Shontarius Aikens, May 7th, 2010
In August 1993, I weighed approximately 175 pounds. In February 2010, I weighed in at 302 pounds. How did I gain 127 pounds over the course of 17 years? The culprit: Poor nutrition and eating habits that I developed in college. During college, I had a very active lifestyle due to involvement in the marching band and intramural sports, but after college, the active lifestyle was replaced with a focus on career advancement. However, my poor nutrition and eating habits continued, and it would catch up with me eventually.
In the past, I’ve tried radical diet plans, food portioning strategies, exercise equipment, and home workout video programs to lose weight. After a few weeks of good results, my interest and commitment level would disappear, and I would resort to my old habits. There was a point in the past where I had decided to be content with being overweight.
My wife forwarded me information on the 2010 MaretHouse Fitness Challenge Contest. I figured that I had nothing to lose, so I submitted my application. From my understanding, there were hundreds of applications, and the committee selected approximately 30 people for interviews. Out of this, six people would be selected; I was excited to find out that I was one of them.
During orientation, David Marethouse, owner of MaretHouse Fitness, taught us the basics of nutrition and weight loss. David has the ability to make complex health and fitness terminology easy to understand. More importantly, he is really good at explaining the reasoning behind certain healthy practices. I learned more about nutrition in those two-and-a-half hours than I had learned in my entire life.
All of the contestants participated in initial fitness and strength tests to determine our weight, body-fat percentage, blood pressure, cholesterol level, and current physical conditioning. After viewing the results, I was disappointed and ashamed that I was in such poor health and conditioning. But I told myself that it was good for me to know where I started and to use that as motivation to improve.
Before we hit the gym, David took us on a tour of a grocery store to teach us how to shop. We learned how to properly read food labels as to not be misled by fancy marketing and food product packaging. During the two-hour grocery store tour, I scribbled over six pages of notes. At that point, I realized that nutrition would be my biggest obstacle in this fitness challengeâ€”more so than the workouts.
The 2010 MaretHouse Fitness Challenge began on Monday, February 8, 2010. For the next 12 weeks, each contestant trained five days a week at the Aggieland Fitness Dome with a MaretHouse personal trainer and would be required to keep a daily food journal. At the conclusion of each week, our primary statistics (weight, body-fat percentage, blood pressure) were measured, and the results were posted on the MaretHouse website for followers to track our progress. In addition, each contestant was required to write weekly about our experiences, successes, and challenges on our individual contestant websites. I spent the first several weeks adjusting to a new routine and balancing priorities as a result of the requirements of the fitness challenge.
By the end of the first week, my trainer had me doing circuit training, which is simply a group of exercises to be performed in a sequence, or round. After each round, you were permitted to rest and recover for one to three minutes before repeating the round of exercises. For example, my workout on Friday of the first week consisted of upper body and lower body circuits. The upper body circuit of exercises included pushups (15 reps), benchpresses (15 reps), rope waves (30 seconds), and seated rows (15 reps). The lower body circuit of exercises included leg presses (15 reps), sitting squats (15 reps), side leg lunches (15 reps), and stairs (three reps — up and down counts as one). Naturally, I was extremely sore and fatigued after workouts during the first couple of weeks. That, I had anticipated.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the amount of time I was going to spend planning each week. Each weekend, I had to plan out all of my meals for the week, go to the grocery store and shop accordingly, cook all of my meals over the weekend, and pre-portion them into food containers. In order to avoid unnecessary driving back and forth from my house, I had to develop a system to pre-pack the professional and workout clothes that I would need each day. There were some days where I would workout first and then go to work, and other days would be the opposite. Probably the biggest adjustment was saying goodbye to my night-owl tendencies to ensure adequate sleep.
Over time, I got stronger and in more shape, and the soreness and fatigue went away. To ensure that my body was still being challenged, my trainer would increase the amount of weights and resistance, increase the number of repetitions, and decrease the amount of rest time between each set.
An exciting highlight during the challenge was experiencing the first tangible results of my hard work. Before the challenge, my pants size was 52 x 30. Around week six, my body had changed so much that I could fit into a 44 x 32 pair of pants. It was mind boggling to people when I stood next to my old pair of pants. I also noticed improvements in how I felt, my energy levels, and my ability to think more clearly. Because I was seeing results, there was a natural temptation to slack off during workouts, but I kept my focus on doing the things that produced those results. Even though we were permitted one cheat day per week where we could eat anything that we wanted, I was so focused on achieving results that I didn’t feel the need to cheat when my cheat day came.
At some point during the final three weeks of the challenge, I noticed that my source of motivation had changed. In the beginning, my main motivation to get healthier and more fit was because my family members wanted me to. Now, my primary driving force to get healthier and more fit was because it was important to me. I started going to the gym during my free time to do extra workouts. I started pushing myself harder during scheduled training sessions. When I weighed in on my final workout day, my unofficial numbers indicated that I had lost a total of 35 pounds, and my body-fat percentage had decreased by 8.2 percent.
This experience has been a tremendous blessing in so many ways. Not only have I improved my health and fitness, but I have also made new friends. In addition, I’ve learned how to incorporate health and fitness into a busy lifestyle. I am now a more conscious and educated consumer who can make better food choices. So, if I go out to eat, I now know which food items would be better to eat. And, I’ve learned that comfort foods (like desserts) in moderation are fine as long as they don’t become a consistent part of my daily food intake. As I heard one of the MaretHouse trainers say, “You eat to live. You don’t live to eat!”
On Saturday, May 8, 2010, the winner of the 2010 MaretHouse Fitness Challenge Contest will be announced at our graduation ceremony. Regardless of Saturday’s results, I already feel like a winner. I sincerely hope that my story can encourage others to take an important step in improving their quality of life. Trust meâ€¦it’s worth it.