It is a familiar story: long hours at work plus a busy family life plus travel and other stressors equals weight gain. Many Americans find themselves in this boat, frustrated, feeling sick and not knowing a way out. The following are the stories of two Bellevue Club members who figured out how to successfully balance their many obligations with their desires to take control of their health. Each member went through the Club’s six-week Your Body Your Life program, which includes personal training and nutrition guidance, and the results and experiences speak for themselves.
Name: Jack Ryder
Profession: Chief Financial Officer, Microsoft North America
Reflections magazine: What was your state of health when you signed up for Your Body Your Life?
Jack Ryder: For context, I work at Microsoft. So I’m one of those guys who work too much and travel too much. We had lived here for many years, then we moved to Europe in 2008. To Paris. And through the combination of too much travel, too much work, good French desserts and red wine, I managed to gain a bunch of weight.
RM: How much weight?
JR: I gained 40 pounds over five or six years. By the time we got back here and settled in, I hit a new high—or low—depending on how you measure it. And I knew I needed to get things in order. So that was the beginning.
RM: Did you have problems with energy or other health problems?
JR: The typical things. Low energy levels, drinking too much coffee to make up for it, four or five cups during the day, especially during the afternoon to get the energy back up. My sleep quality went down, blood pressure went up. I wasn’t on medication, but I just felt lousy. I was in good shape for a long time before kids. And then there was a slow degradation over time. I got to the point where I realized things were spinning too far out of control and I needed to get it back in order. In the past, I’ve been in other programs, abstinence-based programs. And I would lose weight all in one shot and then gain it back.
RM: What didn’t work?
JR: They made me realize abstinence-based programs wouldn’t really work for me. I needed something more sustainable. So it was a good time, back settling into Bellevue, a good wake-up call with the kids and wanting to be around to watch them grow up.
RM: How was the weight affecting your job?
JR: Two things I noticed: my energy level would drop, and then a lot of times, if I was tired, I would get frustrated. And there you can get in trouble if you’re not careful; you’re not your best self if you’re tired and irritable.
RM: What was your schedule like?
JR: The usual. No different than many of the members. I worked long hours, then you want to be present for your family, then go back online at night, too many hours. I was taking care of people at work, taking care of family, but not carving out time for myself. It was a good time to go ahead and do that.
RM: When did you begin the program?
JR: It was probably February of last year. I was so aggravated to be in this place again. Not the Club, my state of health. I needed to do something significant to bend the weight curve in the other way.
RM: What appealed to you most about the program?
JR: When I met with the nutritionist, Wendy Caamano, she said, “We need to meet you where you are.” So the expectation wasn’t that we were going to do some radical, 100 percent change in eating patterns. It wasn’t a total life overhaul, with no more caffeine and no more red wine. At that point, life is not worth living. I wanted something sustainable, something I could do after the program ended. I had no huge expectations that in six or 12 weeks I’d lose 50 pounds and life would be better again, but I wanted it to be on the right trajectory again. I wanted to use the program to refocus myself.
RM: What was the most surprising thing you learned about nutrition?
JR: I had been overseas for a while, and you get used to relatively small portions. Then I came back to the U.S. and the portions are huge, so you eat it. It’s unconscious, the way I was eating. So I focused on portion control first. The second thing was avoiding giant mistakes. Some people drink too much; I like ice cream. So I took away some of the big mistakes and started eating more rational.
RM: What’s the most positive thing you realized when changing your eating habits?
JR: It was relatively simple to adopt new eating patterns because there was nothing outrageous. It wasn’t like: stop everything you’re doing and eat nothing but kale and quinoa. I could have a normal breakfast, lunch and dinner. I needed to be careful about portion control and other things, but just being conscious of what was going into my mouth was an important part of it. It turned out to be relatively straightforward.
RM: And the whole family was on board?
JR: My family, we’re very lucky. My wife is a great cook, and she always cooks very healthy food. For me, I would just eat twice as much of it. And avoiding bowl after bowl of ice cream at the end. It’s very helpful the structure you get from a nutritionist. I work in finance. I’m a logical human being; I like charts and graphs and checklists. Having a tracking mechanism, having something I could see when it was going well and when it wasn’t going well was helpful to me as to when to moderate behavior.
RM: And how was the physical part?
JR: I played all the typical sports when I was young. I ran track, played rugby for Syracuse University, played in an old-man hockey league for years and years. We also were in Colorado for a few years, so we’d hike and run and all that stuff. As I got older, work responsibility increased and time outside started to decrease. In Europe there’s less access to the outdoors, and there’s not the whole gym culture there. So the ability to exercise was more limited.
RM: How hard was it to jump back in?
