don’t fit the way they used to. The moment where you really notice how much food is on your plate. The moment where you try to remember your last workout—but can’t?
A lot of fitness success stories start with these moments. But so do a lot of unsuccessful attempts. What makes some people successful where others fail?
To start answering that question, I caught up with Vineet. That first picture is his progress.
You can see a full album of his progress pictures here.
Vineet lost 49 pounds in 1.5 years after experiencing one of those “aha” moments. Our conversation, which is transcribed below, focuses on weight loss challenges and building a healthy lifestyle.
First, some numbers and routines.
Stats, Diet, and Workout
Vineet posted his progress in /r/fitness. I’m pulling this information from that post, so that you can see it in his own words.
Stats: 5’6″ Male, 24 years old
Total Weight Loss: 175 lbs -> 126.2 lbs.
“My diet has been pretty simple:
- Breakfast: Protein shake with peanut butter, Kodiak Cakes Pancakes, 2 Whole Eggs, and 4 small sausage patties (Easily my biggest meal of the day)
- Lunch: Chicken Breast with Spinach
- Dinner: Chicken Breast with Spinach
- Snack(s): Depending on the level of activity, I would eat a spoonful or two of Halo Top ice cream, or a protein bar if I needed extra calories
- “Cheating”: My philosophy on eating is that if I’m active 3-5 days a week, indulging once reasonably won’t have a big impact.
My total Caloric intake was about 1500 calories/day (Roughly a 500-700 caloric deficit as shown by my Fitbit), and I used MFP [Myfitnesspal] to track.
Once I got into the rhythm, I was able to just calculate things mentally rather than having to log it every day.”
“For the most part, I followed the “Bro Split” as it was most enjoyable for me.
I tried PPL, SL 5×5, PHUL, and some other stuff, but settled on this routine. I focused on hypertrophy primarily with every workout, doing 4 sets of 8-12 reps of each exercise.
[Comment from Benyamin: If those acronyms look like an alien language, this article reviews five of the most popular beginner weight lifting programs]
- Dumbbell Chest Press
- Dumbbell Incline Chest Press
- Dumbbell Chest Flies
- Cable Tricep Pushdown
- Tricep Extension Machine
- Incline Powerwalking on Treadmill (15 incline, 4.5-5 speed)
- Lat Pulldown
- Seated Rows
- Bent over Rows
- Barbell Curls
- Preacher Curls
- Lateral Raises
- Front Raises
- Seated Shoulder Press
- Incline Powerwalking on Treadmill (15 incline, 4.5-5 speed)
- Barbell Squats
- Leg Press
- Hamstring Curls
- Weighted Lunges
- Calf Raises
- Incline Powerwalking on Treadmill (15 incline, 4.5-5 speed)
- Incline Powerwalking on Treadmill (15 incline, 4.5-5 speed)
I think our interview is worth reading when you get a chance, but it is long. These are the best moments and big ideas.
- “Aha” moments are major instigators of change
- Understanding your motivation is important. Ultimately, an internal motivation is more sustainable and mentally healthy long-term.
- Working out is not sacrificing your life—it helps you live life better
- Seeing results makes you more confident and comfortable. Even if you aren’t where you want to be yet, there’s comfort in knowing you’re working towards it.
- At first, plateaus can be discouraging. Take a look at your routine, learn about what might be causing them, and push through. You will pass them eventually.
- When you are deciding on your routine, figure out what works for you
- Social factors can be an ally and a challenge. Working out is easier with friends, but eating right is hard when your friends want to go out a lot.
- Be up front about your goals. If you are feeling social pressure, tell people what you are working towards.
- Working out needs to be part of your routine, not something you force yourself to do
Best Moments (with Comments)
“Fast forward a little bit to after college, I basically job hunted at home for 8 months, and that’s where I put on a lot of the extra weight as well. I think I got up to 175, and then one day I went jean shopping and realized like ‘ohhh my god. I need to figure this thing out.’”
“Aha” moments like this are a huge and terrifying motivator for a lot of people. It’s easy to slip into an unhealthy routine without realizing.
It’s only when some external event happens—whether it’s jeans shopping, comments from friends, or an honest look in the mirror—that the feeling of “I guess I should work out” turns into “I need to do something about this now.”
“I know a lot of people that are like “I wanna lose weight and get ripped so someone will notice me,” but for me I’ve always had some self-confidence issues, so the driving factor was that I wanted to really feel good about how I look, have clothes fit me better, and just not have to worry about those things when you’re out with friends.”
