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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

'Big Ben' clocks out

Monday, November 19, 2012

Former CT Sports Editor on way to 200-pound weight loss

Bad things always happen in threes. That's what "they" say. I'm not sure who "they" are, but in the winter of 2010-11, I discovered just how true that statement is.

It started with me stepping on a scale in a truck stop bathroom. The end is to be determined. The journey has been incredible.

Four hundred twenty pounds. That's the number that flashed on the screen that day. I don't know what made me step on that thing -- I had avoided scales for years. But, to say the least, I was shocked. Horrified is probably a better word.

Ben Carstens 170 pounds ago ...
Over the next few weeks I tried to push that number to the back of my mind. I had become fairly skilled at ignoring things like that over the years. In fact, I think people who battle weight problems of this magnitude become very good at fooling themselves. A mind is a powerful thing. For instance, mine had convinced me that what I saw in the mirror every day was just fine.

I was definitely wrong, and in the following weeks I would find out my other two bad things. I was diabetic and then I lost my job.

Avoiding doctors at all costs was another skill I had perfected. If I didn't go to one, I rationalized, they couldn't tell me something was wrong. But, with those numbers fresh in my mind, the way I was feeling could no longer be ignored. The occasional chest pains, tingling in my legs, dizzy spells, shaking, lack of energy and perpetual state of tired -- it was time for something to give. So, I went.

I ran through a battery of tests with my doctor and waited for the results. A week later I was sitting at work and the call came in. The nurse on the other end was direct: "Mr. Carstens. You're diabetic." I instantly felt a sick feeling wash over me and quickly went from disbelief to panic to anger.

Two weeks later I would have that same feeling at that same desk. My company was bought out and I suddenly found myself without a job.

I started looking for places to put the blame, but every way I tried to spin it, it all came back on me. I was at my worst and starting to see myself for who I really was. I didn't like it. I couldn't control what happened at my job, but I could do something about my weight. I decided it was time to make changes.

... and Ben Carstens today
I've never been into the self-help thing -- I never even believed in visualizing a goal. "See it and achieve it" was all nonsense as far as I was concerned. So, I can't tell you why I did it, but for some reason I felt compelled to sit down and make two lists on a sheet of paper.

The list on the left contained the 10 things I wanted out of my life. The other side had the 10 things I knew about myself that would keep me from getting there. I made a commitment to try to change everything on the right, and I wouldn't stop until I had achieved everything on the left.

I folded it up, put it in my pocket and started over. No living through the rearview mirror. No regrets about what got me here. My focus from that point on was changing my old ways and getting healthy.

The first thing I tackled was the way I ate. I sought advice from friends working in health-related fields and I read anything I could get my hands on. I cut unnecessary items out of my diet: a six-pack of pop a day, fast food, sweets, white bread, pasta and potatoes. I ate whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean meats and drank more water than I ever had. I would reward myself with a meal out and catch myself making better choices at the restaurants.

In those first four months, the weight came off slowly. I was gradually training myself to eat the way I was supposed to and making it a daily occurrence. It was becoming habit, not a diet. I would get frustrated at moments, but then I would refocus and move forward. I refused to allow time to feel bad for myself.

The next phase was to implement exercise. Again, I sought advice and purchased an elliptical machine. At first, I was lucky if I could do five minutes at a time on it. It had been more than a dozen years since I had really exercised. I kept at it and told myself I would do another minute every day. I started building strength and was able to go longer and longer. Then, I started working out on it every morning and every night.

A few months later, my weight was around 390 pounds and I finally found a job at Innova Ideas & Services. Suddenly I was spending my days surrounded by some of the most inspiring and supportive groups of people I could have asked for. They made it easy for me to fall into a routine that worked and the weight started flying off.

Although I no longer work with them, I appreciate what they did for me.

Exercise and getting on the scale became my new addiction. I didn't always see the results I wanted, but I wouldn't allow myself to be discouraged. I moved forward. My life was changing for the better with every number that disappeared. I saw 350 pounds in the middle of the summer and I hit 320 pounds (100 lost) by early November, less than a year from finding out I was diabetic. By the New Year, I was under the 300-pound mark. I saw 275 pounds at the beginning of the summer and I'm keeping at it every day.

My support system of family and friends was more than I could ask for during this journey. They are the reason I'm alive today.

I've realized how selfish I was for the first 31 years of my life. I guess you could say they are the casualties of obesity that nobody really thinks about. I'm glad they stuck it out with me and I feel blessed for that.

Mostly, I'm thankful for my mother. I know I put her through hell and back. She felt every single one of my low points, maybe even more than I did. The negative effect I had on her life embarrasses me and I work hard every day to make up for that.

I never thought I'd have all that I do now. I can buy clothes in almost any store I want. I can go to a restaurant and not worry about the seats supporting me. I can watch a game at Hilton Coliseum in comfort. Most importantly, I'm finally setting a good example for my nieces and nephews.

The pounds don't fly off as fast now. Today I weigh 255 pounds. That's what I weighed when I played football my senior year of high school. Fifteen years and a 330-pound round trip later and here I am at 33. I feel amazing and approach every day with a lot more energy and optimism than I ever have.

This wasn't just a diet -- it was the beginning of a brand new way of life. For the first time I have meaningful goals. I want to get off medication (I've dropped two and am working hard on losing the rest), get healthier and maybe run a 5K.

It all seems possible now. I still carry my list with me and have faith I'll have all 20 things crossed off.

For now, my immediate focus is on losing 200 pounds from my heaviest. The closer I get, the harder it becomes. But that's good. I know where I ended up when things were easy. I think I prefer it this way.

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