My Fitness Journey: From Donuts to Dumbbells

Posted by Dustin Zehner on

Any information below should not be taken as medical advice but simply a reflection of my personal fitness journey. 

All my life I’ve struggled with my weight. All of these struggles were no one’s fault but my own. Whether it be from what could be called the SAD (Standard American Diet), or living a sedentary lifestyle and having no sort of physical activity at all throughout the day. 

My sophomore year (2015-16) of college I finally decided it was time for change. My roommate and best friend was into fitness and going to the gym and I joined him. Combined with a good diet, I lost 30 pounds my sophomore year. Once the summer hit it all went down the tubes. Upon returning to school, I lived by myself and had a dining court directly across the street. You can begin to imagine how this story finishes. I gained nearly all the weight back by the end of 2016, all due to a lack of discipline. Looking back it’s very disheartening to work so hard to make a transformation and all that hard work is lost because of laziness, especially when the gym was a 5 minute bike ride away. 

Fast forward to 2018, I graduate college and I’m at 215lbs (for reference I’m 5’ 11”). It definitely helped my case that I walked to most classes and Purdue's campus is very big. If I wasn’t walking to classes, who knows what that number would have gotten to. From 2018 to 2019 I joined a gym and started to workout again and I slowly stopped going. In 2019 I moved, joined another gym, then COVID hit.  I had to stop going because of it and I never went back. 

Fast forward to November 2022, work is continuing to get busier and the sedentary lifestyle really starts to get into full swing. Wake up, work, eat, work, eat, sleep. All on repeat. This got me to 235lbs. Now I was obese and extremely unhealthy.  I would be out of breath walking up the stairs, any sort of activity and I’m sweating, and overall I just feel like a slob. 

I realized that I could not continue to live that lifestyle and if I did I couldn’t imagine the results. So as a New Year’s resolution, I made the choice to begin lifting weights in the basement of my house. Something to at least get me a little bit of activity and begin the process of making a change. Over the first 3 months, I lifted weights 4-5 days a week, watched what I was eating, and lost 17lbs. At this point I bought a new scale to give me actual data on what I was doing instead of just the weight. This is my first measurement.

Although what I was seeing was disheartening, I had the itch to continue. All the red was a MASSIVE bother to me and seeing a metabolic age of 32 when I was 27 can be pretty disappointing. 

January-August I did not do any sort of cardio. By August I’m 203lbs and decide that I’m going to start running. I used to hate running, now I love it.  I’m not fast by any means, but it’s something, like lifting, where I can escape from life for a bit, listen to music, and do some physical activity. Trying out new things that you think you do not like can actually help make working out refreshing. 

I’ve come to understand that and use it as motivation, setting goals is critical (at least for me) to get to the next step. One of my main goals when I started was to get under 200lbs. In October 2023 I achieved that goal. 

Over time I’ve realized that having motivation from others around you with the same goals can help you get to the next level. Ron started his fitness journey in September 2023 and us having the same goal has been a massive motivator for me and I’m very appreciative of that. Dude is a beast. Now we even run races together, and that has been a great time and a continuing motivation to work harder.

By the end of 2023 I got down to 186lbs. Although my goal for the year was to be down 50lbs, 49lbs is nothing to sneeze at. These photos are taken exactly one year apart. Featuring one of my cats. Doesn't she look thrilled? LOL

I rejoined a gym in January 2024 and at the time of writing this blog I’m at 171.6lbs and 16.5% body fat. I am happy and proud that I have been able to do my entire journey all natural. I am now in the gym from anywhere from 90-120 minutes 5-6 days a week. I’ve gone to the gym at least 5 days a week for 35 weeks straight. As it sits right now, here is my current lifting/cardio schedule.

Monday - Chest/Biceps/Triceps - 6 exercises - 5-6 sets each movement.

Tuesday - Back/Shoulders/Cardio - 5 exercises - 5-6 sets each movement. 30 minutes of cardio

Wednesday - Legs/Core - 7 exercises - 4-6 sets each movement.

Thursday - Chest/Biceps/Triceps/Cardio - 6 exercises - 4-6 sets each movement. 30 minutes of cardio

Friday - Back/Shoulders/Core - 8 exercises - 5-6 sets each movement.

Saturday - Cardio - 30-60 minutes depending on how my body feels

Sunday - Rest

Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned or things I wish I would’ve done/known over the past year and 3 months. 

  • What you eat is nearly if not more important than the actual physical activity 
    • I started actually tracking the macros of what I was eating in March of 2024. Although I was making a conscious effort to 1) eat healthier foods and 2) control my portions when I started. I didn’t track calories initially but I’m eating a lot of the same foods and I’ve (more than likely) been at a caloric deficit for over a year (not the smartest move). I don’t think tracking what you’re eating is necessary when you initially start, but making an effort to consume healthier foods is a good place to start. If you want to go deep into the food side of things, look up how most food is processed to get to our table. It may change your mind about what you eat. It’s sad and some things just flat out aren’t good for you. I’ve learned a lot about this recently. Remember SAD, Standard American Diet?
  • Track your progress with a scale that gives you data and take photos of yourself. 
    • I got a new scale about 3 months in and didn’t start taking photos of myself until October of 2023. That is my one big regret with my journey. I can see massive changes from then to now. I can only imagine what that would’ve been like from January 2023 to now. 
  • Learn from others that know more than you. 
    • Over the past 3-4 months I’ve really been spending a good amount of my free time watching wellness educational content on YouTube. This has helped me progress immensely and understand more about what I’m doing at the gym. 
  • You are your own internal motivation to get the work in. 
    • I can’t motivate you to put the work in, your spouse can’t motivate you to put the work in, your family can’t motivate you to put the work in. YOU are the one that has to have the internal motivation to make a change in your life. The lesson is real here. If I would’ve had some sort of internal motivation to put the work in after my sophomore year of college, I wouldn’t have gained all the weight back. 
  • Surround yourself with people that motivate you and have the same goals as you. 
    • In terms of the overall goal to stay committed, having people that motivate you to become better is one of the biggest internal drivers for me. Ron and Chris (the Expert Bowler) have been big motivators for me and my journey. They are also honest with me, which I need. I am getting to the point where I need to start gaining weight to put on lean muscle. They sat me down and said look, you need to start putting on lean muscle and here’s why. So now I’m working to be at a calorie surplus (3000 calories) and putting back on muscle. I’ve lost 16lbs of muscle since I started with a scale that tracked that data. I wish I would’ve not been so aggressive with wanting to lose weight and focused on keeping some of that muscle. 

One thing I will briefly touch on, going back to surrounding people to motivate you, I have this self image of myself in my head overweight and an unhealthy version of me. I still see it to this day because I see myself everyday. The people that motivate you will encourage you and tell you about the positive things you may not see. 

  • Track your progress
    • Use your phone to track the progress of your lifting. Meaning you should be able to see a steady increase or decrease in weight for a particular exercise and make a change when needed. 

This blog is meant to hopefully allow you to find the motivation to put the work in and make healthy and impactful changes in your life. 

Maybe, I’m the only one who can save me. 

1 comment

  • Great story. The tips that you suggest might just be the motivation we all need. Thanks for sharing your story and journey.

    Earl Campbell on

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