if you can conquer fear, you can conquer death ~ Alexander the Great
He’s one of my greatest idols and heroes of all time. Alexander the Great rose to power of a minor Greek Provence of Macedonia when he was barely a man (age 20). Thrust onto the throne by the untimely death of his father, Phillip of Macedon, Alexander dreamed far beyond his natural means. Ambitious, Alexander dreamt of glory, immortality even through his mortal flesh. By the time Alexander died at the young age of 29, he had become the ruler of the know world, over 300 years before the birth of Christ.
Now I am sure you are asking yourself, “what does this have to do with a story of transformation?”, it has every imaginable influence to me and to my story. I love the tales of that time, of heroes and Gods, seems all so mythical does it not. For me it was very real. It is said, that one is truly lost to divinity with the myths. The story and myth of Alexander the Great taught me that no matter what tragedy befalls you – YOU have the power to conquer it.
My situation is a little different to Alexander, but in a way I too was forced to face terrible odds to survive. By the age of 20 I had reached the colossal weight of 285kg by simply not caring about myself. In truth, I was befallen with the deafening sadness of a death wish, attempted to take my life several years before but failed. At the time I just could not see a life that I wished passionately to live. Not realising the life that was pumping through my veins was reason enough to live. But such ideology is that of fortunate hindsight.
But, with that sort of weight, the day swiftly came that I would need to face a fact that no one wishes to ever face. and that was the manifestation of their own mortality. At the time I had a blood pressure of 290 over 200 and like I said, tipped the scale to close to a third of a metric ton. In fact, it was one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life when doctors and nutritionists needed medical information to try help me.
I could not fit inside the largest MRI machine on the market and needed to be sent off to a meat packing factory to have me weighed on a scale normally used to weigh animal carcasses. As my home doctor at the time, the late Dr Robenhiemer, had illustrated for me that my poor heart was like a car’s engine. He urged me to understand that my poor engine was trying to make a road trip from Pretoria to Cape Town in first gear. It really was not going to hold on for much longer he told me (in fact – he predicted if I did nothing – I would not see my 24th birthday).
That in itself was not enough to inspire me to carry on, to live, to fight for a type of life I was never given. Here’s where we come back to Alexander the Great. When I discovered that story I was enthralled, I found the inspiration to live, somehow I finally saw the emotional pain I was inflicting on those that loved me most in this world. Suddenly I did not feel so alone, I could finally see all the people around me waiting to cheer me on and help me. I thought to myself, you are going to die one day, but you get to say when. I felt in that moment I could conquer death, because I had conquered my fears.
We are all afraid of leaving our comfort zone, but greatness can only be found outside of that safe zone. That’s how it all began – around the time that I was celebrating my 21st birthday. My mind was made and the journey had begun.
It was torture, it was hard, there were days when I got low, didn’t see the point. Every time I got low I reminded myself what I was fighting for – I was fighting for the life I wanted to create for myself. Your true potential is hidden deep within. It takes a lot of hard work and diligence to sculpt a masterpiece. But once you unmask it, it will last forever.
The trouble is that the actual struggle was within myself but the mind has an unbelievable power to move the body. In essence the secret was hard work, all the time, never quitting.
As the journey went on it was clear that my body and more specifically, my skin, had suffered major damage. Nothing more could be done to save the skin and the only alternative was to cut the excess off. In three separate, major reconstructive surgeries, 13.5kgs of excess skin was removed. Areas from the waist, hips, groin, inner thigh, chest, arms and stomach. Each surgery, totally life threatening, in fact two of the surgeries I developed side effects and complications that nearly claimed my life.
These possible complications were clearly outlined by my surgeon, the fantastic Dr V Jandera, and once the complications were picked up, absolutely no expense or effort was spared to fight opportunistic infections. Personally it still remains a very big grudge that I hold against the medical aid companies, as they refused to pay for any of the surgeries and post op complications. In their definition – it was all unnecessary and merely “cosmetic”. Despite the fact that a team of doctors had petitioned the medical board to rule the case as dire necessity for the surgery.
With the help of family and my lovely doctors, I recovered from each of the surgeries. I find it quite apt the scars left behind. They are my trophies. Of the 285kgs, to date 175kgs of that is gone. I would ask myself the question, where is the proof, you can’t show a person the emotional scars but the physical ones I will carry until the day I die. I find that quite beautiful, it has taken me a long time to see the weird beauty in that, and I guess that is a major part of any fitness transformation journey.
rule number 1: do not hate the body you, learn to love it but love the experience of changing it more, then you will win.
The secret to this immense change is no different from a person wanting to lose 10kgs and be fit to the extreme like me. The only difference is the length of dedication given. You must crave it, you must want it with all your might, if you can sit in front of a person who is eating a greasy hamburger and you can fight the urge to have one. YOU WILL WIN. You need to make it a passion!It is the most terrible thing to hear that people complain “I don’t have time to go to the gym” or “I don’t have time to cook healthy food” YOU MAKE THE TIME!!
rule number 2: slow and steady wins the race.
It has taken me 10 years to lose 175kgs, which if you break it down, is not actually a great deal. that is only an average of 1.4kg per month give or take. Fast weight loss is not sustainable.
