The Journey of Losing 150 Pounds: An Interview with Rick Wyckoff
The Following is an interview with Rick Wyckoff who shares some insights into his weight loss journey he calls "Constructing a New Rick." Rick started off weighing over 400 pounds and successfully lost 150 pounds and packed on a significant amount of muscle too. His journey is full of ups and downs and he still has struggles. In this interview you will see that the key to his success had less to do with what he did with his body and more to do with his mind.
Tim Arndt: Hey Rick, it's good to chat with you again. It's been a while. How are things?
Rick Wyckoff: Hi Tim, things are good for the most part right now. I had a really rough few months but have since moved to Washington from Oklahoma and kind of resetting everything and getting back into a healthy routine.
That's quite a move.
Let's get right to it. You've lost a significant amount of weight during your "reconstruction" but what's even more impressive is the amount of muscle you've gained. You are a beast! How did you manage to do both?
Well for me, I lost the weight first. I was 426 pounds at the time and so I needed to get the weight off just for my health. I made slow but deliberate changes with the help of a mentor. He taught me to take things one step at a time. So I started by walking 15 minutes a day and by cutting out the fast food. Every week I would make a very deliberate change, either adding 5 minutes to my walking or cutting out some more junk food or adding in a healthier alternative. I then began training for a 5k. I remember my first attempt at jogging. I only managed to jog 3 steps, but it was a start. Eventually, after several months and losing nearly 150 pounds I jogged my first 5k all the way through.
At this point, I wanted to give a shot at building muscle, so I joined a gym and began lifting. Again I took it a step at a time, starting light and with machines, eventually graduating to heavier free weight exercises. I slowly added more calories to my diet (which ended up backfiring a bit when I convinced myself I could go back to eating more junk cause it was calories). I managed to build muscle, but also put on more fat than I should have.
You're not alone! Too many people fall into that same trap. If you had to do it again how would you avoid it?
Listen to my trainer, haha. Honestly I think a lot of it is trial and error. My trainer kept telling me if I don't eat better I won't gain the right kind of weight I want. I had plenty of warnings, but had to learn from the mistakes myself. Maybe like telling a little kid something's hot. You can tell them not to touch it but they don't really understand what that means till they touch it, lol.
What inspired you to reconstruct yourself? Is it what still inspires you today?
Eli Sapharti was a big help for me when I first started. He had lost just over 100 pounds and was running a lot. His transformation was a huge inspiration, and he helped me to get started on my own journey. I've since become more inspired by bodybuilding and trying to sculpt a physique. Maybe it's the artist in me, or the thought that it was something that would be impossible for me to do considering where I started, but it's become a goal of mine, almost an obsession at times. Almost has to be I think. It's a 24/7 lifestyle. It's all about nutrition, exercise and rest.
Indeed! However, many folks that want to lose weight don't take that first step, usually because of fear of failing or not knowing what to do. How did you overcome this fear?
I can relate to this very much. I remember thinking, what's the point? I've tried so many times in the past. People would even mock me at work for bringing salads in for my lunch, or juiced veggies. I think it's a stigma in our culture to see morbidly obese people trying to make healthier changes. So many have tried and failed that people tend to mock you without hardly even thinking about it. It's a fear that I think a lot have. I know I did…. "Oh man, what's so-and-so going to say when they see me walking around with this salad at work." I got so mad one time, I had to leave and go for a walk. Never an apology or anything. I just remember thinking, blinders on, who cares what anyone thinks. THIS IS FOR ME!! Eventually, the mocking turned into questions when people saw I was getting results.
Always seems to happen that way. There's a quote that I like that sums that up, "First they mock you, then they ask you advice." I have no idea who the author of that is but it's spot on. How much easier did it make the process for you when you were able to "shut the haters out," so to speak?
It helped quite a lot. The support was great and when I got to my goal of 100 pounds lost, they threw me a party. So it was really cool.
What is your advice to others looking to do the same thing?
