I can’t tell you how excited I am to share this story with you. James and I were classmates all through middle and high school. We were in band together and many years after graduation we both lived in Indianapolis and got together from time to time.
Over the years he has completely transformed both inside and out. I always loved James, who wouldn’t – he’s a great guy. But seeing his transformation through hard work, self-reflection and determination makes me respect him even more.
If you read one thing today, make it this. He’s found his own path to health and his story is an inspiration to find yours.
‘Started from the bottom, now I’m here.’ ~ Drake
Addiction–My Story of Health Progress….Not Perfection
by James Cohen II
I grew up in a time without organics. Nobody worried about carbs, trans fats, or preservatives. Moms bought us sweets for the weekends, and we ate a balanced diet during the week. My parents always put a strong focus fitness and sports. Me and my brother were running track, playing tee ball, and way active at the YMCA at an early age. I remember lifting weights with my best friend Ray everyday in the 7th and 8th grade.
I’m addicted to food. I can always remember a struggle with food from an early age. My parents nickname for me was “garbage disposal” because I ate any and everything. I remember days where I would skip school lunch in high school to try to loose some pounds. Then I would turn around and binge eat microwave popcorn and cakes on the weekend. I always used food as a comfort. If I was stressed, sick, worried, happy, or sad…all emotions triggered me to eat. But somehow, my active high school lifestyle enabled me to never become obese.
There is a joke, that teachers and preachers kids are always the wildest because their parents are so strict. This joke rang real true for me and my brother. Once I got to college, I broke every rule I could. I quit playing sports, and began a relationship with the dark side. I’m part rebel, a huge risk taker, extremely confident with deep rooted self hatred, and blessed with the genes of an addict. I become addicted to whatever I do. Sports, studies, games, drugs, food, alcohol, or even this article about my progress. So when I got to college, I started experimenting with illegal drugs, drank at every party I attended, took up smoking squares (aka cigarettes) and ate whatever and whenever I wanted.
There came a point late in college where I no longer even cared about my body. I was the epitome of bad health. I was putting weight on at ridiculous amount. I remember going to dinner on the weekends and eating Multiple Whoppers, ordering large pizzas with the homies for midnight snacks and eating it by myself, and waking up in the middle of the night to pee and eating 2 bowls of Fruity Pebbles with coffee creamer instead of milk cuz it taste better.
I always said I would enjoy smoking in college and quit afterwards….but my unhealthy lifestyle continued when I graduated. I started working at a local credit union. Smoked every break, ate fast food every lunch hour, drank bottles of whiskey ever week, and used drugs on the weekends. I went to the dentist, and had an insane amount of cavities.
At the same time I went to the doctor. He said I was tipping the scale at about 270 lbs and would need to diet. He suggested the South Beach Diet. He also gave me some pills to stop smoking. I remember this was in October. I planned on quitting cigs and starting the diet the beginning of the new year. Out of coincidence, in October one of my dads friends asked me mentor a student at her middle school. Kewl. I started mentoring the kid toward the end of November. The first weekend after I meet him I used drugs. The next time I saw the kid, I could hardly look him in his eyes. No way I could use drugs and tell this kid if he studied hard and did the right thing he could grow up to be well respected loser like myself. He probably saved my life. I dropped the drugs immediately and became an after school special.
New year came, I successfully quit smoking and started the diet. Let me take a sidebar here. In my opinion, when you care nothing about your body or health…and start to become in shape….you have to do it in steps. You cant do everything at once, its too big a step. You wont be happy, and you won’t stick too it. I found that I became healthy in steps. The So Beach Diet was perfect for me, because I could still eat massive amounts, and I could still binge drink straight whiskey every weekend. I don’t think I could have committed to this long term without those factors.
I cut carbs out of my diet, and the pounds started shredding. This diet also divorced me from the dreaded fast food restaurants. I remember feeling like I was the a skinny guy when I hit 230 lbs. This was just about the time that spring rolled around. People were noticing my weight loss, and wanting to join in. I remember I was able to recruit one of these individuals to become my first workout partner.
Sha’Von agreed to start jogging with me. Although I had lost a lot of pounds, I still had low self confidence. I remember thinking I didn’t wanna be one of those fat asses that I laughed at jogging down the street. So I found a secluded baseball park about 20 minutes away from where I lived for me and Sha’Von to jog at. Nobody would know me there, so I started by walking half a lap around the baseball field, and jogging the other half. Every week I would walk less and jog more. I think that having a workout partner at my level kept me responsible and committed. I recommend anyone starting a new fitness routine to get a partner….but most importantly a partner on the same fitness level as themselves.
I remember I finally got under 200 lbs. I loved how I looked naked. I had not looked at myself naked in the mirror since I was in high school. This was a huge step for me. I would have loved it to be the end of this story. But ummm….unfortunately no.
As a kid, I remember watching In Living Color skits making fun of Oprah and her weight fluctuations. I think I always have a special place in my heart for her because of these. I can identify with her. My body type puts on fat easily. And I became a seesaw on the weight scale for the next 2 years. I would diet hard the beginning of each year, go hard running in the summer, workout on the elliptical in the fall/winter and pack on tons of pounds on over the holidays. I measured one year. Between Thanksgiving and New Years, I put on 15 pounds. And then it would take me 3 months to recover from that. After 2 years I was getting sick of the seesaw.
