After years of struggling with his weight, two key turning points helped Gary Duffy, a 30-year-old solicitor in Northern Ireland, find the motivation he needed to achieve a life-changing transformation. Here Duffy describes what spearheaded his decision to change, how the CICO diet helped him lose weight, and what others might stand to learn from his experience.
I’ve always been pretty heavy, even as a child. Going to university really exacerbated the problem: Living on my own for the first time, I’d be eating lots of fast food—including stereotypically Scottish fried food—and drinking a few nights a week. I hadn’t really played sports since I was 16, and living near campus meant I didn’t even have much of a regular walk to school.
After school I got a pretty stressful job, and I was still eating like a college student: lots of processed food, frequently out at restaurants, and plenty of high-calorie treats. I’d drive to work, then drive home to watch television in the evening—no exercise. Over about ten years I went from heavy to dangerously overweight.
At my heaviest I was around 280 pounds, and 28 years old. I’d get winded going up the stairs; my knees hurt, and I had bad circulation in my legs. My sleep was disordered with loud snoring, while my asthma had started to get worse. I had plenty of colds and just generally felt unwell. Any physical exercise I started dismissing as “not for me.”
A couple of things convinced me I needed to change. I went back to university to complete my training as a solicitor. Among my small cohort I noticed I was the heaviest; they were all my age and much more athletic. I recognized a real difference between my peers and I—and I wanted to look better for my graduation picture.
The second was COVID. Respiratory disease and being overweight are two serious complications if you contract the virus. Thinking about that danger really spurred me to lose weight, since I can’t do cure my asthma.
To revamp my eating habits, I used MyFitnessPal and stuck to a target of 1500 calories a day while doing the CICO diet. I worked within that seeing what would make me feel full. With trial and error I settled into a high-protein diet, with plenty of greek yogurt and chicken, alongside healthy fats such as nut butter or fish. I eat plenty of vegetables; initially I was pretty strict about carbs, but as I’ve worked off the weight, I’ve loosened up there.
At the beginning, my exercise was limited to walking. The lockdown really helped with that, because I had time. Every other day I’d just walk as far as I could. As I’ve progressed, I’ve started running, lifting weights, and doing bodyweight workouts. I really like to hike, and I’ve found that I need to switch up my workouts every few months to stay motivated. My girlfriend was also trying to lose weight, so we motivated each other.
In about 18 months I lost 140 pounds, or half my bodyweight. I’ve never felt better or healthier. My asthma is under control, and I’m much more active. I’m comfortable in my own skin for the first time in I don’t know how long. Now I’m working on building muscle.
For me, trial and error is king. If you’re just starting out, there’s no need to worry about knowing everything or loading up with a bunch of new equipment. Just start somewhere, and build on what you learn. Knowing why you want to change is really important, too; it helps motivate you and give you a goal when you need that reminder. —As told to Jesse Hicks
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