Learning to overcome setbacks: Stephen Last on weight loss and running

By Stephen Last

I have been heavy my entire life, and over 300 lbs my entire adult life. I often tried to lose weight and get fit, but would experience setbacks that got the better of me. By the time I was 34 I was 465 lbs. Just over five years ago I began my health and fitness journey. Currently, I am around 250-265 lbs, and I am running 5 and 10 km events, half marathons and have even run a full marathon. There were several stages of this journey, each one fraught with set backs, but my success came from learning to push ahead and overcome them.

The first two years started off with small changes. I made adjustments to my diet, and was walking 8 blocks a day. In the first 6 months I lost 50 lbs, going from 465- 415 lbs. 

However, when I got to 415 lbs, I stopped losing weight. At the time, I took that as a failure. Then I started to slide back a bit, going back up to 430 lbs. In retrospect, this first setback was an important part of my growth and understanding. 

After speaking with my doctor, as well as various dieticians, I learned that this is normal. Reaching a plateau after making adjustments to your diet and activity level will happen. The important thing is not to get discouraged. Not moving forward is not a failure; not falling back is a victory. Though I had slid, I had still seen important improvements in my mental and emotional well-being. This encouraged me to push ahead and make further changes.

During the next stage, I was in a special program at The Ottawa Hospital’s Weight Management Clinic. Here, I took specially designed shakes, prescribed by the doctor, which had all the necessary nutrients and 900 calories a day. Over the course of three months, this meal plan helped me lose 80 pounds. It was extremely difficult to stay on the shakes while becoming increasingly more active. While, I managed to stay on the shakes, I did not always reach my goal of walking at least four days a week. Sometimes I only walked three days, sometimes only two. Despite not always reaching the targets, I knew I had to keep at it.

As I lost weight and my body became accustomed to the exercise it got easier. Eventually it even became a pleasure to walk every day. 

When I finished the program, my bad eating habits had been wiped away. Now my goal was to develop healthy habits. For about four months I was successful, losing an additional 40 lbs on a balanced diet ranging from 1200 to 1800 calories a day.

Then my grandfather passed away. The combination of grief and communal moments that presented more opportunities to eat, led me to experience a momentary lapse in my healthy habits. I regained about 5 lbs in 2 weeks. Instead of seeing this as a setback, I acknowledged that I needed this time to grieve. After a week, I was able to get back into to my healthy routine.

Once I reached my peak fitness through walking, I knew I needed to up it. But it wasn’t until I met a new friend who helped motivate me that I began training to run. The first real setback I experienced in running was pulling my hamstring. It kept me from running for a couple of weeks and I got discouraged.

Getting injured had been my biggest fear. What if I could not exercise at all? What if it demotivated me completely, to a point where I would no longer feel like exercising at all? What if it led me to gain weight again? But thanks to the support of friends and family, I learned to ignore my fear and focus on reality. I was still able to walk. I could still be active. I knew I would be able to get back to running, and I did.

Last year, I made a commitment to run my first marathon, a real milestone in my journey. However, early in training I badly sprained my foot. While my mindset had matured so that this setback didn’t demotivate me, I was concerned that I would not heal in time for the marathon. I had to prepare myself for that eventuality, but I kept active every way I could. After a day or two I was able to limp/walk, so I could work out at the gym and ride a bike to stay fit. I kept at it little by little and in the end my foot healed in time for me to train for and complete my marathon. 

Even now, I continue to experience setbacks. Looking back on my journey, I realize that these setbacks are easier to overcome than they were before. The hard work I did led to so many improvements in my health, my comfort, my fitness, my confidence and my emotional well-being.

Now I see that every setback was part of my journey and my growth. I have learned from each of them and now I know how to push myself to carry on.

My advice: learn from your setbacks and they can end up being a boon. 

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