My Personal Journey to a Better Life

Real Health in a Real World

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The weight started coming off instantly.  I averaged about ½ lb per day of weight loss.  After 2.5 months of “clean” living I was at an adult-life low of 139 lbs.  That’s over 45 lbs of weight loss!  Almost all the fat was gone.  One thing I didn’t do during this time was work out.  Not once.  I was actually scared that if I broke my muscles down that I would crave meat or something “unhealthy”.  This proved to me that what we put into our body is the most important part of healthy living.  I was consuming easily 60-70% of my calories from whole vegetables.  The rest was the occasional plate of rice or rice noodles and fruit.  Almost all of my health problems disappeared, except for the hemorrhoids.  By this point, it was too late for any dietary or lifestyle intervention to heal them.  Over 10 years of living with horrendous pain had to stop.  I went to a specialist surgeon and had an operation to have them removed.  Thankfully there were no complications and everything worked out perfectly.  To this day I have never had one again and I don’t imagine I will.

This all caught up with me by middle school.  I started to get pretty fat.  From always being one of the smaller kids in elementary school, I hit a growth spurt, but not upwards, rather, outwards.  Luckily, I discovered sports at this point.  I immersed myself in basketball and played this and other sports daily all through high school.  The weight I put on magically came off, and I was a skinny kid again.  But my diet never changed, in fact, it got worse.  As I got older, I had part-time jobs, spending money, and access to vehicles.  I could now stuff my face with whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.  Pizza several times a week, Gatorade was consumed by the gallon, family sized bags of Doritos would disappear in a day.  Although my weight stayed the same, my insides must’ve been rotting away.

I was born in 1979 and am the youngest of 3 children by 10 years.  By the time I rolled around, my parent’s attitude towards raising a child changed dramatically.  While my brother and sister were forced to eat everything that was served to them, I was allowed to pick and choose what I ate.  My sister frequently tells me about a time when she refused to eat her peas.  My mother calmly walked over to her at the dinner table, leaned down and said “if you don’t eat your peas, I’m going to shove them down your throat.”  Whoa!!  Not the same woman I knew!  I on the other hand, was welcome to pour a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles or microwave a hot-dog instead of trying whatever was cooked for us.

From photography, to gardening, to martial arts, to technology and entertainment, we all need to relax and take time to enjoy things that make us happy.  Here are some of my interests.

The second event actually involved my father.  A lifetime of smoking and drinking caught up with him.  He was diagnosed with lung cancer and I got to see the X-ray.  There was a baseball sized tumor in his lungs that frightened me to my core.  I already looked like him, weighed more than him, ate worse than him, and was smoking a pack a day.  Within 2 weeks of that moment I quit smoking.  He was with us long enough to see that I did, and for that I am glad.  But he didn’t last much longer and that was a huge wake-up call.

First, like many have experienced, I saw the picture.   I’m sure many of you know what I mean.  All of a sudden you see yourself in a picture, and have to be told that yes, that is you.   Our eyes and brain have a funny way of deceiving us when we look in a mirror or picture ourselves in our head, but a physical picture?  It is in fact worth a thousand words.  I was, pale, had bags under my eyes, crow’s feet, fat face, indistinguishable jaw line, and my chest pushing against an XL shirt, not in a good way.  I needed a bra.  In this picture, there I was, 25 years old, and I saw my 60 year old father staring back at me.  

Things didn’t get much better after college.  Now I had a full-time job, a steady stream of income and complete freedom.  I ate with reckless abandon.  Lunches at work were 2000 calorie meals on their own; huge burgers, fries and sodas.   Dinners were even larger, multi-course meals always finished off with desert and a couple huge glasses of milk.  The drinking, smoking, and partying were still a staple in my life.  Sports and athletics, sadly, were not.  My weight continued to creep up; several more pounds a year were starting to accumulate.  I maxed out at 205 lbs when I was 25 years old.  Along with the added weight, I was suffering from several health issues that I just thought were going to be part of my life.  Acne, dry itchy skin, sinus problems in the form of congestion and post-nasal drip all day long.  Heartburn on the regular, severe hemorrhoids.  I wasn’t a pretty sight.

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The third and final sign I needed was shortly after he passed away.  I got my second dog, a 6 week old Newfoundland puppy.   I came home from work one day to find that she had destroyed about 2 dozen cookbooks, some older than me.  Covers torn off, pages ripped apart, it was quite a scene.  I was livid.  I threw her outside screaming in anger.  She must have been pretty scared as she took off into the woods.  I didn’t want to lose her so I chased after her, running as fast as I could so she didn’t get too far.  About 100 feet into the chase, I was out of breath, my head felt dizzy, my vision narrowed, my heart was beating out of my chest and I couldn’t breathe.  I stopped, leaned over, and thought “oh my God I’m having a heart attack”.  Luckily I wasn’t, but that wasn’t right.  I’m 25 years old I thought, and I can’t run for more than 10 seconds without almost dying.  With the amount of sports I used to play, this was a sobering realization.