Remember the key rule for body mass – muscle is 5 times as dense as fat. muscle is the key to metabolising fat – so your friend is going to have to be the weight section at the gym. Easily the most intimidating place in that gym, as usually all around you are muscly built hulks, but just remember who you are doing this for. You are doing it for yourself. No one was born a ripped body builder, they all had to work very hard to attain their goals.
rule number 3: invest in a personal trainer
Even if it is just once a week. Not a buddy that says “oh they can help you train” NO! Get a personal trainer to help you and assess you. They are qualified to know the limits and potential of the human body, they can plan an exercise plan that will help you achieve these goals. Most importantly, they will be able to teach you proper form, as incorrect form is the fastest way to get injured.
Trust me, a gym injury is the worst thing that can happen within your health and fitness journey, on an emotional level. Worse even than the emotional effect of not feeling you are making progress (which we will touch on in a moment). Now the reason why a fitness injury is so detrimental on an emotional level is that it completely takes the wind out of your sails. Not only is it a physical set back but as a result of the injury your body will not correctly react to your exercise program and you will make zero progress. Which naturally is a not what we want. INVEST IN A TRAINER.
How to deal with the perception of not making physical progress? I can tell you, it’s one of the hardest things to do. What do you do if you don’t see progress? Here another saying from another hero comes to mind Winston Chirchill ~ KBO (keep buggering on ‘old chap’) he would say. And that literally is the trick I learnt, keep at it, if you are sticking to a well engineered eating plan and exercise regime outlined by a professional THERE IS NO WAY YOU CAN FAIL. Unless, forgive me for being brutal, unless you give up and forget that phrase… KEEP BUGGERING ON. Keep at it.
Within the health and fitness circle there is a saying “abs are built in the kitchen” which is true. 80% of your success will need to come out of doing the right things in the kitchen. Before we move on with this most critical part – allow me to share some training do’s and don’t’s
HIIT – “high intensity interval training” is far more effective method of weight loss that conventional cardio training. Do the necessary research and then get to it. Google is a great tool for looking up training programs and don’t forget to run it by your trainer. I prefer high rep training as it has been shown that lighter weight training with higher rep sets is far more effective in burning fat than more intense higher weight. Aim for 20 reps per set and aim for as much as 5 to 6 sets minimum with fixed rest in-between. A good bench mark for a rest period between sets is about a minute to max 2 minutes. Start small and grow from there.
You will see how quickly your strength builds. For example, for the greater part of 2013 and 2014 I had an unfortunate run in with an alcohol problem and I did major damage to my body. Anyway, long story short, I got cleaned up around February of 2015 and got back to training and within 6 months my body strength had tripled. So, start as low as you can manage and build up. Another training tip I can share is be specific in targeted areas of your body. That means, no skipping the dreaded leg day! The rest I will leave to your trainer that you are going to contact.
Now we come to the most critical part and the most difficult in some people’s minds. Diet. First off, if I were in a position of power, I would petition the removal of that word from the English language. It is evil! Forget about that word, I personally do not condone the prescription to fad diets and cleanses, they do not make sense to me. I am a professional career chef and studied food science – and most “diets” do not make scientific sense. The only reason fad juice and cleanse diets “work” is that they leech water out of your body making you think you have lost weight. All the while the poor nutrient intake has shocked your body into storing fat at a higher rate and burning muscle as a result. Muscle is the key to sustained fat burning, so exercise and eating that promotes muscle growth promote fat burning. Its a double edged sword, the strength training with the added nutrient intake promotes muscle growth = IE speeds up fat burning! Quick fixes just slow you down and usually make you more
fat than before.
Let’s rather call it an EATING PLAN or lifestyle. It will need to become a critical part of a life long commitment. A poorly planned or executed eating plan is the fastest way to fail and cheat. Body builders and die-hard fitness fanatics joke that they hate missing a meal – but in a way it’s really not a joke. YOU NEED TO EAT! Don’t skip meals, you never need to feel hungry.
Here are some key tips:
Cut out all forms of complex sugars meaning: alcohol, refined sugary drinks, processed foods.
Dramatically reduce forms of complex carbs: pasta, white breads, processed rice.
Never starve yourself
Steer clear of heavily processed zero or low fat dairy products.
Don’t think to exchange coke for coke zero – the chemical storm inside coke zero makes it arguably worse for you that regular coke – and that applies to all beverages!
Eat well, eat lean.
Get the fat secret app to assist with tracking consumption of calories.
Eat plenty of leafy and any green vegetables.
Eat your protein, but lean!!
Invest in a steamer and/or cast iron grill pan.
Cook from scratch, you will be shocked how much added rubbish is inside processed foods.
Don’t forget to reward yourself, YAY, cheat day.
Cheat day is a key in maintaining high spirits and ‘tricking’ the body. Don’t go crazy though, treat yourself with your favourite meal or a ice cream cone, not a 5l tub of ice cream, remember you deserve a treat but you don’t need a setback.
When it comes to athletic supplements like whey protein powder and the like – don’t just go and buy without doing some research first and don’t take the advice from just anyone, ask your trainer for tips and what they think you might need. Remember, if you go and ask advise of people selling these products, you will walk away with stuff you don’t need.
One last thing – get good rest. You will be putting your body through quite a routine so rest and recovery is vital.
So in the end, am I done? Not even close! Thanks to my hard work and determination – I now have my whole life ahead of me. Where do I go from here – to be a beacon of hope for those that think all hope is lost. It’s not impossible.
Eat like a king and train like a beast
Gary Martin Smith