Last year around this time I reached out to my audience to see if anyone would be interested in contributing to the blog. Arnold Cruz, a Gentleman Within reader replied with interest in writing content.
We discussed potential story ideas and landed on the topic of fitness since it’s become a big part of his identity. I wanted to give him the platform to share his fitness journey over the years in the hopes of inspiring others along their own journey.
In this article, Arnold dishes on struggles with his weight growing up, developing bad health habits, all the ups and downs, and how he was ultimately able to turn it all around. I know it wasn’t easy for him to share this story, but I love his candor and willingness to open up about his journey towards health and wellness. Arnold, take it away.
I believe we all strive to be the best person we can, doing what we love and enjoy. What ignites our desire is different for all of us. For me, it was being a well-rounded individual in terms of beauty, knowledge, fitness and style. This; however, hasn’t always been the case.
This is the story of how I’ve made the change to become a healthier individual and how I incorporated health, wellness and fitness into my lifestyle to become the person I am today, and who I want to be in the future.
I hope that you realize this health & wellness transformation didn’t happen overnight—after some 8-week plan or some expensive treatment—but through years of battling misinformation, poor self-image, alcohol abuse and my greatest enemy, myself.
Growing up, my well-being wasn’t a priority. Although I was an active kid, once I got older and went onto middle school, being active was no longer of any interest.
I began to eat things that were quick, accessible, and cheap like French fries, bagels, soda and candy. I became very sedentary, watching hours of TV and playing video games (Pokémon and Mario Kart were my games of choice).
I would skip breakfast and wait for lunch to indulge in whatever my middle school had to offer. They were notoriously bad at serving any type of food that wasn’t fried or laden with sugar.
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In addition, I wouldn’t drink any water while I was in school. I would skip participating in gym class because all my school had to offer was either basketball in the wintertime or a walk on the track in the summertime.
It honestly didn’t get any better once I went into high school. I would say I was between 12-13 when I began developing this lifestyle of gluttony and ignorance.
While in high school, I would wake up even earlier to catch the public bus (Yonkers and NYC schools did not offer school busses for high schoolers) so there was no way I would even think about eating breakfast.
Again, I would indulge in whatever fried or greased up entrée the school would offer and have no water. I would avoid drinking water because teachers would frown upon people asking to go to the bathroom and because they would lock all the bathrooms between classes so that kids wouldn’t cut class.
Although I was in the top five in my high school, I had poor knowledge in nutrition. When I would eat “healthy”, I would chow down on cereal like Special K with strawberries, PB&J sandwiches on white bread or chug Gatorade instead of a Coke.
Once I started working my first part-time job and had my own car, my food selection wasn’t any better. I began buying whatever I wanted such as fast food or chow down on junk food at the mall.
I would indulge in candy and Pop Tarts from vending machines and buy the prepared fried chicken that the supermarket sold next door. Much of this mindset and food habits lasted well into my college years.
Time For A Change
So, what was my reasoning for changing and striving for betterment? For starters, I HATED the way I looked. I was fairly overweight if not obese (220 lbs at my heaviest).
Additionally, I was consistently breaking out with painful cysts, my hair was greasy and damaged, I couldn’t fit into any of the clothes I wanted to buy. Truthfully, felt ugly compared to most of my peers.
I would look at the other guys and say to myself, why don’t I look like him or have the confidence that emits from that person? Most people my age try to be their best to attract their potential mate but, in my case, I had no such interest.
I didn’t really care if no one asked me out or if anyone found me attractive, I didn’t find myself attractive and that to me was all I cared about. In addition, my parents really didn’t help my case.
I wanted to grow my hair out; buy skinny jeans or even join the tennis team and they would not let me (I joined the tennis team behind their back). Finally, all of this occured when social media platforms were either new or young, so I had not yet discovered style or fitness influencers.
While I was in college, I tried to make some attempts at losing weight, but they’ve always ended in failure. I remember cancelling my Planet Fitness membership regularly throughout college because I felt intimidated seeing all the fit people at the gym, plus I had such a hectic schedule between school and work.
