How I Overcame My Mother’s Suicide, Found My Calling, and Achieved My Dream Body Along the Way

On August 31, 2010, 4 days after I proposed to my girlfriend, my mother committed suicide.

She wrecked her vehicle into the side of an elevated highway, but that failed to kill her so she got out and jumped off the side of the highway to her death.

It’s taken me years to fully accept that’s what actually happened, but it did, and I refuse to feel ashamed or obscure the gruesome details regarding her suicide anymore — this is the reality of what severe depression drives people to do.

My mother suffered from severe clinical depression when I was in junior high, but had been relatively stable until her suicide over a decade later. For that, I have to thank my father who took extraordinary action to ensure she didn’t end her life much sooner. I can only imagine how much more challenging my life would have been had she left this world in my adolescence.

Just a couple of weeks before my mother took her life I found out she was suffering from depression again. In that conversation I made sure she had all three of my phone numbers and told her to contact me anytime, 24 hours a day, if she needed to talk. And I reminded her that we’d all be together again in a couple weeks, something I hoped she looked forward to.

I proposed to my wife in a hotel room overlooking the ocean in Cape May, NJ and we told our families shortly thereafter at dinner. My mother, who seemed so lifeless the entire weekend, came alive for a moment, stood up, and gave a beautiful speech in honor of the proposal.

Two days later I hugged my mother at the airport, just before she flew home, telling her that I loved her.

I can still feel the warmth of that hug.

My girlfriend and I stayed in South Jersey for two more days, departing late Tuesday morning. The weather was clear, the sun felt warm on my skin, it was a beautiful day outside.

We were only a dozen miles north of Atlantic City when I received the call from my father.

The whole thing felt surreal, impossible even — like something that happens to other people, something that only happens in a movie. Sometimes it still feels like that.

We flew back to Houston that night to be with my father and start the arrangements.

That night, as I sat in my mother’s usual spot next to the home phone, I looked down and saw where she’d written down the numbers I gave her a few days ago. Or rather, part of them — she’d only written half of one number.

The arrangements for a suicide take longer than for a death of “natural” causes. The city has to ensure there is no foul play before releasing the body, and someone has to go and identify the body — an uncle-in-law was generous enough to assist in that regard.

There was a wake in Houston, and the funeral home was packed with all of the people my mother had touched during her lifetime. It was an amazing outpouring of support.

I gave the eulogy for my mother entitled “Sweat the Small Stuff” — a tribute to my mom’s ability to value the big things in life by paying attention to the small things.

Afterwards we opened the floor for anyone who wanted to get up and talk about how my mother had touched them — a number of people did, but even more came up to me and my family afterwards and told us privately.

The next day we drove up to East Texas where my father lives and my mother would be laid to rest.

A couple of days later her body was transferred from Houston, and there was a small service in the funeral home where the priest mistakenly identified the deceased as my father before being corrected (it’s East Texas, what do you expect?)

After the service I kissed my mother’s rose-decorated casket goodbye and splashed some dirt on it as they lowered her into the ground.

I remained in Texas for a few more weeks with my father and sister — sitting around, running miscellaneous but unimportant errands, talking to friends and family on the phone, and weeping every couple of hours. A friend came in town during this time period to offer emotional support, or was it two friends? My memory right after my mother’s death is so hazy.

When I finally returned to NYC I felt a tremendous amount of physical pressure on my chest, like the world was weighing down on me, while simultaneously feeling completely empty inside.

For several months straight my emotions cycled between extreme sadness and rage — I didn’t deserve this.

At work I bottled my emotions in public and cried silently in the bathroom.

Acceptance came slowly, in bits and pieces.

Permit me a side rant for a moment, because I think this is really important.

No matter how many stupid f*cking Hollywood movies there are that show a moment of “closure” where the main character accepts the tragic events of the past and moves on with their life to achieve great success, reality is much different — at least mine was.

The problem was everything was the same as before, but nothing felt the same anymore. Nothing.

My mother jumped off the f*cking highway, how do I just go back to having casual stop-and-chats with people in the office like nothing happened??

It all seemed so irrelevant.

Aside from the many existential questions voraciously vying for attention were many terrestrial ones:

  • My Career — I worked hard in school, why do I hate my job so much?
  • Life Enjoyment — Can I afford to wait until I’m 60+ years old to travel and enjoy my life? What if some disaster cuts my life short?
  • Weight — Why am I overweight? No seriously what the f*ck, I’m only 24 years old, if I’m overweight now, what the hell am I going to look like when I’m 30?…40??

