For years, Austin Sher recalls, he hated looking at himself in the mirror. “I felt like a human slug, or at least as close as you could feel to that,” he says. “I felt worthless and that nothing else really mattered besides my next meal.” At his heaviest, Sher tipped the scale at more than 120kg, a number he tried to ignore—until one day he couldn’t. He was in the hospital preparing to undergo surgery for an appendectomy, and when he stepped onto the scale, the reality of his weight gain hit him more fully than it ever had before.
“I remember seeing the number and promising myself that I would make a change when I was all healed up,” he says. In the weeks that followed, Sher plotted what exactly he’d do with his new body, and imagined the restored confidence he would eventually feel.
Sher, 25, who works as a search engine marketing manager in Santa Monica, California, says he’d spent most of his life until that point struggling with his weight, with his unhealthy diet being the biggest culprit. “Without a doubt, the biggest contributor was family outings and a diet that consisted of fast food, overeating at dinners, and lounging around with close to zero exercise,” he says. “The daily routine was McDonald’s, hours watching TV, repeat.”
After he’d fully recovered from surgery, Sher stuck to the promise he made to himself, focusing first on getting himself off the couch. “The first day I was cleared for exercise, I hauled myself down the street and did a lap. One lap turned into two, and day after day I was trying to beat my times and distance,” he says. Sher also began to shy away from social and family outings where he knew the temptation to overeat would be strong. Finally, he turned to the internet for advice, combing through forums and subreddits such as r/fitness and r/bodybuilding for practical tips.
At first, cardio alone—along with some minor diet changes—did wonders. In the first six months of his new program, Sher lost about 50 pounds. Then he started to incorporate weight training and lifting six days a week. For more than two years, Sher stayed consistent, and eventually, he managed to melt off another 60 pounds of fat—50kg total. “How do I feel? Like I just completed the most gruelling session of homework in my life,” he says. “However, the sense of accomplishment I feel on a daily basis beats every burger or Chinese takeout I said no to in the process.”
The confidence took a while to catch up, Sher admits, but he got there. “Overall I just felt like I didn’t have to hide myself in public,” he says. “It’s incredible the amount of brain chemistry that can go along with proper nutrition and a constant stream of exercise.” As for what’s next, Sher says he’s primarily focused on staying consistent—continuing to hit the gym five or six days a week, while using an app to keep his diet on track, and documenting his progress on his Instagram account.
That said, he’s also working hard on the mental side of things, trying to find balance in his life. “I still have the stigma sometimes of if you eat that, you’ll get fat again. That’s still very apparent in my life and I do a decent job of trying to fend off those thoughts.” One thing that helps: The knowledge that there’s no such thing as a perfect diet or a perfect workout. “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re doing it,” he says. “Be consistent with whatever you do physically and mentally and I promise you’ll get to that goal eventually.”
This article originally appeared on Men’s Health