Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Step on scales sends big man from fat to fit

For him, the good life is at a gym

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Tim Walsh is a big man, and at six feet, 260 pounds and only 11 per cent body fat, he's in great shape. Looking at him today, it's hard to believe this personal trainer with a passion for nutrition used to be morbidly obese -- fast approaching 400 pounds before he was old enough to vote.

Like many who have struggled with their weight, Walsh couldn't believe the number he saw one day after stepping onto a scale -- 338 pounds. It's a moment he calls a major turning point in his life.

"I was in Grade 11 biology and my biology partner asked what my weight was up to because I was really big. I was like a planet in high school," says Walsh, 32. "For some reason, my biology teacher had one of those old scales, kind of like the ones you see in your doctor's office, but a much bigger version, and it read up to 450 or 500 pounds. So I jumped on it and the needle went all the way to 338 and it stopped right there, and that number froze in my mind. I'm sure that's the heaviest I'd ever been, and so that day I knew I had to make some positive changes."

For Walsh, the next day really was the first day of the rest of his life. At 17, he knew weighing in at more than 300 pounds would shorten his life if he didn't start making positive changes. He became a voracious reader, learning everything he could about nutrition, how to improve his eating habits and how to get into shape.

But as he would discover, being overweight didn't just stem from overeating, but rather why he was overeating.

"I was a bit of a comfort eater," he says. "My parents divorced when I was two and I didn't get along with my stepfather. There was always a lot of tension between us, and so looking back, I think food was a comfort for me." Another contributing factor, says Walsh, was coming from a "big Irish family," where if you only had one serving at dinnertime, it meant something was wrong.

"The answer to everything was food," Walsh says. "It just seemed like if I wasn't eating, I was preparing something; I was just eating all the time."

The higher his weight climbed, the lower his self-esteem became, especially during his early teen years. But that day in biology class was all the motivation Walsh needed to turn his life around.

"Once I got it hardwired into my mind, I never took my foot off the gas," he says.

Within five years, Walsh went from the heaviest he'd ever been to the best shape of his life. He lost 110 pounds, and by October 1999 was on stage in his first bodybuilding competition. That day marked the end of Walsh's long journey from fat to fit.

"I was comfortable in my own skin," Walsh says. "I remember thinking, 'This is fantastic. I really love what I see in the mirror now.' And that was me moving forward."

Being fit and looking good on the outside isn't the only benefit of exercising. It may be the most obvious, but exercise also gave Walsh the confidence he lacked throughout his teen years.

Jill Barker, fitness co-ordinator and lecturer at the department of kinesiology and physical education at McGill University, says exercise is a big psychological boost. "There's a sense of self-satisfaction and it actually boosts your energy. If you are tired after a workout, then you've pushed yourself too hard," Barker says. "We now know that exercise has proven to bring up people's mood state. Most psychologists will even recommend exercise to help improve your mood."

Although Walsh is a gym enthusiast, it's not for everyone and, Barker notes, not the only way to exercise. "It's really not about intensity at all. It's about getting up and getting moving. Take your walk from a stroll to a workout."

Barker says as little as 15 minutes is all you need for an improved mood state, especially if you're outside, getting some fresh air and. in the winter, getting some daylight.

"The easiest way is to think of exercise as not only something you do in the gym," Barker says. "Always look for that 20 minutes or 30 minutes to incorporate movement into your life and not just packaging it all in at once."

Whether it's the gym or getting off the bus 15 minutes early, the best exercise, says Baker, is "the one you do every day."

Walsh, who grew up in Belleville, Ont., says he "caught the bug" for bodybuilding at Gold's Gym in London, Ont., where he went to college.

"I took the crutch that was food and replaced it with the crutch that is training. I lean on the gym," he says.

Walsh now lives in Ottawa and is a personal trainer and assistant fitness manager at a local gym.

-- Canwest News Service

Two experts on getting in shape:

Tim Walsh, an Ottawa-based personal trainer, says regular exercise for 30 minutes each day and the right food choices are the keys to maintaining good health: protein, lots of fibre, less carbs and eating small meals every two to three hours. Walsh says people should not cut carbs from their diet altogether.

"If you plan a quick-fix route, you'll end up right back where you started," Walsh says. "The best thing to do before you start is to find someone who has already done what you need to do and talk to them."

Regular exercise will not only help you look good, but you'll feel better too.

"You'll have a stronger immune system, more confidence... increase in serotonin levels (which regulate mood), more energy, you'll sleep better and you'll be able to deal with stress better."

Although any exercise is good exercise, Jill Barker, fitness co-ordinator and lecturer at the department of kinesiology and physical education at McGill University, says it's important to incorporate some cardio into your routine.

"You have to have cardio. It strengthens your heart and your heart is your bloodline. It's your engine, so you have to look after it."

For those who aren't fans of exercising, Barker has a few techniques to help get you motivated:

Download some books or podcasts onto your IPod -- but only listen to them when you're out for your walk, not when you're on the couch.

Buy a season of a TV show on DVD or a movie and only watch the DVDs when you're on the treadmill or stationary bike.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2009 A11

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