None of these concerns were particularly new to me, but they were no longer just passing thoughts, they were problems I felt I had to solve.

Immediately.

In searching for solutions I came across Tim Ferriss’ first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, as well as his increasingly popular blog. I found his writings about aggressively pursuing a productive but enjoyable life to be very inspirational at a time when many things in my life felt rather bleak.

In the fall he announced the upcoming publication of The 4-Hour Body — I immediately pre-ordered it online (at least, I think I did, was that a thing back in 2010? The world changes so fast nowadays it’s hard to remember — in any case I got a copy as soon as it came out).

I read through it over the Christmas holiday, and I even started to implement parts of the Slow-Carb Diet. I wasn’t tracking my progress yet, but I felt more energetic just eating a healthy breakfast.

I felt excited to be making some sort of measurable progress in my life. I told myself that I’d follow the plan 100% when I returned to NYC after the holidays.

The Diet Bet

The first day back to work after the holidays was always miserable. Most people, no matter what their job is, experience the post-holiday let down of going back to work. But if you work at an accounting firm, the four months immediately after the holidays are “busy season.”

Almost everyone gains weight during busy season because they sit at their desks for 80–100 hours a week and clients pay for your meals.

What would you do if you were beyond exhausted, hated your job, worked in the middle of Manhattan, and someone else was paying for your meals?

Order some high-calorie food from delicious restaurants! That’s what we did.

My co-workers were determined that this busy season would be different. They devised a betting pool — each of us pitched in $20 and whoever lost the most weight during busy season would win. Each person picked the program they were going to follow. I have no idea which program my co-workers chose, but I’m sure it was something stupid that doesn’t work (which is most programs by the way).

In any case even if they’d chosen the Slow-Carb Diet along with me, there was no way they were going to win, for two reasons:

  1. I’m a stubborn sonofab*tch, and little gets in my way once I’ve made a decision — there was no way they would follow it as closely as I would, and
  2. I had way more weight to lose than they did.

Here’s a picture of me just before starting the diet:

Ugh. Okay that’s a lie.

You think I actually wanted to take a picture of my fat a**?

Hell no!

I was terrified the “after” picture in a few months would look the same. No way was I taking a “before” picture.

The only reason that “before” picture even exists is because I went on a trip to Vietnam with some friends back in May 2008, and we went canyoning (repelling down waterfalls).

After it was over our tour guide encouraged us to take a group picture. I’m smiling in the picture, but I was absolutely mortified that I had to take a picture with my shirt off.

Why am I the only one with chest hair?

If you take the above image and add 20 lbs of fat to it, you’ll get a good idea of what I looked like in January 2011 — not good.

Anyhow, the competition was on. And every week, despite working a zillion hours, despite being sleep deprived, and despite having the best food in the world only a phone call away — I stuck to the Slow-Carb Diet.

And every week when we did our weekly weigh-in I was down a few more pounds. My co-workers didn’t even stand a chance. After just a few weeks I could barely even see them in my rearview mirror.

The results weren’t even close, I demolished my co-workers — my initial weigh in was 189 lbs, and my final weigh in was 150 lbs (just under 4 months apart — although I lost most of the weight in the first couple months).

“After” picture — down 39 lbs

But get this — when it came time to pay up, they both picked a bone with the accuracy of the scale measurements!

They said something like “well, the measurements don’t count because we did the initial weigh in with the scale on carpet and we did all the other weigh in’s on concrete, so it’s not an accurate comparison — let’s just take our money back.”

I was stunned — are you girls serious, I dropped like 40 f*cking pounds?!

Jill and Diana, I forgive you two, but you still owe me $40.

Whatever — the real prize was my transformation.

In the wake of my mother’s suicide, when I felt so powerless, feeling like I was in control of something — anything — felt liberating.

I began to make more changes in my life:

  • I (successfully!) threatened to quit my job unless they transferred me to the mergers & acquisitions group, which I thought I’d enjoy more (I did not).
  • I got married (which I still enjoy)!
  • My wife and I quit our jobs a year later and spent 4 months travelling around Europe and Africa.
  • I invented a product to accelerate fat loss called The SlimIce Pack, inspired by the Ice Age chapter in The 4-Hour Body and the Muse chapters of The 4-Hour Workweek.
  • I moved to Houston for a better job and to be closer to my father.
  • My wife and I had a daughter!

