The bulge & the badge

0230 hours: I walked northbound on North Main Street in Freeport, N.Y., with a black hooded sweatshirt over my head, my tan Timbs, a black ski mask, and a Marlboro Light cigarette in my hand, which was more than just a prop. I wore an earphone leading to my police radio, and on my side, a Sig Sauer-P226 9mm pistol. I walked toward the target corner and stopped to lean against a light pole. I looked to my right and saw the "pumpers" looking at me. I was still probably 100 feet or more from the corner. For a minute they must've thought that this could be po-po, but nah ... not this huge guy. I was probably just another guy looking for action. In actuality, I was a 5-foot 8-inch, 325-pound, plain-clothes police officer working the street crime unit in Freeport. This was one of many buy-and-bust operations with the Community Response Unit.

Our buyer walked up and made the deal. 

We had three cars in strategic position to make the grab, and I was acting as perimeter support. Well, the signal hat came off, the lights came on and the bad guys started running. The young male ran straight toward me, a pack of Newports and "Old English" flying everywhere. He struggled to hold his pants up with one hand, and with the other, reached into his pants pocket. One of my buddies hopped out of the unmarked and gave chase, as the 18 year old threw a paper bag containing 30 or so nickel bags of weed over the fence to his left. He then continued to run straight at me with not a clue that I was waiting. Just as he was about to pass me, I said the words "stop, police" and then I promptly put the Lawrence Taylor on him.

For an old defensive lineman, it was a beautiful tackle. A little higher than my coach would've liked, but complete, nevertheless. Another bad guy off the streets right now on his face struggling to regain that breath I just knocked out of him. "Breathe dude, breathe ... and put your hands behind your back. You're under arrest." (Got 'em!)

I thought I was a good cop, even though I weighed more than 300 pounds. I used to say that I could do everything a thin guy could do except go over fences easily. I was (and am) a good cop ... but I was a ticking time bomb.

True that I had excellent communication skills, and usually prided myself on being able to gain a good rapport with just about anybody. But the problem was that I could drop dead of a stroke or heart attack any minute, and if it happened when I was fighting with a bad guy, he'd have my gun and my friends would be dead.

Another thing I thought about was that if I was chasing a guy with my partner and I couldn't keep up, and because of that, my partner got hurt or killed, then that would directly be my fault. That would be on me, forever. This is not the way a police officer is supposed to be. Nor is it the way a fireman, as I was at the time, should be either. 

I am an active guy. I am also a Boy Scout leader, and a three-sport coach. I was so active that people used to say to me that with all I do and as busy as I am, they were surprised I wasn't skinny. Here's the problem people: I'm addicted to food.

I have stress. I have bills, I have kids, I have sometimes had stress in my relationship with my wife, and with other members of my family, just like most people in the world. Some of us just find it easier to find comfort and stress relief in eating, just as other find comfort in drugs, booze, sex, sleep or any  of the varieties of addictive behaviors that people talk about. Sure I can say that my genetics are bad and that I have slow metabolism, too. Anybody who watched season four of NBC's hit reality TV show "The Biggest Loser" will remember that I went on that show with my twin brother Bill, who went on to win the show, gaining the title of "The Biggest Loser." I also won a title that season: I was At-Home Champion.

Bill and I were very vocal about the fact that we have obesity in our family and that our dad had suffered from several obesity-related illnesses and problems including diabetes, hypertension, phlebitis, high cholesterol, and gout, and eventually died from esophageal cancer, smoking until the very end.

Another thing that a lot of you will relate to: I do everything pretty well in my life. I'm a pretty good golfer and a pretty good bowler. I play a lot of pool, and racquetball, and hike and camp with my scouts. I would exercise, hitting the weights but was actually annoyed by all the fit people who would spend all day on the treadmill. After all, if I was fit like that, then I'd be on that treadmill too. After all, when I started on the "Biggest Loser," my bench press was close to 400 pounds. But wait a minute; I weighed 361 pounds. 361! Holy crap! What the hell is wrong with you Jim? How do you go from a 210-pound college lacrosse player, to a 361-pound walking time bomb?