I moved out of my parent’s house the final 2 years of college hoping that would give me more freedom to make my own decisions and hold myself more accountable. I learned to cook on my own (even though to this day I despise cooking).
I took a health and wellness course in college hoping it would give me a better understanding on how to properly take care of myself. Even with all that, I still struggled trying to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
The drive was there but the discipline and self-control weren’t. I was lazy and a whiner. None of that was benefiting me and I was too blind to realize that. Working odd retail hours, mounting on piles of debt, and attending school full-time didn’t help either.
Leaving college made me realize that I needed to make drastic changes so that I could achieve self-love. A month after graduating, I landed my first full-time job (which was a God send during the recession).
Having a full-time job helped so much both timewise and financially. I was able to squeeze in a gym session after getting home from work at least 4 times a week.
I began losing the weight I had gained from my previous school years. And I was able to afford things like whey protein and gained time for a decent and routine sleep schedule.
Although I became more active, I still had a poor diet consisting of fried and processed foods. I quit the diet of chips, soda and pop tarts I once had in high school and college, but I still struggled with take out. My food habits were still at the bottom of priorities since I disliked cooking.
After graduating, I moved back home and was still lazy to make any change to my diet. I did lose weight though. I was probably my lightest I had been in years during this time (166 lbs at 22 yrs old). Still, I was extremely unhappy with my appearance and with anything that involved my health and fitness.
As I write this, I realize how my fitness journey is spanning long and slow, but that’s exactly how it was—a long, emotional, and painful journey. I quit my first job and landed another job and then moved out of my parent’s house again but this time, it would be the first time I moved out as an adult.
My new job was situated right outside of Central Park. Food options were unlimited, gyms plentiful, and gorgeous people everywhere. I wanted the lives of those guys that ran shirtless around the park and put their well-being as a priority among all else.
I wanted they had and that really sparked the fuel that had been brimming for all these years despite all my failed attempts in trying to better myself. Unfortunately, much of that ended abruptly when I was transferred to a remote location outside the wonderful Central Park and into the solitude of Randall’s Island.
I have to be honest, writing this editorial has taken a bit of an emotional toll on myself. Remembering a lot of the emotions that were attributed with being overweight and the amount of low self-esteem I had for much of my life has not been easy. Regardless, a wise man once said to be the change that you wish for yourself and the world to see.
A New Job
Moving to a new location with a new job was probably not the best move, but I was struggling with my previous job in terms of being unhappy and unfulfilled. I figured that this new location would give me a breath of air and would steer me in the direction I would have wanted my career to move towards.
Previously, I would take the train into work as there was no way I could have parked a car in some of the busiest streets of Midtown Manhattan.
This new job was in the outskirts of Randall’s Island which would require me to drive. This new job did give me the ability to bring my car down to the city and create a schedule around having a car as a means of transportation (I promise you, this is going somewhere).
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The Gym & The Kitchen
With all the new events in my life, this gave me the motivation to be the best version of myself. I began looking into workouts, YouTube videos, and meal-prep guides to begin and maintain a healthy new lifestyle.
I began creating a schedule and started waking up at 5 am for my workouts. Gyms in NYC become crowded well after 7 am so having an early start would help in getting all the racks and machines I wanted to use without the wait or having to deal with people that hog equipment while on their phones.
The commute into work wasn’t the best, driving on NYC highways become well congested after 7 am so I had a tight schedule when it would come to the gym and work during the weekday.
Going to the gym after work was not an option, you’d be lucky to get a treadmill during peak hours, so I had to ensure that I made this a priority.
The gym was the easiest thing to commit to, my diet on the other hand, was not. Having a car meant that going to drive-thrus were highly accessible and, with that, I was getting fast food on a regular basis, even more than when I was working in Midtown Manhattan.
In addition, I dislike being in the kitchen and I do not enjoy the process of cooking. From deciding what to make, going to the grocery store, and cleaning the aftermath, I dislike it all even to this very day.
