How this Navy sailor lost 56 pounds after ending an abusive relationship

Rusty Babcock found fitness, a new husband and a passion for teaching as part of his journey toward better health.
Rusty Babcock's weight-journey: Before and after. “I discovered things about myself I didn’t know existed," he said.
Rusty Babcock's weight-journey: Before and after. “I discovered things about myself I didn’t know existed," he said. Left: Courtesy Rusty Babcock; right: courtesy Jenna Loomis Photography

For Rusty Babcock, 39, a gay Navy sailor, being trapped in a toxic, controlling relationship from 2003 to 2009 triggered a significant weight gain — he wasn’t allowed to take care of his body, he was miserable and he struggled to escape from his partner.

“I couldn’t get away. (My partner) said he would tell my (senior adviser) I was gay if I left him. Every time I said I was done with him, he would hold the ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ card,” Babcock told TODAY. He’s referring to the U.S. policy that prohibited discrimination against closeted gay service members, but didn’t allow openly gay people to serve. “I had this dark secret. I couldn’t escape. I was dealing with it every day,” he said.

Finally, one night in December 2009, Babcock said his partner tried to kill him. When Babcock escaped, his partner called his senior adviser. But Babcock’s senior adviser stood by his side. “He said, ‘I don’t want you to tell me anything. But you need to be out of that situation. If this is a safe place, you need to be here.’” Babcock said. “He could have easily said, ‘You’re gay, your career is done.’”

That support gave Babcock the confidence he needed to get out of that relationship. And instead of his partner’s threats destroying his career, he’s now a chief petty officer about to reach 22 years with the Navy.

After the breakup, he was deployed. At sea, he worked out every day and tried to make better food choices. He was young, and the weight he had gained came off without too much trouble.

He faced a second round of weight-loss struggles

Babcock started to gain weight again in 2017. Medication he was taking to support his immune system sent his weight climbing from 225 pounds to 294 pounds. The exercise and food choices that had worked for him after his breakup weren’t leading to weight loss. He had to try something else.

Here are the three strategies that got Babcock down to 240 pounds:

  • 1. He reviewed his medications with his doctor. Babcock had relocated to Pensacola, Florida, in October 2018, and his new doctor there made some adjustments to his medication regimen that helped support his weight-loss efforts.
  • 2. He ramped up his exercise routine. He joined CycleBar Pensacola and started working out five to eight times a week. While it’s hard for most people to exercise their way to weight loss, with Babcock’s frequent, intense workouts he dropped 35 pounds.
  • 3. He revisited what he was eating. When Babcock’s weight plateaued, he looked at his diet and tracked his macros. “I wasn’t making the best of choices. Now, I don’t not eat the bad stuff, I just eat it in moderation. I know if I have something today, I’m not going to have it tomorrow,” he said.

Babcock’s go-to meals are tuna and chicken salad wraps, and for snacks he reaches for apples, celery or bananas with peanut butter and green smoothies with mango. To satisfy his sweet tooth, he usually goes for dark chocolate bark brittle or low-carb ice cream.

Babcock eats a lot of food — six eggs with turkey bacon for breakfast, for example — but he needs 3,000 calories a day to fuel his workouts.

“I didn’t do a fad diet, I just made the effort to take care of me. You have to find that thing for you to stick to it,” he said.

He discovered an unexpected passion

Babcock found that he loved his indoor cycling classes, and his instructor encouraged him to train so he could teach. He figured he’d give it a try — instead of having to pay for his membership, he’d be getting paid.

When he started cycling, he couldn’t make it through a song without sitting down. “Cycling is not easy, especially if you’ve been mentally broken down by others to the point that you feel worthless,” he said.

But during his training, he made it through an entire ride without stopping. “I realized I could do it,” he said. “I discovered things about myself I didn’t know existed. When I teach I have such a rider’s high. It’s euphoric to me. It’s my own therapy. There are days I don’t even realize I need it.”

He loves making a difference in the lives of his riders. “For parents with kids at home or people who have strenuous jobs, that 45-minute class is the only thing they have for themselves all day. Taking time to take care of themselves becomes such a huge thing,” he said. “That thing that makes you happy, it helps you deal with the clouds, the negativity or the chaos of the world.”

Babcock poses with his husband on their wedding day. Courtesy Rusty Babcock

These days, Babcock is happily married and serving in the Navy. And with pandemic restrictions lifted, he’s now assistant manager at the studio and is back to teaching the cycling classes he loves.