I was a binge eater and drinker…a weekend warrior. I would measure my calories all week, having no more than 1500 a day, Monday thru Thursday. But Friday and Saturday….were my “cheat” days. I remember going out one evening with my friends Robb and Sara. We drank all night. On the way home, we got a Big Mac and large fries each. By the time we got to my pad, Robb and Sara were both throwing up everywhere and couldn’t fathom eating anything. So I ate all three Big Macs and all 3 fries. This was not an unusual weekend for me. I fluctuated from 200 lb to 230 lbs constantly over these years.
Hindsight, I have learned many lessons over that period of time. Yes, the South Beach Diet helped me. But it was not a total success. To me, a successful diet has to be something you can live with for the rest of your life…or it will not work. Whether it Atkins, Weight Watchers, The Ab Diet or Paleo….if you do it for a short amount of time and come off, your gonna put the weight back on afterward. I appreciate the South Beach Diet because it killed my sweet tooth, and I have absolutely hated noodles and pasta ever since the diet. But I could not do without bread or peanut butter for the rest of my life.
Even more important, is knowing your body, and acceptance of your body type. I wanted so bad to be skinny and it never happened. No matter what I did I was a 20% body fat 200 lb man. I could eat carrots and veggies all week long, and jog 7 miles a day. Never went under 195lbs.
Three years after my initial weight loss, I decided to try something new. Last February I decided to start back lifting weights. Just to add some chest and arms…and I would still keep my cardio routine. I did bench-press, flyes, curls and dips everyday before an hour on the elliptical. (They say you can’t lift the same thing everyday and gain muscle…but they don’t know) Within two months I was swole (buff). And within 5 months, my focus had changed. I was now 50/50. Spending an hour on weights and an hour on cardio everyday.
What I didn’t know was this, by adding muscle, I was burning hella calories all day. I had unknowingly started to embrace by body type. I was a big guy, and by not trying to be a skinny guy…by adding muscle I no longer fluctuated in weight like the years before. By the end of the year, I stayed a constant 215lbs….but my body fat fell to 13%, and I haven’t looked back.
Once I started lifting more, I started doing a lot of reading. I had spend a lotta time in the weight room in middle and high school, but never had any real instruction. I spent tons of time reading up on different exercises, and how to perform good form. I worked out with every guerrilla and powerlifter I could. Learning everything I could, but more importantly, loving it. I learned how to eat for me. I couldn’t eat like any of my body builder cohorts. They all had to eat as many calories as possible….while my body required me to eat clean and didn’t need much protein to stay swole. I read many articles on eating. I learned how to cook healthy. I read the whole series of “Eat This, Not That.”
And my knowledge physical fitness and healthy living soared. I tired to make sure that anything I put in my mouth had a purpose to be used by my body…and eliminated empty calories. My body morphed into a physical specimen that I had never dreamed I would have. It had never even been a goal. In fact my only goal I ever had was to be skinny. The life of a fat kid. Its kinda funny, because I was falsely accused of using steroids many of times at this point…but because of where I had been…it was an honor each time. I always tell people who ask me how I did it and what can they do…I always stress finding a physical fitness routine that you enjoy. You have to do something you like, or you won’t stick too it. Whether is lifting, crossfit, boot-camp, boxing, swimming, basketball or dancing….it has to be something you love to do. Around 8 years after my initial diet I finally cut the alcohol abuse out of my life. For most people, a couple of drinks a week is healthy. But for my addictive personality, I could never stop at two. This was a sign that I had finally become healthy.
Up until this point, I kept my routine of 60 minutes of weights and 60 minutes of cardio a day. I did it year in year out. Loving lifting weights, but dreading the boring hour of carido. About 9 years after my diet…I became a firefighter and my coworkers introduced me to “functional” strength. I started working out with guys that were into crossfit. And I started incorporating what I learned from them into my workouts. I became a guy who did bodybuilding and crossfit all in one. I was both, but neither. I loved this new workout. I no longer had to do the boring hour of cardio machine. I now got all my cardio blended into my weightlifting. It was a whole new challenge…and I loved every painful moment.
My most recent accomplishment has been cutting salt out of my diet. I have seen my blood pressure fall 15 digits since this latest step. I have always loved food. But I had no idea the effect salt was having on my food addiction. Removing salt has totally unshackled the chains from my eating disorder. I no longer want to eat huge amounts of food. Now a days, I eat very little processed foods.
My entire diet is almost exclusively made up of the outside isles in the supermarket. I no longer worry about carbs, calories, or wight fluctuations.
If you would have told me 11 years ago, when I was 270 lbs and 25% body fat, that I would be eating organic, eliminating salt out of my diet, doing crossfit, and a role model of fitness to many….I could have never imagined it. I still get called fat by some, and skinny by others…but more importantly, I’m happy with who I have become. Being healthy is not an overnight success. Its a multitude of steps I have taken to improve my body, inside and out. And I have always held the motto that were all babies, so I never quit learning. I went from being a food addict who abused drugs and alcohol, to a buff athlete that eats to fuel the machine.
Drake said it the best, “Started from the bottom, now I’m here.”