How this single dad of three lost 87 pounds: 'When I visit them at school, they want to show me off'

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

Justin Peck is 36 years old, 6 feet tall, and weighs 203 pounds. In 2016, after slowly gaining weight over the years, he found himself more lethargic and depressed than ever before. After realizing how bad his mindset had become, he decided to get healthier for himself and his children. This is the story of his weight-loss journey.

The Turning Point

I didn’t notice my weight gain right away. After I got out of the Air Force, I slowly started getting bigger. I was buying bigger and bigger clothes, and truthfully, I was probably distracted a bit by life and didn’t pay attention at first. I knew I was the biggest I’d ever been, but I was in denial about it at first. As the years went on, I began to notice to how lethargic I’d become. I used to be very active; now I just wanted to sit around, play video games, and eat. I was also a single parent with full custody of three kids (ages 12, 10, 8) for the past eight years, I had been divorced twice, and I was letting life beat me down.

I can tell you my exact turning point. I was standing in front of the mirror on New Year’s Eve 2015. I would stand in front of the mirror and body-shame myself almost nightly. I would tell myself how disgusting I looked; how I let myself go; how I would never find love again. Maybe I did this hoping it would trigger a change, but it mostly just made me more and more depressed. And on that night, in that moment of weakness, I actually said out loud, “Maybe this world would be better without you in it!“ I contemplated ending it all. I broke down and just sat on the floor and cried until I had no more tears to cry. I just thought about my kids, knowing that they deserve better from me. And, honestly, that I deserved better too.

Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck
Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck

The Changes

Everyone is different in how they need to tackle this journey. For me, I knew I had to go full speed out of the gate. I immediately stopped drinking soda (I was drinking more than a six-pack of Mountain Dew a day at the time), started meal-prepping, and I went and signed up for the gym to hold myself accountable.

For food, I downloaded an app to help track my macros, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I felt that by tracking, I would have be honest with myself if I decided to eat something I wasn’t supposed to. I started with the basics of fish, turkey, and chicken with veggies. My biggest problem before was portion control. I would eat huge portions, then eat all the kids’ leftovers too. I controlled my portions by putting everything in small containers.

For exercise, I stayed in the “cardio corner” of the gym. I walked on the treadmill to start. I also got up some courage to do a few classes a week. I was embarrassed because I was that overly sweaty fat guy who didn’t know what he was doing. I thought people would judge me. But I stuck with it and went every day — sometimes twice a day. This is how I started the process.

As time went on, I became more knowledgeable about this lifestyle. I researched and learned a lot. I would ask others for advice. Slowly I started moving away from doing only cardio to the weight section of the gym. And while I used to lift in high school and the military, I was scared that I would be using the equipment wrong and end up on one of the those YouTube fail videos.

Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck
Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck

I fell in love again with the weights. I started lifting more and more. I made “gym friends.” I was there every day putting in hard work, and people saw that. In the fall of 2016, I decided to challenge myself and do a Mud Run with some friends. It was the hardest yet most rewarding thing I did up to that point. It was 12 miles and 20 obstacles that tested me in every way, but I never gave up and I completed the run. I loved the feeling of setting a goal and meeting it.

I quickly realized that I needed a new challenge. That’s where bodybuilding came into play. I had a few friends that were bodybuilders. They would often talk about how hard of a life it is. My personality had now shifted to the attitude of wanting to prove I could do what I never thought possible. So I asked around for a coach to help guide me. I wanted to do it the right way. I met up with Will Wise, who was a national-level bodybuilder and a well-known coach in town. That day I started an eight-week prep for my first bodybuilding show. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. Everything was so regimented — when to eat, what to eat, when to exercise. It involved lots of cardio, always feeling hungry, skipping going out with friends, and much more. But I knew that sacrifice makes winners and I wanted this too badly to not give my best. As a result, in June of 2017 (barely a year after being 290 pounds), I stepped onto a stage at the Battle of the River at 207 pounds. I ended up winning my class, a cool sword (which is displayed proudly at home with my other awards), and a feeling that’s hard to describe. I actually broke down backstage afterwards because I worked so hard for so long to be happy again, to make my kids proud of their dad, and show others anything is possible in this life. Since then I’ve competed in one other national qualifier show, placing top five and winning another awesome sword! I’m currently prepping for my next show in April, where my kids will finally see me up on stage.

