What Losing 280 Pounds Looks Like: An Unbelievable Before and After
Yes… that is the same man in the two photos above.
I am super excited because today you’re going to learn exactly how Jesse Stilwell lost nearly 300 pounds in the past 2 years.
Jesse took me step-by-step through his weight training, diet, motivation strategies, and journey to transform his body and life. We hope his story will inspire you to commit to any health goals you may have.
Without further ado…
FoodIsForFuel.com Jesse Stilwell Interview
- Audio: Get the MP3 here (Right click and save the file)
- Transcript: Get the PDF here (Right click and save the file)
- The Low-Carb Megathread we discussed during the interview: The Low-Carb Megathread
- Don’t try to be perfect. Accept that you will screw up, and when you do, look at why the screw up happened and how you can prevent the same thing from happening again in the future. Don’t beat yourself up, just take responsibility for your slip-up and come up with a solution.
- This is not a sprint to lose 100 pounds in 10 days. This is a long process. Don’t go to extremes and live in an unrealistic way in order to get crazy results, unless you know the lifestyle will be sustainable for you.
- Challenge the advice you hear. Jesse lost weight eating a diet high in saturated fat. Many doctors and Big Pharma would have you believe that saturated fat is unhealthy, eating fat will make you fat, and meat will give you heart disease. There are a ton of scientific studies beginning to break into the mainstream that prove these long-held assumptions false. If you’re interested in Jesse’s diet, look into the Paleo diet and the Low-Carb Megathread, which is basically eating vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, and some fruit and nuts.
Jesse Stillwell’s Bio
Jesse Stilwell is a Health & Wellness Advocate doing nutrition consulting & weight loss management at Vitality Medical Wellness Institute in Concord, NC. He began his transformation in March of 2010 and continues to push himself towards increased health, strength, and achievement.
Spencer: All right folks, today we’re talking to Jesse Stilwell. I heard of Jesse through the Fitocracy website. His name on there is Vainglory and he was spotlighted because Jesse, you’ve lost like 270 or 280 pounds now?
Jesse: Two hundred and seventy nine pounds, but I’ve gained a little since then.
Jesse: That’s because I stopped for a little bit to give my metabolism time to catch up.
Jesse: Because I heard too many stories of people losing a bunch of weight and then gaining it back and, so at the time I started CrossFit I started eating more because it’s the first time I did CrossFit. Afterwards I was completely and utterly drained and I attributed it to the calorie deficit I was eating at, and through my work I was lucky enough to have access to Dexa Scans, which is, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, they’re like, it’s like radiography, but it gives you your burn density, your entire body make-up, and so three months ago I got my first one and then just recently in March I got my next one and I was fourteen pounds of lean mass and down five pounds of fat, and that’s what I’ve been doing, like I gained weight just because I think that I was retaining water just because of the lean mass. But I wasn’t really trying to cut, but I’m back to trying to cut it down so back down to like, two sixty one, two sixty two, but I think the last weight I put on Fitocracy was like two fifty nine so I’m almost back to where I was about three months ago, but like, I’ve got more like, you can see more definition in my arms and stuff, definitely.
Spencer: Was CrossFit something you started recently, because didn’t you use like a StrongLift type programme initially?
Jesse: Yeah, initially I started on a 5 by 5, a modified 5 by 5, Rippetoe starting strength type thing and I started lifting like three days a week. Eventually I moved up to four days a week and, and then I found a five three one regime on there and I used that for a long time. The reason I used that is because I was a shut-in. I had agoraphobia, and I, I wouldn’t go to the gym. I don’t, even if I didn’t have agoraphobia I don’t think I would have gone to a gym anyway, because when you’re that big, there’s, you’re just paranoid all the time, so it just felt like people were staring at me anyway, so the gym’s the last place I wanted to go. So I started off with, I had twenty pound dumbbells that my wife had and I started off with those doing like, flyes and presses and stuff. Curls too, I think and bodyweight squats. It was hard but you would expect it to be hard ‘cos I was like five hundred pounds at the time.
