Transformations

My Competitive Side Helped Me Get Sober and Lose 125 Pounds

It started with getting my ass kicked in a spin class.

Mike Zimmerman

Erik Koyne

What happened to Erik Coyne happens to a lot of people: High school athlete, joins the military, is young and in great shape. And then adulthood sets in. "When you're in high school you can play sports for hours a day," he says. "When you're an adult, not so much." The weight sneaks up, the number on the scale creeps higher. But for him, "creeping" became "soaring" and by the time he turned 30, he was 6'0," 325 pounds, and a regular at the local bars. "You know when your dog gets all fired up and annoys the hell out of you? That was me drinking," he says.

The trick became finding the will to change—and to continue what would become a full-on reinvention project. Coyne's secret weapon: Harnessing his own competitive nature. We asked him how he tapped into it.

So tell us about the guy in the "before" picture.
[Laughs] That picture is from about three years ago, one of the last times I was out at a bar before I got sober. Before the before picture, I had been in shape. I was in the army and when I got out I found myself drifting, going out drinking on the weekends. That kind of "getting soft" carried over into my adult life working in IT—behind a desk, very stagnant, very sedentary. But yeah, that picture's one of those 1 am, end-of-the-night, your friend pulls out a phone and says, "Let's get a picture." Of course you don't say no when you're like, "I look GREAT right now." Yeah—with the beard, the beer dribble down my shirt.

Do late-night drunk photos make one quit drinking?
This one helped [laughs]. I had my last drink in January of 2014. I remember because I went back to that bar at noon the day after I'd been there all night. I had a couple beers, but I was saying, "I can't be like this." And the owner of the bar was like, "Yeah, you should probably stop." When the people who monetarily benefit from your drinking say you should quit, it's time.

Okay, so you're 325 pounds and you quit drinking. Was that like throwing the gauntlet down on yourself? Accepting a challenge?
Yeah, the sobriety kicked all that off. It was about six months to a year before I started working out at all. If left to my own fitness devices, I would just lift. I was a football player in high school, I've always had the frame for it, but one of my goals was to be able to run. When you're 300-plus pounds, running seems like a fairy tale. It'll kill your joints. So I started with a spin class with my girlfriend. And totally got my ass kicked by her and a bunch of little old ladies. That's when my competitive side really took over.

Little old ladies do bring out the best in us.
Oh god, that spin class absolutely beat me into the ground. They didn't even break a sweat and I was dying. My girlfriend is the least competitive person, but I am so, so competitive. So I let that drive me. We started doing the spin class once or twice a week. Then I would then go on my own and hit a stationary bike for like 45 minutes on the days in between so I would be able to keep up. I couldn't stand that these little old ladies and my girlfriend were like "this is nice" afterwards while I was bowlegged and staggering.

So it started like that. Then we picked up a yoga class once a week. Again, I made it a competition for myself: Touch my toes. For a lot of guys, the achievement of being able to touch your toes is like, "I'm a gymnast now. I can do anything." So that was super helpful for overall fitness.

Did you have a hard time taking the weight off?
The upside of weighing more than 300 pounds is when you first start working out and hitting it from a couple sides, things happen fast. The not-drinking did a lot to curb eating mindless junk calories late at night. You know, the 2 am last call pizza.

I'm familiar with it.
So by cutting out the booze I kind of accidentally started eating healthier. That really ramped things up and some weeks I was losing six or eight pounds. I used Google Fit just to map my weight over the weeks. I tried a food journal, too, but what really ended up helping was when my girlfriend and I started doing meal prep Sundays. Crock pot recipes where we could cook a week's worth of food.

So the first landmarks were 270 and 250. Those were big ones because I set a goal weight of between 225 and 235. I figured if I get there I'll look good and be happy and feel healthy. So it was about a two-year process for all that weight coming off, and last summer I hit 235. So I was like, "All right, this is good, but I don't think this is it yet. I'm 6'0" so I can be lower than this. I can keep going."

So in the next six months I lost another 20 pounds. And then a coworker was like, "I just started intermittent fasting, I bet I can beat you to 200 pounds." A competition, I'm in! And he did beat me, but that gave me new motivation to get there.

The difficult thing about losing weight and transforming your body is that a lot of people get results but then can't keep the weight off. They need that spark to maintain what they've achieved. You tap your competitive nature to keep going.
My competitive nature is absolutely what motivates me. Harnessing your competitive nature can be your way in. It leads you to challenge yourself. I mean, I was stoked and all that focus started in spin classes and yoga and upping my flexibility, being kinder to my joints, and then I lost weight and felt better and that led to a feeling like, "Now I'm going to kick my body's ass." So I signed up for an 8-mile Spartan Beast race.

And that would explain the "after" picture?
That was right after that race up and down a ski slope. I trained for it by running, which was a stupid idea. I should've been doing stadium steps the whole time. All the things you don't want to happen to you in a long race happened. I cramped up and looked bad enough that people on the side of the course offered me gel packs. But this was the kind of thing that feeds itself: You get a little taste of it and you want more. So yeah, the competitiveness: Only a little all the time forever always.

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Lede image: Erik Koyne

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