To be clear, I’m playing the highlight reel of the past 6 years and editing out the mistakes, like:

  • When I moved to Houston I felt lost. I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to take my career in, but I didn’t know where to ask for help either. For a long time I just felt anxious about it.
  • After my daughter was born, I honestly don’t think I got an uninterrupted night’s sleep more than 3x in the first year — I don’t think I made any progress towards my goals for an entire year. A year!!

But despite these ups and downs, even during the times when I felt lost, I was still in control of my weight.

If you’ve never been overweight, this may seem so silly, but to me it was huge.

At some point I was discussing my lack-of-achievement with my father, and he said, “Son — you need to read less and do more.”

Hm, touche.

So I promptly…read 5 more books on health, fitness, and entrepreneurship and delayed doing anything for another 6 months

Ugh.

I only had a vague sense of what I wanted to do — why do the biggest problems in my life also seem to be the ones I can only nebulously define?

I started with what I knew.

I wanted to help other people make life-changing weight loss transformations like the one I’d been through — but even though I’d helped some family and friends go through it, I still didn’t feel confident in my ability to charge for it.

I realized I needed to learn more about the industry.

I started by contacting various people in the field — registered dietitians, PhDs who worked in research at universities, alternative weight loss coaches, trainers and gym owners, and even a menu creator for a health food store.

After speaking with over a dozen people, I’d learned a few things:

  • I knew as much as many of these people already making a living in this field (even if I was a total novice compared to others).
  • The health & fitness industry is very feast or famine — some people have carved out interesting niches but many practitioners are overworked and underpaid.
  • Most people in this field have a genuine desire to help people, but those who work in an academic or clinical setting seem perpetually frustrated with how hamstrung they’ve become by the “powers-that-be.”

I asked myself a simple question — what sounds like fun to me?

I decided to run a weight loss group, combining Slow-Carb Diet principles with cold therapy — The SlimIce Experiment was born!

I was incredibly nervous.

  • Will people call me an impostor for not having any credentials?
  • Will I receive lots of hate-filled comments on Reddit?
  • Will I know enough to help people?

I posted a short version of my weight loss story on Reddit (r/4hourbodyslowcarb) and mentioned I was running a free 6-week weight loss group.

To my surprise 25 people applied to participate — I actually had to turn down 7 people!

No one who signed up called me an impostor — why was I so afraid of this?

A few random people on Reddit made negative comments, but it’s Reddit, what did I expect?

I ran the group and I found out I did know enough to help most people, but there was also so much more that I needed to learn.

Specifically, I wanted to know what it actually took to go from decent body (what I had) to a Men’s Health magazine body (what I wanted).

The difference is this time I actually DID something about it, instead of just sitting around feeling anxious that I didn’t know enough.

Since I’d already interviewed over a dozen practitioners, I knew a few things that wouldn’t get me to where I wanted to go — I knew that academics, dietitians, and alternative weight loss coaches couldn’t help me (as noble as their intentions, these professionals rarely help people achieve a top 5% body).

But what about joining a strength training program?

I had lots of concerns about working with a trainer (time, money, my perception that the industry is made up of meatheads) or joining CrossFit (which seems to injure most people sooner or later).

I decided to look for a high-quality gym.

I’d already been into a lot of the gyms in my area trying to sell The SlimIce Pack, so I knew which ones I didn’t want to be a part of (most of them), and I knew I didn’t want CrossFit or a big box gym, but there was one gym I hadn’t checked out yet near my house — Washington Gym.

I went to their website and they had tons of before (fat) and after (ripped) pictures of their clients.

I contacted them immediately and got an email saying they were holding a new client orientation session in 10 days.

10 days?! But I’m ready to get jacked now!!

I was one of the first people to show up on January 23rd for orientation. Another 20 people showed up over the next 15 minutes.

We all sat in a semi-circle and briefly talked about why we wanted to join, what we hoped to accomplish, etc.

After the discussion period the owner James asked us to get into rows and start doing squats.

Continuously.

“I haven’t seen someone do a squat correctly yet,” he said.

