Traverse City Sportswriter Lost 200 Pounds ‘One Day at a Time’

Mike Eckert lost more than 200 pounds and wrote about it for a column in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Not much makes me happier than to learn of a weight-loss success story, especially when the person who sheds the weight was also morbidly obese. I shed a few tears when I read how someone feels about their new body and recalls how it felt to live the morbidly obese life, a story line we both share. I recently read such a story that truly impressed me, causing me to use a few more tissues than expected.

Mike Eckert, from Traverse City, is a sportswriter for the Record-Eagle newspaper. He lost more than 200 pounds and recently shared his story in a column. Here’s an excerpt:

“As much as I hated it, I started feeling like being overweight was somehow my destiny. I’d convince myself that I wasn’t in as bad of shape as I really was and that there was nothing I could do to change my physical appearance. I was born big, I’d always been big and it would be impossible to do anything about it.  I was so wrong.”

Those words struck a chord with me, and Eckert graciously agreed to share more of his story here on A Healthier Michigan.

Jodi Davis: Why do you feel that people have so much trouble accepting that losing a significant amount of weight will take time?

Mike Eckert: I think part of it is the “instant society” we live in. We eat on the run, we communicate on the go and we can access information at anytime, anywhere. But there is nothing instant about weight loss. There are no quick fixes and it takes time and work to accomplish it. But it’s something we’re capable of!

I felt like I was standing at the base of a mountain when it came to my weight loss. And in many ways, I was. But that wasn’t a productive way to approach it.

When I started losing weight, I took it one day at a time. I didn’t look ahead. All I tried to do was get through one day of eating healthy. Then, I’d go and do the same thing the next day. Before I knew it, the days turned into a week. And then weeks turned into months. But I never looked too far ahead. Instead, I had to focus on an achievable goal of one day.

This same idea comes into play when I run marathons. People tell me all the time they have no idea how I can run 26.2 miles. But that’s not how I look at it. I do 2-3 miles a number of times. I’ll focus on running to the next water break. Or going until the song changes on my iPod. Then, I set a new goal. And before you know it, you’ve achieved something much greater than the small goals.

Do you think that denial is easier than accepting the truth when it comes to obesity?

Denial about obesity was certainly easier than accepting the truth. At least it was for me. I didn’t want to hear that there was something wrong with me. So while I knew I was in very poor health, I’d convince myself it wasn’t as bad as it really was. It was the easy way out.

It’s difficult, too, because nobody that cares about you tells you that you need to do something about your weight. They love you too much to say anything. So in my head, I would spin that as positive reinforcement to my denial. Surely, I’d think, if I really needed to lose weight somebody would tell me that. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t say that trying to put any blame on my family and friends. Truth be told, it would have crushed me if anyone would have actually said something back when I was obese. Instead, they just showed me unconditional love.

It’s simply an example of the tricks we can play in our heads to accept denial. Because denial is easier than doing something about our problems.

Is it your opinion that weight-loss success stories include a turning point? Do you feel that covering Maverick Darling’s second Division 3 cross country state championship was your turning point?

I absolutely believe that most weight-loss success stories need a turning point. Because I doubt many people have success at their very first attempt to lose weight. It takes some trial and error as well as a whole lot of determination.

Eckert, shown before his weight loss.

For me, there were two factors that really served as turning points. One was watching Maverick Darling run. The kid ran with such grace. And, he’s one of those athletes that you just can’t help but want to emulate. I’ve always been an avid sports fan, but this was without question the first time I was wanting to “be like” an athlete that wasn’t from the worlds of football, basketball, baseball or golf.

At this same time, my mom had signed up for a weight-loss program (Weight Watchers) and was having some success with it. For me, it was the combination of the two. I was seeing someone close to me have results losing weight and I was inspired about what I could do — running — if I did lose the weight. It was the perfect storm.

Any specific advice for others on achieving weight loss goals?