The biggest thing to know that this is extremely difficult but very feasible. It's a lot like any other major change in your life (finances, relationships, etc.) It's going to be very difficult at times, but you just have to stick with it and see it all the way through. I have to want this badly enough that when the time comes when you don't feel like it (and it will definitely come) your want will get you through it, and you'll do what you have to do regardless of how you feel. Also, forget what anyone else has to say. Blinders on, THIS IS FOR YOU!!!
Making the process about one's self seems to be a recurring theme Rick. Must be an important aspect of becoming fit?
Yeah, I mean, you can't do this for anyone but yourself. It's really a 24/7 endeavor. Not only is it physically exhausting but mentally exhausting as well. If you really want this, then you have to have a goal that you're so emotionally invested in that it will help you get through the tough times.
Let's switch gears for a second, what's more fun, building muscle or losing fat? Which is harder?
Dude, building muscle is far more fun!!! I love lifting, and I love eating! It's perfect for me! But the eating still has to be controlled, or you'll end up like I mistakenly have done and add far too much fat that I need to lose again, which is difficult. The lower carbs, the lengthy cardio sessions. It's a mind game. When building muscle, you want to see your shirts getting tighter and your weight going up then when you start to cut, you immediately assume it's the muscle that's being burned, not the fat.
That sounds like a seriously (not) fun mind game. Would you say building muscle is more difficult than losing fat in general? Which was/is hardest for you?
I'll tell you what's been the most frustrating part of this whole experience with building muscle in my case. After losing all the weight, I've got this loose skin that's still got a good layer of fat on it. It pretty much hides a lot of the gains that I see. When I post pics on my page, it's usually the arms and shoulders because that part has the least loose skin and fat. My legs, butt, abdomen and chest though, it's really hard or impossible to see anything being sculpted or developed. I kind of just have to "trust the process" and know that what I'm doing will all work out in the long run.
In your opinion, how important is strength training for losing fat and keeping it off? How has it helped you?
It has and it hasn't if that makes any sense at all. Looking back I kind of wish I had started resistance training when I first started, instead of just walking and jogging. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism is, which means you burn through more energy (aka food or fat stores). Strength training has been a very positive addition to my workout regimen. I just wish I had kept my diet as clean as it needs to be. Again, I allowed my mind to think, "Meh, it's ok, the extra calories will help me build muscle and give me more energy for those workouts. Which is true to some extent (and to a seasoned athlete is probably very true). But for me and my history, all it does is go straight to fat. I am still a very efficient fat storing machine!
Speaking of food and calories…. Many folks think that if you eat a calorie restricted diet then you can't ever eat fun things like ice cream, pizza and beer. From a guy who has lost over 100 pounds, do you agree? Why or why not?
Yes and no again. It usually depends on the person and their relationship with food. I've done a little research on the mind and the habits we form. The habits create neural pathways in our mind which means it's easier to do the next time. And for me, being 450 pounds, I had made a habit of eating junk to deal with stress and feel better… basically to release dopamine. And that pathway becomes stronger and stronger the more you do it. So a person, like myself, who has lost over 100 pounds goes and east ice cream, pizza or beer and gets that strong dopamine rush from it, and I want to do it again and again and again. It gets way too easy to cheat, way too quickly.
For someone else, who may not have built that superhighway of food releasing that dopamine, I don't see why they couldn't eat the junk. They're in control of the food, not the other way around.
That's a very interesting perspective. So you're saying it's dependent on your current relationship with food and how it affects you physiologically and psychologically, correct? Do you think there will be a time where this might change for you? Have you come across any research that suggests that can happen for people?
Yes I am. There are a lot of factors of course and food is tricky because you can't just drop it like you could cigarettes or alcohol. You can certainly do things like keep junk food out of your house, prepare healthy meals in advance; those kinds of things that help to curb a craving that arises. Generally, for me, the craving happen when I'm hungry and when I'm hungry I start making very impulsive decisions.
Recognizing what's happening helps me to resist it (the craving) some and grab an already prepared meal and heat it up. I'm not sure if there will come a time when the cravings will be gone for good. This is something I've heard people struggle with for several years or even their whole life. Ultimately, a little discipline goes a long way and doing what you know you need to do and not what you feel like, will get you through it.
