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Prioritizing mental health helped one man lose 50 pounds and relieve chest pain

Juan Martinez overexercised to avoid emotional issues until journaling helped him find a healthier path.
To lose weight in a healthy way, Martinez addressed his emotional eating and started a walking routine.
To lose weight in a healthy way, Martinez addressed his emotional eating and started a walking routine.Courtesy Juan Martinez

Juan Martinez can point to the exact day he knew he had to change his life. It was July 18, 2021. He and his wife had decided to separate, and that was the day she and their 16-year-old daughter packed up and moved to California. He felt suicidal

“The house was just so quiet. I told myself I had two options. I could either make a terrible, horrible irreversible decision, or I could channel this negative energy in a positive new direction,” he said. “I always wanted a healthier lifestyle, but I wasn’t willing to make the changes necessary. It took the dynamic change in my family life for me to do this for myself and for my daughter. I want to be there for her.” 

Martinez knew he needed to lose weight and improve his health — he was prediabetic and had high blood pressure. He weighed 310 pounds and wore size 52 pants. He had been paying for a gym membership he wasn’t using, so he started exercising.

But he threw himself into his workouts in an unhealthy way. “I was going five days a week, sometimes twice a day. I’d use the elliptical for 45 minutes before work and then come back after work and work out for one or two hours. Six months in, my body was breaking down. I was having a lot of hip pain and some chest pain,” he said.

Martinez knew he had to makes some changes. Here’s what he did. 

Martinez changed his mentality about weight loss, setting a goal of exercising five times a week instead of aiming for a certain number on the scale.
Martinez changed his mentality about weight loss, setting a goal of exercising five times a week instead of aiming for a certain number on the scale.Courtesy Juan Martinez

He focused on his mental health

Through journaling and self-evaluation, Martinez discovered he was using the gym to escape the emotional issues weighing him down: “I felt like I let my daughter down and let the family break apart. I needed to take an honest look at what I was dealing with and what I was doing.”

He recognized that he was hard on himself and that he was an emotional eater. “I ate all the time, trying to find comfort, and never found what I was looking for,” he said. “I’m very hard on myself, so I’m trying to find other outlets to express some of that frustration and anxiety instead of eating and doing more destructive things.” 

Now, he starts every day with five minutes of journaling, plus breathing and mental health exercises. “I realized that mental health is just as important in my journey. My mental health has improved tremendously. Even with the occasional ‘rough’ day, my mindset is world’s better than it ever has been.”

He’s learned to put himself first sometimes. “In the past, I would put others first before myself, both emotionally and physically. Now I’m able to prioritize myself. It’s a step in the right direction from a self-worth perspective,” he said.

He reevaluated his exercise routine

“I changed my mentality about what it would take to lose weight,” he said. He joined the Start TODAY Facebook group. Before then, he had never thought of walking as exercise: “I read people’s inspirational stories and saw how motivated they were, and that guided me. I started integrating walking and shifting my approach.”

RELATED: A 30-day walking plan to jumpstart weight loss and boost your mental health

Martinez loves how walking supports both his physical and mental health. “I’ll usually have talks with myself and evaluate my week when I walk,” he said. He still goes to the gym, but he has a sustainable schedule — five days a week, once a day. “I’m more methodical and more practical in my approach. As much as I want to lose the weight, working out for eight hours a day is not what’s going to be helpful for me to be successful,” he said.

He schedules his workouts for the week

On Sundays, he decides which workouts he wants to complete and blocks the time for them in his calendar. He takes kickboxing and CycleBar classes, practices yoga and does plenty of walking. “Having it written down and planning time for it makes it easier to make it a priority,” he said.

He is building a foundation of solid habits

Martinez doesn’t set a goal or step count, though he often walks three miles and sometimes much further. “A lot of time, I’ll go for a walk, and I won’t have my tracker on. It’s about building the habit. I’ve been sedentary most of my adult life, and I want to build those habits that will lead to that change that I want,” he said.

He’s built up his walking habit to the point where he’s completed two 5ks this year, with two more on his calendar. Plus, he has a half-marathon on his vision board for 2023.

While weight loss is a target, it’s not a goal for him. “The Start TODAY group has shifted my perspective on setting goals. If I have a goal of losing 100 pounds and I gain two pounds, it might be hard for me to stay motivated. But if I set a goal of exercising five days a week, I can hit that goal. And I’ll reach the weight I want as long as I build those habits,” he said.

He’s also building his sense of accomplishment, increasing his confidence and changing his mindset so he can overcome destructive habits. 

He’s improving his nutrition

Martinez works in a movie theater, so it’s easy for him to reach for sugary drinks. He’s replaced soda with water, though. “It’s so tempting to get that Coke, but it’s undoing everything I’m working toward.” He’s adding more healthy food choices to his diet, but he acknowledges that nutrition is an area where he has the opportunity for growth.

Martinez has dropped 10 inches in the waist, going from a size 52 pant to a size 42.
Martinez has dropped 10 inches in the waist, going from a size 52 pant to a size 42.Courtesy Juan Martinez

 He’s making steady progress

Martinez has dropped 50 pounds and now weighs 260. He said, “I’m in 44 pants now, but I’m on the brink of 42, maybe even 40!” He hasn’t had chest pain in months, and his hip doesn’t bother him as much. His blood-sugar levels are normal and his blood pressure has improved.

And he’s having an impact on others: “I hear from family, friends and coworkers that posting on Instagram and Facebook about my health and walking has inspired them to start their own health and fitness journeys. That’s been another huge benefit — to hear that other people are affected by my journey and my struggles has been amazing.”

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