If you had met me in my late 20’s you would have never known I was unhealthy just by looking at me. I’ve never weighed more than 200lbs (193lbs) but that does not mean that I was healthy. If anything, the story of my journey to health and wellness proves that you don’t have to be overweight to be unhealthy. I’d say I was lucky that my health deteriorated at such a young age so I was more motivated to correct it.
At the age of 28 it all fell apart. Little did I know, every aspect of my life was putting my health in jeopardy. I started experiencing problems with erectile dysfunction, which was attributed to having blood pressure of 150/100, on top of chronic heartburn and acid reflux. These are all issues you wouldn’t expect to go through until you were 60. I went on for almost a year being a victim to my circumstances. Asking myself, Why me? Why is this happening? I was depressed and anxious at the same time. I would lie awake at night and feel my heart fluttering from anxiety. It was awful.
I was taking three pills: Lisinopril to manage my blood pressure, Lexapro for anxiety and depression and that little blue pill… I was embarrassed and had little support. I had aged myself by 32 years. I was going through a divorce and in a stressful job. I was a smoker, drinker and ate fast food five days a week along with fried chicken from the local hot spot every Sunday.
One day something in me snapped and I decided that I needed to take charge of my life. It was time to stop playing victim to my circumstances. In the past I had dabbled with exercise but never gotten into any serious routine. I had to change this. It had to become a lifestyle change. I needed to clean up my nutrition and stop eating so much fast food burgers, fries and fried chicken. I finally realized that I was in complete control of my health.
The first step was to reduce my stress. Previously I had been a member of management at a warehouse, which was stressful. I found a non-management job within a factory until I could find something better. I left my toxic relationship by completing my divorce. I stayed with a friend while I saved some money to move from an area that just didn’t fit my personality. It was time to focus on me and turn my life around.
The next step was to start exercising. I had done some jogging while preparing for my first wedding and I enjoyed it. So I joined our local YMCA and started running a few miles a week, continuing to build up my mileage as it became more comfortable. I added weight training to increase muscle and strength. One day I was invited to a poker tournament in another town that was connected by the I & M Canal Tow Path. It was about 15 miles away so I thought I would give it a try and jog the trail, take a shower at the Y and go to the tournament. I managed to run the 15 miles by mixing in some walking. My mother suggested I try to run a marathon one day and that became the goal.
The last piece and probably the hardest piece of the puzzle was to fix my diet. It took years of trying different things to find out what worked for me. I began eating less fast food and cut out the weekly trip for fried chicken. I started eating leaner foods and avoided fat. I ate a lot of Subway sandwiches and used a lot of fat-free products as well as diet soda. Though I had trimmed down to 160lbs, I still had high blood pressure, acid reflux, chronic heartburn and issues with that other problem. I then gave up red meat and sausage and saw improvement. After a conversation with family members about how they improved their health by going plant-based, I thought I would give a vegetarian diet a try. I saw great change with my conditions and performance.
My health was on the rebound, but it wasn’t without its setbacks. During my training for a half marathon I experienced a major injury that put me down for 6 months. During that time I decided I wanted to help other people reclaim their health. After a short period of time trying to get an online degree in Dietetics, I made the decision to become a personal trainer. I bit the bullet and left the area I was living in to move back home with my parents and start my life over again at the age 30.
During this transitional time I married and had a beautiful baby girl with an old friend from high school. I finally achieved the healthy task of finding a loving and supportive relationship. I also made the full switch to a whole food plant-based diet and my health has never been better. I drastically reduced my drinking and I quit smoking. I was able to ditch my meds (including that little blue pill) and at my most recent physical was told I was at optimal health. On top of maximizing my health I opened my own personal training and wellness studio and am looking to expand in the next year!
What about that marathon? In the past 5 years I have ran 5 marathons, 4 halves and completed two half iron distance races. All without any major injuries or issues. Every single day I get to help people fight their health issues and overcome their obstacles so that they can move better, breathe better and live better as I did for myself. Hopefully by reading my story, you’ll know that it’s never too late to turn your life around. Your health is in your hands.
This story was submitted by Jason C. Venckus, a certified health coach and personal trainer in Chicago. To learn more about Jason’s services and background visit him at GoProVeg.com.