You have to set achievable goals. With everything we do. Sometimes the mental challenges are the most difficult. So you have to take things one step at a time. That way, you’re always completing mini goals and not getting too ahead of yourself.

This applies to everything — weight loss included. If you need to lose weight and decide how much you want to lose, whether it’s 20 pounds or 200 pounds, that’s a difficult goal to put in front of yourself. Instead, put a small number out. Decide to lose a couple of pounds in a week. And then do it again the next week. One step at a time.

Why did you once believe that it was unattainable for you to lose weight?

I felt it was unattainable for me because I had tried the quick fixes — I’d lose a few pounds, but then give up and put them right back on. And in the back of my mind, I focused on the total sum that I would need to lose: 200 pounds. That was a lot! So it seemed impossible. I wished someone would create some kind of pill or discover a weight-loss secret to solve my problem. It honestly at times felt like that would be the only way I wouldn’t be obese. I was so wrong.

Do you feel that exercise was the KEY factor of your weight loss success?

I couldn’t have lost the weight I did without exercise. Plain and simple. Becoming a healthy eater no doubt was a big part of it. I could have exercised all day long, but if I kept eating the way I was I wouldn’t have lost a pound. But I really found success when I added exercise.

When I was obese, it was a workout to move. I could sweat while sitting still. So doing anything that involved physical activity was difficult. One of the things I learned early on was to do things in moderation.

At first, when I would decide to work out, I’d either lift weights or run. And I’d do it as hard as I possibly could. Then, I’d be in agony for days and would have a hard time motivating myself go through that again. That wasn’t accomplishing anything and frankly, was dangerous at my physical condition. I had to find balance.

So running, I wouldn’t sprint as fast as I possibly could, I’d jog. I remember reading about the “talk test.” Basically, it’s a guide that if you can’t carry a conversation while running, you’re going too fast. I couldn’t go very far very fast at the start, but I also found that I wasn’t in pain the next day. So I’d do it again. And again. Before I knew it, I was slowly building stamina and losing weight all at the same time.

Any advice to a person who feels as though they don’t have what it takes” to lose the weight?

I was that person who didn’t think I “had what it takes.” But I did. We all do. I hear people all the time saying they wish they could lose XX pounds. You just wish you could convince them they can! This is something we’re all capable of. I think that’s the first step — convincing yourself you can do this.

What would you say to the person who claims they can’t afford to lose weight, that healthy food and exercise equipment are just too costly?

Healthy food can be a little more expensive than junk food, but it’s not going to break the bank. For those living on fast food because of price and convenience, I’d say that they can make healthy choices at those same locations, for the same price.

Subway has done a great job of marketing their healthy choices. And those sandwiches are among their cheapest. At any burger joint, you can get a grilled chicken sandwich. Have them hold the mayo and you’re looking at a healthy option. It may taste a little different at first to not be sauced up, but it’s something you’ll get used to.

As for exercise, gym memberships and equipment is expensive. But there are plenty of ways to be active without spending a dime. Walking and running are possible options anywhere. Whether it’s at a park or down a rural dirt road, you can get out and start moving. Sometimes the weather isn’t ideal, but I’ve found those are the best days to exercise. If you can get yourself to go for a walk or run in the cold or the rain, you’ll feel even more proud of it.

Do you “like Mike” more now that you’ve lost the weight?

I played tennis with my girlfriend and then went to play in my team’s rec-league basketball game. I loved it. Later that night, I was thinking about how far I’ve come. I’ve always wanted to do that kind of stuff, but there were so many years where it wasn’t even on my radar, because I wasn’t in good enough physical condition to even attempt it. But slowly, I was able to get myself healthy.

I love my life now, but I don’t take it for granted. If I wouldn’t have changed, I don’t know if I’d still be here. Inside, I’m still the same guy I’ve always been, only a lot happier now.

Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to answer these questions … you are truly a remarkable individual!

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