This week I share the amazing story of my Indiana friend Phillip Brenneman. Phillip and I share things frequently over Facebook and email and his story is one that will change your life if you are facing similar challenges. Read on and you will understand the nothing comes easy, but if you believe you can be well again it can be done. Phillip has a goal of making Freedoms Run his first half marathon October 1. Freedom wasn’t easy and neither is Phillip’s journey and path ahead.
Phillip Brenneman is a 45 year old husband and father of a beautiful 5 year old daughter. He works in the IT field in Garrett , Indiana. Phillip has lost over 200 pounds since February 2015 , that is half his weight from around 400 pounds 15 months ago with a little more to go. His journey the day after the Superbowl 2015. In 15 months he has lost weight, but has gained so much more. He has learned to believe in himself again, and discover the power, drive, and commitment inside of him that had been hiding for a long time.
Phillip had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes taking multiple medications and daily insulin injections. We are happy to say he no longer take any of the medications. Phillip is now a well person (a rarity today for a 45 yo) . At a recent check his blood pressure and labs are not just normal but optimal and not diabetic no more insulin.
WHAT WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD LIKE? WHEN DID YOU START GAINING WEIGHT AND HOW DID IT IMPACT YOUR CHILDHOOD?
My childhood was good normal middle class lifestyle. Summer family vacations, family reunions, being in boy scouts and being an active child. I did not start gaining some weight till I hit my mid teens and once I got a part time job after school and had my own money to spend. Hanging out with friend and social time became more about eating and less about doing activities. I think at the time I was not fully aware gaining weight as I was still growing up and assumed it was part of getting older. So as I got older and became an adult the weight just kept creeping on as most of my social time was spent enjoying food and drinks with friends. A lot of times I felt left out like a was not up to par with the people I would socialize with so I was down on myself a lot. So in the same token I would go out of my way to be funny and want everyone to have a good time, even going as far as paying for a lot of everyone’s food, drink etc. just so I would feel included. I do remember something that stands out earlier in my teens with my weight. Back in high school (Dallastown Area High School) gym class, we had co-ed swimming class and had to wear the school provided swim trunks which wear “speedos” nun-the-less. Well I already had but some weight on so I had the ‘”Man Boobs” already going on. I remember standing there all lined guys and girls and having my arms crossed to try and hide my “Man Boobs” but still had a belly sticking out some and seeing some of the girls look and snicker, that’s was a bad day emotionally for me.
WHAT WAS YOUR FOOD PHILOSOPHY?
I used and viewed food mostly two ways one as comfort when I was sad, depressed, lonely or just overwhelmed. The second way I viewed food was a to celebrate or enjoy social time with people. But I really feel that for most people at a young age food are taught and used as a way to celebrate, like cake for birthdays, big Christmas dinner, chocolate on Easter, as a reward for doing good like after a baseball or soccer game going for ice cream if you listen you can have a snack, So at a early age food is viewed and instilled in use to be used in a reward or celebration atmosphere. So that it the hard mental and emotional part to get past as for most in having that instilled in us as a child. So you have learned some type of mental emotional attachment with food
TELL US ABOUT YOUR EATING HABITS PROIR TO YOUR LIFE CHANGE AND HOW IT FFECTED YOUR EMOTIONS, JOBS, GOALS, OR ANYTHING ELSE ?
My eating habits were eat to I am full, happy and whatever taste good, no limits to what and how much. I would eat a whole large pizza no problems plus more for a dinner. If we decided on fast food that night I would get a meal to eat on the drive home before the meal I got for the family to eat, maybe my way of hiding how much I was eating by eating a meal before I got home with everyone meals. Most of my eating was take out so I could eat it in the comfort of my vehicle or my home so I would not have to be around a lot of people seeing me eat so much, but that wasn’t to mean we wouldn’t go out to eat for socializing. For the most I wasn’t concerned even when it was affecting my health that I was now on medication for my heart, cholesterol, blood pressure and I was now diabetic and taking 50 units injections of insulin daily just to maintain. I just kept think I am on medicine that will help fix all my problems, but it emotionally fed my isolation and depression so I would eat more looking for un-answered satisfaction in the food. Being so big I never thought I achieved as much as I could of career wise in two ways. First I never took the chance on jobs that I would have had to travel, because of my size being a problem. Second having interviews with companies and them seeing me and just assume I couldn’t do the work like anything physical and was good for just sitting at a desk behind a computer, on top of keeping me from moving up into more management roles as you don’t won’t a big person to be a eyesore for your company. I remember in one interview that also may have included computer networking and running cable and such, I specifically said “just because I am a bigger guy doesn’t mean I cannot get down on the floor under desk and hook stuff up”. I did still get that job, but now I think how much I was so insecure I felt I had to point that at.