I’d done like 25 squats in a row and was starting to get winded, I kept thinking — omg, he never said how many squats we had to do, will this ever end?!

Eventually he threw everyone a lifeline and asked us to watch him demonstrate proper squat form.

He then asked us to go to the chin-up bar and do chin-ups. I’m pretty sure I successfully did a couple chin-ups, but when I dropped off the bar to the floor I pulled my neck.

Okay — I get it — I’m out of shape, where do I sign?

After signing up I had to pick a day to come in for my initial measurements and pictures. I picked the first date available: January 27.

Omg another 4 days, am I ever going to get jacked?!

The orientation packet asked us to bring in a picture of someone who had the body we wanted, perhaps an actor or athlete.

I brought a picture of Daniel Craig — rugged, but stylish.

My future body…hopefully.

I handed the picture to the owner James while standing there shirtless to get my “before” picture taken.

January 27–147.5 lbs, 9.1% body fat, 0% Daniel Craig.

He looked down at the picture, looked up at me, crushed the paper, and said, “Alright man, let’s get started.”

And get started we did.

The next few weeks of training were brutal. I thought I knew sore before but this was a whole new level.

A couple weeks in one of the trainers asked if I wanted to participate in their Q1 Transformation Contest — an 8-week period of intense dedication.

I passed for two reasons:

  1. I was still really sore and nervous about increasing my training, and
  2. If I waited to participate in the Q2 contest it would end right before the July 4th weekend, when all my friends would be coming to my family’s lake house for the holiday, and I could have conversations where I’d say things like, “Have I been working out more? I mean, a little bit I guess, why do you ask?”

When it was time to sign up for the Q2 contest, there were two options:

  • Option 1 — Regular, $200
  • Option 2 — Platinum, $500

What was the difference between the two?

I have no idea, but I knew two things:

  1. If I’m going to compete, I’m going all in — platinum it is!
  2. I was going to win, so the price didn’t matter because my winnings would cover my entry fee.

I brought my $500 cash to the gym for my kick-off measurements.

James took the measurements while the other owner Hanh wrote them down.

“Whoa, he’s got really soft skin folds,” James told Hanh.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means you’ll have to get a lot bigger to look jacked, ha!”

> : {

$500 later I had my kick-off packet and my “before” photo.

Initial Contest Photo (May 6) — 152.3 lbs, 6.79% body fat.

Compared to when I’d joined the gym 3 months before I’d gained 5 lbs while simultaneously losing body fat — not bad, but I clearly had a long way to go before being mistaken for Daniel Craig on the beach.

To ensure I stayed on track for the duration of the contest I scheduled follow-up measurements with James every two weeks.

The Contest Guidelines

The contest guidelines explained the program we would be following for the next 8 weeks.

They were super simple.

Just 9 pages of single-spaced type that you had to follow perfectly — without exception — for 8 weeks.

In summary, they looked like this:

  • Strength Training — 5–6 days per week at the gym (1 hour sessions)
  • “Off Days” — Any day you’re not strength training (1–2 days per week), you’re doing an interval based workout
  • Nutrition — Frequency — 5 meals per day, perfectly structured (6–7 oz of lean protein, 1 serving of fat, 2 cups of veggies, include starchy carbs post-workout + green smoothie in the morning)
  • Nutrition — Quality — best quality available, absolutely no wheat, soy, corn, dairy, coffee, or alcohol (if this list scares you, don’t worry, the complete “don’t eat” list is much longer and scarier)
  • Reward Meal — one reward meal at the end of week 5 (must be gluten free, dairy free, and alcohol free)
  • Supplements — probiotic, multivitamin, greens, protein powder, sleep stack
  • Food, Exercise, and Sleep Logs — track absolutely everything, submit it to James and Hanh each week for review
  • Stress — As little as possible
  • Sleep — As much as you can

These guidelines scare most people, but I loved them — am I the only person who gets excited when they find out what it ACTUALLY takes to accomplish a goal?

I hate rules, but I love constraints.

Rules are arbitrary, constraints carve a path to success (note: clarifying this distinction is rarely helpful when discussing family finances with your wife).

The first two weeks of the contest went well, although I was consuming more food than I could shake a stick at.

Here’s what a normal day of eating looked like:

That’s. One. Day.

