They say we learn more from our mistakes than we do our successes, that every failure is really a step forward. I’d have to agree. My current fitness regimen and lifestyle is fully based on the mistakes I made in the past. You see, at first, I really didn’t have a choice. My health was in real bad shape. You couldn’t tell on the outside, I still had the arms and abs, but my insides were destroyed.
Where do I begin… Right around 2011, I went through a year of hell. I felt like I was dying almost every single day and no one could tell me why. I had heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, chest constriction like there was a belt wrapped tightly around my chest, and felt like I was about to pass out on several occasions where the world would start going black almost like tunnel vision. I went to heart specialists, got my lungs tested, blood work done, basically went through every test doctors could think of but all results came back normal and negative. This is when I thought I was going crazy. How could I feel SO bad and be perfectly fine? It didn’t make any sense and was incredibly frustrating.
It wasn’t until I was studying for my Fitness Nutrition Specialist exam that I finally might have been on to something. As part of the exam, you study a few different diseases that you may come across and tells some symptoms of those diseases, risk factors, and medications clients may be on while treating them. I began reading the symptoms about one of them and saying to myself- I feel that. I feel that. I feel that. All the way down the list.
That disease was Barrett’s Esophagus. So it was on to the next specialist, this time a Gastroenterologist. I told him my symptoms and what I found. He told me there was no way I had it at my age. I told him to just go through with the endoscopy (minor surgery where they drop a camera down your throat). He agreed to do it but assured me I was mistaken. Well, I wasn’t. A week later I had a confirmed case of Barrett’s Esophagus.
Barrett’s Esophagus is a serious complication of Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease. With this disease, the esophageal lining changes to resemble the lining of the intestines, while increasing the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, which is a serious, potentially fatal cancer of the esophagus.
Was it a shitty day? Absolutely. But I was actually relieved, I finally had an answer and we could start doing something about it. The problem was that very rarely is this disease cured; it is only managed. And, the medication you have to take for it has very bad side-effects, especially over a long period of time.
I get an endoscopy done every two years now, and will continue to for the rest of my life, to screen for early signs of cancer.
So how did I get here? I have a pretty good idea of how. I was a bit of a partier. Maybe that’s a little bit of an understatement. I may have started out as “a bit of a partier” but that transformed pretty quickly once I got a house at college with 4 of my friends. A party a week turned into 2-3 parties a week, which escalated to casual drinking the other three days to kill time until the next party we had.
I could also drink a little bit. Again, maybe an understatement. It got to the point where I would buy a 30 rack- for myself. It was either that or a handle of vodka because a bottle wasn’t enough, or a mix of a lot of everything: some beers, shots of vodka, shots of tequila chased with a lime (one of my favorites), and plenty of mixed drinks. My mixed drinks were usually this type of concoction: Using a solo cup as a measuring point- 4/5ths vodka, with a splash of soda on top.
Please don’t confuse this as me saying I was a champ at drinking. Looking back, this is disgusting. I drank a repulsive amount of alcohol. I’m lucky to be alive. I can’t imagine how many times I probably had alcohol poisoning or was at least very close. Do you know what the sad part is? I had warning signs that something was wrong.
One night we were pre-gaming to go out to the bars. We had a few funnels and a few shots- feeling pretty good. But then something happened- I was really light-headed and felt like I was going to pass out. I sat on the couch and felt my heart pounding. My heart rate spiked to around 150 beats per minute. It was a pretty scary situation so I called home and talked to my parents. They asked if I needed to go see someone, but then it went away and I felt fine. They told me to stay in and relax to make sure that didn’t happen again. You know what I did instead? Chugged another beer and headed out with my boys. Idiot… This wasn’t the only warning sign but my response was always the same. Shake it off you’re fine.
As unhealthy as this all was, you couldn’t tell from the outside that I was getting sick. I NEVER had a hangover. I could hop up on two hours of sleep and head to the gym, which is what I did. This leads to part two of everything I did wrong. I took every almost every supplement on the books (legal supplements). Protein, creatine, pre-workouts, intra-workouts, post-workouts, aminos, HMB, tribulus, everything.
