The Sandwich Walker: One Man’s 100-Pound “Active Helping” Quest

Ben Pobjoy doesn’t look back fondly on his 20s. Today, he calls them a “decade of destruction” that led him down a road of inactivity and poor eating. By the time he was 32, he was 100 pounds overweight, tired and unhappy with his lifestyle.

“I was the poster boy for being out of shape,” he says. “I couldn’t even walk up the stairs
without getting really out of breath.”

When he moved to Toronto in 2014 to start a new job with an advertising agency, he had an unpleasant epiphany: He was the unhealthy, overweight guy in the office.

“As soon as I showed up and I was surrounded with all of these healthy colleagues, I was faced with [a] stark contrast,” he says. “It was the last little kick in the butt I needed to make a change.”

The question was, how?

Two years ago, he heard Joe Rogan’s interview with biomechanist Katy Bowman, who encouraged listeners to simply get out and move — more specifically, to walk. So Pobjoy laced up his sneakers and started putting one foot in front of the other — first the couple of miles to and from work and soon to dinner, to run errands and to make social calls.

While he’d made plenty of half-hearted attempts to join gyms and start various fitness
programs over the years, he found that walking was something to which he could actually stick.

“Since I had failed so many times,” he explains, “I wanted to choose something that was very slow and sustainable.”


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In addition to tracking his walks — which eventually hit more than 60 miles a week — he began to use MyFitnessPal to get a better grip on his eating and the types of nutrients he took in each day. He’d long been what he calls a “French fries and potato chips” vegan, so tracking his nutrition and seeing what he was actually putting in his body helped motivate him to clean up his diet.

Soon, the weight began to fall off. But his biggest motivator to continue walking had nothing to do with health and fitness. Rather, it was as he puts it, “about converting physical movement to social movement.”

On a business trip in August 2015, Pobjoy took a walk through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area of the city that is known for poverty, homelessness and crime.

“The drugs, the garbage everywhere, it was so depressing and unfathomable to me that this could exist in such an affluent city,” he says.

The next day, he bought supplies to make peanut butter sandwiches, and, soon after, he hit the street and began handing them out to those in need. That, he says, was his light-bulb moment.

“I realized that exercise is quite a selfish thing, and the irony wasn’t lost on me that I was blazing through a pair of shoes each month while passing people who didn’t have shoes,” he remembers. “I thought that there must be something I could do.”

For the remainder of that year, Pobjoy brought sandwiches with him everywhere he walked. By the end of 2015, he had walked 3,600 miles and handed out a whopping 1,000 sandwiches. Last year, he walked thousands more miles and added in boxing and swimming. All told, he dropped 100 pounds.

In addition to handing out sandwiches, he started fundraising via ultra-long walking challenges. Last summer, he completed an 85-kilometer walk in Tokyo to raise money for cats and dogs left behind in the evacuation zone after the disastrous 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In September, he walked 77 miles from Toronto to Buffalo, New York, to raise money for a transitional housing program for LGBT youth.

He hopes the next chapter of his unique brand of “active helping” will include fundraising walks on all seven continents. In the meantime, he hopes his story will inspire others who might be struggling with achieving a healthy lifestyle.

“I never would have imagined what getting healthy would give me,” he says. “Most people aren’t aware how quickly they can transform their lives and work towards a better self. But more than feeling strong and healthy, it’s given me the chance to increase my empathy and reconnect with my humanity.”

Do you or a loved one have a personal Success Story you’d like to share? Let us know on our Facebook page, hit us up on Twitter or tag #MyFitnessPal on your Instagram posts. We’d love to feature it in a future blog post!

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Watching Your Weight When It’s Your Job to Drink: Lew’s Quest

How do you lose weight when you just have to drink?

Drinking isn’t a craving for me — it’s literally something I do to survive.

My name is Lew Bryson. For two decades, I’ve written professionally about beer and whiskey. I taste them, travel from my home in the Philadelphia suburbs to where they’re made and discover what makes them different, and I pair them with different foods. Then I write about that for websites like The Daily Beast and The Whiskey Wash, Whisky magazine and in several books I’ve written, the latest being Tasting Whiskey.

Even when work’s over, there’s still drinking. Folks in this business don’t trust a guy who doesn’t drink with them, so… we drink.

That may sound like a sweet gig, but it has its downsides. One of the biggest is the fatness of it all. Craft beers start at 130 calories per serving, while whiskeys are about 70 per ounce. The foods that usually get paired with both — German and Kentucky fare, for instance — isn’t exactly what you’d call light. Sampling, even with quarter-size portions, adds up.

Sometimes it gets out of hand, like when I traveled to the Czech Republic to visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery. After beers with the brewmaster in the old sandstone cellars, we went out for steaks — huge steaks, just under a kilo each. And after three pilsners, I was convinced I had to eat the entire thing. It wasn’t an isolated event, either; the next day I had another, laughing all the way. I was Falstaff — life was great.

“Without drinking, I lost weight quickly that first month. But I couldn’t keep it up. I had to work! How do you fit drinking into weight loss?”

Long story short, I gained 90 pounds over six years. At age 57, I was at my heaviest ever, and I wasn’t getting any younger. The job wasn’t any easier, either: There usually aren’t elevators in distilleries. Enough was enough. I started using MyFitnessPal because my wife and my daughter had picked it up. And for the first month, I pretty much stopped drinking because I saw how it tipped the scales.

That was strange, not because of cravings but because my social life was fully engaged with bars and breweries and distilleries, and people asked why I wasn’t out there. Because I was initially embarrassed by my need to lose weight, I made some dumb excuses.

Without drinking, I lost weight quickly that first month. But I couldn’t keep it up. I had to work! How do you fit drinking into weight loss? Beer calories largely come from alcohol and sugars. I focused on lower-alcohol and relatively dry beers, and luckily, a current trend in craft beer is exactly that: session beers. Whiskey was easy; I took it neat or with a bit of water, keeping it as plain as possible, which didn’t hurt the reviewing at all.

Food also had to give, and I adjusted those choices and exercise around days when work called for drink. When the Craft Beer Conference came to Philly this past May, I went vegetarian, walked all over the city and still drank freely. I lost a pound that week and learned that I could back off the meat and still eat well. Food choices get hard sometimes if I have a few too many beers, because inhibitions get loosened; sure, I’m going to have that slider and some more glazed salmon — it’s OK. Only it’s not, so I force myself to track as I go, and if people ask what I’m doing, I tell them.

It was working. As I lost more weight, I was able to get back on my bike and hit the local trails, sometimes going 30 miles a day. By June, I was able to do 40 miles on the Pine Creek Trail in central Pennsylvania with my son, breaking for a lunch of crabcakes and one well-earned beer. That was a good day, one I could hold in memory as a reward.

I’ve lost 50 pounds in six months. The holidays are here, but my wife and I are planning the menus and planning activities into the day: stationary bike in the mornings and long walks with the dogs after dinner. Drinking fits in, but now I plan how many for the day and stick to that.

My goal’s still far off, and I’m still heavy for now, but now I know I can change that without a career change. Fitting in the beer and whiskey takes a little more work and thought. It’s all numbers and choices — you have to flex them until they fit.

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