How powerful is that?
I think the idea underneath this is important, especially because so many people view working out consistently as “sacrificing your life.”
Working out is not sacrificing your life—it helps you live life better.
“But you get really burned out when you limit yourself to super specific foods and very limited quantities of it and don’t cheat every once in awhile. That stuff can really take a toll on your mood.“
If you force yourself and restrict everything you’re going to do, you’re going to wind up miserable. Yes, you’ll need to eat less to lose weight, but find ways to build that into your routine instead of constantly depriving yourself.
“I’m just happy where I am and I think right now I’m able to be at that level of maintenance where I’m happy eating out, I’m happy working out, I’m happy the way my clothes fit.“
When you have a consistent routine, working out and eating right is no longer stressful or a big deal. As Vineet says later in the interview “the moment it becomes a thing you make yourself do it just ruins everything.”
Vineet also mentioned that he might start bulking. With his maintenance routine in place, that will be much easier. Once you have a routine, all you need to do is make adjustments towards your new goal—the hard work is already done.
Full Interview Transcript
Below you’ll find the full transcript from our interview, with some bolding for emphasis and in-line comments from me.
Benyamin: Tell me a little bit about where you started out.
Vineet: I’ve always been fairly active all throughout school. Up until college I was in soccer and karate—I was always doing something—but I always had some sort of reservations about my body, my appearance, my weight.
Then in college it was a lot of enjoying myself, partying, eating whatever I wanted, that kind of thing. It was fun, but that’s also when I started to get into some kind of working out, by which I mean lifting, I didn’t do cardio or any of that.
I didn’t really do it consistently but I still loved it, so even though in college I didn’t have a good diet or a good workout plan, the idea of lifting is something I really liked.
Fast forward a little bit to after college, I basically job hunted at home for 8 months, and that’s where I put on a lot of the extra weight as well. I think I got up to 175, and then one day I went jean shopping and realized like “ohhh my god. I need to figure this thing out.”
[Comment from Benyamin: This kind of story is super common. It’s easy to slip into an unhealthy routine without really noticing, and that “aha” moment can come as a real shock.]
Benyamin: You mentioned lifting as something that especially appealed to you. What specifically do you think made it appealing?
V: I think it was the tangible results. There’s a lot of things that you do but don’t see immediate results from, and maybe it’s just that I was a beginner lifter so results came faster, but it was still really exciting.
It was also something that I did with my friends, so the social aspect of it was something I enjoyed. After class we’d go to the gym together, do whatever. So I think it was the social aspect but also the immediate gratification that came from it.
Benyamin: Yeah that social aspect is big. It’s a lot of what helped me get started also. So when you decided to lose weight, what was the result you were looking for?
And by that I mean, obviously you were trying to lose weight, but how did you feel like that was going to better your life?
V: I know a lot of people that are like “I wanna lose weight and get ripped so someone will notice me,” but for me I’ve always had some self-confidence issues, so the driving factor was that I wanted to really feel good about how I look, have clothes fit me better, and just not have to worry about those things when you’re out with friends.
And you know, friends don’t really care how you look to some degree. But it’s one of those internal things where I just want to feel better about myself overall.
Benyamin: How do you feel different, now that you’ve lost the weight?
V: I feel a lot more confident. I think I’m still not where I want to be, but also…that’s fine? Along the way you realize that it takes a while to achieve these kinds of goals.
I feel better. As a by-product, it’s really gratifying when family members and friends comment on the fact that you’ve changed, and that motivates me to keep it going.
I think the self confidence that’s come from that is probably the biggest thing. It’s one less thing to worry about because I’m not constantly thinking about my appearance.
Benyamin: Yeah I think you’ve hit on something interesting there when you said you start to appreciate that these goals take a while to achieve. It’s just so important to learn to enjoy the process.
I also struggled with some body image problems early on, and I think it’s important to keep in mind that working out doesn’t automatically fix that if you don’t also work to develop confidence.
V: Yeah, it’s one of those things where initially when you see beginner gains and that’s really exciting and motivates you. But after a while when you stop seeing progress as quickly you start to lose confidence.
[Comment from Benyamin: This happens with weight loss goals, muscle building goals, strength goals, and everything else. The first 80% of the goal tends to be easier. As you keep improving, the things that have worked stop working, and you may need to change up your routine. Plateaus can really derail progress.]