Sound familiar? We all know what I'm about to say: If I was the one on that damn treadmill, then I'd be the fit guy that all the fat weightlifter guys hated. Right?

Really? Really.

It was a Tuesday night and "The Biggest Loser" was on, and I sat on my couch with a bag of chips and some soda, and thought to myself how lucky these people were, to have gotten on that show where they could enjoy a controlled environment, where someone is telling them exactly what to eat, how and when to train, and when to sleep. I thought to myself that if I could just get myself on a program for six solid months, train and diet every day, that I could get my health and fitness back. Little did I know that it was much easier than all that, and that it's possible for anyone. All it takes is just a little research, a little planning and a lot of sweat. Believe me when I tell you that if I could do it — and I did, maintaining a XX-pound weight loss X years later — then anybody can.

So that's how I found myself out to the Biggest Loser Ranch. I had no phone, no TV, no computer, no kids and no work. And yes, I had Jillian Michaels beating me up every day. (And yes, she is definitely as hot in person as she is on TV. Yes girls, so is Bob.)

I want to remind all of you that although it's true that my brother Bill stayed on the ranch for 17 weeks and became a finalist, subsequently winning the title of "The Biggest Loser," that I was eliminated from the ranch after only five weeks but still managed to become the At-Home Champion, losing 186 pounds and 51.5 percent of my body weight in eight months.

Of this weight, I managed to lose 133 pounds if it in six months while at home, while I was working 12-hour night shifts with the Freeport Police Department. I was no longer a plain clothes cop, losing that opportunity to my weight and declining health. My supervisors felt that I was becoming a liability to the team and asked me to return to patrol.

How did I lose weight while working a regular schedule, still coaching the kids, cleaning the pool, and  cutting the grass? I'll tell you how: "I planned my work, and I worked my plan." (Credit Margaret Thatcher for the quote). I busted my ass and I was well prepared. I never realized how unprepared I was before. Now that I've accomplished my fitness goals, I realize what gave me the ability to prepare myself was a simple re-education. And I'm going to tell you how you can become re-educated too.

In the last two years, I've traveled around the country with my brother, making appearances to talk about our experiences and health and wellness in general. Our company name is Weight Loss Twins LLC, and our team motto is "No More Excuses." We have vowed to pay it forward by sharing our re-education and experiences, but it's also nice to be able to pay a few bills at the same time. After all, health and wellness is a $10 billion a year business in this country , and if we can make a business out of making other people happy, fit and healthy, then who's got it better than me, right?

That being said, when we are out across the country, the questions and comments are always the same. "If I was on the ranch I could do it too;" "I've tried everything;" "I have no time to workout;" "I'm too big to exercise;" "I can't do it without a trainer;""I need your help;" "I'm going to get gastric bypass surgery;"and many, many more excuses. I have just a few things to say that will dispel all these "excuses."

Weight loss is nothing more than simple math. The same way 2+2=4 and always will, weight loss is as easy as burning more calories than you consume. That's it. Of course there are other things involved too, but it all comes back to what you put in your mouth. There are food journals, and cardio training. Nutritionists and psychologists. There are doctors and blood tests. There's organic vs. non-organic. There's personal trainers and terminology such as "resting metabolic rate." We remind people that we are not personal trainers, nor are we weight loss professionals, but we are weight loss champs. Just look at the numbers. Bill and I managed to shed 350 pounds combined in 32 weeks (8 months), but before hitting the gym or grilling the chicken, there were a few steps we had to take that all of you should take, too.

First off, remember that there are going to be "haters". People that want you to fail, or try to tell you that improving yourself, or trying to make drastic changes in yourself is selfish. Well you know what, they are right. You have to be selfish, and you have to think of yourself as the most important person, especially if you have a family who wants you to stick around for a while. I'm sure if you ask your spouse or your kids if it would be OK for you to take 2 hours out of your day to exercise and get healthy, then I'm sure you won't run into much resistance, if any. Put yourself first now and everybody will benefit later. I want to see my kids have kids. I want to travel the world with my wife, and I want to enjoy my retirement. Think about it for a second: We all know somebody in our life that couldn't do these things, my father included. How was their health? How was their fitness?

