Clevelanders Ruthie Forgey, Tyrone Johnson and Alex Stephens know such goals well. They each made significant progress toward their own fitness goals in 2012 and would like to offer their advice to anyone resolving to live a healthier lifestyle in 2013.
Johnson, a Pentecostal Theological Seminary student from Randallstown, Md., stayed in shape while he was working on his bachelor’s degree at Lee University. However, he found it difficult to move on to his next goal, to become a bodybuilder. Between college classes, church and other responsibilities, he found it difficult to devote the amount of time it takes to properly train for bodybuilding competitions.
“I just couldn’t put school, bodybuilding and ministry together,” Johnson said.
After he graduated from Lee University, he moved to New Orleans to work with AmeriCorps. There, he met a female friend who encouraged him in his fitness goals. Together, they decided to train for a bodybuilding competition, making new lifestyle changes along the way. They started by changing the way they ate.
“We just started dieting after Mardi Gras and did research [on what to eat],” Johnson said. “Everything about bodybuilding always deals with dieting.”
The pair began gradually changing their eating and workout habits. Though he had already been working out on a regular basis, Johnson said he had to get used to the time required for training to become a professional bodybuilder. To work toward his goal of competing, he started by adding an extra day at the gym to his schedule.
“When I first started, it was four days a week,” Johnson said. “Moving into the new year, I added in Saturdays.”
During “contest season,” it was not uncommon for him to spend up to eight hours a day at the gym. Last July, he participated in his first competition, in New Orleans. He said he also went to a competition in Texas in November where he qualified to compete in a national competition this summer. He has since moved back to Cleveland and become a full-time graduate student, requiring him to scale back his schedule a bit. Still, his normal schedule includes evening trips to the gym that can last around four hours. Johnson said eating differently and exercising more took quite a bit of getting used to but that those new changes later became continuing habits.
To anyone embarking on a new fitness plan, Johnson advises celebrating small victories on the way to larger goals rather than being focused on just one number or measurement.
“What I recommend is making small plans to get to the big picture,” Johnson said.
He advises choosing certain milestones to reach on the way to a larger goal. An example would be hitting the mark of losing 10 pounds on a journey to lose 50 pounds. Johnson said one way he began to work toward bodybuilding was to gradually make new lifestyle changes until he got where he needed to be for the competitions. His first step was adding more time in his schedule for exercise, and he said that is a great start for anyone working toward a fitness-related goal.
“Thirty minutes a day is a good start,” Johnson said, stressing that a person will begin to see positive results even if they don’t spend hours a day at the gym.
As far as eating goes, Johnson recommends creating a “cheat day” each week to enjoy favorite foods that might not be part of a healthy diet, just to keep from feeling deprived. The key, he said, is eating well the rest of the time. However, the most important thing in his view is to stay focused on both short- and long-term goals and realize it is up to each person to accomplish them for themselves.
“It’s important to not make excuses,” Johnson said. “Bodybuilding has taught me determination. I’ve been able to learn how to overcome obstacles.”
Alex Stephens, a Cleveland native attending Bryan College in Dayton, also realizes that learning how to tackle obstacles is an important part of fitness.
When he was 12 years old, Stephens joined Cleveland Middle School’s cross country team with his twin brother, Ben. He said with a laugh that they had started cross country simply because they wanted to be on a school team. They didn’t think they would have to run as much as they did, he said. But the brothers eventually developed the discipline and endurance they needed to run long distances, and Stephens still runs cross country today as part of his college’s intercollegiate team.
“I learned at a very young age that if you’re gonna be a good runner, there are a lot of things you have to do,” Stephens said. “Ten years later, I’ve honed them down to a lifestyle.”
Stephens was recently a finalist for “Fit Man On Campus,” a contest for college-aged men sponsored by Men’s Fitness magazine that required participants to film themselves completing challenges like doing as many push-ups as possible in one minute. While he did not win first place, he said it gave him a platform to share advice to people struggling with issues like obesity.
“I did believe I had something I could share with people,” Stephens said.
Since the competition, he said he has had multiple people ask him for advice for their own fitness goals. Though his college studies are in corporate communications, he said he has a strong interest in exercise science and loves helping others reach their fitness goals.