Given how much food I was eating you might think I felt absolutely stuffed all the time. Sometimes I did feel quite full (typically after my post-workout meal that contained starchy carbs), but sometimes I actually wanted an extra ounce of protein than I was allotted — luckily I never had to wait very long before I got to eat another whole meal.

2 Weeks of Progress (May 20) — 152.0 lbs, 5.90% body fat, slightly smug smile.

Two weeks in I was the same weight, but I had lower body fat percentage, which means my fat mass was decreasing while my muscle mass was increasing — don’t you wish every week was like this?

The trek to Natchez from hell

On May 3, a week before the contest started, my grandfather passed away at the age of 85.

He had chosen to be cremated, but the funeral wasn’t until Saturday May 28 due to extended family member logistics.

I was sad that he was gone, but I didn’t feel devastated. It just felt like the culmination of living a long life. As much as it sucks to deal with the death of anyone you’re close to, my grandfather’s death at 85 felt completely natural compared to my mother’s unexpected suicide at 55 — what a difference a few decades and the cause of death make.

Originally we were going to fly to Natchez, but the weather was so bad our flight was cancelled. Our only other option was to drive.

Of course, the weather was still abysmal. It turned a normal 5 hour drive from Houston into what felt like an 8 hour drive through a car wash. For the love of god why didn’t I change out the windshield wipers recently?!

When we were still 2+ hours away my daughter started vomiting, like everywhere. To the point that we were running out of baby wipes, and we’d brought a substantial number of them.

We were in a rural part of Louisiana, and the only place to stop was a poorly lit gas station. My wife and I stood outside the rear passenger door, cleaning and comforting my daughter while the rain pelted us.

After she vomited for the third time she passed out and we were able to make it the rest of the way without stopping again. Only in hindsight did we realize she was obviously car sick — she’d never been car sick before, then again we’d never taken her on that long of a car trip either. Lesson learned.

For 2009 Bennett, the vomit ordeal would’ve quickly turned into rationalizing “I’ll start over when I get back from the funeral…”

But this was the new Bennett — besides, I was too busy eating ground beef and cabbage in the front seat to contemplate giving up.

“Are you really going to bring your own cooler into a funeral reception?”

The next day my grandfather was buried on a clear, but extremely humid day. The priest, a family relative, gave a beautiful speech.

After his funeral there was a reception for everyone at one of my relative’s houses. Of course, since I was only half-way through the transformation contest, I’d traveled to Natchez with a giant Yeti cooler full of healthy prepared meals.

When we got out of the car at the house, I grabbed the Yeti out of the back seat and my wife asked me something like, “Um, are you really going to bring your own cooler into a funeral reception?”

The question seemed absolutely ludicrous, perhaps the most preposterous question ever asked in the history of asked-questions.

My logic went like this — I’m doing this contest 100%, there is 0% chance they have healthy food inside that house, therefore I’m obviously bringing my healthy food inside.

The whole thing seemed so obvious to me I could barely bring myself to verbally justify my decision.

In my defense, my initial assumption was correct — 95% of the food available at the reception was terrible for you. But in hindsight, I could’ve seen the bigger picture and been just a little more mindful of the situation and what my wife was trying to tell me.

Worst case I could’ve skipped eating at the reception and eaten my prepared meals afterwards. In that moment though, this possibility eluded me. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a stubborn son of a b*tch.

That night we had dinner at a restaurant where I had to explain at least 5x to the waiter why I didn’t want dressing on my salad, I just wanted olive oil on the side. It was clear no other patrons had ever asked for their salad without dressing.

The next morning the weather was warm but clear, and I went out to do my interval workout along the Mississippi River before we drove back home. Half-way through I ran into a couple of my extended relatives who had been at the funeral the day before. We chatted for a minute about how Natchez had changed so much since they grew up there, and as we parted ways they said, “See you in church in an hour!”

It’s funny how religion can be such a big part of someone’s life that they can’t even fathom it not being a big part of yours.

But I guess that’s how I felt about bringing my cooler into my cousin’s house the day before, I couldn’t fathom another option — ground beef and cabbage was my religion.

We drove home after my run, making ample stops along the way to prevent my daughter from getting car sick.

After the logistically and emotionally challenging weekend of travelling to and from Natchez, I got right back into the swing of things, hitting the gym hard, with results to show for it.

4 Weeks of Progress (June 3) — 150.75 lbs, 5.51% body fat.

My body fat percentage and weight both dropped, everything was still moving in the right direction.