We aren't speaking about other unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking. Right now let's concentrate on just getting started. I think back to that riddle; "How do you eat an elephant?" One bite at a time. Now let's get to work. This is going to be quick and easy to understand. This whole process starts with you. Look into the mirror, and talk to that person looking back. Tell yourself that you've been unhealthy long enough. Tell yourself that you want to live. Tell yourself that you want to feel good, to look good, to be healthy. I'm not going to cover every bit of what we learned and how we trained, but I want to cover some basics.

Start by seeing your doctor. Whether you have to lose 15 pounds or 215 pounds, it's still important to start with your doctor. Find out exactly what your health issues are and whether or not you are healthy enough to exercise at all. Have your doctor suggest a diet and exercise program, and monitor your progress. Your doctor can give you a physical and advise you of your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc. Then have your doctor give you the necessary referrals to a psychologist and a nutritionist. These specialists are usually covered by your health insurance. It's very important to see the psychologist to discuss what your underlying issues are; why are you in the physical condition that you are in? How does one get to be 350 pounds, when as reasonable and intelligent adults, we know that it's not healthy? The nutritionist will help you learn what foods are good, and why.

Next is to find out what your resting metabolic rate is (RMR). The RMR tells you how many calories you are burning every day, not including how many you burn during exercise. You can search online for an RMR calculator, punch in some of your measurements and height and age to get an approximate number, but your doctor can prescribe tests so you can find out the actual number. Once you know how many calories your body is burning every day, you have to keep your calorie intake less than what you're burning.

At the Biggest Loser Ranch we ate in calories approximately 20-percent less than our RMR. In my case I ate 2,000 calories a day from the time that I was 361 pounds, all the way until I weighed approximately 220 pounds when I dropped my calories to 1,800. This is the calorie count I try to maintain still today.

We divided our calorie total up into five meals, and immediately started keeping track on a food journal where everything you eat or drink is recorded (including condiments like ketchup, and little extras like milk in your coffee). I split my calories into five small meals, each containing about 400 calories, and I ate every 3 hours. If I was headed to work for a 12-hour tour, then I would have to do some prep work, because those of you who are police officers or firefighters know that you never know what's going to happen or where you will be every night. For this reason, I brought all my food with me in the patrol car. My goal was to eat as much low calorie food as I could, to fill me up.

Now this takes a little research, and some planning, but here's an example of what I mean: Egg whites. Egg whites have only 15 calories per egg, so you can have 8 egg whites rather than 2 eggs. (The yolks have 65 calories each). Put 8 egg whites on two pieces of "lite" whole wheat bread which are about 60 calories a slice, and there you have a pretty big meal. Combine this with a cup of coffee, and ½ cup of fruit salad, and you have a 350 calorie meal which will fill up just about anybody. You can even butter the toast, but try to use a product like "I can't believe it's not butter" in the spray form, because it has very little fat and calories, as compared to the same product in the tub, which is full of fat emulsifiers which keep it solid in the tub.

Whether it was five zip-lock bags full of chicken and broccoli, a few yogurts, or some cold cuts, I always tried to have something with me. Notice I said that I would take five bags, and not four. This was just in case I got stuck on a case or an arrest. If I was on overtime for a few hours, and I hit that 3-hour mark, then I'd eat again, and by keeping it with my in a small cooler, then I'd be sure to not miss a meal. Now there may be times when you may not have the time to prepare all of your meals, so this is when you really have to work hard to make healthy choices. If the only thing open is a convenience store or a fast food restaurant, then you have to customize your meals. A grilled chicken sandwich, or a salad with chicken would obviously suffice, but make sure that you ask about calorie content. Fast food restaurants in New York are required to give calorie counts now. There's no limit as to what you can eat, as long as you're counting calories. A good breakdown of protein, carbohydrates, and fat calories is 40-30-30 %. But if you can't hit those percentages, then make sure to stay within your calories. A little bag of peanuts or almonds always held me over when I had to grab something quick on the run.

