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Sunday
Aug032014

Mohenad I. – Tempe, AZ

NOW or NEVER

Three months shy of my 35th birthday, I decided to register for Life Time’s 90-Day Challenge. Not knowing how much time, investment and effort it would require on my part, and whether or not I would be able to sustain my commitment and discipline throughout, I was reluctant to register to only disappoint myself.

Ever since college I tried every diet and workout, and despite my best efforts I never did realize the vision I had of my “ideal self”—which was to be lean and to have muscle definition and to get to a point where I would only have to maintain provided I stayed active and ate healthy. Fast forward 10 to 15 years, with the increasing demands of life, family, graduate school and work—and this goal remained elusive.

I had friends who were my age who either were genetically gifted and worked hard or were on the other spectrum having accepted the effects of a slowing metabolism or a lifestyle that put their optimal health and well-being on the backburner. A combination of a yearning to be the best in everything I pursue and to be a role model for my children and family, it was not in me to resign myself to this fate without putting my best effort forward—especially given that I lived a relatively healthy lifestyle while honoring my body (i.e. no alcohol or substance abuse) as well as appreciating the fact that our health is a gift from God and a blessing we must cherish.

It was NOW or NEVER and time to practice what I preach—namely PASSION, PERSEVERANCE, and PATIENCE.

On this Mother’s Day and the week of my 35th birthday, I have surpassed my expectations, resulting in a more than 74% Body Fat (BF) reduction, going from 26.1% to 6.7%. Although there is more work to do physically, this was only a small part of the true transformation that occurred over the course of 3 months.

MOMENT OF TRUTH

Once I decided I was going commit to the 90-Day Challenge, theories were going to be put to practice where I would be my own research scientist with a hypothesis and using myself as the test subject.

Weigh-In Day | Feb. 10th 2014: I was shocked to learn that at 186.1 lbs my BF was 26.1%. I knew it was not going to be easy to lose the belly fat that has eluded me—especially since for the past 2 years on-and-off when I was not travelling I was consistently attending a set of group fitness classes at Life Time Tempe—namely, yoga, spinning, Insanity, ALPHA, and Run Club. My diet prior to the 90-Day Challenge consisted of high protein/low carb/low fat food with the occasional “cheat meal” turning into a “cheat day”—which more frequently than I would like to admit became 2 days or 3 days, telling myself I would restart “clean” at the beginning of the week or (worst) the 1st of the month.

All this changed once I signed up for the 90-Day Challenge because now for the first time I obtained my BF number and was on a mission. Either I was going to decrease it by at least half to 13% or allow it to increase and manifest itself into other debilitating conditions. More importantly, I was now accountable to others – Alex Nunez, my personal trainer, and Charlotte Lund-Abrahamsen, my nutritionist. These two, without any of us realizing at the time, would become fast friends as the weeks went on. The more they saw me commit, the more support, encouragement, and insights they offered.

GOALS

Knowing exactly what I wanted to achieve: 1) become leaner; 2) reduce body fat to between 8-10%; 3) improve my strength and continue an ALPHA-like training program that will push me more than I would push myself; and 4) finally understand any of the missing elements/lessons in my previous attempts to do the above on my own post-Challenge.

It was time to get SERIOUS, be HUMBLE, and put the TIME, INVESTMENT and EFFORT in. I had to put my faith and trust in my coaches that they would bring the right toolkits to work—and sure enough they did.

From the very beginning I established a set of guiding principles for our journey together, not knowing where we would end up when it was all said and done.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

360 Approach – From my past experiences of working each element—nutrition, cardiovascular, and resistance training—in isolation and because I was in relativity good overall health and conditioning, our program had to be designed in a comprehensive format adjusting the plan as required and in real-time.

Knowledge is Power – Using the the weekly assessments as our reference points, we would adjust the plan and path forward based on science-based research on a macronutrient level, best practices and constant iterations.

No Regrets, No Excuses – If I miss a day or life takes over for whatever reason, I must be patient, roll with it and put the time in and intensity during the remainder of the week.

All Natural – In order for this lifestyle to be sustainable, and in case my work takes me overseas, I was adamant about sticking to an all-natural diet, with herbal supplements – no synthetics.

Minimum Effective Dose. 100% Effort – When I am at Life Time, I give it 100% effort because that 1 hour or 2 in the day is never going to return. Why not make use of it, make it count and get out of the way!

RULES

With any prolonged activity and to obtain “buy-in” from those whom I am responsible for and have responsibilities towards, I established a set of rules to ensure all my obligations are being fulfilled:

1.     My activities within the 90-Day Challenge could not affect my daily responsibilities towards God, family, work, my children’s educational and extracurricular activities and community service.

