For some people, the shift from unhealthy habits to a better lifestyle might be kicked off by a photo, random comment or an uncomfortable moment in a dressing room. For Stephen Ryan, there was no dramatic “ah-ha” revelation — just a quiet night, like so many others, when the 33-year-old was settling into the couch, popping open the first beer of his nightly six-pack habit.
Just as he had done on so many other occasions, he glanced over at the stationary bike his uncle had given him a few years before. At that moment, something clicked … and he would never be the same again.
“That was six years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday,” he recalls. “I had a beer in one hand and a remote control in the other. At the time, I was battling drug and alcohol abuse. I don’t know why, but I decided to change my life for the better.”
Ryan stood up, walked to the kitchen and emptied his beer in the sink — it turned out to be the last time he drank. Then, he got on that bike and did 10 minutes of slow cycling, which he says felt like a half marathon. But he did it the next day, too, and then the next. Each time, he rode for a few more minutes.
When the seat broke from his weight — the 6-foot-3 Illinois resident was at his highest weight of 312 pounds — he didn’t have a second of doubt about continuing. He bought a new, stronger one and kept going. Soon, he started biking twice a day, once before work and again afterward. Not only was he hoping to lose weight, but Ryan had also been diagnosed with very high blood pressure and wanted to work toward getting off his medication.
Part of his drive came from remembering how great it felt to be active and healthy. During his high school years and early 20s, Ryan loved going to the gym and actually competed as a professional golfer for a few years. But then, a pivot toward working a desk job at his father’s company when he was 28 started a cascade of bad habits, including daily fast food, post-work cocktails that turned into post-post-work beer and pizza as a post-dinner snack.
At one point, he went into a big-and-tall clothing store and found his waist measured 48 inches, the biggest size they had available.
“It was embarrassing to be in a store geared for big people and I only fit into the largest size they had,” he said. Luckily, his work on the stationary bike was paying off, and he was beginning to see some results.
About a month into his new fitness track, his aunt suggested tracking his food with MyFitnessPal, which she used daily. He gave it a shot — and has been using it ever since.
“What I learned, quickly, was that food is the most important factor when you’re trying to lose weight,” he said. “And the combination of tracking my food and joining a gym meant the results really started to gain traction.”
He began weight training at a local gym to complement his at-home cardio workouts. When someone gave him the idea of competing in bodybuilding, it was just the goal the former professional golfer needed to take his workouts to a new level, including hiring a coach. He was already tracking his macronutrients through MyFitnessPal, so he easily began adjusting them based on a competition timeframe.
In 2018, he competed in his first bodybuilding show, entering a division called men’s physique and placing among the top-five competitors.
Now, at about 210 pounds with a 34-inch waist, Ryan has lost far more than just weight and body fat. He’s forever left behind the guy who came home from work exhausted and reached for a beer and the remote control.
He plans to continue with bodybuilding competitions, which he says keeps him motivated and accountable to stay dedicated daily. But he adds, even for those who never plan to walk across a stage, taking those steps toward a healthier lifestyle is worth it.
“Changing your lifestyle for the better won’t just be about weight loss, it’s about feeling better about yourself as a person, feeling more confident and positive,” he says. “That carries over into every aspect of your life.”