And so I’d get home fairly early with nothing to eat and no desire to cook that I would turn to either fast food or processed food. That wasn’t the worst though, I began drinking on a regular basis.
Living Alone In The Bronx
Living in my apartment in the Bronx was a lonely experience. People idolize the idea of living alone, but I am the total opposite. I’d get home from work and have nothing to do.
I’d throw some chicken fingers and french fries in the oven and pop open some cold Coronas while I whistled away the loneliness to video games. I’d get buzzed well before bedtime so waking up the next morning would not impact my cognitive skills or ability to perform at the gym.
Even after developing a good routine with the gym and thinking I had a good hold of my life and drive for a healthy lifestyle, it still did not overshadow the fact that I was living a lonely life and developing a drinking problem without even realizing it.
I decided that it was best for me to give up my lonely Bronx apartment to move into a neighborhood that had more life and yet, not be too much of a burden on my commute.
After weeks of trying to lease my apartment and finding a place in a new neighborhood, I was offered to stay with a friend/coworker in his apartment in Ridgewood, Queens.
Living With Roommates In Queens
Although we are no longer friends, I am still grateful of his generosity since, one of the apartments I did find in Bushwick, Brooklyn fell through at the last minute and I had just leased my current apartment in the Bronx and so I would have been homeless!
I had a lot of fun living here but it was quite difficult living with 3 people in one small railroad apartment. We’d spend the afternoons after work shooting the shit and living the life as if we were still in college.
I picked up a ton of bad habits here. I began drinking heavily and on a regular basis as compared to when I was living in the Bronx. I started staying out late, skipping out on gym sessions, and ate out almost every single day.
In just a short a short period of time, I began gaining the weight and ballooned up to 185 lbs. Both my living and work situation were toxic at the time.
I had resentment towards my job and with the people I worked with since they created a ton of drama and the job was boring. I dealt with my dissatisfaction of work and even my living situation, with alcohol, weed, and food.
Another Move To Brooklyn
It was time to leave my living situation. I had fun, but we knew it was best for us to part as roommates and so I moved to a new apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Thankfully, I was still close to my friends and didn’t feel lonely. I began to organize my schedule and shift my priorities and goals to be the best version of myself.
I moved in with three other people in a four-bedroom apartment thinking that I would love the social environment and thrive. Unbeknownst to me, I was completely wrong.
These would be some of the worst roommates I had ever lived with. One of them was a photographer that would have the oddest hours and bring random people into the apartment at any given time.
The other was anti-social and emitted so much negative energy that I had no desire to ever want to be around him. Thankfully, I had one other roommate I completely gelled with, we even shared the same birthday.
Developing More Bad Habits
I had a couple of fallouts with friends at this time and some of them were my coworkers; it became tough getting through life. I was miserable at work, and in general, my entire living situation. During this time my fitness and wellness was replaced by a borderline alcoholic lifestyle.
I began going out during the week, drinking with random strangers and going into work drunk. I would occasionally meal prep only to fail miserably by drowning in a liter worth of Absolut. Long Island Ice Teas began to be my drink of choice, I got drunk the quickest without the damage to my wallet.
With a high alcohol tolerance, drinking was not the cheapest drug so I had to ensure that I got buzzed as fast as possible. I blacked out for the first time a week before my 26th birthday and was sick on a regular basis.
When that entire year (term of my lease) was all set and done, I had gained more than 15 lbs and was approaching the 200 lb mark, a near 40 lb increase since leaving my parents house to my time in Bushwick.
After those two years of absolute chaos, I decided to move back to my parent’s house to get my life back in check. I quit drinking and joined the Gold’s Gym in Fishkill, NY. I continued to commute from my parents’ house in Dutchess County to Randall’s Island for work by car.
Back Home With My Parents
It was about a two-hour car ride in each direction but on the bright side, my employer was fair enough to allow me to work earlier to avoid the heavy traffic that one would normally experience during a typical morning commute.