2.     I would buy, prepare and cook all my own meals given I was going to be on a restricted diet and the rest of family was not.

PROGRAM DESIGN – A FUNCTION OF TIME, INVESTMENT & EFFORT

My objective was that the time I spent at Life Time is as efficient as possible, and in order to do so, I needed to understand myself better at a physiological and metabolic level. The tests that I found to be the most beneficial and recommend for all members who are serious—removing the guesswork and frustrations—are the: Active Metabolic Assessment (AMA), Cholesterol & Lipids Test, and Food Allergy Profile. Once my AMA was completed, I invested in a heart rate monitor, so I can now track at what intensity and duration I burn the most fat.

The other parts as I mentioned are spending the effort towards nutrition & meal planning, training (comprising of mostly Group Fitness classes such as Insanity, yoga, run club, and spinning); and most importantly rest/recovery and sleep.

Going into Weigh-In Weekend, I did not know what to expect. Soon I found myself speaking to Daniel H., who guided me through the process. We then had a conversation about my goals, and he in turn outlined the products and services available. I prioritized and invested in the products/services that would have the most impact at a minimum expense. Based on my goals of continuing to pursue an ALPHA workout, where we do Olympic-style lifts, High Intensity Training (HITs) and/or cardio interval training, Daniel paired me with Alex. We started with 1 PT session/week for the 1st Month and eventually reached 2 PT/week.

In the following days after the initial weigh-in, I sat with Charlotte, where we discussed my goals, and she provided a meal plan where I would eat the same 5-6 meals with little variation. A combination of high quality/lean proteins, healthy fats, and a specific set carbohydrates—all of which were tailored based on the results of my Food Allergy Profile. My meal plan focused on what is easiest to digest, lots of water, wholesome vegetables, and lean fish. I would dedicate 2-3 hours preparing my meals on Sundays and Wednesdays for the week ahead, mainly boiling quinoa, and washing/chopping vegetables for salads with my lean protein. A couple of weeks into my meal plan, my cravings for desserts diminished completely even if my wife and kids were enjoying the occasional pint of ice cream, where in the past it would have been gone by morning! During our sessions, I learned so much, for example: it is preferable to consume nitrate-free cold cuts, sweet potatoes are a great complex carb, not to cook with olive oil, and that we must consume healthy fats in order for our bodies to burn body fat. Once a week, I would break the monotony of my meals by going to my favorite organic restaurant Herbs N Flavors owned by a fellow Life Time member/90-Day Challenger and restaurateur, where he would whip me up a special veggie bowl with quinoa and shrimp—and we would check in on each other’s progress.

As we got underway, we introduced all natural supplementation. I made a conscious decision to purchase all my vitamins and supplements from Life Time Fitness because I wanted to: (a) test my "360 approach," (b) consume the highest quality and natural ingredients available, and (c) verify the claims made by Life Time by taking their high quality-sourced products and proprietary blends. It’s my view that the vitamins and probiotic did improve nutrient absorption, fish oils decreased inflammation, and the UCAN stabilized my blood sugars. On a daily basis I would have 2-3 protein shakes per day. Since I was not consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables, I would take Dynamic Greens that provided me with all the vitamins and minerals I required. We adjusted supplementation monthly based on the BF assessments.

PROGRESS

A week or two before the halfway point, as I was seeing consistent results—and more importantly on the Leaderboard both for Life Time Tempe, and nationally that I was in the Top 100, I became even more motivated to reach the Top 50, 25, and 20. At the halfway mark in late March, I committed to 2 PT sessions/week with Alex, and in turn he committed 110% to me. He designed a program and meal plan for me for the weeks ahead and told me what muscles to target when we weren’t training together. At around the same time is when I hit a plateau—no progress due to external factors perhaps or to my body telling me to stop and take a break. Alex adjusted my training and diet to focus on small muscle groups and individual muscles.

The first time when I thought I had a chance to break the Top 20 is the week I became #1 for Life Time Tempe. This was the motivation I needed to keep pushing and make progress to be #1 for the Club. As soon as we broke Top 20, then I had to go all the way. The 90-Day now became a competition with myself and my mind and how far I could go while maintaining the life/work/family balance. I now have to make my coaches, Group Fitness trainers, fellow members, The Club and Arizona proud. It was in this last month when Alex pushed me to the edge, and I was in autopilot mode giving it 100%—and in the last 2 weeks we would train together because we both wanted to go all the way!