Yes it did affect my life goals at the time because it held me back from feeling secure enough to go outside of the box and my comfort zone and show my true potential. I feel like I was always a natural born leader of sorts, but never took that role as I thought who would listen and follow somebody that looks like me and can’t better take care of themselves physically and let themselves get so big.
WHAT WAS A TYPICAL EATING DAY BEFORE LIFE CHANGE?
Breakfast: Two sausage egg and cheese breakfast meals from McDonalds and a lot of coffee
Lunch: Foot long sub with extra meat and cheese and personal pan pizza, bag of chips and some cookies.
Dinner: I double cheeseburger on way home from work right before dinner, then a whole loaded large pizza to myself. A few beers to go along with dinner.
Snacks: Chocolate, peanut butter, ice cream, chips, anything cheesy.
WHAT WAS THE TURNING POINT?
Being extremely overweight created a lot stress, depression self doubt, and just emotionally taxing most of the time which fed the eating even more, I just never felt like who I wanted and needed to be for me and my family. Here I was extremely overweight and being a bystander in my life and my families. I physically could not participate in most actives and just sat and watched. But I had nobody else to blame as I was the one who was putting all this bad stuff in my mouth. This created a huge burden on me emotionally because here I am a father and I couldn’t even get on the floor and play with my daughter, run with her and other physical activities like I felt a father should. Medically my health was really bad. I was on a heart meds, cholesterol meds, high blood pressure meds and I was Diabetic, having to give myself daily insulin shots of over 50 units a day and still my sugar levels where high. So all this kept building up, I was feeling and knew if I didn’t change something I wouldn’t be around a lot longer. So the day after the Superbowl February 2015 I woke-up looked around and saw all the empty pizza boxes, containers from wings and all the other wrappers and container from the junk I gorged myself on during our little family Superbowl thing.
I felt horrible the taste in my mouth was nasty, and the “thought of having to inject my insulin into the areas that were sore and bruised from the daily injections just to maintain” that’s the moment that I had enough I had to change right then. So that morning I looked I had a bowl or cereal instead of the normal fast-foods breakfast. Later at work I texted my wife and told after work I was stopping to pick-up some healthier lo-calorie food and chicken, because we had to make a change now. So we as a family worked and made the eating changes together. So that night we had baked chicken breast and veggies and that was the start of it all with eating habits changing. I was finally at the point mentally where this was it no turning back I needed to be better, healthier and alive for myself, my wife and daughter and thanks to them I was off to a start.
HOW DID YOU START LOSING THE WEIGHT?
So I couldn’t blame anybody but myself I was the one who choose to eat all this junk and live an unhealthy lifestyle. So I owned up to what I had done to myself and accepted the responsibility that I was the one who had to fix it. At the start I wasn’t very educated on nutrition and exercise. But I learned and looked up a lot on the web tried some things that worked, others that didn’t, and what works for me may not work for someone else.
At the start I knew I had to watch calories, read labels and food journal everything so I could see where I had results and failures. Being that big I was so uncomfortable and embarrassed that there was no way I was going to a gym to workout. So started getting up early before work, started with simple arm and leg raises while sitting on my chair and that was tough at the start. Over the weeks I progressed and looked up exercise on the web that I could do at home. Calisthenics and stretching at home in my chair over the next two months was what I did almost everyday.
I had managed between eating better and exercise to drop 40 pounds over the first two months. I knew to get more results I had to turn it up. So I joined out local YMCA of Dekalb County Indiana. For almost everyday since then I get up at 3:30am to get ready to head to the Y to be there when the doors open to get about two hours of exercise in before work. I knew I had to allow myself to be open enough to watch and talk to other people at the Y to add to and improve my workouts by seeing what they did or taking their advise. I made friends including Y staff who are supportive. My fellow employees have also played a role as they took notice to my weight loss, took interest and always gave me encouragement to keep going. After about 5 months I had dropped my first “100 pounds”.
I was getting in better shape, eating healthier, and feeling good. One of the parts of exercising regularly was knowing I had to give myself a rest day or two. Just getting that through my head that it was alright to take a day off and I wasn’t going to get fat again if I didn’t go to the gym for a day was difficult for me. Another challenge was learning to adjust my diet and nutrition intake along the way. I had hit plateaus and stalling points and a lot had to do with my eating. I learned I had to intake more food in order to start losing weight again, wow that was tough to get through my head, but I did it and it worked. Examples were going from egg whites to whole eggs, eating more natural raised fed meats and good healthy fats. Learning to not worry about calories as much with eating the right foods, that lo-fat and fat free foods processed foods are bad and not natural for your body. I just kept remembering I did this to myself, so I had to OWN up and fix it myself, no excuses and just GET IT DONE.
NEW DAILY NUTRITION?