I would wake up everyday at 4 am, hit the road by 5 am and arrive to work at 7 am. After work, I’d arrive at the gym by 4:30 and workout for about an hour and a half. Then I’d come home after a workout with dinner ready thanks to my mother.
Life was simple but this commute was completely unsustainable. It was either find a new job close to home or move back down to NYC. As grateful as I am to have my parents support me during this transition, I knew that I did not want to live a life that was supported by my parents.
And Moving Back Out Again
I wanted to know that I could do all that they were doing for me on my own; that I could take care of myself no matter what was thrown at me and that I should not give up on achieving my goals.
I began apartment searching again but this time in neighborhoods that were not party types or thought of as cool; a neighborhood that was much more family-oriented and quaint. The search wasn’t easy but thankfully I found this one apartment in Sunnyside, Queens that seemed…normal.
The room was small, but the price would have allowed me to save money and help my parents back at home financially. The selling point of this place though, was the roommates I’d be living with. My initial reactions to these guys were “oh my god, they are normal!”.
I could sense that they were good people, not the crazy party types, weird or have any toxic behaviors that could impact my way of life. I know that I am not the individual that can live alone as that’s what drove me out of my first place initially and into the spiral of toxic behavior. And so looking for an apartment with great people were a must.
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A Sense Of Normalcy
I moved in on December 2017 and continue to live in the same apartment to this day. Within two months of moving, I received a new job offer at another company which was based in Lower Manhattan and was much more aligned with where I wanted my career to go.
I began going to the gym at 5 am again and began meal prepping on a regular basis. I must thank my roommates for helping me prioritize my goals and understand the value of self-care. They are both very goal-orientated which inspires me to keep myself in-check and continue striving for success.
I cannot say I haven’t had any hiccups while living here. There is a McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and White Castle all on the same road and within a 5-10 min walking distance. I began binge drinking once I moved back to NYC, though not as frequent as when I lived in Bushwick.
It’s still not the best when you are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to gain muscle while losing fat. I’ve lost a couple of friends during this point of my life, either because their toxicity was too much to handle or we just drifted apart.
A Better Sense Of Self And Direction
Regardless, I know that today, I have such an amazing group of friends that are very supportive to me achieving my fitness goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Though not the biggest circle of friends, I want them to know that they are currently helping me out through some of the toughest and lowest parts of my life.
I feel like I should be ending this journey on a happier note, but this has been my journey and I’m still going through it. I’m proud to say that I have lost much of the weight that I gained back while living in Bushwick.
And I have a better sense of direction when it comes to weight management and lifestyle choices. It’s not all perfect though. I am still dealing with years of low self-esteem, depression, loneliness and regret. Regret that I have wasted years of my time not having my shit together and not having the discipline to take better care of myself.
Although my parents didn’t have much, they supported me with what they could financially, but struggled to do so emotionally and mentally. I know that I still have a lot of work to do in order to be the best version of myself and that it’s never too late to make changes in your life.
I urge those who are reading this that mental health is just as important as physical health and you should seek help as soon as possible if you feel that you need it.
I tell myself that it’s never too late to make changes and that it’s all about the hustle. The hustle isn’t easy and, truthfully, it can be quite ugly. I have a good friend that reminds me that the strength comes from struggle.
When you learn to see your struggles as opportunities you become stronger, better, wiser and your way of thinking begins to shift from being negative to being confident. Please remember to take care yourself and be the best person you see yourself being.
Arnold is a SUNY Albany graduate working as a Geographer and currently resides in Long Island City, New York. An avid gym goer and men’s fashion enthusiast, he believes that focusing on one’s internal and external well-being will lead a man to a successful and happy life. Some of his other interests and hobbies include biking, traveling, running, transportation, finance, hiking and baking.
Does Arnold’s fitness journey resonate with you?
Let’s continue the discussion over in the Gentlemen Within Private Facebook Community.
Looking forward to seeing you in there.
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