My Transformation: I want to be in the best shape of my life by 40.

Back in late 2015 my life was a mess. No need to go into all the specifics in this post, I’ll save that for another time. I was ready for a change. I had to change. It was time. Looking in the mirror I had realized how much I had let myself go. I was never thin, but I was fit when I was younger. I played football, I boxed, lived a healthy lifestyle. But over the years I got lazy.

The average week night consisted of drinking a 6 pack, eating a full pizza to myself followed by a bag of Doritos while watching TV and a late night bowl of ice cream. As cliche as it sounds, I was unhappy and food and alcohol helped ease, or should I say mask, that pain.

I had slowly become that fat jolly drunk guy at every party. I had become the lie I was living. And it was starting to take a toll on me emotionally and affect my marriage.

2014/2016

A few months later I made a bold move. I shaved my beard — that I had been growing for years.

My transformation was beginning.

It’s funny how something as simple as a beard or hair cut can make such a big difference in how you feel about yourself.

That action alone made a HUGE impact on how I and others perceived me.

A fresh start

Next was my diet. Time do away with the junk food and excessive drinking. I took a hard look at my eating habits. I made a list of all the snacks I enjoyed and meals that I ate regularly.

It was pretty shocking to see it all laid out in front of me. I couldn’t believe how much crap I was consuming and the cost of it all.

But where to start? Google. That answer to everything in life. I started digging around the Internet looking for potential diets. I was not interested in seeing a nutritionist, or signing up for some boot camp or trendy meal plan.

Keto and ketogenics kept coming up in searches.

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates.

So what does this all mean?

Even though the keto diet was designed for individuals with certain types of health issues many personal trainers, nutritionists, and gym rats have started adopting this diet to loose weight rapidly — and it works! I initially lost around 30lbs in my first few months.

When I first started the keto diet it took some time to figure it all out. I spent many hours online researching what foods I could and could not eat. Luckily I came across a few really good blogs dedicated to this diet with some excellent recipes and information that really helped me along the way. In particular I found ruled.me the best resource online for all things keto. I still use many of his recipes today.

However, the keto diet can be very tricky and unsafe. It does not work for everyone and you MUST accompany it with a training program at the gym that includes a combination of weights and cardio, more on the weights side.

Unsafe you say?

Yes! It can be very dangerous if you stay on this diet too long. Despite what many weight loss program gurus preach your body requires carbs and natural sugars. You cannot live a healthy life by eliminating these from your diet for a long period of time or entirely. I found out the hard way.

At around the 3 month mark I started noticing that I was feeling week and tired often. My memory was foggy and I was having a hard time concentrating. I learned that this is a common outcome of the keto diet. So once again I began digging deep online and learned that it was time to change up my diet and start bringing back some carbs and sugars, but not just any.

So how do you know what to eat?

Believe it or not it is easier than you think. I eat by one very simple rule today — if I cannot pronounce the ingredient or do not know what is is, I don’t put it in my body!

I did away with all grains, starch and processed carbs. The ONLY carbs I get are from natural sources — mostly vegetables. Next, all sugar, yes ALL! Any type of cane sugar or corn syrup. You simply do not need it in your diet. It is the leading cause of diabetes. Finally, all chemicals. There is no need to put any type of chemical in your body. You can easily find foods that don’t cost a fortune that are natural and organic.

So what does standard daily menu look like for me?

Breakfast

  • 2–3 Eggs cooked in real butter — butter is good, don’t buy into the bad butter BS!
  • An avocado
  • Cheese
  • A vegetable of some kind (tomato, pepper, cucumber, etc.)
  • Coffee and water

Lunch

  • Canned salmon — the whole can! You want the juices and the skin.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that the omega-3 fatty acid levels in canned salmon even exceeded the amount found in fresh salmon.
  • Cumber or avocado or cheese depending what I had for breakfast
  • Don’t be afraid to use mayo or mustard or hot sauces, just make sure they do not contain chemicals and sugars.

Dinner

“Conventionally” raised meats tend to be much lower in Omega-3 fatty acids than meat from animals fed a natural diet. It is important to take some steps to ensure that you get plenty of Omega-3s.
  • Zucchini or eggplant or turnips or squash — it all depends on the season.

Desert — yes you can have desert!

  • Fruit — I prefer blueberries, strawberries or bananas and mix them into plain greek yogurt with some flax or hemp seeds.
  • Bitter dark chocolate — 80% or higher. Dip it in almond butter, yummy :)

Day snacking — keep it to a minum

  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, or anything high in fat and protein.
  • Fruits: anything you can think of, especially dried cranberries and raisins. But be careful, they still contain a lot of natural sugars.
  • Carrots, celery, cheese curds.
  • And lots and lots of water!

Of course this is just an example. I don’t eat the same meal every single day. Play around and figure out what works best for you. There are tons of healthy options.

Eating healthy and not spending a lot of money was easier than I had anticipated!

Granted I have the luxury of owning property in the Laurentian's, a chalet, and we head up there every weekend religiously. This was/is a major benefit in terms of what types of food we buy. We no longer shop in regular grocery stores in the city. We purchase all our food up north, mostly farm to table. From meats, to cheese, to fruits and vegetables we can get everything we need right from the source and it costs almost half as much as what it does in the city.

If you have the option on weekends to head to any country market, do it! The cost savings and quality of product far outweigh the gas and travel time.

I also had to become very creative. I learned to cook and bake with new ingredients. For example; I bake all my own breads, savoury or sweet crusts with almond or coconut flower. I use real butter or coconut butter exclusively. And if I want something sweet I can add pure honey or maple syrup.