Spencer: Yes. Jesse was this, was this initially when you first got into the whole weight-loss journey?
Spencer: OK. So this was about like, almost two years’ ago then?
Jesse: Yeah, two years would have been in March. I’m not sure what day I started on specifically, but I know I started logging everything on April 15.
Spencer: OK and your starting weight was five hundred and how many pounds?
Jesse: Thirty eight.
Spencer: OK, so five thirty eight, OK. So the first thing that you really tried was, you know, you took your wife’s weights and you, were you following a plan when you were doing that, or were you just doing whatever exercises you could think of?
Jesse: I was, I had gone to ExRx.net and I was looking to get dumbbell exercises and I just kind of, went through and picked some and started doing them. We were really poor at the time because of single income. I didn’t have a job or anything and when you don’t really care if you’re alive you tend to accrue debts, so we had a lot of debt, and a lot of it was food and stuff, but basically I just hit a hole and decided to change. So we were poor and couldn’t have afforded a gym. So I just took what was near me. I think at one point I actually filled a backpack with all the weights we had in the house together and then stopped when it weighed around eighty five pounds. She was afraid that the stitching on the backpack wouldn’t hold and it would ruin our floor.
Spencer: All right.
Jesse: It was probably accurate because it was kind of hairy, but I only did that for a few weeks, and my brother was nice enough to get me a bench so we put that in my guest room and that’s when, that’s when it really started, when I started five by five and then eventually went five three one.
Spencer: OK so take us through the timeline of events and sort of, between when you started working out with just, with your wife’s dumbbells to the point where you started the five by five programming. Was there like a couple of months there in-between?
Jesse: I believe so. I haven’t, it’s weird, I haven’t really gone back. I have everything logged but I haven’t really haven’t gone back and looked through exactly what I did in a while. I’ve been kind of training every day and not been looking back in the past too much, but I do have it all logged, but I couldn’t tell you. I could guess that I probably did the dumbbell stuff for about a month and a half, two months maybe, and then my brother was nice enough to get me a bench. It was pretty cheap on Craig’s List. He picked it up on his way down to visit and that’s when I started five by five, but it was easier on the forum that I was on. It was somethingawful.com and that’s where I started my fitness log, and that’s really where I found the mega-thread that changed everything for me. It was a low carb mega-thread but I don’t like telling people that there is only one diet to follow, but the thread itself kind of broke down some stuff about the body that I didn’t understand at the time, and it, I have attention issues and the thread broke it down in a way so that I could understand it. So more than the diet itself, I think that, that the insight that the thread offered me to what my body was doing to food pretty much saved my life, and it was on just a random comedy forum in a sub-forum that barely got used. It’s weird how that works.
Spencer: And I checked out that thread as well, and I saved that to go back to, because like there’s studies, like the guy he wasn’t saying “oh do this.” He was saying “this is how it works and here’s the study behind this and the study behind that.” It’s a really cool thread, and so as far as exercise, like, you went to the five by five programming. How many months did you do that for and then also what kind of progress were you seeing? And then the other question that I want to ask you is, when did you discover this low carb thread and this whole diet and integrate that into the whole programme and everything?
Jesse: For the five by five I did that for, maybe five or six months, and the funny thing is I didn’t see any progress because I had, what you’d call a fat guy’s thing, so I started off strong and I knew that eating a calorie deficit was going to cause me to waste muscle because I was eating a pretty big deficit. I was eating, I think I started off at twenty five hundred calories. My BMR had been at like, my basic metabolic rate had been at like fifty five hundred just to maintain, so I was eating well under what I probably should have been eating but I needed to cut weight quickly, so I knew when I started lifting that I was goin’ to be, I was goin’ to be wasting muscle. It was a foregone conclusion, but I also knew that loose skin was going to be an issue, so I knew if I didn’t do something, if I didn’t try to maintain some muscle, or even build some muscle that I would have like, a load of skin and I didn’t want that because at the time I knew I was too poor for having a skin surgery, so basically I was on a poor man’s diet trying to basically save all the money that I could and, it worked out pretty good. I have some loose skin but just until recently I didn’t really see any gains. It was losses the whole way down, but I had it, it was firmly in my mind that the gains I would get would be for life and that the lifting worked towards those gains rather than strength gains. I knew that I was going to lose strength all the way down, like for instance, at some point in the high four hundreds I deadlifted three ten which was like, every plate that I had, but then right before I started CrossFit I was then lifting two thirty or whatever and that was when I was on five three one. I picked five three one because I knew I probably wouldn’t gain strength, but I also knew that if I injured myself it would be bad, and five three one kind of lends itself to like a slow crawl type of gain. And I knew that lifting at a percentage of my maxes would reduce the ability for me to injure myself. So that’s kind of where I picked five three one from, aside from the fact that it’s an amazing workout. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it?
