• Inactivity and a poor diet caused Jacob Elert’s weight to climb to 480 pounds.
• A friend motivated him to make a change, starting with tracking his eating habits through an app.
• After committing to daily walks, a healthier diet, and working with a personal trainer, Elert recently completed a dramatic 250-pound weight loss transformation.
If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to weigh nearly 500 pounds, Jacob Elert says, imagine having a giant beach ball squeezed between your head and your feet that won’t budge. “I had to hold my breath while tying my shoes because my stomach would press too hard against my lungs for me to breathe,” he says. “I’m already a big guy, so imagine how much more difficult it was to find anything that was made for me.”
His weight posed other problems, too—namely, a throbbing pain in his lower back whenever he’d be on his feet for too long. “I couldn’t stand or walk for more than 5 minutes before my lower back began to collapse. Once I was walking from a wedding to a reception with my dad, and I had to ask him to stop so I could sit on the sidewalk.”
Elert, 32, who works as a software distribution packaging analyst for a healthcare company in Michigan, had always been a bigger guy, but says his weight gain increased dramatically after college when he moved to a place off-campus and started relying more on his car to get around. “That alone made me gain like 30 pounds since I was no longer walking anywhere,” he says. In 2014, following a layoff from his previous job, Elert says he lost all motivation to work out. “Boy howdy, did I let myself go,” he says. “I stopped exercising entirely.”
“I was killing myself, and not just with food. Not only was I getting massive, calorie-loaded meals, but I was also drinking heavily. I think I’d go through a half-gallon of liquor every two weeks or so.”
Elert knew that he was headed down a dangerous path if he didn’t make a change soon. His turning point arrived when his longtime friend and roommate, Ray, announced one day that he was going to move out on his own. Given the state of his health at the time, the idea of living alone didn’t sit well with Elert. “I realized I had a decision to make: Did I want to live or die?” he says.
As Elert started to contemplate the changes that he needed to make, his friend Ray offered a few suggestions. “He’s always been encouraging me to be a better person, and he was the one to suggest that I begin logging my food in MyFitnessPal,” Elert says. Elert also started setting small, but manageable goals, such as walking every day, and tried to restrict his food intake to roughly 2,700 calories. Come summer, however, Elert found that the heat made it difficult continue with his daily walks, so he joined a gym—Life Time—and started using the facility’s indoor treadmills.
Not long after that, a manager at Life Time asked if Elert wanted to try working with a personal trainer, Mike Ward. Elert agreed, and after discussing his goals, Ward started Elert on a more rigorous nutrition, training, and diet plan, one that initially required about 150 grams of protein per day.
“He would just slightly push me out of my comfort zone every week, and that type of learning really helped me grow. There were goals that seem laughable now,” Elert says. “Like the goal to make myself a sandwich, something I hadn’t done in years. He’s responsible for a lot of the healthy and positive changes I’ve made. I owe my life to that guy.”
Together, Elert and Ward continued to put in the work, and this time—unlike the many trendy diets he’d tried in the past—the pounds fell off and stayed off. As of this month, he’s lost exactly half his bodyweight at his peak—240 pounds, down from 480. “Now I can also make the slightly lame—but still funny to me—joke that I’m half the man I used to be,” he says.
Besides regaining his sense of humor, Elert also says he’s feeling more confident and assertive. He feels comfortalbe doing yoga shirtless. He cut down on his drinking, too—while he’ll still have a beer or two when he’s out with friends, he never drinks alone anymore. (“What’s the point?”) Elert adds, however, that he tries to be mindful of setting rules that are too hard-and-fast. That only leads to guilt when they’re broken.
“This negative feeling about myself and my supposed ‘lack of willpower’ would lead me into a vicious cycle of negative feelings, ending in me gaining all my weight back. Mike helped me realize that I’m in control of how I eat, and I chose to overeat because I felt like it. And now I’m choosing to eat better so I can get to my current goal.”
If there’s a takeaway for beginners, Elert says, it’s the importance of starting small and setting realistic expectations: Go for a walk. Download a foot tracking app. Don’t worry about hitting major milestones at first—instead, focus on thinking about what you want the end result to be, and start building momentum towards it. And if you can afford one, Elert enthusiastically recommends working with a trainer.
“It was maybe the best decision I’ve ever made,” he says. “They say nothing tastes as great as being thin feels, but I don’t think that’s true. There are things that taste so amazing, they’re all you can think about. But those things are short-term, and the amount of long-term confidence, pride, and power you feel when you get healthy are so huge, they outweigh any short-term pleasure through eating you will ever get.”
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