3 things happened in the next year that opened my eyes to what a gluttonous mess I had become.

Guess what happened to my weight?  Nothing!!  It stayed the same, and I even started to see some more muscle.  It eventually went up a couple pounds as I continued to build muscle, but I was able to stay at 143 pounds for almost 2 years after adding meat back into my diet.

Foods you should definitely be eating to those you should avoid at all costs.  Get to know about Protein, good and bad Fats, and how to manage the very tricky Carbohydrate intake.


I kept bouncing up and down for several years, and in 2011 I decided to leave upstate NY for the warmer climate of Charlotte, NC. Shortly after I moved, my weight was in the 180s again and I didn’t feel great on the inside, but I justified some of by saying “you’re in your 30s…”  But that doesn’t have to be the case.

~ John Ryan

The next 3-4 days were the worst I ever felt aside from having mono or the flu virus.  I was going through withdrawal from sugars, breads, milk, caffeine and all the other toxic stuff I was consuming.   My body was also eliminating all the stored up toxins I had built up over 30 plus years of abuse.  On top of that, I didn’t know what to eat.  I would get up, walk the dogs, come back home, and go to bed. I pretty much slept my way through the “illness”.  Once I was feeling better, I started my research.  I looked up recipes, foods I could eat, anything that qualified as vegan.  I ate tons of vegetables I never would have looked at before.  I joined vegan and vegetarian meetup groups, hunted for vegan friendly restaurants, started compiling bookmarks of websites and recipes.

jrPhotography

Thank you for reading my story, I hope it resonates with you, or at least inspires you to check out the rest of my website and maybe even change your lifestyle or someone's you love.

Much later, when my sister was older, she asked our mom about the change in attitude towards me.  She answered “Because he’s our favorite.”  No.  I’m kidding.  She actually told my sister that they just didn’t think it really mattered in the long term.  I don’t really blame her, who wants to deal with a whiny crying kid who won’t eat Brussels sprouts, but is happy and content with Kraft Mac & Cheese and a cherry coke?  Well, let me tell you, it does matter in the long term.  It matters a lot.

This lackadaisical attitude toward my diet might not have been too detrimental if the food available during that time was healthier.  The 80’s and 90’s were the boom of the processed food industry.  We were told everything they were selling us was good for us, or part of a healthy meal, and nutrition information was hard to come by.  There was no internet like there is today. The food pyramid was pushing breads and grains on us, telling us sugar and dairy belonged in our diet, and that fat was the enemy.   I frequently gorged myself on chips and crackers, sodas, ice cream, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches and bagels with margarine and cream cheese.

My college years were a health-disaster.   I was no longer involved in sports, instead choosing drinking, smoking and partying as my extra-curricular activities.  Dining hall food was horrendous, so I searched out other sources as much as possible.  Dominos, vending machines, local sub shops, anything that would deliver to my dorms or apartments.  The weight slowly started to accumulate.  I began college at roughly 150 lbs, I left 5 years later at 180 lbs.

I’ve had a couple set-backs recently.  I was involved in a pretty serious car accident that ruptured a disk in my neck.  I was in agonizing pain for months until I was able to finally have the disk replacement surgery.  During this time of disablement, and the very long recovery process, I slipped into a mild state of depression and made some pretty poor dietary choices.  I wasn’t allowed to work out until about 6 months after the surgery, and even that was very limited.  I couldn’t rejoin my MMA school for a year.  I was having pizza weekends, frequenting Sonic Drive Thru more often than not.  This caught up to me again as my weight crept up.   Even after being cleared to resume normal activities, these habits proved very hard to break.  The “sugar” addiction was in full force.  I could go 2-3 days of eating clean, but then I would break and gorge myself on a sonic burger & fries, and a milkshake.

I immediately did something about it.  I outfitted my garage with workout equipment, weights, exercise bike, heavy bag, mirrors, stereo, carpet, you name it.  I started working out and went on a traditional diet.  On days I worked out, I ate tuna fish sandwiches and Tostito’s. On my off days I ate Kellogg’s Strawberry Corn Flakes in skim milk.  That was it.  Most of the weight came off as it should; I got down into the 160s on my own.  But most of my health problems still existed.  The heartburn was much better now that I wasn’t smoking, but the sinus issues, random bouts of acne, dry skin and hemorrhoids still persisted.

