It didn’t happen suddenly, but John Niehaus is not half the man he used to be. And he couldn’t be happier about his transformation.
Using nothing but good-old-fashioned exercise, proper nutrition and support group therapy, the gritty 68-year-old Center for Health & Fitness (CHF) member has lost 200 pounds the healthy way. Now at 182 pounds – it’s hard for even John to believe he tipped the scale at almost 400 pounds two years ago.
“Looking back, I honestly just let myself go,” says John. “My self-discipline weakened, my mentality changed and I became inactive. I knew I was gaining weight, but I told myself ‘I’ll do something about it tomorrow.’ But tomorrow never comes.”
A former amateur bodybuilder and nine-year veteran of the Air Force, John didn’t struggle with weight through the first 40 years of his life. He was blessed with a naturally muscular and athletic build, which helped him endure the strain of military service in the Southeast Asia conflict. But as John entered into his late 40s and early 50s, his eating habits worsened and the weight gain began.
“I was one of those guys who would drive to the nearest McDonalds as soon as the McRib came out,” says John. “But I couldn’t eat just one. I had to have three or four. It was out of control.”
John was soon diagnosed with Type II Diabetes – which required daily insulin injections and pills to regulate his blood sugar. Doctors repeatedly said the weight was the root of his health problems, but John was resistant to change.
That was, however, until his weight complicated a serious surgical procedure.
“I was so big that the doctors couldn’t roll me over or move me from one table to another,” says John. “It was apparent my weight was negatively affecting all aspects of my health, and I finally said ‘enough is enough.’”
Though he hadn’t used his membership for a few years, John summoned the resolve to return to CHF in 2013. He hired Personal Trainer Lauren Alnes to help design his workout plan and began working out four days a week.
“People can be hesitant to spend money on personal training,” says John, “but it was a no-brainer for me. Lauren is constantly coming up with new exercises for me to try, and she talks to me about my nutrition, too. I’ve never been disappointed, and she’s been instrumental to my success.
“Plus, any money I spend on training, I won’t spend on food – which is good.”
To address his overeating, John met with an addiction specialist at Kaiser, who explained to him that food was actually his “drug of choice” and he was exhibiting the classic signs of addiction. He was referred to Overeaters Anonymous sessions to learn coping skills and receive peer support. And John hasn’t stopped attending the group sessions since.
“The mental side of weight loss is just as difficult as the physical, if not more,” says John. “There are so many days where you want to give up and eat a burger and fries or skip your workout at the gym, but you have to be strong enough to say no. And it’s much easier to make healthy decisions when your trainer and friends help hold you accountable.
“It’s also important to remember that it took years to put on the weight. So it will take years to take it off. There’s no quick fix.”
Two years of hard work later, John is 200 pounds lighter and nearing his goal weight of 175 pounds. He continues to exercise two to three times a week, eats well-rounded meals and visits with his support group weekly to stay on track. He still has diabetes but doesn’t need to take insulin shots or pills anymore, to the delight – and dismay – of his doctor.
Even with all of his progress, John already has another meaningful goal square in his sights.
“The only reason I talk about my weight loss is to give people hope and to let them know they can overcome difficult health challenges, too,” says John. “All the tools you need are at CHF, and there are people here who care about you and want to see you succeed.
“It will take time and a lot of hard work, but it will pay off. So don’t give up on health and never ever give up on yourself.”