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1 dad loses 200 pounds and runs 63 marathons thanks to this habit change


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When a doctor told Michael Hearn of Atlanta, Ga., that he should consider weight-loss surgery, he balked: “I was very much against weight-loss surgery at first. I felt like it was surrendering, and I didn’t want to surgically alter myself,” he tells TODAY.com.

“I thought, ‘I’ll never be able to have a hamburger again. I’ll never be able to have a plate of spaghetti. And I’ll always have the shame of thinking I quit trying, and I had to surgically keep myself from being fat,’” he says.

But Hearn weighed 450 pounds, and his weight was affecting his health and his life. He had high blood pressure, which runs in his family, and prediabetes.

His main concern was that he couldn’t keep doing things he had taken for granted. “You start to lose independence. My dad was very heavy, and for the last several years of his life, he was miserable because he needed help getting around, getting off the sofa and doing things most people could do. He always said he would do something about his weight when he got older, but it caught up with him. I didn’t want to be like that,” he says.

Yet Hearn, now 60, saw himself headed down the same path: “It took everything I had in me to go to a Georgia Tech game with my son — to ride the train, walk up to our seats in the stadium and reverse the process at the end. It was awful, because I wanted to be a big part of my son’s life, and I wanted to be active.”

Once, when he was traveling, he had to try five different rental cars before he found one he could fit in: “It was humiliating. I still had to put a towel between my pants and the steering wheel because they were rubbing against each other.”

He couldn’t be spontaneous, because he didn’t know if he’d find a bathroom that could accommodate him. “I had to be on the lookout for toilets. You can’t just go overnight somewhere you haven’t been,” he says.

For Hearn, the last straw was a stress test that showed signs of a previous heart attack. It turned out, he hadn’t had a heart attack, but he was too heavy for the stress test to work correctly.

“My cardiologist said, ‘Michael, you’ve got to lose some weight. Your heart is absolutely fine. In heavy people, the equipment doesn’t image well. It sees shadows, which it interprets as problems.’ When you get to the point where you can’t even do a medical test, that’s kind of scary. I realized I needed to do something,” he says.

In April 2019, Hearn had weight-loss surgery. Now, he’s lost 200 pounds, and he’s healthier than he’s ever been.

He built up a walking habit and started running, and he is aiming to complete 100 half marathons in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. He has completed 63 so far, most recently Rock ‘n’ Roll Washington DC half marathon in mid-March.

Here’s how he did it.

Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)

Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)

Weight-loss surgery helped curb his eating

Hearn says that for the first two or three months after surgery, he lost all interest in food and had to be reminded to eat. Now, he eats smaller, more frequent meals, so he’s not tied down to a meal schedule. “I don’t feel like, ‘Oh, it’s lunchtime or dinnertime. I have to go eat something,” he says.

Because he can’t eat very much, he has to make sure he gets a lot of nutrients in the foods he eats. He has a protein drink every day, and he also eats things like eggs, salads, chicken and guacamole.

He’s also learned to enjoy eating foods with more nutrients and to eat less-nutritious foods more mindfully. He points out that we often use food as rewards in all kinds of situations, whether it’s a good day, a bad day, a birthday or a promotion. “I’ve tried to decouple myself from that a little bit,” he says.

“I asked myself, ‘Why do I eat potato chips? Why do I eat pizza? Do I eat them because of habit, or do I eat them because I think that’s the best food for me?’ It took me a while to retrain, but I can get just as much satisfaction from eating an apple. And I also learned I can’t eat a whole pizza, but I can eat part of a piece of pizza and enjoy it,” he says.

Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)

Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)

He turned to exercise to overcome his food addiction

To prepare for weight-loss surgery, Hearn had psychological testing, in part to see whether he had an addictive personality. “My addiction was eating. When you have bariatric surgery, you eliminate that, because it’s basically impossible to eat at that rate. The question is, what can you do productively with your addictive tendencies?”

After he lost about 100 pounds, he decided to try walking. At first, he could only make it about a mile. “I wondered if I was ever going to be able to go any further than that,” he says.

Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)

Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)

At the beginning of 2020, he signed up for a 5K and walked his way across the finish line in well under the hour-and-15-minute limit. He thought it was fun and signed up for another race, but COVID-19 shut everything down. So, he pushed himself to walk on his own, further and faster, getting his time down to a 10- or 11-minute mile.

Watching a documentary about an ultramarathoner motivated him to challenge himself: “I thought, ‘That is the coolest thing in the world. How many times in your life do you ever really find out what your limits are and push yourself so hard to find out what you are capable of?’”

Hearn signed up for a half-marathon. “I probably spent from mile one to mile 12 1/2 wondering what the heck I was doing. But when I crossed the finish line, it was an amazing feeling of accomplishment. Just a few years before, I literally could not walk from my car into CVS without being winded,” he says.

That success motivated him to move on to bigger challenges: “I gave it a lot of thought, and I knew logistically it would be tough, and it wasn’t going to happen overnight, but I set a goal to do 100 half marathons in all 50 states.”

Hearn completed nine half-marathons in nine states in 2021 and started an Instagram account to track his progress. “I was really surprised by the number of people who were moved by my story. I wasn’t an athlete in high school or anything. I never ran. But I found something I wanted to do,” he says. He plans to finish 80 or 81 half-marathons in 37 or 38 states by the end of the year.

He also ran a full marathon in October 2022 and is signed up to do another one this fall. “That’s a different way to push myself. My hope is by next year, I can train for an ultramarathon,” he says.

He feels like most races today are welcoming and accessible to people like him, who he calls “back of the pack” people: “You can be fast walking or doing a run-walk-run, and no one cares where you finish or what your time is. The goal is to finish.”

The non-scale victories that have changed his life

Hearn can’t imagine going back to his previous life. “I used to go out to a restaurant and order a big meal and a dessert, then get home, still be hungry and have something else,” he says. “I can’t even think about being like I was five years ago, sitting in front of a computer snacking at night.”

“When I weighed 450 pounds, I didn’t love myself. I was embarrassed by the way I looked. I was frustrated by the things I couldn’t do,” he says.

“But on the backside of being embarrassed, humiliated and limited is the feeling of knowing that you’re doing the right thing to get to a healthier weight, whatever that is. You start to feel better, and you realize you’re doing things that will help you live longer and allow you to do things you didn’t think you could. It’s really easy to quit, but if you find a way to push, you might be surprised at what you can accomplish.”

Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)

Michael Hearn weight loss (Courtesy Michael Hearn)

This article was originally published on TODAY.com





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