I lost a lot of weight quickly to start and I was ecstatic! After the initial drop-off, it was slower to lose but I was still making progress, so that made me stick with it. I had energy again. I was more active with my kids. I was going out more as well. It was amazing.

Motivation is tricky. I think people believe you need to have one single, motivating factor. But to me, motivation is fluid. It can and should change often. I also think people feel selfish if their motivation is “me.” I don’t think that’s true. I motivate me. I look back at my changes and it motivates me further. My other sources of motivation are my kids, my family, my friends, and my desire to love myself so that I could once again love someone else.

Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck
Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck

The After

I’m a completely different person today, inside and out. Physically I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m at a level of fitness that only a small percentage of people ever achieve. I take pride in that. Emotionally, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. My relationship with my kids is the best it’s been. We are all more active together. They love the “new daddy.” They tell all of their school friends that their dad is a bodybuilder. When I visit them at school, they want to show me off, and that makes me proud.

Life has changed in so many ways during this journey. Once I was able to love myself again, I found I was able to love someone else. Although I met Samantha before I started to lose weight, we were just friends, and I wasn’t confident enough to pursue anything more. Over time that changed and we took things to the next level. One year after I was ready to give up on life, I proposed to Sam on New Year’s Eve in the Bahamas. It was a dream come true. She’s been my biggest supporter and fan along the way. We will hopefully get married soon and start our next adventure together. Also, last year I got a major promotion at work to team lead. I feel my work ethic in fitness helped in all aspects on my life leading to this opportunity at work.

Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck
Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck

I still have more goals to achieve. I want to write a book, do some motivational speaking, be a sponsored athlete, and maybe someday get my Pro card in bodybuilding.

My biggest surprise is how I’m treated now — in good ways and bad ways. I’m not used to being called “big guy” by strangers. I don’t see myself as being as big as others do, I guess. It’s nice boost to the confidence. I get approached a lot asking for advice on health and fitness. I enjoy helping others however I can.

The “bad” is more just annoying, I suppose. I get constant remarks like, “You’re going to eat that?” in reference to my healthy food. Or I get people telling me, “One piece of cake won’t kill you!” It gets old. I know the cake won’t kill me, but I just don’t care for that stuff much anymore.

Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck
Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck

The Maintenance

My life is crazy hectic as you can imagine as a single parent of three kids with a full-time job. So with that said, I have to have a very regimented day. It keeps me in check and prevents me from going insane.

I meal prep for the week every Sunday night after I get groceries. I bought some special containers online that really help. I use a scale and weigh all my food for consistency. I generally eat the same thing every day – four meals and three shakes. When not in preparation for a bodybuilding show, I try to eat a 90/10 diet, where 90% of the food I eat is healthy and the other 10% is whatever I want. It helps me keep my sanity. Plus, I love doughnuts and cereal.

My exercise is also regimented. I do fasted cardio every morning for 20 to 60 minutes. I also work out every day at 4 p.m. and finish with 20 to 60 minutes of cardio. I work out seven days a week. I’ll have “active rest” days where I won’t lift but just do cardio.

The Struggles

I still struggle with body image. Some days I feel like I look great. Other days I still see the “fat Justin.” It’s hard, for sure — especially in the bodybuilding world, where people strive for the perfect physique. Working through it can be challenging. I often have to just remind myself how far I’ve come. Also when someone compliments me, I’ve gotten better at accepting it and being thankful. It’s something I’m working on.

Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck
Photo: Courtesy of Justin Peck


I think you should set two goals to start: one long term and one short term. Make the long term achievable but difficult. This is the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel goal. The short term goal should be something a little easier to achieve, but meeting small goals with fill you with pride and a sense of achievement. Once you meet a short-term goal, you set a new one each time until you reach that long-term goal. My long-term goal was to lose 80 pounds. My short term was to go to the gym every day for 30 days straight.

Preparation is the key to success. Meal prep for me has been the biggest factor in this lifestyle. It makes it so much easier to have everything ready and available to eat. Also, if you’ve spent time and money on the food, you’re less likely to eat out and waste that prepped food.

As for working out, I say don’t be afraid. We all started somewhere. The gym is not as scary as we often make it out to be. People of all levels of fitness are there for so many different reasons. Find a gym you’re comfortable with and just go.

Lastly, and most important to me, is this: Next time you say, “I don’t have time for ______,” say this instead: “_____ is not a priority,” and see how that makes you feel — not just for the gym but for anything in life. Because we all have time for things we want if we make them a priority! That often means sacrifice, but that’s part of it.

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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