Post-workout/Pre-Breakfast: 8 oz. 35 gram protein drink
Breakfast: ½ cup steel cut Oats with ½ cup mixed fruit and two hard
Mid-morning snack: .62 oz. Whole Almonds and 1 Banana
Lunch: 10 oz. Chopped Spinach and shredded cabbage salad with 4 oz. baked chicken breast. ¼ cup Greek yogurt with blueberries
Afternoon snack: 6oz. 25 gram protein drink
Dinner: 8 oz. Baked Chicken breast, 1 cup steamed Broccoli and 1 cup steamed cauliflower.
Snacks: Dark organic chocolate, sliced peppers, carrots, organic natural peanut butter, fruit smoothies.
WHAT IS YOUR NEW FOOD OUTLOOK?
I use and view food now as the fuel I need to have the healthy life and athletic body I want. I know it and feel it if I stray food wise. My body doesn’t perform as well and I don’t feel as alive as when I stick to my lo-carb, healthy fats, whole, natural, and organic un-processed foods. About 9 months ago I started running and added that to my daily routine and it’s helping me greatly lose more weight . It’s giving me new goals to work towards as I have ran a few 5k’s and look forward to doing my first half-marathon this fall at Freedom’s Run. I love pushing my body and having it respond as I grow stronger and more athletic. I have learned to believe in myself again, and discover the will power, drive, and commitment inside of me that had been hiding for a long time.
I don’t stand on the sideline or in the shadow anymore. I am being myself and take charge of my life instead of letting my weight control it. Now that I have lost 200 pounds it gives me the motivation to achieve and set goals that I once dreamed of. One of the best parts of this life change has been be able to go off ALL my medications! Yes I am no longer considered Diabetic and do not have to give myself daily shots. All my lab numbers are normal range , even optimal range after follow up doctor visits. I love sharing my story with people so many so they get inspired and motivated to make changes themselves and that just thrills me that I can have that kind of affect on people. I really feel want and need to help and reach others that have the some issue weight and health wise that I battled and i have overcome.
I truly believe that this is a new life calling for me to help and motivate people with this struggle. I have done some speaking to groups to share my story and share any advise that will help. I also volunteer at the YMCA of Dekalb County and head up a walking group that is free and open to members and non-members alike. Some of the key things I tell people is you must be ready 100 % to change “all in” or nothing. Just do it NOW, today, don’t wait till the start of a new week. Do it NOW and your life and body with thank you. And if you are having struggles with food, I always say if there is something you think that you have to have find the healthiest way to make it.
HOW HAS YOUR FAMILY LIFE CHANGED?
As a father I am now able to play and really enjoy time with my daughter, when before I couldn’t do a lot of things physically, like running with her, getting down on the floor to play with her, and many other activities that I wanted to do and share with her as a Dad should. I now have a better connection with my wife, because my mental attitude and stress levels are better so we can share and do more activities together and enjoy each other’s company.
Our whole family is getting stronger and more loving as a result of my weight loss. We enjoy family walks, family swims at the YMCA, and other outdoor activities together, as it should be. I have discovered new and challenging activities to take part in that before I could have only watched. I just feel better and healthier all around. I made new friends and learned a lot more about people, fitness, and nutrition. I am accomplishing this by doing what works for me.
You can do this on your own, you don’t have to accept the fact that you will have to be on medications just to maintain a life that isn’t what you want it to be there is a choice and it’s inside of yourself and all around you. With proper nutrition and exercise you can break free of the medications. I didn’t go out and buy all sorts of diet pills, shakes, body wraps, or pre-made foods. I didn’t pay to join some fad diet plan or company. I did this myself, with support and encouragement from family, friends, co-workers, and YMCA staff. My drive, will power, and dedication for wanting my life back makes this possible, as well as the choices to eat better and exercise. Like most people, I knew what I was eating, my daily habits, and some of my lifestyle choices were not good for me, so I changed them. I did research, asked questions, and tried different things. Some worked, some didn’t. That’s part of the learning. Like I said, this is what has worked for me. Everybody is different, but the one thing that is the same in everybody is that you need to really want to change. If you do, you will have your life back. I hope to encourage anybody out there that is in this struggle of being unhealthy and severely overweight, to make the change.
You can do it! I believe you can, but YOU need to believe you can. I offer freely any help, advice, insight, and encouragement; just ask. I want to thank my wife Ashley for all her love and support and my daughter Ella cheering me on. Ashley has been doing great accomplishing a lot of the same weight loss and feeling healthier. Her willingness to make a whole lifestyle change as a family for the better has helped make this all work. Also, thanks to my co-workers and everyone else who has had encouraging words. You know who you are, thank you. I look forward to the rest of my life and spending it with my loving wife and daughter, as a better husband, father, and person. So here’s to many more years and a lot more miles at the YMCA and on the roads and trails.
You can follow me and my ongoing journey of good healthy and spreading the word of hope at the following.
Facebook: Phillip Brenneman’s Healthy Life