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Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 14: Embarking on a Year-Long Weight Loss Journey

Hold'em with Holloway

I experienced one of the best years of my life in 2013. I won a World Series of Poker gold bracelet, which was truly a dream come true. Plus, with more than $100,000 in tournament cashes, I was able to improve my financial status significantly. As 2014 rolled around, I asked myself, “What could possibly make the new year better than the last?”

The only tangible answer I could come up with was losing weight, something I’d struggled with the majority of my life. When I won my bracelet, I wasn’t exactly in good shape. In fact, I was grossly overweight. Click here for my winner’s photo to see just what I’m talking about. I was lethargic, depressed, and I’ve no doubt if the tournament was longer than two days I would have crumbled, both physically and mentally.

I knew if I wanted my poker success to continue, I needed to follow in the footsteps of Chris Moorman, Jonathan Little, Ben Lamb, Marvin Rettenmaier, and Matt Vengrin — just a small sample of pros who’ve lost weight and made health a priority in their lives. Each of those men subsequently experienced an uptick in both lifestyle and poker success, so it seemed to me only good things could come from losing weight. Here’s my story...

I’ve always been a big kid, and by the time I was 22 I had ballooned up to 286 lbs. When I was 23, I met a girl and was inspired to lose weight. Amazingly I managed to lose 113 lbs. and dropped down to 173 lbs., which in hindsight was probably a little too low. Anyway, It was great, that is until the girl left and the weight started to come back. It was a slow process, but over the next few years I lost all momentum and confidence. By the time of my bracelet win I was back up to 269 lbs.

It’s not easy to admit publicly, but putting the weight back on is one of the biggest shames of my life. I hated myself for it on a daily basis, and was embarrassed to see old family and friends. I desperately wanted to change, but try as I might I was unable to lose weight. I couldn’t do it. Food had become an addiction for me. It was my favorite drug.

When I lost at poker I’d swing by the McDonald’s drive thru on the way home. When I was feeling down, a pack of Oreos would make me feel better, if only temporarily. I hate to quote Austin Powers’ Fat Bastard, but for me it was a truth: “I can’t stop eating. I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat. It’s a vicious cycle.”

When I lost weight the first time in my early 20s, I did it for the wrong reason — a girl. In my early 30s, I didn’t have that motivation and just couldn’t find the strength to do it myself. Then, in late January 2014, something changed. My local gym, where I had toiled fruitlessly for years, closed down and I was forced to join a new place in town, Anytime Fitness.

Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 14: Embarking on a Year-Long Weight Loss Journey 101
Playing in a past WSOP event.

After signing a contract (something I hate to do), they offered a free body assessment. I took them up on it on Feb. 18, and little did I know that would be the day I’d take the first step toward healthy living. You see, upon completion of the assessment you’re obliged to hear a sales pitch offering personal training sessions. Being the skeptic and frugal person that I am, I wasn’t into the $50 per session and having to sign up for at least 12 sessions at a time. Still, I stayed there and politely listened. Then, out of nowhere, I remembered my desire to improve upon 2013.

“You want to lose weight and get healthy more than anything in the world, yet you’re not willing to put your money where you mouth is,” I thought to myself. “Are you truly going to let this control your life?”

Money is a strong motivator, and I hate when it goes to waste. I knew if I signed up for personal training sessions I’d be at least somewhat motivated to get my money’s worth. I did the impulsive thing and pulled the trigger, laying down nearly $1,800 for 36 PT sessions. It was a start.

Over the next 10 months I tried my best. The workouts were grueling. My bones and muscles ached constantly. My lungs wanted to explode every time I stepped on the treadmill. Like everyone, I wanted immediate results, but I trusted that if I worked hard every day y I’d eventually get to where I wanted to be. I changed my eating habits. Processed foods and sugar became the enemy, chicken and fish my best friends.

As the weeks and months went by I found old habits replaced by new ones. For the first time in a long time I started to respect the man looking back at me in the mirror.

When I went out to Vegas for the 2014 WSOP, I was lucky to have an Anytime Fitness a few blocks from my lodgings. Despite the 12+-hour workdays I put in for PokerNews, I made a commitment of working out everyday. I was bound and determined to go home weighing much less than when I left. Almost every day in June I rolled out of bed, slipped into my workout clothes, and got it done. I hated it at the time (I wanted that sweet sleep so bad), but there’s no doubt sticking to that commitment made me stronger. Of course coming down with pneumonia at the beginning of July derailed me.

The next few months were filled with ups and downs, or rather self-introduced roadblocks, that plateaued my weight. I was working out regularly (by this time it became somewhat enjoyable), but some of my bad eating habits — pizza and cookies will forever be a weakness — managed to creep back in. Come December and with 2015 rapidly approaching, I wanted to end the year on a high note. My goal has always been to get back under 200 lbs., and sitting at 219 lbs. it seemed within reach. If I worked out everyday, ate right, and cut out the alcohol, I thought there just might be a chance. I had a new goal.

I struggled mightily at times, but I did manage to hit the gym for at least an hour every day for 31 days straight. I also ate healthy and avoided the drink, despite the holidays with family. Unfortunately I didn’t get to “One-derland” — I weighed in at 209 lbs. on Dec. 31 — but I didn’t let that deter me or take away from my accomplishments. It simply became my new goal for January.

Here’s a look at the progress I made in 2014. The picture on the left was me on that February day I took my initial health assessment, and the one on the right was me on Dec. 31, 2014.

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Making personal changes is never easy. When it comes to poker most of us know the things holding us back, be it unhealthy living, tilt, leaks, or what have you. But not everyone knows how to change these things for the better. Even if they do, finding the motivation and discipline to do so easier said than done. Believe me, I know. I also know that anything is possible with enough time and dedication.

Entering the new year, I hope to continue upon the road of healthy living while playing more poker. In 2014, I sacrificed the latter in favor of the former, but the time has come to find a balance. Discipline, dedication, and drive are just a few of the things I’ve learned throughout my weight-loss journey, and I know each will serve me well as I set my sights upon poker success in 2015.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s someone I’d like to get in touch with and forgive... myself.”

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