So, I’d get plastered the night before, wake up on 4-6 hours of sleep, take my pre-workout and head to the gym. I will say this, I felt like superman. I was invincible. I could outdrink my friends the night before and then be done with a workout before they even woke up the next day. Really cool right?! What a dumb ass. I took my body for granted. Even worse, I took my health for granted.
So what’s wrong with all those supplements? Well for starters, I took the pre-workout warnings more as recommendations. I would take the max every day and when that wore off, I’d take the max plus a cup of coffee. Hey, it’s working! I figured my 370 bench proved that. While my outsides grew, my insides withered away.
These supplements are unregulated. A couple years ago, a pre-workout company got in trouble for using a meth-like chemical in their product. Good thing they caught it! But what about all the customers who had already been taking it for a while…
I’m not saying all supplements are bad, but we don’t know what the real long-term side-effects will be until about 20 years from now. We are the guinea pigs.
My parents told me all of these things all along the way, but we have to make the mistakes first to really learn, right? I know I do anyway. It’s pretty funny, I can’t think of one thing my parents have ever been wrong about. But I also can’t think of one time I actually listened to them the first time they said it! If I did, I would probably the smartest man in the world, the healthiest man in the world, and a professional baseball player. Ok maybe not all those things (but yes I’d be an MLB All-Star by now)!!
But I did make a lot of mistakes and I did learn a lot of lessons. I’m better for it. I’m a more passionate person because of it.
Now, what did I do to fix the problem? You know I sure as hell wasn’t going to stay on medication for the rest of my life. I’m a fitness professional and a healthy diet and exercise are supposed to fix everything right?? The short answer-yes. But I had some help along the way. I was on the prescribed medications for a while but they did little, if anything to help me. So I went to see a naturopathic doctor. He gave me some natural meds (more like herbal remedies) to help my body actually start to heal. That was step one.
Step two was fixing everything else. Alcohol-gone. Stimulants- gone. Supplements-gone. Healthy diet- In. I perfected my food intake, and I really mean PERFECTED. Anyone with gastrointestinal issues will tell you how bad it feels to eat the wrong things. I’m not too limited with food giving me discomfort. I just had to make sure I ate the right things so I wouldn’t lose my gains. I was officially an all-natural athlete. The only supplement I take is an all-natural protein from Optimum Nutrition. That’s it.
Three years later, I’m feeling pretty damn good. One thing that lingered was the anxiety. A term they use for it is medically induced anxiety. I had terrible symptoms that honestly felt like death. They would come up randomly and they would give me a pretty good scare every time. I was always afraid to wander too far from home. When it hit me, I was only somewhat comfortable when I knew my family was nearby, just in case it took another bad turn. But after I had it under reasonable control, there was one thing left to fix. I had to remove the safety net.
I did the most drastic thing I could think of. I moved over 3000 miles away from home to the beautiful city of San Diego, home of Ron Burgundy. Not that I’m alone out here- I have my little bro, my cousin, my girlfriend, and 3 other pretty awesome roommates. But it was a giant step and a leap that really made me feel like I was on my own for once.
Today- I’m good baby. I take no medication (natural or prescribed) and my symptoms are very mild if I even have them at all. I just lead a very healthy lifestyle. Diet is on point. I exercise almost every day. I have my life back. I had no control for a while, but I dug down and I took that control of my life back. I have to say I’m loving life again. No pain, no fear. I still have Barrett’s Esophagus, but it’s my goal to get rid of it with no medication- just this healthy lifestyle.
If you take anything from this, I hope it’s that you don’t take your health for granted. Take care of your body. It’s never too late to make a change. You really can do amazing things- whether it’s a body transformation or a health transformation. The proper diet and exercise WILL change your life. It’s an amazing feeling when that weight is lifted (literally and figuratively)!