This is just the tipping point. You can get creative by adding ingredients like ground flax or hemp seed for added benefit. Use psyllium husk as a bread crumb replacement. If you’re not into honey or maple syrup you can use erythritol.

I recommend heading to Bulk Barn, if you have them, or something similar to buy most of these ingredients. It’s a lot cheaper than organic stores.

Make sure to stay away from any type of juice. None are particularly healthy they are loaded with sugars. Even the “sugar free” or “real fruit” options. Think about how many oranges, for example, it takes to make one glass of juice? It is over kill. You are better off eating a single orange and enjoying its juicy goodness. I mostly drink tap water or carbonated water and smoothies I make my self.

Booze is also tricky. I gave up beer at the start and have not looked back. I drink mostly gin and vodka with carbonated water and lime. This was difficult for me. I’m a scotch, whisky, bourbon man. But they are loaded with sugar. I now only drink my scotch as a cheat once or twice a month.

Make sure to do your research. There are some great books out there and talk to people at the gym. See what others are doing and get some advice from individuals who have been doing this for a while and are healthy and strong — not just on some fad diet of the day.

I highly recommend reading “Dirty Diets” by Brad King. This book is jam packed with useful information, case studies and meal plans. It was a HUGE help for me along the way. I keep it near by and reference it often when deciding to change up my diet or workout program.

Cheat meals, is it really cheating?

Depends on what you consider cheating and how strict you want or need to be based on your situation. I was extremely hesitant at first about adding cheat meals to my diet. I was worried that I would fall off the wagon. But, I also realized that you cannot deny yourself life. Yes, living life. A cheat meal here and there is not gonna kill you or mess up all that hard work. Plus, it helps ease the cravings you may have for all the food you are missing. But, take it slow and choose wisely!

I waited a full year until I decided to implement cheat meals into my diet. I wanted to ensure I was not struggling with cravings and that my diet and weight loss progress were on target. At this point I had lost just over 60lbs and felt comfortable bringing in one cheat meal per month. Maybe too cautious. My early cheat meals were things like a single sweet potato, a bowl of long grain brown rice, or complex carbs like oatmeal.

Today I cheat by having gluten free pizza or bread. Semolina pasta or rice noodles. A good burger or sandwich with real bread and not a lettuce wrap is nice once in while. And a low carb beer, very rarely. The only cheat foods I have not added back into my diet is anything sweet. Absolutely no deserts or junk food! It’s been nearly two years now and honestly I do not miss it.

Get active and stay active!

Besides diet, this is absolutely the most important part of a healthy lifestyle. You need to be constantly active. It requires a ton of confidence, motivation, strength and will power to stay the course.

Going for a walk once in a while. Skiing once or twice over winter. Playing with your kids. This is simply not enough. You need to be active daily.

Right after I shaved my beard back in 2015 and decided to journey down this path, the next big move I made was signing up for a YMCA membership. That was the was the easy part. Showing up, regularly — that takes work!

It was super stressful at first, but I pushed hard and did not give up. I started by going 5 days a week every morning at 530am when the gym opened. I did weights and cardio for about an 1.5hr each morning. I was tired. I was sore. I was close to being a broken man and giving up entirely.

I just kept telling myself “listen fat ass, you need to this for yourself and for your family”. And, as cliche as it is, I quote my favourite movie “Goonies”

Never say die!
Goonies tattoo left calf

I even have this tattooed on my body, accompanied by One Eye Willie of course :)

After a while it just became routine. I got up every morning, went to the gym. Came home. Made coffee. Woke up the kids. Fed them. And so on.

In fact, it got to the point where if I missed the gym for whatever reason I was upset. I would figure out a way to get some workout in. I do pushups, sit-ups, run around the block. It had become such an important part of my life. Today I can’t even travel for business or leisure without ensuring there is a gym where I am going.

I’ve experimented with all types of workout programs. 3 days a week, 5 days a week, full body, 5 day split, HIT, CrossFit, Ketogenic training, core strength, olympic circuits, and so on, and so on, and so on …

It’s good to mix it up. It increases muscle gain and core strength. Plus, this way you don't get bored of the old routine. At the end of the day you need to find the workout regime that works best for you. What fits your schedule and meets your goals.

I’m not looking to be a bodybuilder, or train for any professional reasons. I just want to be fit, strong, and healthy. Most importantly I want to feel good about myself and inspire my two young boys to be active and live heathy lifestyles as well.

I’m not only active at the gym. Every weekend I go out hiking, bushcrafting, hunting, and camping with my boys. In the winter we snowshoe, ski, and play hockey. There is never a dull moment in my life. I have more energy now than when I was in my 20s — you can follow all my adventures on instagram (yes, mini plug :))

Where am I now?

I’m still pretty strict when it comes to my diet and drinking habits. Not much has changed there. As for my workout regime, I’ve currently started a new 12 week program called “Shortcut to Size” using the BodySpace app from bodybuilding.com. I’m really loving this app. It helps you find different workout programs and track your progress along the way. Plus, bodybuilding.com has some great resources on working out, meal plans, etc.

No need for me to go into the details of my workout sessions. From experience , I have found that you really need to experiment and figure out what works for you. There are no tips I can give that will lead you to success, every body is different. The only real advice I have is- push hard. Stay motivated. Set goals. And never give up!

Almost 2 years in and I have lost close to 80lbs, plus plenty of muscle growth. I don’t bother weighing my self regularly or measuring my BMI — it really doesn’t matter. What matters is my life has changed and my body has, and still is, transforming. I’m happy. I’m healthy. And I’m stronger than I have ever been both physically end emotionally.

I’m far from where I want to be, and that is ok. The further my goal the more hard work and effort I’m going to continue to put in. After all, 40 is only around the corner and I’m ready to be in the best shape of my life.