Friday, February 20, 2015

What Got Me Off the Couch: Barrie Luongo's Story

Barrie and Blake Shelton
This is the second in the What Got Me Off the Couch series. Regular Guy Barrie Luongo has written about his experiences making a commitment to being fit and living his life. If you'd like to share your story, too, let me know! --Andrew

"199!"

The bold, red numbers screamed at me from the black wallpaper on my laptop. This was the reminder I'd made myself when I finally decided to recognize what I'd done to myself at the end of the worst year of my life.

2011 had started well enough: I had finally gotten my weight down to 30 pounds less than it had been in high school. I had just earned my second-degree black belt and landed my dream job.

But within a few months, everything fell apart. I lost my job, quit martial arts and lost my grandmother. My daily focus shifted to drinking my feelings away.

That didn't last very long. I soon had two full-time jobs that left me with no time to think about what was going on outside of work. During the day, my best work friend and I would take cupcake and frappucino breaks. Often I'd let myself get so busy I would run out of the office to grab a few empanadas for lunch because they were quick. Then I'd rush to my other job just in time to add sweet & sour chicken to the delivery order. Sometimes I'd cover overnights, leaving work at 3 a.m. only to return to my other job at 9. Were I lucky enough to have a night off, it would be spent at happy hour, trying to relax with co-workers.

It should have come as no surprise that I put on 40+ pounds in four months.

Even though I had to buy a new wardrobe of size XL T-shirts from the local discount department store, I struggled with denial, untagging myself in every Facebook photo and turning back to food for further comfort. Until one day when I finally found the courage to step on the scale and see the extent of the damage. When I saw that I was hovering around 200 pounds -- I’m only five-foot-two -- I created wallpaper for my laptop to remind me. And scare me.

It took a while for my scare tactics to make an impact. In that time, I managed to land a higher-paying job and leave my cupcake and Chinese food buddies behind. Finally I had time to myself, which meant I had plenty of opportunity to really see the puffy face in the mirror.

I knew a big problem was lack of movement. That was a lot easier to tackle than the diet issues. I joined a martial arts school and threw myself into training. I was a joke: the highest-ranked student, but twice the size of each of the other black belts. The skill and techniques were there, but my endurance was shot. My instructor's kids called me names. Nothing compares to the honesty in the judgment of a five-year-old who lacks all social awareness and boundaries.

To speed up my progress, I found a LivingSocial deal for a gym that offered small classes with pre-set workouts and instruction. Perfect. I had tried and failed to go to regular gyms for years, so I knew this was just what I needed to succeed.

I hated it. It was terrible. I can't say the gym was ill-equipped to deal with someone in as poor shape as I was, but the coaches were definitely surprised. Everyone else at least had some background in fitness or traditional gyms. I had martial arts, sure, but martial arts don't teach you anything about barbells. Speaking of barbells, when it came time to use them, I was so weak I was given PVC pipe to start. Ouch.

It was about a month in when I went to an afternoon class. Afternoons at the gym had an entirely different crowd and atmosphere than mornings.

"Barrie! I've heard about you." I turned to see the person to whom the unfamiliar voice belonged. Though we'd never met, I recognized the owner of the gym from the website. I never got the full story, but after determining that he did not know me from the great Yelp review I'd just written (he hadn't seen it at that point), I deduced that the coaches must have talked about the Super Fat Guy Who Keeps Showing Up.

It's been over two years now. I've lost about 35 pounds. My focus is completely on CrossFit and Olympic Lifting, though I'm thinking about training for a 5K in the spring. One day I'd like to coach at my gym. I’ve fixed my diet and added some more cardio to get my heart pumping. I can't say my body is where I want it to be yet, and I'm still learning how to manage the balance of weight loss while strength training, but hey, the guy I'm dating likes when my muscles get too big for my clothing, even though it means I have to wear my "fat" pants and shirts. I'll take it. And I plan never to see the number 199 again.

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