THE UNEXPECTED

Something amazing started to happen—this outward transformation well into the second and third month became an internal transformation. Because of the discipline of sleeping early, waking up at dawn, going to the gym, nourishing the body correctly, and feeling energized throughout the day allowed me to be even more grateful for the vessel we have been provided. My faith increased as a result of these actions, and meaningful engagements and interactions with others occurred randomly, and constant internal reflections throughout the day became the norm.

I have made more friends at Life Time in 3 months than the 2 years I have been back as a member! The camaraderie I found in Duane’s Insanity class was electrifying—as I looked forward to seeing Lisa, Michele, Calvin, Christine, Barry and Octavio weekly. The basketball tournament and early morning pick up games were always played in good spirits, and the sponsored activities added much needed variety in my daily routine.

I reflected on who inspired and motivated me—through their own pursuits and overcoming challenges, who were the most pivotal people in my life, and recalling those stories and experiences when I needed the drive to finish strong as the 90-Day Challenge became about so much more.

It became vividly clear the easiest pursuits in this world are not very beneficial, while the hardest pursuits are very beneficial, and it is the struggle that makes us stronger and gets us closer to our true selves.

So, if you are in blessing, you have to be grateful. And similarly if you are going through a challenging time you have to be patient and realize it is temporary and we can’t force our destiny—and just because we can’t force fate doesn’t mean our pursuits should be abandoned, but rather find a way to go around, above or through the wall.

KEY TAKEAWAYS 

  1. Discipline + Structure + Planning = Balance. With the Discipline of sleeping early—following the circadian cycle, and nature’s rhythms by waking up early to get at least the first cardio or workout session in and out of the way, to Planning the day through a series of mental or physical checklists—be it your grocery list, meals, and/or your workout ahead of time provided Structure. Combined, these provided me with a sense of Balance and resulted in the feeling of more energy and a sense of accomplishment that lasted for the entire day. My goal in all this was to reduce the number of decisions I had to make in a day. Having a specific program tailored to you and/or planned ahead of time allows you to focus on your life’s priorities.
  2. Have a Support System. This is crucial! Surround yourself with only positive influences, and similarly be accountable to your trainers, friends and family because no one will care more than they do—and always have a vested interest in you.
  3. Be Present. Be Patient. Be Passionate. – Engage wholeheartedly in whatever you are doing whether you're spending time with friends, family, or helping a stranger. Live in the present—where the future is not a concern, and the past is not a worry.
  4. Seek Knowledge. Life is made up of a series of building blocks—with knowledge you become empowered by understanding the why and how of what you are doing.
  5. Stay on Track. To stay on track—and never go back—you must track! Record your daily routine for a week. What time do you sleep and wake up? When you wake up, monitor how you feel. When do you get hungry or sluggish during the day? When do you have the most energy? Record what and how much you eat. You can go as far as when do you go to the bathroom if you like. All this is important to understand your daily habits and rhythms as you commit to undertaking your transformation.
  6. Mediate. Take time for you to reset and align, and understand that struggle and patience go together, and the best attitude to have is patience, and patience takes time and effort.

Only at the end of this 90-Day Challenge is when I realized that the events and people in your life are purposeful, appropriate and non-random, so make them count by being always true to yourself and honest with your dealings with others.

Acknowledgements

To honor a few who have been instrumental in my transformation at Life Time, I would like to mention in no particular order: Tamara B., Cynthia S., Nikki D., Duane M., Marsha R., Andrea S., Trevor B., Nicole W., Josh E., Marc V-B., Charles S., Tim S., Courtney G., Brent F., Chuck C., Josh E., Daniel H. and Mohammed A. To Andrea, Holly, Jordan, Johnny and the Child Center for allowing me to do my thing while the kids learn to swim and play. To Caleb K., Chance A., Joanne L., Marcus A. and all their colleagues at the Front Reception and the Maintenance Crew always being available 24/7 with a smile on their faces. And the crew at the Café who never said no to my requests. Last but not least, to Bahram for having the vision, tenacity and grit to build by far one of the finest family-oriented fitness clubs in the U.S. - and courage to evolve the brand into a lifestyle and way of life.

Most of all, thank you to Alex and Charlotte. This journey would not have been possible without your commitment to me—in addition to Julie B. who saw me at the finish line to represent Life Time Tempe.

I must also recognize fellow Life Time Tempe member, Tim B., who inspired me to enter the Challenge in the first place after losing the most BF% in the entire US in the Fall 2013 Challenge! Along the way, his encouragement and advice inside and outside the locker room was priceless.

Thank you Life Time Fitness, Inc., Life Time Tempe and to my family, old and new friends for being part of this incredible journey!

 

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