Stephens believes the first thing people need to realize when starting a new goal is that they alone are responsible for their own success or failure. Hearing good advice does not equal success by itself, he added.
“The only person who can truly change the way you are is yourself,” Stephens said. “There is merit to most advice we hear, but nobody can force us to apply it to our lives.”
For someone just starting out, he recommends making small lifestyle changes like drinking more water on a daily basis and exercising 35-45 minutes a day, whether that time be spent walking with friends or going to the gym. Stephens said many people confuse dehydration for hunger and that drinking more water can help them feel more energized without eating as much food. He also said getting into the habit of exercising daily can make a big difference in a person’s health as well.
“If they stick to it, their body is going to change,” Stephens said.
Some people may also need to rethink they way they view food. Stephens said he has seen family and friends reward themselves with certain foods after they work out at the gym or achieve other goals. He said it is important to celebrate achievements, but not with food.
“People reward themselves in all the wrong ways,” Stephens said. “What you really deserve is the self-satisfaction of doing something good for your body.”
Stephens encourages those who are out of shape to not be intimidated by those who look like they are in good shape, because everyone had to start somewhere. Knowing how to eat and exercise well are both things he said he had to learn. When taking up an exercise regimen or radically changing eating habits, one should also consult one’s doctor.
“Don’t be afraid to seek help,” Stephens said. “There’s a learning curve to fitness.”
Ruthie Forgey, corps administrator at the Salvation Army of Cleveland, may not be training to be a bodybuilder or cross country runner, but she does know how to keep a New Year’s resolution. On Jan. 1, 2012, she resolved to get healthier and lose weight. By the time the same date in 2013 had come, she had lost about 100 pounds.
Forgey said she dropped her weight from 376 pounds to 274 pounds and plans to continue her progress in the new year.
She was always the sort who had a hard time keeping New Year’s resolutions, she said. That was, until she decided to keep herself accountable for her resolution every day of the year.
“Instead of a resolution, I committed myself to make a resolution each day,” Forgey said. “My resolution was to make a daily resolution to myself.”
She said she had to make a choice each day to eat foods with fewer calories and fit exercise into her busy schedule.
“There’s no magic formula,” Forgey said. “You eat less and you move more.”
Forgey said her weight made it difficult for her to get started working out on a regular basis. She said she began swimming and doing water aerobics because her weight caused pain in her joints on land. Once she lost some of the weight and “built up enough confidence,” she began using a treadmill and other gym equipment.
It can be intimidating for someone who is out of shape to work out in a gym with the likes of bodybuilders, she said. For her, the key was to remind herself that working out was all about making herself healthier and that only her fitness goals made any difference to her.
“You just can’t compare yourself,” Forgey said. “Be excited about your goals.”
In addition to beginning to work out regularly, she began to change her entire diet by switching unhealthy foods for healthy ones. Instead of picking up fried chicken biscuits for breakfast from a drive-thru before work, she made time in the morning to make a meal of things like poached eggs, toast and yogurt instead. A typical lunch of hamburgers and fries became grilled chicken and vegetables. Junk food gave way to fruits and vegetables. She never crash-dieted, she said. She substituted.
Forgey said she had to overcome obstacles like eating to cope with stress, but she found that she could relieve stress by exercising more instead of overeating. She encourages people to make changes they can actually keep and admits that real lifestyle changes can take time. It took her a year to lose close to 100 pounds by making gradual changes to the way she approached food and fitness.
“That’s about 2 pounds a week,” Forgey said. “It’s not quick. It’s not quick gaining it either. It’s not about a diet. It’s a lifestyle.”
Because she has made lifestyle changes that have already helped her lose weight, she expects to continue that path and get in even better shape this year.
“I’m better than I was a year ago, but I’m not at my best yet,” Forgey said. “I refuse to settle.”
She, along with some of her co-workers, have started a group called “Faith and Fitness” that allows people to meet and discuss issues related to healthy living. The group meets on the first Tuesday night of each month, and anyone interested can contact The Salvation Army of Cleveland for more information.
Though Forgey, Johnson and Stephens have had very different fitness experiences, they all agree on certain points, such as the importance of eating well, exercising regularly and staying focused on personal goals.
They all said the most important thing to remember is that people can only meet their fitness goals if they consciously choose to make healthy changes to their daily lifestyles.