Spencer: I haven’t, but I did, I just tweeted I think a couple of days ago about a post that Jim Wendler wrote on T NATION. I don’t know if you saw that but it was all the things he wished he had told himself when he was younger. It was a really good post.
Jesse: I think I saw the link but I didn’t click on it. I read, I read a lot of crap every day, like ten, fifteen blogs and sometimes I miss stuff that I need to harness, and T NATION, I read a lot of stuff from T NATION, like when I got my blog redesigned I linked three or four articles from them, but I am kind of a Wendler fan boy, so if you want to toss me that link that would be darn good.
Spencer: I will, I will after the interview. So when you were doing the five by five programme, before you got into five three one, you said you were on a kind of poor man’s diet, and you were eating at a calorie deficit. Were you eating like the low carb, it’s almost like a Paleo type diet from that thread.
< phone interruption >
Spencer: We were talking about the diet you went on during the five by five programming because you said it was like a poor man’s diet and I just wanted to clarify what type. Were you eating a low carb diet at that point that you learned of through that thread or were you just kinda like just eating at a deficit, whatever you wanted.
Jesse: I started low carb, well I’ll go back to the beginning. It’s not a long story. My wife, we got a scale with the tax return in March of 2010, because I thought I was well over six hundred, so we bought a scale that goes up to seven or seven fifty, and I stepped on it and that’s when I saw how heavy I was, but I was actually kinda relieved because I wasn’t over six hundred, and my wife at the time had just got a diet from one of her co-workers, and I think, but I’m not sure, I think it was a south beach diet right now, and it was like a low carb thing and I said “screw it, I’ll just try it and see what happens” and I tried it for a week and, I lost ten pounds and that’s when I sorta started looking around because I gave up Sestabell stuff, like that’s where my video game addiction came from, that’s where I don’t know, all of my addictions come from. I gave up, so I started looking at weight loss stuff because I wanted to learn why that happened, and I found that megathread during that process, and I started a little part-time based on information I found on there. I didn’t start off ketogenic at first, I just started off eating at a calorie deficit and, not eating junk food, so I would still be under a hundred grams of carbs a day. For a long while there I would eat, like I’d have a muffin every morning, with some eggs on it, eggs and cheese and stuff and I was still having carbs but as time went on I started like, I wonder how many carbs I can get away with. How many carbs can I eat and still be happy, so I just started removing carbs and eventually I ended up being ketogenic, and as time progressed I would, I’m a binge eater, I have, I think I have an actual food addiction, and some foods will trigger me to binge eat, and over time I would, I would just remove those triggers that I found, like peanut butter was one. Peanut butter is completely fine on a low carb diet but I noticed that when I ate it I would keep eating it and keep eating it. I couldn’t stop so I tossed that out of my diet. Eventually the process lead me to toss so much stuff out of my diet that I just ended up Paleo, with all of my trigger foods like, there would be oatmeal would be one because I could have it without raisins or it would make me retch, so oatmeal got tossed. Cheese I could eat, but without any sort of control, so if I got a block of cheese that would be gone. So I just ended up throwing out bagels and bean and rice and everything just kinda went out the door and I ended up Paleo and that’s kinda where I am right now.
Spencer: OK and Paleo, I forget because I didn’t fully read that low carb thread. Was he basically advocating an Paleokind of diet in that thread, or was it no carbs or just low carbs?