JR: I worked with Jessica Hintz for strength and Nancy Black for cardio. For me, I knew that if I went too hard and too fast I’d hurt myself. My goal was to not do anything stupid right off the bat, which is always a challenge for me. I didn’t look at it as a six-week or 12-week program. I looked at it as the next phase of my life. So I started to go three times a week, building up an aerobic base. I love the step mill. I love that machine, maybe it’s growing up Catholic and the need for penance or something. I’m working on getting my endurance back, and the strength training has always been fun for me.
RM: Which came back more easily?
JR: Neither. It’s still not back. But it’s a lot better than it was. It’s remarkable how quickly you can get out of shape. Having been so active for many years, I figured it would be relatively straightforward to get it back. I forgot that I was 50 years old and it takes a hell of a lot longer now. It’s been a slog to get back to where you don’t feel everything jiggling around. I’m getting there.
RM: What’s been the most positive thing about getting active again?
JR: It’s fun to come to the gym and work out in the morning and then hit the office at 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. full of energy. I’m down to two or three cups of coffee a day, not five or six, and the 8:00 a.m. meeting is not the grind it used to be. I come in and am excited for it. The team is not quite where I am sometimes.
RM: So your team has noticed a difference?
JR: Yeah. At first the clothes start to fit a little better, the wardrobe improves. You feel better, more like yourself. After three or four weeks of better eating and exercise, you feel this fog lift. And you start thinking better, you’re in a better mood, people notice.
RM: Your family noticed?
JR: Yeah, they noticed and we are spending more time outside again, especially summertime, a lot of hiking. We have a very enthusiastic one-year-old golden retriever, who likes to go on long hikes in the woods. Now I don’t feel like I’m going to have a stroke 20 minutes in. I don’t feel like I’m going to die. It was very frustrating. I was not some sort of super athlete, but I’ve walked up fourteeners and run half marathons, and not being able to hike up four miles was aggravating, so now getting that back opens up a whole part of your life that you didn’t realize you missed. It’s fun.
RM: What’s your ultimate goal?
JR: Two hundred [pounds] is a good weight. That had crept up to 255 before I started the program. Last check I was at 240, down 15. My goal is to take it off in 15 pound-chunks. Just keep it on the right glide path without going backward.
RM: Does that help when you take it in small goals?
JR: For me, it puts more responsibility on me to make consistent, intelligent choices. Knowing that it’s not a program, it’s an approach to living life. I can’t say I don’t have enough information; the Club has armed me with information. What I’ve found is for me it was lack of time or mostly lack of willpower. It’s having the motivation to take care of yourself, lead a healthy life, be in decent shape, participate. The last thing I want is to be the 60-year-old guy who has a heart attack.
Name: Jonathan Webster
Occupation: Vice President and General Manager, Coca-Cola Company
Reflections magazine: What was your state of health before starting the Your Body Your Life program?
John Webster: Weight-wise I was in the 260's, and I wouldn’t describe what I was doing as a healthy, balanced lifestyle. There were a lot of on-the-go foods. Breakfast was fast food or no food at all; it was extreme. Lunch was ordered in for a meeting, fast and casual eating. Luckily at home my wife was cooking for dinner, which was healthy. But calorie consumption over the day was far more than what I really needed.
RM: What was your biggest weakness?
JW: For me, it was the snack food; that got to me. Cheese and crackers, nuts, stuff that on the surface is not bad for you, but when you’re consuming it in large volumes, that’s where it wasn’t good. It wasn’t sweets, candy or desserts. It wasn’t chips, but more cheese and crackers right before a meal.
RM: What about your energy levels and productivity?
jw: Overall, for me energy was a mindset. I always found ways to get myself energized and pumped up. But what I found since is that I know better. After going through the program, I don’t feel like I need to focus on getting myself energized. I feel a more regular energy. And I’m carrying 30 pounds less weight, so I’m not as fatigued going through the day. In terms of food as a source of fuel, I wasn’t eating the stuff that robs you of energy. It was just the volume. And also too, the combination of what I was eating.
RM: What about other health concerns?
JW: Not really. Well, I did have slightly high cholesterol, and the doctors wanted to prescribe medication. That was not something I was interested in. I told myself, I’d rather fix the root issues than use medications to cover it.
RM: Was that your turning point?
JW: No. Long story short, my turning point was when I heard someone I thought was a friend talking about how big I was. That said to me I must be bigger than I think I am. Truth be told, that’s what spurred it.
RM: Why did you choose the YBYL program?
