One man's advice after losing 170 pounds: 'Just focus on being 1 percent better than the day before'

Yahoo Lifestyle

Weight-Loss Win is an original Yahoo series that shares the inspiring stories of people who have shed pounds healthfully.

Jeremiah Burns is 35 years old, is 6 feet tall, and currently weighs 190 pounds. In 2016, after struggling with his health for a long time, he decided to change his lifestyle. This is the story of his weight-loss journey.

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The turning point

My weight was an issue for as long as I can remember. When I was younger and played sports, it meant that I was too big to play football with kids in my age group and had to play with kids in the next one up. In fifth grade, I was taking tae kwon do and I was in a tournament. Since I weighed 175 pounds, I had to go against much older competition, which didn’t work out very well for me.

Around my 34th birthday, I decided that I wanted to make a change. I was 360 pounds at that point, smoking a pack and a half of menthol 100s, and drinking 12-15 beers a day. My diet mainly consisted of cold cuts, Pepsi, and frozen pizza. Basically, I always just felt like hot garbage, and I was beginning to realize that if I didn’t do something drastic, and soon, I was going to die.

Jeremiah Burns before and after weight loss. (Photos: Courtesy of Jeremiah Burns)
Jeremiah Burns before and after weight loss. (Photos: Courtesy of Jeremiah Burns)

The changes

My initial goal wasn’t to lose a certain number of pounds, it was just to get healthy. For me that meant quitting smoking and drinking first, which I did. The first steps were really small, simple ones. I switched to diet soda and started eating oatmeal, egg whites, salads, chicken breast, fruits and veggies, yogurt, and granola. I didn’t count calories so much as just focus on making healthy food choices. That December, I started going to the gym with my friend Andy, who really changed my life. We went four days a week for about an hour. I would do 30 minutes on the elliptical and then just some lifting using the weight machines.

By February, I started to feel better. I had been sober for over a month and my mind was clearing. I stepped on a scale for the first time since I had started to make the changes and was shocked that I was down to 315. That was like an instant bolt of lightning. I began to feel like this weight loss thing could really happen. My friend Chris was one of the people who helped me stay positive, motivated, and was there to answer pretty much any question I had. He’s a personal trainer, and he’s lost a ton of weight too. He kept me focused on just being 1 percent better than I was the day before. That was what I strived for, and it never seemed unrealistic. It felt attainable.

Before and after. (Photo: Courtesy of Jeremiah Burns)
Before and after. (Photo: Courtesy of Jeremiah Burns)

The after

Physically, I felt great, but emotionally I was broken. I had no idea how to handle anything about normal life because I hadn’t really ever had one. I had spent the last 14 years drunk and not wanting to think or feel anything. In May of that year, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and I took antidepressants for about a year after that. Those helped me to keep my emotions under control while I continued making the positive lifestyle changes I needed to make in order to stay on a healthy path.

Gym sessions five to six times a week help keep Jeremiah on track. (Photo: Courtesy of Jeremiah Burns)
Gym sessions five to six times a week help keep Jeremiah on track. (Photo: Courtesy of Jeremiah Burns)

The maintenance

Once I became active, it would never stop. I used to sit on the couch and do nothing for days. Now I can’t sit still for more than the length of a movie without feeling like I have ants in my pants.

Now I look at food in a very strange way. This quote probably sums it up best: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” I monitor everything that goes in my body. I’m always mindful of portion sizes, calories, salt, fat, carbs, protein … everything. That kind of hyperfocus helps me avoid falling back into old bad food habits. I do allow myself one cheat meal a week, which is usually Mexican, Indian, or Thai food. I exercise five to six days a week, depending on work (I have multiple jobs). My routine at the gym is usually a two-mile warm-up run followed by a lifting routine and then a two-mile cool-down on the elliptical.

On my day off, I do a lot of food prep. I’ll cook all my chicken breasts and sweet potatoes, prep my veggies for salads or steaming. My goal is to make eating healthy as quick and easy as possible, while still eating stuff I enjoy. I usually go to the gym after work, so during my workday I focus on what I’ll be doing at the gym that night, my lifts, or how fast I want my mile times to be.

I have some really great friends that keep me inspired. My friend Chris has a goal of deadlifting 500 pounds before the end of the year. My friend Alexis also keeps me motivated. Both of us have lost more than 100 pounds, and she recently had surgery for excess skin removal, an issue that I’m unfortunately dealing with as well.

The struggles

The toughest thing for me is looking in the mirror and seeing that I’m not still fat. The mental image of your body is the hardest to shake. If it feels like a shirt or pair of pants fits differently from the last time I wore them, then I assume I’m getting fat again. I also have a lot of excess skin, which has caused some health problems that are unfortunately not covered by insurance, so I started a GoFundMe to help with the cost of the surgeries.

“The mental image of your body is the hardest to shake.” (Photo: Courtesy of Jeremiah Burns)
“The mental image of your body is the hardest to shake.” (Photo: Courtesy of Jeremiah Burns)


My best advice to anyone starting this journey is to give them the advice that Chris gave me: Just focus on being 1 percent better than the day before. Make one better food choice, walk a little bit farther, do one more rep. These things snowball, and before you know it, that 1 percent has become 100 percent. Also, nothing is more important than what you eat. If your diet sucks, then working out isn’t going to do anything.

Need more inspiration? Read about our other weight-loss winners!

Weight-Loss Win is authored by Andie Mitchell, who underwent a transformative, 135-pound weight loss of her own.

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