Jesse: No, in that thread he was advocating a high fat, I think he was advocating a ketogenic diet, but not really, ‘cos I think people are afraid to put, to tell people to get on a ketogenic diet, but he kinda hinted at it all through the whole. He mostly said to stay under a hundred grams of carbs and you’re on a low carb diet. Actually, he gave like three levels, there’s a hundred grams of carbs which is a standard low carb diet. Then under fifty was a ketogenic like a very low carb diet and then there was like no carbs which was, I don’t remember what he called it, but I could never pull that one off.
Spencer: Yeah now I’m wondering ‘cos you got into CrossFit. I watched a lecture by a Dr Matthew Lalonde, I don’t know whether you’ve heard of him, and he was basically talking about, he was doing like intense metcons, like CrossFit workouts, and he was at that time, eating like sixty to almost seventy per cent fat in his diet and the rest was pretty much protein, very low carbs, and he said something like his glucose stores in his body, or something, were getting so depleted during those metcons that after one of them he felt he was going to faint pretty much.
Spencer: Glycogen stores, yes.
Jesse: I noticed the exact same thing and it’s weird how there’s like a divide on the internet between CrossFit and Lifters. I wanted to clear that up in case this gets seen by Lifters who are like “why would you go from five by five or five three one to CrossFit?” It’s because I was agoraphobic for ten years. That social interaction, it’s part of my transformation process, and if I just went to a gym I know I wasn’t going to talk to other Lifters, whereas CrossFit kind of forces you into the sort of group thing, but it’s not like a crappy group class where you’re prancing around with one pound dumbbells and stuff. They actually use real weights so that is why I got into CrossFit and I noticed the exact same thing, so it’s true, and I think I was watching a video at Alan Aragon that kind of opened my eyes on it, and it was that I was working on fasting for one. I was on ketogenic diet for two and apparently that is a recipe for disaster because if you get into an anaerobic state that’s the only time on a ketogenic diet that’s the only time you’re going to use Glycogen. CrossFit basically survives on the ability to put you in an anaerobic state, and very quickly, so the entire class I just started off using this Glycogen that I had, because I’m training and fasting for one, and I’m on a ketogenic diet so I don’t have Glycogen stores anyway. So I had to start doing stuff like I would do Dextrose, I would do like ten grams of Dextrose in a shake before I worked out, and then I’d start supplementing Syntha Six afterwards because it was a fairly clean powder I found and had some carb in it so…
< interrupted by dog barks >
Spencer: Yeah. All right, so we were talking about Syntha Six. You started supplementing with that pre workout?
Spencer: That’s post workout OK. Pre workout was the Dextrose. Did you do like a protein in there or was it just Dextrose?
Jesse: I used some extra powder and I just threw some Dextrose in there.
Spencer: OK and how did that work out for you?
Jesse: It seemed to work. I wasn’t hitting a wall anymore and my wife is on the same sort of diet, and she was noticing that throughout the day after CrossFit she would feel drained, and we started doing Syntha with her as well and throwing some Dextrose in a pre-workout for her and, you know, that drained feeling went away. So my guess was, like you said, I can’t remember the gentleman’s name that you brought up, but my guess was I was using the very little blankages that I had for the rest of the day, and I wasn’t putting it back in, so as soon as we started on doing those two things it got better. So I think he’s completely right.
Spencer: So that’s about where you’re at right now. You’ve started taking up CrossFit and you’re doing those two things to counter the Glycogen store depletion going on. OK. So, for someone that’s not familiar with like a low carb type diet or even a fairly low carb diet can you take us through what a day is in food for you, what you eat for breakfast. Do you have a breakfast? Do you do intermittent fasting or anything like that?
