For those looking to lose weight in the new year, Joel Reed has one piece of advice: Start small. Really, really small.
After all, the 24-year-old Texas-native knows what he’s talking about. After struggling with his weight for most of his life, Reed lost an astounding 240 pounds by taking one step at a time. He says the years-long process has been amazing for his physical and mental health, both of which took a catastrophic hit after his life was touched by unthinkable tragedy.
When Reed was 10 years old, his father died of a massive stroke. A few years later, his mother passed away from cancer. By 15, he was an orphan and living with family friends who had taken him in. As he struggled to manage his overwhelming grief and depression, he turned to emotional eating as a coping mechanism.
“Food, especially unhealthy food, was something that always brought me comfort,” he says. “Once I started eating, I could not stop.”
Reed remembers drinking a two-liter of soda like it was an individual 16-ounce bottle, going through 2–4 of them each day. He says he would eat entire bags of chips or boxes of snack cakes in one sitting.
“While I knew that I was eating bad things, I really did not understand how terrible my diet was for me,” he says.
During a routine checkup at his doctor’s office, he got the wake-up call he needed when he stepped on the scale and learned he was 467 pounds. The news was a shock.
“I knew I was fat, but I had no idea that I had gone so far,” he says. “I realized that I was not truly living my life. I was pretty much coasting along, waiting to die. I knew that if I wanted to take my life back and live it to the fullest, something had to change.”
Though Reed had a long road ahead of him, he sidestepped drastic overhauls and quick fixes and decided to commit to one change at a time. He started with his diet and downloaded the MyFitnessPal app to log his food.
“Whenever I am asked how to lose weight, logging your food with MyFitnessPal is always my first suggestion,” he says. “Having an app in the palm of my hand that could generate a daily caloric goal, had access to a massive food database and had many helpful articles about fitness helped me tremendously.”
As Reed learned more about nutrition, he started to replace sodas, fast food and high-calorie snacks with healthier alternatives that still satisfied his cravings. He also started drinking a lot of water — 1–2 gallons a day — and noticed a huge difference in how he felt.
“Once I committed myself to not only losing weight, but doing it for me and to better my life, it became much easier to stay on track with my health journey,” he says.
Reed eventually incorporated light exercise, taking a 1-mile walk each day. As more weight came off, Reed was able to add in cardio machines, weightlifting and even pick-up sports like soccer and flag football.
The process took years, but Reed eventually got down to his lowest weight of 227 pounds and turned his focus away from the scale to other fitness-related goals. His first was to play American football again. From there, he set running goals, using the MapMyRun app to monitor his stats and conquer longer distances. These days, he’s focused on strength.
In the years since his initial weight loss, he’s added significant muscle mass to his body by training for and competing in powerlifting and Strongman competitions. He says he loves pushing himself to be the strongest he can be.
Reed now tells others there’s one part of the journey that’s especially important — the part where you find a lifestyle you genuinely enjoy outside of what the scale may or may not say. Drastic, unrealistic commitments will do you no favors here.
“Start by doing something you like that is going to help you meet your goals,” he says. “If you fall in love with and enjoy the process, you will be much more likely to stick with it.”