Lots of Rest and Grass-Fed Beef Bone Broth

The day after my week 4 picture I felt great. I woke up and did my regularly scheduled interval training by the bayou near my house, but by that night I started to feel a little achy.

When I woke up Sunday morning it was clear I had a full-blown upper respiratory infection and a severe case of not-having-the-energy-to-get-off-the-couch.

I texted James and asked him what he recommended — lots of rest and grass-fed beef bone broth. I implemented both immediately.

Monday I felt a little better.

Tuesday I felt pretty good — perhaps I can work out tomorrow?

Wednesday I woke up and convinced myself I was better than I really was — maybe I’m not 100% better, but I’m probably 95%, I mean I’ve already rested for 3 days.

I downed my green smoothie and headed to the gym for my 9 AM workout.

Half way through the hour-long workout I was feeling amazing.

I’m not just better, I’m BETTER than better, I’m basically superhuman, no one can stop me from winning this thing! Hmm, I sure am sweating a lot though, I guess it is kind of hot outside, although it’s not THAT hot outside, and it is just an arm workout, wait, am I still sick?

And then it hit me all at once, I’m obviously still sick — Jesus this was a horrible decision, wtf was I thinking?

I’d like to say that I immediately cut the workout short and went home to rest, but I’d be lying to you.

I finished the last 15 minutes of the workout, rationalizing “well, I’ve come this far, might as well finish it.”

I paid dearly for this mistake. It took me two more days to fully recover.

“You need to get your chest waxed.”

If it wasn’t readily apparent from the pictures above, I have a decent amount of chest hair — at least as far as Men’s Health magazine models go.

When I made an appointment to get my chest waxed on June 15, I was told the following:

o The process would take 20 minutes

o The hair removal would last 2 weeks

o It will only take a few hours for the redness to go away

None of these statements turned out to be true.

When I arrived at the spa the first question Kylee asked was, “Did you take any Tylenol before you got here??”

“Um, no why?”

“Yeah…I was supposed to tell you that, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

Flashbacks of Steve Carell painfully having his chest hair ripped out in The 40-Year-Old Virgin danced in my head — I was about to be in serious pain.

And frankly, I was.

The whole experience sucked, and the Steve Carell depiction is quite accurate (thank god I didn’t have as much hair as him).

And as for the redness? Yeah it didn’t go away for WEEKS, literally lasted 200x longer than she said it would.

But, it was worth it.

6 Weeks of Progress (June 16) — 150.00 lbs, 5.22% body fat, 100% splotchy chest.

Body fat and weight both continued to drop like a rock (although arguably I dropped ½ lb when I got my chest waxed).

“Who the f*ck brought ground beef and cabbage on a tubing trip?!”

Three days after getting my chest waxed I hopped on a Megabus at 6 AM headed for Austin for my best friend Joey’s birthday.

His birthday party consisted of floating in a tube down the San Marcos River for a few hours along with about 20 other people.

Kylee (the chest waxer) told me not to get any sun on my skin until the redness disappeared, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it had dissipated when she said it would. But it hadn’t. So I made sure to douse myself in sunscreen several times before we ever got to the river.

Half way down the river everyone was wasted off their substance of choice — beer, weed, who knows what else. Not me, I was stone cold sober. And I’ll be honest, wasted people are really not that funny unless you’re wasted along with them.

We made a stop on one of the river banks for everyone to get drink and snack refills. One girl, who was high as balls, was getting frustrated as she sifted through the various coolers looking for her canister of pizza flavored Pringles.

In her frustration she came across a gallon Ziploc bag full of ground beef and cabbage. She held it up and said, “Who the f*ck brought ground beef and cabbage on a tubing trip?!”

Ahem, that would be mine — and pass it over while you’re at it, I’m starving!

I re-applied sunscreen each time we stopped, but it was to no avail. My skin was too pale and we never stopped long enough for the sunscreen to dry, so the river kept washing it away.

Ouch.

Next time, I’ll wear a t-shirt.

Who needs Tinder when you’re ripped?

Despite the sunburn on my chest, the rest of me was still quite pasty. I only had a week left before my final photo shoot, and I didn’t have a lot of time to get a sun tan.

As part of the protocol I had to take walks after my workouts, so to kill two birds with one stone I decided to tan at the same time.

