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Mark Daroczy has had a seesaw battle with his weight for most of his life, but two years ago it looked like his fight was hopelessly lost.
He weighed 320 pounds, and at age 28, his knees were already beginning to ache from the excess weight he carried. At 6 feet 6 inches tall, Daroczy, a supermarket vendor salesman from the Bronx, N.Y., has never been considered a small man, but he had had previous success against in his battle against the bulge. In college, he was a devoted gym rat, maintaining a workout regimen and keeping his weight between 260 and 275 pounds.
But Daroczy could never find a diet that worked for him. He liked red meats, and he often felt hungry. By New Year's Eve 2000, he had stopped exercising entirely and was heavier than ever. Both Daroczy and his loved ones knew he could look better, and he promised himself he would get back in shape.
"I made a New Year's resolution," Daroczy said. "I got tired of the constant ridicule from my mom and my brother. I could never find a diet that suited me. ... There were little things, too. Like I had always sweated a lot and I learned that was related to my weight."
Accompanied by his younger brother, Chris - who didn't suffer from weight problems and adhered religiously to his own exercise routine - Daroczy returned to the gym and resumed an exercise routine. He modified his diet, reducing the number of carbohydrates he consumed and eliminating soda from his meals. Daroczy's brother was not only his workout partner but also his drill sergeant. He made sure Daroczy stuck to a consistent routine.
"He [Chris] made sure I got up [in the mornings], dragged me out of bed and made me go on days I didn't feel like waking up," Daroczy said.
Today, Daroczy says he is down to a comfortable 235 pounds. His waist, once 52 inches, is now 34 inches. He gives hope to those who think they've been away from the gym too long and are beyond help.
"The No. 1 thing you should do is establish some very specific goals," said personal trainer Jim Karas. "You'd be surprised how many people fail to ask that question. People need to ask themselves why they want to get in shape - whether they want to lose weight, improve their health or relieve back pain. That way, a proper exercise prescription could be determined."
Seeking the Mythical 'Magic Bullet'
After a long layoff from exercise, Karas said, people should make realistic short-term, median and long-term goals. That will help them pace themselves correctly as they get used to exercising again.
Too often, people believe they can pick up where they left off or attempt a too-rigorous regimen when they begin an exercise routine. They think they can immediately start exercising for an hour a day, five or six days out of the week. When their body becomes racked with soreness or they can't complete a regimen, they become discouraged and quit exercising almost as quickly as they began.
"It's almost as if they're trying to make up for lost time," said Joe Downie, an instructor and coach at SparkPeople, a physical fitness advisement company based in Cincinnati. "Just like with anything, it takes time to get back into shape. You have to set a foundation first."
Never Enough Time
Russell Ashton wishes he had time to set a foundation for an exercise regimen. Ashton, a 30-year-old newlywed Connecticut resident who works as a technology manager for General Electric, hasn't exercised regularly in about a year. Although GE has a gym on its facilities for its employees - and Ashton pays a $15 monthly membership fee - he says he hasn't had the time to include a regular workout regimen into his schedule.
The rigors of his job and the intense planning of his wedding became more important than exercise.
"I used to have a routine. I was doing well and exercising, but then I had responsibilities that took greater priority than my health," Ashton said. "There's just never enough time in the day. ... I'd rather do things like play on my Playstation, which gives me more immediate gratification."
Ashton does not eat red meat or smoke or drink alcohol. But he frequently orders fast food and has a love for Crunch-n-Munch, Playstation and board games. He says he has gained at least 10 pounds over the past year - but the weight gain could have been more.
Ashton used to exercise four days a week. He employed a routine that included some running, some weight-training and the use of a ski-simulation machine. But he admits he didn't enjoy his exercises because he didn't find them mentally stimulating. He tried to find ways to exercise while playing with his Playstation, but that only worked with some routines.
The Dilbert Guide to Fitness
Despite Ashton's busy work schedule, experts say there are things he can do while on the job to get some exercise, none of which necessarily involves carrying a gym bag.
If you're going out to lunch, walk there instead of driving. Within reason, walk up the steps to your office instead of taking the elevator. Make your lunch at home and bring it to work instead of ordering take-out. Take walks during your breaks and make sure you don't sit too long if you have a sedentary or desk job.
"The body is designed for mobility. To be sedentary is really going against the design of the body," said Kevin Steele, vice president of services at 24 Hour Fitness in California. "There are a lot of little things that you could do in the short term that have long-term benefits."
Patience, Patience, Patience
Perhaps the most important thing those who wish to get back into shape should remember is to be patient.
Consult your doctor before resuming an exercise routine. Don't expect immediate results and remember that changing a lifestyle is a process. If you haven't exercised regularly in some time, start with a half an hour of light exercise for two or three days out of the week and the gradually increase the workout over time. Don't believe that you can handle a six-day exercise routine immediately.
"The real reason so many people quit exercising is that they set unrealistic expectations for themselves in the beginning," said Karas. "They expect immediate results; they expect that magic bullet. It took time to gain the weight; it will take time to get in shape."
For Mark Daroczy, patience paid off. He is in the best shape of his life and is no longer teased by his well-wishing mother and brother.
"I feel good," he said. "It's the best diet I've ever had. I still eat five or six times a day. I just stay away from too much meat and watch the carbs."
Russell Ashton admits that he has to show more discipline and make more time to resume an exercise routine. He also has new incentive to get back into shape.
"I have a new wife now," he said. "I want to live a long, healthy life. I don't want something killing me while I'm shoveling snow one day."
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