For me, my mentality and relationship with food changed dramatically. Before I would kind of eat whatever I wanted and not really think much about it, but now I actually think about everything I’m putting in my mouth.
And I enjoy myself, I eat whatever sometimes, but I made an internal deal with myself where I’m like “hey, if you eat out once or twice a week, you need to offset it with four or five good days of working out.”
Benyamin: Has the way you think about food also changed?
V: Yeah. I’m not like huge into super organic or whatever food. My perception of food hasn’t changed as much as the way I allow myself to eat it. At the end of the day I could probably achieve results way faster if I stuck to a crazy specific meal plan and only ate that every day.
And that’s what I did for a year, and it worked.
But you get really burned out when you limit yourself to super specific foods and very limited quantities of it and don’t cheat every once in awhile. That stuff can really take a toll on your mood.
[Comment from Benyamin: If intense calorie counting, or even just tracking total calories, works for you, that’s awesome. It will work if you’re counting correctly. But a lot of people find that changing their approach to food works better and is a lot easier to stick to long-term.]
You know, it sounds depressing but you start to think “is this even worth it,” starving myself to get to X point. At the end of the day my perception of food is that it’s there so you can feel good and enjoy what you’re doing, so as long as you’ve got a reasonable consumption compared to exercise, that’s all I really care about at this point.
Benyamin: Yeah, I had a similar experience where I was counting calories and was SO intense about meal prep but…it just kind of weighs on you after a little bit. It’s another thing to take care of.
Back to a difference in how you feel, have you noticed a difference in how people treat you?
V: Not really! That’s like the one thing that’s surprised me the most. I haven’t really seen any difference in how people treat me. People comment after you haven’t seen them for a while like “oh wow you’ve lost weight” whatever whatever.
But my personality has stayed constant throughout it all. At least for me I intentionally tried not to change, so my relationship with people is still the same. Maybe I don’t notice, but I would say people don’t treat me differently.
I tried to have the same personality, regardless of whether I’m more self-confident in my appearance.
[Comment from BE: My own story definitely included some of that personality change. When I got fit, it slightly went to my head before correcting out to normal.]
Benyamin: When you decided to start working and losing weight, where did you go to find information about working out and dieting?
V: In college a lot of it was from bodybuilding.com because you know, I wanted to go get ripped and look at what the professional bodybuilders were doing.
But a lot of that was too advanced for my lifestyle and my mindset, so I got help from friends. I’m pretty lucky to have a lot of friends that are like super into fitness and lead very healthy lives, so I asked for tips slowly.
Then one of my friends showed me how to meal prep, one thing led to another and then you get kind of hooked on the lifestyle.
The second big thing was honestly the fitness subreddit, which has really helped me in the last year and a half. There’s a lot of repetitive information on it, but it’s also extremely useful. People are very helpful, and it’s really cool having a forum where you can post any question and 90% of the time you’ll get a well thought out answer helping you get where you want to get.
Benyamin: You said the bodybuilding.com workouts were too advanced for you. What did you mean by that?
V: What I mean by that is a that lot of the meal prep and stuff, and all of the supplements, it was kind of overwhelming. They’re like “oh you should try this supplement stack and have 8 meals a day,” and I’m like oh my gosh, I can’t do that.
It was kind of finding what works for me. Over time I decided I would take creatine and whey protein, and those are relatively affordable and easy supplements to use.
And then you just build out your own meal plan based on what you like to eat. So that’s kind of the approach I took, rather than using those kind of prescribed meal plans you find online.
Benyamin: Yeah I always say to people when I’m on a coaching call or something, if you’re doing things that you hate doing, you’re not going to be doing them for long.
V: Yeah definitely.
Benyamin: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in the last year and a half?
V: I’m very data driven in general, so for a lot of people I’d advise against doing this because it can get your mind weird, but tracking your weight on a daily basis, rather than a weekly basis, helped me.
[Comment from Benyamin: This definitely can “get your mind weird.” Nowadays I check my own weight every time I’m in the gym, just checking in to see if there’s any gain or loss of more than ~3 pounds.
For me it’s a check to see if I should change something. For Vineet it seems like a source of motivation. Some people can really struggle with obsessing over the number on the scale, so figure out what works for you.]
When I saw weight plateaus that would be a huge block. I’d be like “what the heck, I’m working out so much this week.” I’d only lose a little weight or just stay the same.
And then learning about the concept of water retention, I was like oh whatever, certain foods will make you retain water and you’ll lose it eventually. So weight plateaus is one of the biggest challenges.