Jesse: I used to do intermittent fasting but when I got a job I couldn’t do it anymore because I have to do CrossFit at 6.15am so my window was starting to look like I would eat at five and then my window would close at like 1pm, and I used to cook a lot of nights so my window would close at 1pm and then like I’d make like a pound of bacon at 5pm that I couldn’t touch and I was having trouble with that, but no, my co-workers laugh at me because a day of food for me is kind of ridiculous like I start with my shake before CrossFit, and I have post workout and I don’t eat again until lunchtime. At that point that’s when my co-workers laugh at me because I’ll come in with like, three pork chops and eight eggs and that’s it. I’m simple, I don’t do any recipe style cooking. I just eat ingredients basically because it’s easier for me and it’s easier for me to control my calories that way and I’ve always found that to be the case. When you start mixing calories you start giving dishes like that have a lot of stuff in them. I find it hard to track calories and that sort of thing, especially when I’m having to break it down into different portions, so like the night before I’ll make my lunch and it’ll be something like that, like three pork chops and eight eggs and I keep it going like that because I’m still sort of big and as I get smaller the number is going to go down. It’ll be like two pork chops and six eggs and so on and so forth. Then around 6pm I’ll cook dinner and it’ll be about the same sort of thing except, although I bring broccoli with me to work in microwavable steamer bags, and I’ll have one of those, and then for dinner I’ll have half a pound of broccoli and more meat. That’s my simple diet.
Spencer: Are people shocked when you tell them the type of food. Well, you just mentioned your co-workers like “what is going on” ‘cos you said like you’ll eat a pound of bacon as well, right?
Spencer: Yes, so I mean you’re eating all this stuff and I’m the same way. I eat like six eggs in the morning and bacon and everything, but to eat that sort of food, it’s like every article you read in like magazines and the news is like “don’t eat meat, don’t eat tons of fat. It going to like, make you blow up” but the exact opposite is happening with you.
Jesse: Yeah, that’s one of the things about that megathread that started me off that it went into the lipid hypothesis and all the food pyramids based on and it’s got multiple sources on it. But basically what that guy was saying was all of our science is based on all of the food regulations in this country are based on. Basically what all of our doctors are talking are based on this lipid hypothesis that’s crap and I’m not cool enough to be able to tell you why it’s crap but you can Google it and figure out very quickly that it’s crap and that was enough for me when I got started and it’s been enough since. Like I said it was like a poor man’s style diet. I was kind of, when I started, I kind of threw my arms back and I let the world come at me. I didn’t go to a doctor, I had no proof what state I was in, health wise and I just kind of latched on to something and said “screw it” and gave it a shot, but five or six months’ ago I was drawn for the first time, because I started working for this clinic, and they do this sort of thing. They do nutritional counselling and weight loss and just general wellness and stuff. So the doctor that I work for drew my labs and they were perfect across the board, like after two years of this ketogenic diet my health was absolutely perfect, and I wish I had labs from when I started but I didn’t know at the time. I have zero knowledge of what it was but it couldn’t have been good based on what I was eating it couldn’t have been good.
Spencer: For the past two years you’ve essentially been eating, like how many eggs a day, would you say?
Jesse: It varies, but I’ll tell you, we went to Walmart last week and bought four cartons of eighteen and we’ve just had to go to Sales Co to buy two more. I go through eggs, yeah, that’s the base of my diet essentially.
Spencer: And then all the doctors will say “don’t eat eggs. The cholesterol in eggs” but…
Jesse: And then I hold up my labs and I know, not true.
Spencer: Well you know what, I’ve come across a bunch of different websites and they talk about eggs and cholesterol and how dietary cholesterol doesn’t have that big of a deal on your actual cholesterol levels. It’s actually like sugary grain, like doughnuts and stuff that are negative towards that, and both those threads are below so people can see that. The last thing I want to ask you Jesse, is like, the problem that a lot of people have like losing weight is sticking to the diet, sticking to like, the workouts, or whatever they’re doing. How did you, how did you overcome that like, what motivated you to keep going for two years now?