I did the first half of the walk fully clothed, but I wanted to get some sun on my back and lower abs for the second half of the walk — the problem was my upper chest and shoulders were still sun burned.

Before I left the house I seriously debated cutting off the lower-half of one of my old t-shirts so I’d only tan the targeted areas, but after much deliberation, I concluded that if my wife later found the cut up t-shirt and I had to explain it, she’d be too embarrassed to speak.

So instead, I wore a brimmed hat, and half way through the walk I took my shirt off and draped it across my chest like a ghetto poncho to protect my sunburned chest and shoulders — this seemed like a good idea to me.

As I came up to a street with a decent amount of traffic, a guy in his mid-50s in an old red Ford Ranger pulled up next to me, honked his horn, and gave me the wanna hop-in-the-truck look.

At first I had no idea what he wanted, but the look in his eyes said it all.

Holy sh*t, this guy is trying to pick me up!

Then I realized, I’m the one who looks out of place here.

Nice shorts.

I’m wearing turquoise running shorts, a brimmed hat, an awkwardly draped shirt, and bright orange running shoes.

Honestly I felt bad, I’d accidentally stumbled into a parallel universe I was previously completely unaware of, and I’d violated the rules.

I waved him off, but he (understandably) looked at me like “Pff, prude!”

That was the last time I tanned before my final photo shoot.

Depletion for the Final Photo Shoot

To ensure I’d look Men’s Health magazine lean for my final photo shoot, I did a full depletion starting several days beforehand, which looked like this:

  • Remove all fats from meals
  • Remove all pre-workout carbs
  • Remove all post-workout protein shakes
  • Remove all post-workout starchy carbs
  • Increase water consumption to 2 gallons per day
  • Perform final workout 2 days prior to final photo shoot
  • Remove all food seasonings (including salt) after final workout

And most important — NO water consumption 24 hours before the final photo shoot (munching on ice cubes was permitted, if necessary).

My in-laws were in town for the last week of the contest, and their last night in town was the night before my final photo shoot. We went out to eat at an Italian restaurant, and naturally there was absolutely nothing I could eat that fit the guidelines.

So I just sat there and watched as everyone devoured some of the best pizza in Houston.

To be honest though, it wasn’t much of a challenge to resist at this point. I wasn’t about to f*ck up 8 weeks of 100% dedication just because I wanted a slice of pizza (although I was jealous of the ice water they drank like there was no tomorrow).

The Final Photo Shoot

The next morning was my final photo shoot. As soon as I woke up I was instructed to consume 2 rice cakes and 2–3 tablespoons of organic jam followed by 60 seconds of push-ups and squats to get the blood flowing. Holy sh*t did that strawberry jam taste good.

After eating I went straight to the gym, took my final weight and measurements, ate another 2 rice cakes and 3 tablespoons of strawberry jam, took a small sip of water and got to work on the “pump up” routine for the final photo shoot.

For the “pump up” I was fortunate to train directly with the owner James.

I felt fatigued from the depletion, but I also felt energized and excited to finish strong because I knew I’d given it my 100% effort over the past 8 weeks and the finish line was in sight.

As my muscles filled, James modified the exercises to ensure I looked balanced.

He put me on an incline board to work a different part of my quads and said, “That’s my personal incline board. That’s the same one that Olympians use. You’re training like an Olympian!”

Then he told me to take my shirt off. I said, “but, there are other people in the gym…”

“Come on man, train with your shirt off, let’s go!”

I took it off, did a couple more exercises and then he said, “Go look in the mirror!”

Holy sh*t — I look ridiculous!

I felt like a beast.

Like I could’ve been on the cover of Men’s Health magazine with the caption — Bennett Johnston, totally f*cking ripped and heckling pedestrians, “Where’s your six-pack?!”

This moment was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I was in the middle of a movie montage.

After that we took the final photos and I was done!

Final Photo: 8 Weeks of Progress (June 29) — 144.50 lbs, 4.77% body fat, happy as a clam!

Did I make it to Daniel Craig?

Shaken, not stirred.

In a word — no. Craig clearly has a lot more muscle mass than I do.

But it’s not like I really cared at this point because I looked like an awesome version of myself.

“There’s so much more I want to know!”

Most people who reach a goal like this feel satisfied, like they did what they set out to do. And I did feel a sense of accomplishment, but just before I left the gym James asked me about the whole experience, and I told him, “there’s so much more I want to know!”

