How One Marine Became The Biggest Loser

A couple of weeks ago I put out a call on Twitter for my Real Life Biggest Loser series for people who lost and kept off weight.  Mike Hickman messaged me saying that he lost 80+ pounds.  I was taken aback because I see Mike’s tweets all the time and I know that he is an impressive athlete, I didn’t imagine that he had ever struggled with his weight.  Then I read his story and it was amazing to hear how he transformed himself.  Here is exactly how he did it…

Name: Michael Hickman Jr

Age: 36

Occupation: Corrections Officer at county jail

All Time High Weight: 310

Current weight: 219

Total weight lost: 81

When did you begin your weight loss journey?  January 2009

How long have you kept it off? It’s a work in progress. I’m working on another 20, to get to 200, but however long it takes.

Mike in December 2008

How was it that you decided to lose the weight?  Was there a defining moment, a turning point, an A-HA moment? The pic that my wife took of me from Christmas 2008 is on my fridge as a daily reminder. When I first saw that, I had enough! I saw that diabetes ran in the family, on both sides, and I knew I didn’t want to take meds for that or high blood pressure. I was already borderline at 140/80. My BP the other day: 128/76!

How did you lose the weight?  Tell us about your diet and exercise regimen.  I found LoseIt! for the iPhone which allowed me to keep track of my calories and I used that until May of this year. That’s when my wife got an Android phone and wanted to track her calories and LoseIt! was not available on that platform, so we’re both using MyFitnessPal. All that to say, I counted, and continue to count calories. At first I went to the gym to lift weights, but I could never get into a routine. By April, I started running on the treadmill and by June I was running outdoors. After an “angry” run (you know the type where you’re pissed off at the world and by the time you’re done, all is right?), I was hooked. I ran a 5K in September, another in April ’10 then a 10 mile race through Philadelphia and a half marathon in May. The only race since then was a marathon in March of this year. After that I gained almost 10 lbs from eating like I was still training and not running much for over a month due to soreness in my right foot. I’ve since been on a #runstreak (challenge on Twitter where you run at least 1 mile a day for as many days as you can) and the weight is starting to move again.  Oh, and my wife has lost over 25 pounds since May using My Fitness Pal and using the treadmill 5 days/week. She also ran 2.5 miles with me the other day in about 33 minutes.  I’m so proud of her!

Who was the most influential person to you during the process of losing weight? The person who affected, motivated, inspired, and supported you the most? My wife supported me most, but I drew inspiration from coworkers, Biggest Loser and other friends.  John Deehan (@jdee84 on Twitter) and I went to the academy together. He’s been an “exercise expert” to me since we met. I will occasionally ask him questions or for input and he helps me out. He also breaks my stones from time to time, but it’s all good. For example, last year we had some coworkers taking a shot of something (Phen-something) and high doses of Vitamin B and they were dropping weight like crazy. I asked John if I should take a fat burner or something, because I was getting disheartened by my hard work with slow losses. He told me to keep doing what I was doing, and sure enough, I reached my initial goal of 70 pounds. Unfortunately, the shots only last so long for the others. I commend them for trying, however real change only comes when you have that AH-HA moment! I pray for them that it doesn’t take a heart attack or worse.

In your past, had you ever lost weight and then gained it back?  If so, how was this time different? In high school, I was 230. I got down to 205 to join the US Marine Corps. Out of boot camp, I was a strapping 179. I felt good. But smoking and only physical training when I was made to, put the weight back on quick. I was 215 by the time I got out 4 years later. The difference this time is I want to workout and I don’t smoke anymore.

It’s easy to let your diet drift or slowly stop exercising. What do you find to be the key to STICKING TO IT? Well, I started a #runstreak and my plan is to do that for the rest of my life. Now, should I get an injury, I WILL find something else to keep busy. I also plan on eventually making weight training part of my weekly regimen, I just have to get serious about it. As for the diet, I don’t feel good overeating anymore (did it the other day at work with pizza and wings) so I’ll continue to count my calories and make wise choices on what I eat. But don’t get me wrong, I still love to eat chocolate, I just don’t eat as much, or I’ll skip it for a few days to get back on track.

Mike in 2011

 Just starting off, losing weight is hard.  Tell us, did it get easier or harder for you over time? I seem to plateau every 10-20 pound loss and I can’t seem to find what kick starts the next drop. My whole concern from the beginning was a life change, not a diet. A diet is what your daily food intake consists of, not a meal plan. My diet is water, meats (chicken, pork and beef), whole wheat breads, dairy, pasta, salads, sweets and an occasional piece of fruit. Not exactly the best, but no soda since Christmas of 2010, and all the bad stuff in moderation while counting my calories. I rarely go over my allotment which is currently 2100/day. When I exercise and burn, say, 500 calories, I also refuel on those spent calories. I found in the past that if I counted those as a loss, the next day I would eat double that, totally negating the work I did. Oh, and the 2100 is based on me losing 1 lb/week with a lightly active calorie expenditure (my Basal Metabolic Rate) through MyFitnessPal.

What is the hardest part for you now? That last 20 pounds! No, like I said before, it’s a life change, so it’ll happen when it happens. But if I can do it before my cruise in January, it would be fantastic!!!

If you could tell your former self anything, knowing what you know now, what would you say? I already knew what I needed to do. I was a Marine! But if I could say anything, it would be “Get off your butt and do something!”. It doesn’t need to be running. It could be any type of cardio. Just do it more than once a month!

Do you worry about gaining weight back? I think about it. I wonder if I get a serious injury if I’m going to be set back. But I also can’t worry too much on the “what ifs”. I have enough of them in my life.

How do you prevent yourself from gaining it back? Like Dory said in Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”. I’m going to just keep moving. 15-20 minutes a day. Sometimes an hour or more.

What is different (if anything) about your life now that you have lost the weight? Clothes fit and I can wear nicer clothes. My wife can hug me all the way around. I don’t get out of breath with minimal effort. I feel better about me.

If we want to follow you, where do we find you?

And I’m new to blogging

Thanks Mike!  I love the Dory quote.  It quite simply makes the point that if you just keep going, you will get there.  Great advice for the weight loss journey as well as any other journey in life.

By the way, I checked Mike’s Daily Mile page… he has run 1 mile or more for 139 days straight and counting.  Unbelievable!  Keep trucking Mike, we are behind you!

Mike works as a corrections officer and lives with his family in Williamstown, NJ.

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