In 2001, Juan Martinez was still a newlywed when his mother suddenly passed away. What followed was a combination of joy and sorrow in a short timeframe that caused him to lose all sense of balance.
“I just didn’t deal with it well; the grief felt overwhelming,” he recalls. “So, I ate. That made me feel better, so I just kept eating.”
On his wedding day, the Morro Bay, California resident weighed 230 pounds but his newly established eating habits quickly began to take their toll. He gained 50 pounds of “sympathy weight” during his wife’s first pregnancy, followed by 50 more pounds with their second child.
That’s when Martinez really began to notice what was happening.
“It sounds strange, that I wouldn’t realize I had a major problem, but during all this, I still didn’t think of myself as big,” he says. “But I also avoided looking at pictures of myself, so deep down, I knew what was happening.”
That’s when he decided to make a change toward exercise and eating healthy, and it worked … but only for a few months.
For years, he would lose and gain the same 80–100 pounds, and he says stress eating and other life changes contributed to him eventually topping out at 408 pounds in 2018. With three young kids at home, his size hindered his ability to play with them in the manner he desired. At that point of physical limitation, Martinez realized he needed a different strategy.
At first, he intended to get weight-loss surgery, but some disrespectful comments from the surgeon left him fuming. An implication that Martinez couldn’t lose the weight on his own provided an unexpected surge of motivation, and he got to work.
For the first month, he made a dramatic change for him: cutting out fast-food. He stopped his daily habit of hitting the drive-thru for a “snack” before dinner, which led to him dropping 33 pounds. Invigorated, he canceled the surgery and kept going.
In the following two months, he started tracking his calories and macros with MyFitnessPal and lost another 35 pounds. As an accountant, Martinez says he loves data and seeing all of his numbers was an exciting part of his journey.
“I’m a data junkie, so food tracking is perfect for me,” he says. “I also got a smart scale and then a treadmill I could sync to my fitness tracker. All of that keeps me motivated because it’s easy to see progress.”
Once he could move more easily with his lighter frame, he began incorporating exercise with his kids into his existing fitness schedule. Not only did he do yoga with his daughter and lift weights with his sons, but they’d also regularly go on bike rides and run on the beach. He started coaching football and basketball for his children, too, which gave him the chance to run along the sidelines as he kept up with the action.
When it came to changes in his diet, the biggest shift was his mindset. Instead of being restrictive, like he had in the past, he appreciates having “reward meals” on occasion, as well as cake on birthdays and bigger meals on holidays.
Now at 225 pounds, he still thinks of himself as a “work in progress” and says it’s a slow journey — he even started an Instagram account to reflect that — but he’s enthusiastic about the possibilities for what might be next, including a potential half-marathon.
“When I look at the few photos that I let people take when I was at my highest weight, I’m sad for that guy. I’m disappointed I let myself get to that point,” he says. “But I’m proud of how far I’ve come since then. I don’t plan on going back.”