JW: I looked at BC’s YBYL program and the Pro Club’s program, but neither at the time seemed to fit into my schedule. The way they were described sounded almost like a jail. I was mentally stuck. I felt like I wanted to do something different, but didn’t know how. I didn’t think I could realistically do these programs, and I didn’t want to waste my money or my family’s money. Then the situation with my friend came up, and I came back to Tricia and said, “Can we make it a little less strict to work with my schedule?”
RM: What was your typical schedule like?
JW: I’m a business leader, right, so I travel 10 to 12 days a month. And I’m not in an environment always behind a desk or next to a cafeteria. I have offices all over and spend a lot of time with customers. As a result, food is usually something business-related or it’s something I’m grabbing on the go.
RM: So you needed something flexible?
JW: I needed to be able to give [Fitness Coordinator] Tricia [Betenson] dates, and for it not to be the same schedule every week. The day Tricia said we can be flexible, the skies opened up, and I said OK, this is possible. And so that’s how it came to be.
RM: What were your immediate goals?
JW: I knew I needed to lose weight. I knew I had high cholesterol. I knew I didn’t feel good when I looked in the mirror. I also knew I run a large organization and people look at me as their leader.
RM: What were the first days and weeks on the program like?
JW: I honestly thought the first few weeks were going to be hell. I was going in with that mindset. And then I met Wendy [Caamano], my nutrition coach, who by the way is spectacular. I learned so much about food, nutrition, and food combinations. I tried things I’ve never tried before, and now I really like them. I was a high school athlete and played a little bit of college sports, but I never learned how to eat. So here I am at 43 years old, and it was the first time I was eating the right foods.
RM: What was the most surprising thing you learned?
jw: There are a lot more food options that exist that you can put into a healthy lifestyle. In my frame of reference, healthy foods were so much more limiting than it truly is. Some foods—oatmeal, eggs—I learned those are things you should be eating. So it changed many misperceptions of foods that I enjoy as well.
RM: How did the fitness portion of the program go?
JW: My cardio coach is Annelise [Digiacomo], and on the strength side I worked with Justin Ehling. I thought I had a pretty good working knowledge of the gym, but the sessions really exposed the versatility of the equipment, versatility of muscle groups, how to build a base. So basically, prior to that I might have come to the gym for a run. So I’d get on the treadmill and get to five minutes and seven minutes and peter out. Annelise said, “We’ve got to build a base, slowly ramp you up, keep you from getting injured.” With Justin, I spent a lot of time with different pieces of equipment. He taught me a lot about routines that I can use when I’m traveling and staying at hotels.
RM: What was the most surprising thing you learned about the physical side?
JW: The most surprising first thing I learned is I’ve got a long way to go, truth be told. And what I really learned through this is I feel better when I get a workout in, and I need to make it a priority. For me, the workout was what I needed to prioritize. Weaving the food in actually wasn’t that hard because I found I actually like a lot of the options.
RM: What helped you prioritize it?
JW: For me it was about understanding that I don’t need to spend a lot of time in the gym, but I need a frequency of at least three to five times a week and make it an efficient 35 to 40 minutes, plus a little bit of time for stretching. I don’t need hours upon hours at a gym, but I need to make it a priority. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not always been easy. The last 36 hours is a great example. I was going nonstop, so I didn’t get any exercise in at all.
RM: How do you deal with the stress and guilt of knowing you missed the workouts?
JW: For me, I don’t set expectations that every day at 5:30 a.m. I’m going to go work out, because it’s not realistic. I’m going to fit it into my calendar like I would other appointments and activities. I have to manage my calendar. My life is not routine; it’s not realistic. But the good thing is I just have to find three or four 45-minute time slots in a week. When I started to think about it that way, it wasn’t so overwhelming.
RM: How much weight have you lost?
JW: I’m down 31 pounds. I’d like to get down another 30 pounds. If I do that, I’d be perfectly happy and content. I’ll be down below the weight I was when I got married.
RM: What have you enjoyed the most about the transition?
JW: I’ll have a whole new wardrobe [laughs]. I think I’m most proud of how I feel better. I do. Second, I am more confident in myself in achieving something important to me. For example, during the program I created a goal to ride in the 100-mile MS bike ride, and I completed it. I’m making a lot of great improvement, but it’s a journey and I’m continuing with training and nutrition. I like the accountability.
RM: Was accountability a big part for you?
JW: Yeah, I’m pretty good at keeping myself accountable, but at the same time I still learn something new every time I meet with the team. And I will say the empathy and care I’ve seen is inspiring.
RM: Has your family seen a difference?
JW: I have two kids, 10 and 12, and a wife. My wife is very proud of me, and my kids have been spectacular through it. We recently ran the UW Dog Dash and Jingle Bell as a family. The family’s been very encouraging and supportive.