By his late 30s, Eli Sapharti weighed almost 300 pounds. Every day, he smoked two packs of cigarettes, drank two liters of soda and "ate like crap."
He always resolved to get fit, joining gyms and working out a few times. But then he'd quit because his goals seemed unachievable. Finally, five years ago, he decided to simply cut out soda and walk 15 minutes a day.
Through the years, Sapharti intensified his workouts and finetuned his diet. He lost 110 pounds, and today runs half-marathons. He's been profiled in People magazine and on "Good Morning America," and provides fitness tips at FatBoyFitMan.com.
"I suggest you take weight loss very slowly and review it every week," he says. "Don't set a goal of 'I need to lose 50 pounds by June.' Focus on the week at hand and 'This is what I need to do this week.'
"At the end of the week, congratulate yourself and then move to the next week."
Q: Why do you keep fit?
A: Five years ago, I was far from even thinking to be fit. I weighed almost 300 pounds. Turned my life around at age 38. Started making small changes. I've seen what it's done physically and mentally and what it's done to others to feel good and look good, especially people in the shoes I was in.
I had high blood pressure and was pre-diabetic. And I suffered with severe panic disorder. I can't blame that on obesity, but the truth is after I got fit physically, my mind got fit too. Working out is now my hobby. I have friends who live and die for golf. I live and die for running and to weight train.
Q: How did you become obese?
A: As a child from around third grade, I was always overweight, a fat boy. Never excelled at sports. When I hit puberty in the summer of ninth grade, I went from 5'7" to 5'11", and that growth spurt helped me to get skinny.
I was skinny till I got married at 21 and gained 20 pounds the first year, and then kept gaining. I ate like crap. I was eating ridiculous — a lot of pasta, cheeses, fast food, chips, ice cream, two liters of regular, full-sugared soda a day. But I can't blame the ex-wife because she was a good cook. You just lose a little time and motivation [to be fit while having a family].
Q: What finally pushed you to get fit?
A: In the Miami airport, for some odd reason, a girl told me, "You're really good looking for a big guy." Instead of taking that as a compliment, I heard, "You're fat." And I could barely fit in the seat on the airplane that day. Almost needed to ask for a seat belt extension. That was the breaking point.
I had failed losing weight so many times after joining gyms for New Year's resolutions. Obviously I gained it all back and more. I realized that didn't work. I had to choose something that works for the rest of my life. "I can walk," I thought, so 15 minutes of walking daily popped into my mind. That's how I started.
Q: What's your workout routine?
A: It varies, but I take only one full day off per week, not even playing football with the kids.
Four days a week I do weight lifting and I superset. So let's say I do chest and bi's (biceps), I'll go from bench press to arm curls and then rest 30 seconds. And then I'll do it again, three or four sets. I'll do about four different exercises per body part. I'll do chest and bi's one day, back and shoulders another, and triceps the third day. The fourth day varies, but I don't do legs.
After I weight train, I either fast walk on a treadmill at a high incline for 30 to 40 minutes or go on a step mill where I'll do the fat-burner setting 30 minutes.
The other two days are my run days. My long run is 8 to 9 miles once a week. And then 5 to 7 miles on the other day.
Q: Do you still smoke, or have any other health vices?