Now let's talk about exercise and how to fit it into your work schedule. I have a couple of basic rules to remind you of. First of all, there are many different resources out there to help you know what to do in the gym, or at home if you can't get to the gym. They include the Biggest Loser Books, Jillian's books including "Winning by Losing", and even the Biggest Loser Fitness game for the "Wii" that shows you many exercises you can do at home. My suggestion is that you get one or more of these resources, and speak to a personal trainer at your local gym or health club about setting you up with a basic plan. One of the things that I learned specifically from Jillian is that fat burning during cardio training only STARTS after 40 minutes of cardio. That's right.... Fat burning only starts after minute 40. Therefore if you have only one hour a day to train, or walk, or jog, then make sure you use every bit of that hour. Here's the breakdown. The first 20 minutes is warm-up. The second 20 minutes works your cardio-vascular system. Only after that do you start burning calories, so what we learned is that you should do at least an hour of cardio a day to maximize your available time, and when you do that hour, it should be at high intensity, which will keep you breathing heavy, and your heart rate elevated. You should do this on an empty stomach. This allows you to start burning fat after 40 minutes, which is stored in the body, rather than burning excess calories from a meal. My cardio training usually involved 1-1 ½ hours a day, twice a day, either before, during, or after work, during which I would walk uphill, at an incline, on the treadmill. 3 miles per hour at a 15 degree incline, was my goal for the entire hour and a half. If I couldn't keep up, I would lower either the incline or the speed. Yes, there came a point in my fitness journey that my body felt good enough to start jogging, and that has resulted in my completing two New York City Marathons, the first of which I finished last year at age 42. In my case, this past thanksgiving (2009) only weeks after completing my second New York City Marathon, I tore my quadriceps tendon in my knee playing in a fun football game with the cops and the firemen in my town. This was our annual "Turkey Bowl" which every year ends up being renamed the "Idiot Bowl" when there's a "Weekend Warrior" (idiot) that gets hurt. This nickname comes directly from the wives of those idiots. LOL. This year, I am that idiot. I wasn't able to train at all for the entire winter, which facilitated my gaining upwards of 30 pounds in 4 months. I also wasn't able to work, and my physical activity was practically nothing, until physical therapy started. I was stressed, and at times, depressed, and although I do not use my injury as an excuse, I do blame it for my inactivity. I gained weight solely because I ate too much while recovering from the injury. Ugh. After all is said and done, now that my rehabilitation had improved my ability to about 95 %, I'm ready to hit the gym and the road again, and have also started my food journaling again too. So back to the drawing board. Remember my friends, that this is life long battle. Don't be mad or annoyed with those guys or girls that can eat anything they want all day long, and still look like toothpicks. That's a blessing that we didn't get. Another thing to remember, it's much easier to be accountable to a partner, and support is important, so try to find a partner who may be struggling as you are. I will be your accountability partner if you can't find anybody else. Remember that I'm out there on the battlefield just like you, and that I'm struggling with my addiction to food just as many of you are. It's strange to talk about food as an addiction, when we, in our profession, often deal with addictions of a much more serious, and often criminal nature. Believe it or not, I found it much easier to quit smoking cigarettes than I find it to give up pretzels. (Hey!!!...You laughing at ME?..). Weird, right?.

Sometimes people ask me about the fact that I've gained a few back, and I remind them that everybody has a "comfort weight", and you just have to find yours. The weight that you can be healthy at, and that you can feel good about yourself at. A weight that you can maintain comfortably with a reasonable amount of effort, but that doesn't stress you out or send you right off the wagon. It's important to remember that everybody's body is different. Your genetics and metabolism will never change, no matter how much weight you lose. If you have very slow metabolism, or bad genetics, which allows you to eat only HALF of what your friends are eating, try to put a positive spin on it, and remember that they have to spend much more money on food than you do! HAHAHA!! And knowing how cheap most cops usually are.... THAT's a GOOD thing.