How I Traded My Dad Bod for a Rad Bod

Read this story for tips on how to get fit and start turning heads

Mark Heidelberger
7 min readJan 11, 2021

For all of my childhood and most of my young adult life, I was wiry, active and rail thin, with seven percent body fat and the appetite of a starving goat. And then I hit 29 and my metabolism, like a petulant teenager, flicked me the finger and said, “I’m outta here.” Like a cocky parent, at first, I thought, “You’ll be back.” Boy, was I wrong. Over the next eight years, I ballooned from a lean and mean 175 pounds to a not-so-lean and definitely-not-mean 232 pounds, transforming an otherwise tall, statuesque six-foot frame into something that looked more like a turnip with legs.

With my wife in Costa Rica shortly before I started getting fit (2017)
With my wife in Costa Rica shortly before I started getting fit (Image by Author, Aug 2017)

It wasn’t like I suddenly started eating more, nor did my lifestyle get any less active. I just hit a wall. A big fat wall that was even bigger than me. It was called “my 30’s.” I had trouble bending over to tie my shoes. I’d get winded going up two flights of stairs. I’d feel the nasty rolls in my stomach as I curled up in bed each night. I had a dad bod and it wasn’t going to get any better unless I did something about it. I had to take action.

Well… I did. In just a couple short years, I turned things around, all with the lofty dream that I might one day stare into the mirror and see that BMI-blessed, 22-year-old UCSB student I used to know staring back at me. After a few key changes, my metabolism eventually came crawling back, hat in hand, head hung low, promising to do better. I ultimately managed to trim down to a slender but toned 185 pounds (and counting). How did I do it? Well, that’s the fun part.

After completing a brief workout session (Aug 2020)
After upping my fitness and dietary game (Image by Author, Aug 2020)

Plan, Plan, Plan

Dieting is too tough to “wing it.” I realized I had to write down exactly what I was going to start and stop eating, what type of exercise I was going to do and when, how much weight I wanted to lose, and when I wanted to lose it by. I researched healthy eating online and discussed my goals with a knowledgeable nutritionist/fitness expert I knew. In no time, I had a written meal plan detailing my breakfast, lunch and dinner each week, which I promptly stuck to the refrigerator door, and a regular workout routine that was likely to get me much closer to my ideal weight. I also made sure it fit my schedule and provided a measurable yardstick for success.

Find an Ally

I’m not actually a dad despite the formerly stubborn dad bod, but I am married, and I knew one of the biggest obstacles to a successful weight loss plan would be watching my wife shovel down plates full of taboo goodies while I was forced to watch helplessly from a bed of kale and quinoa. So, I recruited her into this mad quest. She had a few extra pounds she could afford to lose and it would make the whole exercise more productive if we could shop together, cook together and eat together. We would simultaneously become each other’s cheerleaders and teammates.

I had to practice eating slower so my mind and stomach were in sync.

Portion Control

The number one factor in this grand plan — one that I can’t stress enough — was my need to practice the elusive art of portion control. I used to eat until I was utterly stuffed. Like “stick a fork in me, I’m about to explode” stuffed. I had to practice eating slower so my mind and stomach were in sync. I learned to say uncle when I was content even though I technically could eat more. I found it was better to leave my body wanting just a little bit. Funny thing, though, is the more I did this, the faster I got full. My stomach was actually shrinking. I was getting used to eating smaller portions, so smaller became the new normal.

Cut Out Processed Sweets

I’ve never really had a sweet tooth, but I did have an unnatural addiction to Pepsi. I could drink three before bed and still be fast asleep before my face hit the pillow. As any recovering sodaholic will admit, quitting soda alone will lead to weight loss. But I cut out cakes, cookies, ice cream, candy bars, and just about anything with a high sugar content. I stopped adding sugar to my Corn Flakes and replaced sugary juices with filtered water. I even cut back on fruit (fructose is still sugar), limiting it to a few mornings a week. Sugar would just turn to fat in my body, so I cut that fat off at the source.

Cut Out Starchy Carbs

In the earlier stages of this new diet plan, I continued eating starchy carbs like bread, pasta, noodles and rice. I dropped weight, but not enough to hit my goals. Starchy carbs — damn, that was going to be a tough one. But eventually, I found ways to replace these things with surrogate foods or eliminate them altogether. I could do tuna salad inside an avocado instead of on whole wheat. Why not? I like avocados. I could do noodles made from veggies. After all, I can’t tell a difference once it’s all drenched in tomato sauce. While I cut out some stuff I enjoyed, I replaced it with other stuff I enjoyed.

While I found diet was a greater factor in losing weight than exercise was, the right workout ensured fat reduction was accompanied by some nicely toned muscles.

Ratchet Up the Workouts

I’ve always worked out, but I had stopped breaking a sweat years ago. I realized that my power walks in the park had become a stroll. My bike rides had become a leisurely morning tour of the neighborhood. I needed to get my heart rate up. I needed to push myself. I started hiking in the hills with an occasional sprint up inclines, while bike rides went longer on harder gears. Even Sunday morning tennis with my buddies got more intense. Muscles I forgot I had became just sore enough to let me know I was doing something right. While I found diet was a greater factor in losing weight than exercise was, the right workout ensured fat reduction was accompanied by some nicely toned muscles.

Reduce Fatty Meats

I’m an avid meat-lover for the taste and the abundance of protein. But I found certain meats like steak and pork products had an abundance of fat that was anathema to my weight loss goals. Sure, fat is a great source of energy, but I wanted to burn the fat that my body had already stored up, not the fat in the meat. God knows I had enough in my body to go around. So instead, I focused on recipes that included leaner meats like chicken, turkey and fish.

Meal Replacement

My nutritionist friend pushed into my skull the importance of regulating my metabolism by eating several smaller meals throughout the day. However, my schedule didn’t really allow me the time to eat three squares let alone six, so I worked into my routine a meal replacement shake that was portable, filled me up, and provided the nutrients I needed on a low-calorie basis. (I like Herbalife Café Latte or Dutch Chocolate, personally.) I found that a shake for either breakfast or lunch and two square meals was a perfect fit for my lifestyle.

Cheat meals are not only good for you psychologically, but physically as well.

Cheat Days

I think it would have been pretty difficult to do all this if I never thought I’d be able to eat pizza or ice cream again. So, I worked in cheat days. Every two weeks that I stay faithful to my diet regiment, I earn a full day when I can eat any food I want. (If two weeks seems too much, I suggest doing one cheat meal every week.) Apparently, cheat meals are not only good for you psychologically, but physically as well since they shock your metabolism into high gear — a metabolism that has otherwise slowed down to conserve energy as your calorie intake decreases.

Make It a Lifestyle

Losing weight is actually the easy part; keeping it off is the hard part. I know I keep calling this a “diet,” but when getting in shape really became easier is when I stopped seeing it as a diet and started viewing it as a lifestyle. I actually started enjoying it. It was something I could see myself doing for the long term. I rode the momentum, gaining more confidence as I saw the results take hold. When friends asked me how I was able to stay so disciplined, all as they inhaled their BBQ beef sliders or mac-and-cheese, I simply told them, “Looking and feeling this good is better than your food tastes.” Trust me, it’s true. Plus, I didn’t bother to tell them about cheat day.

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Mark Heidelberger

Mark Heidelberger has been writing professionally for 12 years, with over 1,200 articles published across a variety of respected print and online platforms.