Another one is forcing myself to understand what works. And by that I mean that for me I had to start doing cardio. That was just one of the things, at least for me, that I had to start doing to see the results at the pace I wanted.
So forcing myself to enjoy cardio, which at first doesn’t sound good, but now I really love cardio. It’s one of the things I really enjoy. So learning to enjoy different types of exercise.
[Comment from Benyamin: Do you need to do cardio? In the strictest sense no. But for a lot of people there are those little “keystone” habits that seem to make a bigger difference than you’d expect.
Also note: you shouldn’t try to force yourself to do things you hate, but also make sure you give new exercises a fair chance. You might surprise yourself.]
Another one is the social aspect. You know when friends are going out to bars and going out to eat all the time, it can get kind of draining and be a weird dynamic when you go out with them but don’t eat what they’re eating or get drinks. Also it’s hard to enjoy environments like that, especially since I’ve basically cut out alcohol altogether.
Benyamin: Yeah, how did you deal with that last one?
V: A lot of it is that I just literally told them my goals straight up.
I think that helped a lot, telling family and friends like hey, this is what I’m trying to do. If I don’t want to hang out and go to a bar don’t take it personally, that’s just something I’m doing because I don’t want to be around alcohol or be tempted to eat burgers.
So I was just up front, and there was never a situation where people were angry about it. People understand, people move on. Everyone was super understanding and I think that helped.
And when you hear the feedback after you get the results, that just makes it worth it.
[Comment from Benyamin: In general, I think being up front about your situation is the best solution in most cases. If you frame it as “this is something that I want to do for myself, and that’s important to me” good friends will understand (even if they are a little miffed at first).
Also notice how Vineet avoided eating too much by avoiding tempting situations entirely. Saying no is much easier to do without burger smell all over the place.]
Benyamin: Ok cool, so I think I just have a few questions left, unless you say something super interesting.
A lot of people struggle going to the gym consistently. The story is so common. They go for two weeks, they go really hard, and then they’re gone for six months.
How did you keep yourself consistent with your workouts?
V: Yeah. That was hard, and it’s still one of those things you have to find a good balance of. The workout changes throughout the years, and the seasons change. Like it’s really cold right now so walking to the gym is something that’s hard to get myself to do.
But I think in general, no one’s going to know if you do any of this. No one’s going to know if you skip the gym. To be honest, no one really cares. It’s one of those things where you have to force yourself. Do you want to see results, or just push it to another day.
Like I said, I made a deal with myself where as long as I lift X amount of days per week, and do cardio X days per week, that’s all I care about. I used to have a super regimented schedule where “Monday Wednesday Friday Sunday I lift,” but as now as long as I fill that quota that’s all that matters.
Consistency is hard, especially when you have a social life, you have work, but luckily for me I’ve always been an early bird. So I always go to the gym at like 4:30 or 5, back in time for work, and I can relax after work.
It’s one of those things where you have to find a way to make it work. And that sounds easy to say, but you need to build it into your routine. I think that’s something that helped me really stay consistent, because if I went to work without working out I would feel bad. I wouldn’t feel like I did as much as I could that way.
[Comment from Benyamin: At first this sounds like “just do it,” but on second glance it’s all about routines. When you can build working out into your lifestyle you can be consistent without sacrificing your life.
If you’re trying to find ways to build a routine, check out this article]
Benyamin: So that last question is…what’s next? What are you working on now?
V: It’s funny because, in my mind when I started I was like “ok, if I lose 50 pounds I’ll be super lean and I can start bulking.”
But I’m just going to keep going until I’m happy with where I am, and not really pay attention to a lot of the noise where people say “oh you can start bulking now.”
Now I’m going to keep leaning out and see where it goes, and maybe eventually start bulking. But I’m just happy where I am and I think right now I’m able to be at that level of maintenance where I’m happy eating out, I’m happy working out, I’m happy the way my clothes fit.
I was able to find a good balance in the last two years of figuring out. And I think that’s really important, being able to make it part of your lifestyle instead of changing everything to make it work.
[Comment from Benyamin: This is great. If Vineet does decide to start bulking, he already has a routine in place. Now it will just be a matter of making tweaks, but the hardest work is already done.]
Benyamin: Definitely. It has to be a thing that you do instead of a thing you make yourself do.
V: Yeah, because the moment it becomes a thing you make yourself do it just ruins everything. Things fall off the wagon so fast.