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Heart attack motivates one man to overhaul his lifestyle and lose 251 pounds

Since his heart attack 7 years ago, Neal Bendesky has traded his size 62 jeans for running shorts and finished 16 half marathons.

At age 57, Neal Bendesky weighed 450 pounds. He felt like his weight was slowing him down — not just physically, but also professionally. “I was losing my career in sports marketing because I didn’t look the part,” he said. His shirts were size 5X, his jeans were size 62, and he couldn’t sit in a restaurant booth or airplane seat. “I didn’t fit in society,” he said.

Bendesky decided to make a change, so he started walking around a high school track and lost 35 pounds. “When I walked around that track, I didn’t miss a day for a year,” he said. He thought more exercise would help him achieve his weight loss goals, so he joined Orangetheory Fitness. One day, a child’s off-hand comment at the gym pushed him to make some new changes.

“This three-year-old was there playing on his little iPad while his mother was working out and said to me, ‘Are you Santa Claus?’ My initial reaction wasn’t PG13. I checked with a trainer, and I started learning the value of nutrition. That’s a big part of my world even today,” he said.

He nearly died from sudden cardiac death

Bendesky suffered a serious setback early in his weight-loss journey. Unfortunately, the excess weight he was trying to lose nearly killed him. “On August 2nd, 2016, I experienced sudden cardiac death,” he said. He had just finished an interview with a local Fox Sports crew, and he was resting on a bench, talking to a staff member. “That’s all I remember,” he said.

Nine days later, Bendesky was back in the gym and committed to new goals — including the Rock ’n’ Roll Running Series. “I felt like my wellness clock was ticking, and before I reached all zeroes, I needed to do something. I wrote a plan on how to get better, and I stuck to it,” he said. “I couldn’t even walk around the block in 2013. Since my heart attack, I’ve done 29 races and 16 half marathons.”

Today Bendesky is 64 years old, and his weight is down to 199 pounds. He calls himself the 199GUY and helps others on their journeys toward wellness as a motivational speaker.

Bendesky's first step was to scale back his diet

Before he committed to losing weight, Bendesky was a binge eater. So, his first step in changing his diet was to scale back the foods he was already eating. For example, he’d have two slices of pizza but skip the third. “I also started to realize that just because something tastes good doesn’t mean it is good,” he said. 

He tried different eating plans. Many worked for a while. “Then I would reach an impasse, so I needed to change something. Just because something worked two years ago doesn’t mean it is necessarily going to work today. I had to deal with the changes that were going on in my body,” he said.

He started to eat more protein and learn about macros — macronutrients — and he used MyFitnessPal for tracking. Each day, he aimed for:

  • 50 to 75 grams of fat
  • 150 to 175 grams of carbs
  • 190 to 210 grams of protein

“More recently to sustain my lifestyle, I use the Hopkins FODMAP program to identify good and bad foods,” he said. “I’ve identified the foods that work for me. I don’t do dairy or cheese because of the fat content, and I don’t do chocolate. And now, I don’t get so much into how much I weigh. I get more into how I feel.”

Bendesky's son Justin suggesting that "Dad, it's time for a salad v. a third slice of pizza."
Bendesky's son Justin suggesting that "Dad, it's time for a salad v. a third slice of pizza." Courtesy Neal Bendesky

He’s all-in on exercise

For Bendesky, exercise is only 20 percent of his health equation — what he eats is the other 80 percent. Still, he’s committed to a solid exercise program. He regularly runs races of up to 13.1 miles.

And he’s a regular at Orangetheory Fitness. As part of a transformation challenge there early in his journey, he lost 40 pounds in 42 days. And in June 2022, he realized that if he pushed, he could finish 2,199 classes there in seven years. So, he completed 99 classes in 69 days to reach that goal.

Courtesy Neal Bendesky

He helps others reach towards their health goals by sharing his story

“This wellness journey has opened my eyes to what is really important. I got six extra years from my heart attack. It saved my life. My doctor told me I was carrying the equivalent of six German shepherds —six 45-pound weights — on my back every single day,” he said.

Bendesky says that the keys to reaching your goals are showing up and staying consistent. “It’s never too late to transform,” he said. “You do it for the people who love you, and for the people you love.”