Dan Downing, a 31-year-old consultant from London, shares with Men’s Health how he changed his lifestyle and stayed motivated in pursuing his fitness goals during the pandemic.
I grew up playing football, and had always lifted and trained for that. I was small for my position, so my goals were always about getting bigger and stronger, with less emphasis on keeping my diet right or staying lean in any way. When I stopped playing sports after college, I kind of kept that mindset. Eventually, I found myself working out less and less, and that combination of inactivity and a poor diet led to my weight creeping up over the next few years.
I reached my heaviest when I was 30. I weighed around 255 to 260 pounds, and would get out of breath after running up a few flights of stairs. I’d known for a long time that I needed to make a change, but always had some excuse for why it wasn’t a good time to start. Then I started a new job where I was on the road four days a week, staying in hotels and living on takeout. I knew things were going to get worse if I didn’t do something.
I began working with a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance in early 2020. We started out with three weight training sessions a week, mixed in with light cardio two or three times on my off days. My trainer Chris helped me stay motivated, especially when the gyms closed and our workouts went remote; it helped me get back the sense of accountability that I used to have from being part of a team. Chris took the time to make sure we were getting every detail right, building the right mechanics across lifts where I struggled, and helping me unlearn some bad habits.
In addition, I tried to be more active in my everyday life, getting out and walking more. This became increasingly important when the pandemic hit and London went into lockdown; while working from home, going for a long walk in the morning or a couple of shorter walks during the day were great for clearing my head.
I adopted a high-protein, low-carb diet, which I adjusted to suit my needs over time as I learned more about macronutrients and how my body responds to different foods. I also cut out alcohol completely.
I ended up losing 85 pounds over the course of eight months. Once I started seeing results in the first couple of weeks, it really helped me to keep that momentum going. When I started out, I thought getting down to 220 pounds would be a terrific result. My trainer was significantly more ambitious, and I’m so glad he was! I haven’t been under 200 pounds since I was in high school.
I’ve definitely gained more confidence by going through this process. From a physical standpoint, I feel great about the way I look, and it’s great to be able to buy clothes and know they’ll fit comfortably. It was also amazing to set a goal and then go and achieve it.
My main goal right now is to make sure I maintain this progress as I come off of a relatively strict diet. I’d love to put on more muscle mass over the next six months or so. I’ve found that challenging with the ever-changing COVID restrictions—the UK is back in lockdown—but I’ve tried to stay as flexible as I can, and there’s plenty I can do with the limited gym equipment I have at home.
If you want to lose weight, my advice would be to throw yourself into it 100 percent. Get set up with a really solid plan. I’d also say, it’s important to have a solid support system from the start. For me, that was making sure my wife was on board, and talking to my boss. My wife was amazing, cooking 99 percent of my meals and being wholeheartedly supportive throughout. My manager was totally respectful of my goals and my need to prioritize my health outside of work, and worked with me to make sure I had the flexibility to stick to my plan, which turned out to make a big difference in the long run.
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