Jesse: You know, you know I get the question often and I can never really answer it. A lot of people tell me that I have like, I have willpower or something, or attribute it to some cosmic force. I think it’s just belief, like I think I have, I hit such a bad place in my life where I was just, I was rock bottom when I started thinking about all the things I could never do, ‘cos I’ve always been big, and I had trouble, like I can remember back to when I was twelve years old, and they had to order like special baseball uniforms for me. I’ve always been big, I’ve never experienced life like someone who fits in. You know I always felt like there would be eyes on me whenever I stepped outside, so I started like taking a list of the things I couldn’t do, that I never could do and I wanted to do and that was my kind of jumping off point. I think that as I went along I didn’t really have any goals. I think that’s where many people may get into trouble, and I wasn’t trying to be perfect. I think that’s another place where a lot of people get in trouble because you can chase perfection without actually trying to be perfect. I don’t know if that actually makes sense, but if you’re trying to be perfect then a lot of the times, in the split second that you are actually imperfect you put it together in your head that “I’m not perfect anymore and therefore I can never be perfect” and then you fall off the wagon. So the whole time I came at it from a different viewpoint. I wasn’t trying to be perfect. I kinda embraced my weakness and my humanity and I was like “I’m going to screw up” and if I’m going to be successful what I’m going to do is figure out what screwed me up and fix that instead of dwelling on the fact that I screwed up, and I think that’s where a lot of people have issues. I’m not a “going to step on the scale every day” sorta guy and I think a lot of people do that too and especially in our clinic like, I’ll help people with their nutrition and they’ll step on the scale every day, and they’ll be like, “when I come in here and step on the scale it’s weird because yesterday I weighed three extra pounds” and the thing is that you get to a point where, at least for me, I’ve done it so long I stopped thinking about the time it was taking, and just started looking at the things that I would get when I was done. When you start, when you weigh yourself in every week you start thinking about your weight loss in terms of weeks, because it’s human to put structure to everything. So just like the sun revolves we eventually figure it out that we revolve around the sun, or the moon revolves around us. We eventually figure out the timing and you hear the same thing when you’re dieting, it becomes a week, a week, a week and that can sabotage you because a lot of the time you’ll weigh-in and then a lot of the times people will put their cheat meals, like on the day they weigh in, so that they can recover before the next weigh-in. The thing is if they don’t recover by their next weigh-in it might ruin them for that entire week. They might think “oh I’m already screwed up this week. I’ll just cheat some more” and then that’s when people back-slide. I think the key to my success was I stopped thinking about my weight loss in terms of time. It’s not a week-to-week thing, it’s a year-to-year thing or a couple-of-years to a couple-of-years thing, instead of just dwelling on every single mistake that I make in a week and it’s worked for me.
Spencer: OK, you said your wife too, she was eating similar to you and she also joined you with CrossFit. Has she had like a good influence on you as well?
Jesse: Yeah, like I said she’s the reason I started I guess, because her co-worker had given her a diet to try and she was three hundred pounds at the time we started. In fact I don’t want to tell you how much she is now because ever since I started I’ve been trying to separate myself from her weight loss because I think that’s another mistake that people make.
Spencer: They compare against others?
Jesse: Yeah, they compare and when it’s woman to man, I’m not sexist or anything, it’s no competition, like a man will lose more weight and it’s just biology. I would sit there and lose ten pounds in a week, and she would do the same thing and lose like two, and it’s just simple biology and you can’t… I very early on figured out that we couldn’t compete or else we were both going to, like it was going to tear our marriage apart or it was going to screw up both of our diets, so and she’s shy like I am anyway so I tried to separate her from that online person. So I’ll tell you that she started at three hundred and she’s not three hundred any more.
Spencer: OK, well that’s all that matters, right. She’s on the journey.
Spencer: Good. Jesse, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Jesse: Yes Spencer.
Spencer: And I think a lot of people have learned a lot, and your blog, it’s, sorry what was the URL again?
Jesse: It’s foodisforfuel.com and it’s really ugly right now but on the 15th I’m re-launching it and it’s going to be prettier.
Spencer: On the 15th, OK.
Jesse: Yes sir.
Spencer: A few days from now. By the time this is up, we’ll probably put this up in like two weeks, two and a half weeks so your website will be up and people will be able to check it out.
Jesse: Yes sir.
Spencer: All right. So Jesse, have a nice day brother.
Jesse: All right Spencer, it was nice talking to you. Thanks.