For me, the victory wasn’t achieving a certain body fat percentage or looking a certain way — although I’ll be the first to admit those things were neat.

It was about immersing myself in something that meant something to me.

It was about setting a goal for myself and being able to look back knowing that I gave it 100%.

It was about doing something to achieve success instead of just reading about achieving success.

For some people, these things come easy, but honestly these were all big steps forward for me.

Finding My Calling

After my mother committed suicide, one of the first things I realized was that life is short. I wasn’t happy with my life, and I needed to do something different.

It took me years to determine that “something different” was doing nutrition coaching and running transformation groups. There was certainly no “a-ha, this is my calling!” moment like in the movies.

Some days I still get bogged down thinking “if only I’d known then what I wanted to do, I’d be so much further along.”

But at some point in this process, my self-doubt got quieter and my confidence got louder. I was achieving amazing personal results, and I was getting my clients awesome results too.

It was more like a slow realization, but at some point it just started feeling very natural.

It went from me over-explaining to people how I was “transitioning into working in health and fitness” to confidently telling people “I’m a nutrition coach.”

In hindsight it’s easy to connect the dots, but in the thick of it I frequently felt lost and confused about which way to go.

My biggest takeaway from the whole experience is one that my dad just handed me “read less and do more.”

Some people are born knowing what they want to do, but most people aren’t, and if you’re the latter (like me) it’s not just going to fall into your lap, you have to find it — you have to go out there and do things.

I suggest starting with something you care about already — no amount of money will inspire you to persevere with something you hate.

“If only I could have saved her.”

One issue that I’ve struggled a lot with since my mother’s suicide is wondering what might have been.

So many times I thought “if only I’d known then what I know now about health, I might have been able to save her.”

And the truth is, perhaps I would’ve been able to help her.

But it’s also highly probable that all of my efforts would’ve been futile even if I had known then what I know now — depression is a complicated problem, and if there were an easy, straight-forward solution people would already be using it.

Today, my daily thoughts are no longer consumed by trying to make sense of my mother’s suicide or playing out “if only” scenarios like they were 6 years ago, but there are still moments when I’m overcome with grief — sometimes expected (like the birth of my daughter), sometimes unexpected, and sometimes predictable but I fight it.

Almost every holiday I think I’m going to be fine, and then out of nowhere I find myself overwhelmed with anxiety and picking a fight about something stupid with my wife (seriously though — what’s the point of having a shoe rack if you’re not going to put your shoes on it?)

As much as I want to control my emotions, preempt them, or pretend they don’t exist and feel like “I’ve accepted it, it’s time for me to move on” — sometimes the only option is to let myself feel overwhelmed and cry it out. And frankly, it’s painful.

When I say that I “overcame my mother’s suicide,” I mean that I’ve learned to make progress on the important things in life again. And I’ve learned to enjoy the moments that should be enjoyable instead of dwelling on what I could’ve done differently in the past or feeling anxious about the future.

In short — I’ve found a new normal to thrive in, but I’ve also gotten better at accepting that sometimes it still just sucks.

How to transform your life, starting today

If my story has inspired you to make a serious change in your life, but you don’t know where to start, I highly recommend fixing your health first. Unlike getting a raise, changing your career, or finding a romantic partner, your health is almost completely within your control (and in my opinion solving those other problems becomes easier once you fix your health).

If you are ready to take control of your body, lose weight, or just feel healthier, here are my recommendations:

  • If you live in Houston, and you want the most rapid transformation possible, the best option is to join Washington Gym, James and Hanh have a great thing going (I’m not being compensated for saying this, they don’t even know I’m writing it).
  • Use my free, simple guide to help you start making progress towards your health goals immediately — even if you don’t like to work out, don’t have time to do lots of meal preparation, and hate the thought of feeling hungry while you’re losing weight.

And you don’t have to be nearly as dedicated as me to get some pretty astounding results in just a few months.

If you’d like to learn how get started on achieving your own goals, grab a copy of my free guide that explains how to lose weight without feeling hungry, eat at the same restaurants you already love, and keep the weight off for life.

Click here to download a copy of my free guide, and learn how to:

  • Lose weight without feeling hungry
  • Eat at the same restaurants you already love
  • And keep the weight off for life!