In 2006, Jason Kander deployed to Afghanistan as an Army intelligence officer. His job involved traveling dangerous roads in unarmored vehicles to meet with men whose allegiances weren’t always clear. Though he was never harmed physically, the mental strain of being in these precarious situations, where the risk of abduction, injury or death were incredibly real, took its toll.
When Kander returned to the United States, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and experienced emotional numbness, nightmares and anxiety. For more than a decade, he convinced himself it wasn’t PTSD and avoided the treatment he needed, even getting involved in the (very public) political scene. Then, his symptoms worsened, and he began to experience depression and even suicidal ideation. In a move that made national headlines, he dropped out of the Kansas City mayoral race and began going to therapy at the VA.
But, as Kander started to address his mental health, he decided he wanted to improve his physical health, too.
“I was living with chronic pain and feeling myself getting older,” he says. “Tackling my mental health challenges gave me the strength to transform my diet and attack physical training like I did when I was in the Army. That combination of therapy, diet and exercise changed everything.”
He opted for the Premium version of MyFitnessPal, hoping to better understand his diet, specifically the breakdown of macronutrients. Though he had a few false starts, once he developed the habit of consistent tracking, Kander was hooked.
He slowly began experimenting with macronutrient ratios and caloric goals, trying out different ways of eating that didn’t always work.
“At first, when I was just trying to build muscle, I was aiming for a really high caloric intake, and that was exhausting,” he remembers. “I felt full all the time, and I just couldn’t get that much chicken down, so it would force me to make up for it by eating less clean.”
He continued to tinker, figuring out his average daily caloric burn, plus what he burned during workouts, and eventually turning his focus to fitness over bulking.
“That made a ton of difference,” he says. “I ate better, felt better and got much fitter, faster and stronger.”
As of March 2021, Kander has used MyFitnessPal for more than 700 consecutive days and says logging his daily intake is intuitive at this point. He’s also learned one of the most important lessons of healthy living: consistency over perfection.
“I used to feel like I had to eat perfectly, and that if I took even a bite of unhealthy food, I’d fall ‘off the wagon,’” he says. “I used to believe if I had a cheat meal, it would blow my whole vibe, and I couldn’t stop eating poorly. Now I have a cheat meal once every 10–14 days. I plan it out, I look forward to it, and then I go right back to eating healthy.”
Even with his cheat meals, which are usually barbecue, pizza, sushi or Mexican food, Kander says his taste buds have changed over the past two years, and he doesn’t crave highly processed junk food anymore. Instead, the grocery items he buys most often are chicken, salmon, avocado, rice, sweet potato, peanut butter, yogurt, almond milk, nuts, broccoli, cottage cheese and protein powder.
“My diet is high on protein and healthy fats,” he says. “I’m low(ish)-carb, but not zero-carb, and I limit my carbs to vegetables and whole grains with very few of the simple carbs that slow me down. It used to be a chore to eat healthy but now eating unhealthy makes me feel sluggish and gross, and that’s a great disincentive,” he says.
Kander has seen the benefits from his new lifestyle. Though he never set out to lose weight, he has gotten significantly leaner. When he started with the MyFitnessPal app, he was 19 percent body fat; now, he’s down near single digits, and even his doctor at the VA was envious of his most recent blood work.
“I learned that I do, in fact, have abs,” says Kander. “Also, my 7-year-old son says I look like Captain America now, which is about the coolest thing a dad can hear.”
Kander has also stayed focused by working toward challenging physical goals, like outdoing the personal bests he set in the Army. Most recently, he completed 98 pushups in 2 minutes, closing in on his record of 101, which he set 16 years ago after five months of military intelligence training.
“Now that my body works like it did when I was in my 20s, it’s like getting a new race car,” he says. “I just want to take it out and see what it can do.”
But the biggest motivator has remained his mental health. He says the overhaul he’s made to his habits, paired with regular therapy, has helped him feel happy again. He’s looking forward to focusing on other things now, like new professional goals, spiritual growth and even writing a second book.
“My mental and physical health are entirely tied together, and I feel completely in sync with my body’s natural rhythms. Working out nearly every day helps me enormously in maintaining the headspace I most prefer. In every way, this is the best I’ve felt in over a decade.”