During one of the lowest points in his life, Colin Harding took up Jiu-Jitsu to take his mind off things. Recently divorced, he thought the training would be a healthy distraction—and for a while, it was. As Harding gained confidence in his fighting ability, he decided to compete in a tournament, hoping that a win would help pull him out of his funk.
During the match, however, things took a turn for the worst: In the middle of the fight, Harding tore his ACL. The injury didn’t just put an end to his hopes of picking up a much-needed win—it also meant he wouldn’t be able to train for months, at a time when Jiu-Jitsu had been one of his only consistent sources of physical activity.
Harding, 36, who works in IT as a service manager in Reston, Virginia, began to worry about what being relegated to crutches for months on end would mean for his weight. He’d always been a bigger guy, and he knew his diet was mostly to blame. “I just had no idea how to eat properly so as to not constantly be putting on body fat. I wasn’t tracking my food intake, and I would just eat what I craved when I was hungry. Over time, this way of eating drove me to weigh close to 300 pounds,” he says.
Without the benefit of his Jiu-Jitsu training three days a week, Harding began to worry that the effects of his poor diet would only grow exponentially. “I felt myself slipping into depression, figuring that I can’t do Jiu-Jitsu with a torn ACL, and so I felt I was doomed to get super fat again,” he says. Thankfully, Harding didn’t keep this fear to himself—he mentioned what was on his mind to a close friend who had recently started lifting again. “He told me, hey, we can still train your upper body, so come to the gym. I started lifting again, and I fell into a routine going three days a week.” At first, the new workout proved challenging: Harding felt weak, unable to put up as much weight as he would’ve liked.
The other change happened in the kitchen: First, Harding cut back on a lot of his favorite foods, including bread, sugar, dairy, and booze, all of which were contributing significantly to his inability to lose weight. Three months into his new plan, Harding was already seeing dramatic results—lines on his arms, for instance, where triceps were beginning to poke out. “I thought, ‘Hey, it’s working!’ That was the first real noticeable change I saw on my body, and it really motivated me to keep going and see what I could do.”
The result: Over the course of about 10 months, Harding lost close to 50 pounds. “It’s difficult to express just how good it feels to have made this shift from fat to muscle. I feel like now I am the person I was supposed to be. I feel more like myself than ever before in my life.” Even better were the reactions from those closest to him as his weight loss transformation took shape.
When his father saw the before and after photo that Harding posted on a Reddit forum devoted to weight loss stories, for instance, he texted his son immediately. “He said he knew I had made a change, but he didn’t realize how drastic the transformation was, and that he was proud of me,” Harding says. “A compliment from my dad is something that’s hard to put a price on.”
Harding’s father wasn’t alone—when others see the progress Harding has made, they’re often quick to ask him for advice. First, he says, consistency is everything: “Get a log book, or use a program on your phone to track your progress in the gym. I use an app called Progression to track every workout, so that I know when it’s time to move up in weight on an exercise.” If his weights are going down, he says, it probably means he needs to change something in his diet. “If you don’t track your workouts, you’ll struggle to make progress,” he says.
Going forward, Harding hopes to keep getting stronger, and eventually, he’d even like to compete at another Jiu-Jitsu tournament. “This time,” he says, “I’d like to leave with a gold medal instead of a catastrophic knee injury.”
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