For Dave Wipert, stepping on the scale for an office weight-loss challenge was all it took to set the wheels of change in motion. Weighing in at 275 pounds with 49 percent body fat, Wipert saw that moment as the most important turning point of his life.
“They took my weight and measured my body fat and inches, and it was just like ‘boom!’ Enough was enough,” he says. “All the fear of adopting a new lifestyle was gone. I knew, at that moment, I was going to do it.”
Wipert hadn’t always been overweight. While he was a self-described “chubby” kid as a freshman in high school, running and weightlifting soon turned him into an athlete. By his senior year, the svelte 17-year-old could bench press 305 pounds. He was also part of his school’s record-breaking 440-meter relay team.
“I slowly got in better and better shape, and by senior year, I was 170 pounds,” he says. “I was fast, but also strong — probably one of the strongest kids in the high school, pound for pound.”
Unfortunately, his entrance into the working world signaled a shift away from that peak condition.
“After high school, I just started packing it on again,” he says.
So began decades of struggling with his weight. The 49-year-old had attempted plenty of diet and exercise plans over the years. Some provided initial results; others didn’t. At one point in his late 20s, he even managed to shed 75 pounds through exercise and a high-carbohydrate diet he’d heard about on an infomercial.
“I remember hearing that if you stay away from fat, you’ll lose fat, so I was eating a ton of pasta and bread. At first it worked,” recalls Wipert. “I lost the weight the wrong way, though, and it came back on as soon as I got deeper into my career and started exercising less. Not only did I gain the weight back, I gained back more than I lost. That was the point I gave up for a number of years.”
One of his lowest points came around the time of his wedding in 2006. He was overjoyed by the occasion, but also overwhelmed by feelings of defeat regarding his weight.
“I felt like this isn’t me — like I was trapped inside of a fat suit,” he says. “It was always in the back of my mind to lose weight and get healthy — it was the only way I could keep moving on. I thought, ‘This is just temporary.’ But at that point, I was starting not to even believe that anymore and thinking maybe this wasn’t temporary.”
The gut-wrenching loss of his brother-in-law from a stroke at the age of 44 added to Wipert’s concerns. He realized he was bigger and less healthy than his brother-in-law had been. For the first time, Wipert saw weight loss in life-or-death terms.
“For my whole life, up to that point, I wanted to lose weight for vanity reasons. I wanted to look better and enjoy shopping for clothes,” he says. “After I lost my brother-in-law, I thought, ‘I better get my health on track. How long do I really have if I keep on this path?’”
Then came the defining moment on the scale at work. Wipert knew there was no better time to start his journey. The very next day, he started walking at a park near his home.
“I found that you have to believe you can make the change.”
“I worked up to walking a mile, then two, and before I knew it, I was running. And a few months after that, I started incorporating weight training, too,” he says.
He also began tracking his diet via MyFitnessPal and getting recipe ideas from the app. He started swapping things like traditional pasta for zucchini noodles and pizza for stir fry. While he admits this new method of healthy eating was difficult, he relied on mind games and visualization to keep himself in check.
“If I was at a barbeque, for instance, I’d try to imagine how it would feel if I overate before I even put anything in my mouth,” he explains. “I’d ask myself, ‘Do you want to undo all the hard work you’ve put in this week?’”
Soon, Wipert saw significant amounts of weight falling off his frame. A year and a half later, he was 90 pounds lighter and 10 inches smaller around his waist. Even more important, he was able to go off his blood pressure medications and his severe sleep apnea disappeared.
He also started signing up for 5K and 10K races and eventually ran a half marathon. Today, he spends a good amount of time in the gym lifting weights and soon hopes to break the 5:45-mile time he set at the age of 17.
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“My entire quality of life is so much better now,” he says. “I always hoped to lose the weight, but I didn’t really believe I could do it. I found that you have to believe you can make the change. It’s hard to explain why that one moment on the scale at work made a difference for me, but things came together and I suddenly actually believed I was going to do it this time.”
For Wipert, his moment came unexpectedly, shifting his thoughts to a more positive outlook. While each person’s “moment” might be different, the message is the same: Your future is up to you. And Wipert’s future is bright.
Written by Mackenzie L. Havey, a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. She has run 14 marathons and is currently training for her first IRONMAN triathlon. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.