WithorWithoutBacon Copyright 2015

john@withorwithoutbacon.com

Charlotte, NC  United States

I was able to keep the weight off for the most part; although it fluctuated up and down as I couldn’t sustain eating this way.  I tried different things, salads, smoothies, pastas, etc… but I really didn’t know what I was doing.  I even joined a mixed martial arts school in hopes that would help me get to a permanent weight and a figure I would be happy with.  Although it helped tremendously with other aspects of my life, like getting involved in a social sport again, my weight kept bouncing around.  I lacked energy to train as much as I wanted and never got to the point I wanted to physically.

Finally, after a year of these bad decisions, I decided I needed to do something about it again.  I was cruising through Instagram when I saw the post for the upcoming 21 Day Sugar Detox that the author of “Practical Paleo”, Diane Sanfilippo, puts on once a month.  I knew this was a perfect time to get back to my healthy ways.  I immersed myself into the sugar detox.  I cooked almost every day, pulled out recipes I hadn’t looked at in a long time.  I purged my kitchen and filled it with healthy meats and vegetables.  I worked out more often than not.  It was awesome, I kicked the sugar again, kicked the cravings, the hunger pains and bad decisions to the curb.  As of this writing it’s been several months of clean eating, weight is coming down again, I have energy for working out, and finally found the much needed motivation to get this website going.

This set a bad precedent of food choices.  I rarely tried anything new, let alone healthy.  I didn’t know that spinach was a leafy vegetable.  The only fish I ate came out of a can.  Burger King was a weekly dinner option.  My soda to water ratio was easily 6-1, if not worse.  You can see what a poor state my nutritional knowledge was in.

Many of my difficulties with controlling my health and weight began when I was young.  Some may have begun before I was even born!  No, I am not trying to deflect responsibility, but there are some situations that are out of our control, and it takes time and recognition to realize why we are a certain way.

One evening I was cruising through Netflix and I came across 2 documentaries, “Fat Sick and Nearly Dead” and “Forks Over Knives”.  I watched them both in stunned silence.  I had no idea that the food I was eating was actually killing me.  I always thought it was about calories in vs. calories out.  This was so new to me, and I was hooked instantly.  I got up during my movie marathon and threw out 2.5 garbage bags of food from my kitchen.  I dumped out gallons of milk, Gatorade, salad dressings, etc…  By the time I was done my kitchen was almost as empty as when I moved in.  I vowed then and there I was going strict organic vegan.

It took a little while to muster up the courage to add some meat into my diet, but I already was limiting most grains except for rice.  I didn’t really see a lot of differences between what I was doing and what the paleo lifestyle was about other than adding meat, and eliminating soy.  I wasn’t over doing it with soy, but I did drink soy milk and used condiments that had it in it.  I figured after going vegan cold-turkey I could do anything.  So I bought a piece of salmon, a fish I had never eaten before, and cooked it up.  It was amazing!!! How could I have gone this long without eating a real piece of fish?  I slowly implemented meat into my diet as I eliminated the rest of the grains and legumes that I was eating.

All pictures are property of withorwithoutbacon, jrsphotography, or have been used with permission, and may not be copied, printed or published without written consent. 

I kept the vegan lifestyle going for almost a full year.  I eventually started working out again, taking martial arts classes and lifting weights, but I noticed that muscle wasn’t building very much.  I wasn’t as concerned as I was happy with my weight and appearance, but it was a little frustrating.  During this time, I continued to research health and nutrition, and I kept coming across this term “paleo”. I always dismissed it, but finally I had to look into it.  I followed a recipe to its origin on marksdailyapple.com.  Here it was; another revelation.  I spent hours perusing through his website, reading tons of articles, downloading eBooks, looking at recipes.  I followed links to research origins, read papers and studies.  It all made sense.

A collection of recipes and guides to some of my favorite meals, sides and snacks.  Real ingredients, satisfying and healthy. 

DISCLAIMER

Thank you so much for visiting my website!  I hope you enjoy the content I am sharing as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.  If you are like me, you have thrown your hands up several times at all of the conflicting health and nutrition information available to us.  You have struggled with fluctuating weight gain and loss.  You have avoided mirrors, beaches, swimming pools and water parks at one point or another because you hated seeing yourself with your shirt off or in a bikini.  Most of us have been there.  Through a lot of research and experiments, I feel like I finally have control over my diet and body.  I hope my story and information can inspire someone else to make the necessary changes to take control of their life. 

The information on this website is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only.  It is an opinion blog based on personal research and experimentation.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult with a licensed professional healthcare provider before undertaking any diet or lifestyle change.