Discipline! That's a big one for getting you through those times when you're not motivated to make the right decisions. Speaking of discipline, what's your favorite junk food? I'm guessing it's pizza!
Pizza, ice cream, I've been craving chocolate chip cookies lately, haha.
Ah! It's beer for me.
Would you advise others who are looking to lose a significant amount of weight to include some of their favorite junk foods in their diet? Or do you think it makes it too hard for people to stay disciplined?
It totally depends on the individual, but I will share my experiences with junk food and weight loss. Several years ago, before this most recent attempt to lose weight, I had lost 100 pounds. And it took me over 2 years to do it. Looking back I remember I would eat perfect all week, and then on the weekend I would reward myself with a pizza.
This most recent attempt, I got so focused that I went several months without eating hardly any junk at all. It was all lean proteins, produce, whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthy fats. I never counted calories, but I stuck with that basic principal. I lost 100 pounds in 6 months. Granted I was heavier starting out this time, but I think nutrition plays such a key role in our health and body fat levels, that it can make a huge impact on the amount you can lose within a given time.
Also, it comes down to quality of life. Are you ok losing weight slower if you get the added junk? If so, then indulge and don't even feel guilty about it. Do you want to lose the weight as fast as you can? Then I'd say cut the junk, and only have a tiny something to cut the cravings when they show up, because they will show up! Again, it's a mind game.
It would be nice if weight loss wasn't such a mind game wouldn't it? I've seen some recent articles and fat loss experts talk about how weight loss, especially when it's a significant amount you need to lose, is more of a psychological thing than it is an actual nutrition thing. Makes sense when you consider that you have complete control over what and how much you decide to put in your mouth. It's a simple thing but certainly isn't easy, wouldn't you say?
A good friend of mine says, "Fitness is simple, it's just not easy." It really comes down to a lifestyle in my opinion. More times than not, your health, your body composition is a reflection of your lifestyle. If you workout 6x a week and eat good wholesome foods your body will reflect that, or work its way to reflecting that. If you spend hours in front of the TV and order pizza every night, then your body will reflect that as well. The key for me was taking a step by step approach to changing that lifestyle. I tried many times to do it overnight (going through the pantry and throwing out everything unhealthy) it only leads to a big binge in a few days, which leads to guilt, depression, and wanting to eat to cope with the negative feelings. So a step by step change is more doable and seems to make more sense biologically and psychologically.
You're friend sounds like a genius!
You've obviously come a long ways in your reconstruction but I know you want to keep going and pushing yourself farther. So what's next? How far do you want to take this thing?
I've always been fascinated with bodybuilding. I remember as a young kid, probably 10 years old, seeing the magazines in the store and even seeing a show on ESPN. I knew right then that's what I wanted to be. But I was already overweight. I got embarrassed by that dream instead of empowered. I thought to myself what are people going to think when they hear this fat kid wants to be a bodybuilder? So I never really said anything about it and I never acted on it.
Then finally at the age of 34 after losing the weight and seeing I can really change my body, and realizing I don't have as many years to do this as I once did, I thought screw what anyone else thinks, I'm going for it! So I've been in the gym since. I've had a few setbacks along the way, and I'm not sure if competing will ever be my thing or not (mostly the loose skin and the posing trunks, haha) but I do want to attain that bodybuilder like physique. That reach for the "perfect" body is an ongoing effort, so my goal may change as I do, but I've always been ashamed of how I look. I hope this endeavor can give me some more self-confidence.
I'm sure it will Rick. Okay, one last question and then we will wrap this up. It's a serious one so I want you to give some thought to it. How much do you bench?
Ugh, I hate that question. I honestly don't know how much I can bench. I've seen and heard about so many people getting injured, that I honestly don't care how much I bench right now. I just get in there and pick a weight where I can get out 8-12 reps and move on.
A lifter who doesn't know how much he benches? Blasphemy! Just kidding, I have no idea how much I bench either.
I think you provided a lot of helpful tips and I'm sure there are a lot of people who can empathize with you about the mental struggle of weight loss. It's a very important, if not the most important, factor and far too often ignored.
Thanks again for your time and we wish you the best during your continued quest to turn into a "swoller bear"!