How the COVID-19 Pandemic Prompted Mike to Lose 220 Pounds

Michael Nystrom
by Michael Nystrom
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How the COVID-19 Pandemic Prompted Mike to Lose 220 Pounds

While it would be an understatement to say 2020 was a bit tumultuous, there’s been a surprising silver lining to months and months of quarantine: People around the world are finding the time to reconnect with fitness and healthy eating.

For 40-year-old Mike Fettes of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the correlation between COVID risk and obesity was all it took to realize it was time to make a serious change in his life. After years of poor diet choices and inconsistent fitness routines, Fettes tipped the scales at 440 pounds in March 2020, just as the pandemic was escalating. After a Zoom “happy hour” with friends full of drinks and pizza, Fettes woke up with sudden clarity that something needed to change for the better — and it couldn’t wait.

“I look at the pandemic as a bittersweet blessing — I don’t know if I could have or would have had the free time if it wasn’t for this,” he says. “Every time I’d hear the word ‘obesity’ and ‘COVID’ linked on the news, that fear took over, and I was like ‘I gotta do something.’”

And he did. After setting an initial goal of breaking 400 pounds, Fettes took the first step by completely revamping his diet. Sodas, snacks with artificial sugars, hamburgers and steaks were replaced with water, lean proteins, like white fish and organic chicken breast, and vegetables.

“I started eating lots of organic vegetables and fruits in lots of salads, and I’d make my own salad dressings to go with them to control my calories,” he says. “For me, that was the biggest change diet-wise because I’ve never been a vegetable eater. Now I love them, and I’ve found different ways to make them tasty and healthy.”

At the same time, he started working out. Using the lap pool in his backyard, Fettes’ first swim wasn’t spectacular. Even though he was completely exhausted after five laps and felt frustrated that he was so out of shape, he got out of the pool motivated and in good spirits.

“I made it my goal to come back every day and go one step further,” he says. “If I swam 10 minutes today, I’d do 15 tomorrow, and before I knew it, I was swimming for 45 minutes to an hour continuously. I’d swim through rainstorms, after midnight, anything. I felt very motivated and believed I would make this work.”

Beyond swimming, Fettes started to include walking, jogging and aerobic workouts with a stair stepper. He formulated his own cardio workouts that would last an hour to an hour and a half each day. But the biggest breakthrough came when his long-awaited Peloton bike arrived earlier than expected. He started on the low-impact setting to get used to the feel of riding a stationary bike and gradually worked his way into the “climb” rides for more effective and powerful workouts.

“I’ve ridden every day since I got it, and I don’t even think about not riding it, I’m so into it,” Fettes says. “I remember feeling the sweat and the burn and thinking ‘there’s something here.’ I feel mentally and spiritually well when on the bike, and it’s such a transformative experience for me. You get on the bike and have these intense workouts, and after I’m done, I have this ‘bikers high’ where I just feel incredible.”

By this point, the number on the scale was dropping as fast as his mileage was increasing. He’d already blown past his goal of reaching 320 pounds before his October birthday, and he didn’t stop there.

“I realize I’m at this dangerous point where I’ve done all this work and lost all this weight, and the last thing I want to do is get complacent and start being lazy again or having bad habits,” he says. “I work out harder today than I did at the beginning, and I’m working out with an intention. I have full control over my efforts, and I give it my all and not just go through the motions.”

To hold himself accountable, and by his wife’s recommendation, Fettes started using MyFitnessPal to not just log what he ate during the day, but also track his workouts and even plan his meals in advance. Seeing the complete nutritional picture of carbs, vitamins, sugars and more became an educational tool for him — it helped him make diet choices that benefited his overall health.

“The best thing about the tool is that at the end of the day, it gives you the ‘in five weeks, you’ll weigh this’ number,” he says. “I used it as a motivational tool to beat what the weight projection was, and at the end of the day, I couldn’t wait to put my exercises combined with my meals and hit that ‘complete diary’ button to see what I was going to try to beat weight-wise in five weeks.”

Because of his dedication to eating right, exercising daily, and making smart choices, Fettes didn’t face any serious setbacks along the way. Luckily, his wife, Liz, was joining him on this health and fitness journey, they were able to tackle challenges together.

“Navigating special events like family birthdays and holidays was probably the toughest for me,” he says. “And even though we’re taking quarantine very seriously, we’d want to have a nice meal, so we just made a point to research and do a healthy take on a Thanksgiving or birthday meal, so it didn’t derail our nutritional plan.”

In Fettes’ mind, the most important thing is taking the first step, having an intention, and using that to drive you. Even though he was mentally frustrated when he wasn’t losing the weight as fast as he wanted to, once he lost the first 40 pounds, he found his weight-loss journey became an “unstoppable freight train.”

“I remember being afraid, and instead of getting off the couch and taking action, I’d kind of cower and comfort eat,” he says. “You just have to move — start with the first step, be active, and the rest will follow.”

About the Author

Michael Nystrom
Michael Nystrom

Michael is a Los Angeles-based writer, two-time IRONMAN triathlon finisher and breakfast burrito connoisseur. When not swimming, cycling or running, he’s catching some waves or chasing his dog, Dingo. You can follow Michael on Instagram.

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