One Man's Incredible Journey From 325 Pounds to Serial Marathoner

All his life, Tony Forte wondered what it would be like to be fit, but he never took the necessary steps towards positive change. After passing the bar exam, Tony decided enough was enough. The countless hours, hard work, and determination he had dedicated to studying for his career could be translated into a new commitment: physical fitness. It looks like Tony's advice, "Stop sweating the small stuff, and simply start sweating," has paid off big time. Today, Tony is a group fitness instructor at Barry's Bootcamp, an avid marathoner, and an inspiration to anyone looking to lose weight and cultivate a healthy relationship with their body. Read on for his amazing story!

Tony: Before

Source: Tony Forte

POPSUGAR Fitness: What made you decide to start?
Tony Forte: I was 28 years old, 320 pounds, and about to start my career as a lawyer. I had spent the Summer studying for the bar exam, and the grueling experience helped me realize that I had tons of willpower and determination when it came to academics. I began to wonder why I couldn't apply that sort of determination to my health. I had spent my entire life overweight wondering what it would be like to be fit but never trying to change anything. I was resolved to the lifestyle I had lived with for 28 years: go to school, socialize, work, eat, sleep, day in and day out. I had grown accustomed to the ever-present feeling of wishing I could shed the insecurities I carried on my shoulders every day. I would lie in bed and actually daydream about being active and fit, but I didn't do anything about it.

In September 2010, I decided I would try to lose a few pounds and would start by changing my diet. I was about to begin my demanding career as a first-year associate at a NYC law firm and knew that this was the best time to focus on my health and change the trajectory of my life, before I started working 100 hours a week. Little did I know that my entire life would change from that moment forward.

PS: What's your favorite way to work out?
TF: Bootcamp! Seriously, high-intensity interval training has been the most effective means of reaching my goals. But my goals might be different from others. Specifically, I aim to feel toned, live long, protect my body from injury, and find new ways to push myself without hurting myself. Bootcamp has enabled me to reach those goals effectively and efficiently. Specifically, I have to sing serious praises for Barry's Bootcamp. A very influential fitness instructor in my life encouraged me to try a class three years ago. The class made my body sore in every way possible. We ran on the treadmill and lifted weights in ways that I swear hit every muscle and left me dripping in sweat. I started to go every week and couldn't believe that people went more often than that (I could barely walk the next day let alone hop back on that treadmill).

Eventually I started going twice per week, then three times, then daily. It took my fitness to a whole new level. My strength and my endurance improved tremendously. Two years after I took my first class, I found myself teaching at the Barry's Bootcamp in Irvine, CA. It was the natural progression in my affinity for fitness. I only teach a couple classes a week (I'm still a full-time lawyer), but the opportunity to motivate others and see others conquer new hurdles gives me incredible satisfaction and motivation.

Tony: After

Maria McRoberts

PS: How much weight have you lost?
TF: I try to avoid answering this question because I focus on other metrics to gauge my health rather than the scale. During any intense weight-loss regimen, the scale becomes both a source of motivation and despair. You lose 10 pounds in a week and that gives you the willpower to keep going. You work out harder than ever, but the scale doesn't change and that can kill all of your momentum. With that said, it's realistic that people (like me when I was 28) will rely on the scale to get the ball rolling. It took a long time to train my brain to evaluate my health based on my physical fitness rather than my weight, and it's still a work in progress.

At my heaviest, I weighed 325 pounds. At my lightest, I weighed 175 pounds. I now focus on building muscle and increasing my cardio-endurance. I evaluate my health based on my muscular strength. For example, how much can I bench press? The answer used to be 10-pound dumbbells, now it's 65-pounders. And in terms of my cardiovascular health, how far and how fast can I run? The answer used to be 20 seconds, now it's a four-hour marathon.

Source: Tony Forte

PS: What's your weekly exercise schedule?
TF: This is tricky because I am currently training for the NYC Marathon in November, so my current routine is very "running-centric."

  • Monday: Arms and Abs Workout at Barry's Bootcamp
  • Tuesday: Medium-distance run (one hour, comfortable pace, preferably a hilly course)
  • Wednesday: Chest, Back, and Abs Workout at Barry's Bootcamp
  • Thursday: Indoor cycling at Full Psycle (great SoCal spot)
  • Friday: Lift heavy weights and run intervals (two-three miles, alternating between sprints and jogs)
  • Saturday: Long-distance run (10 to 20 miles, longer as training progresses each week)
  • Sunday: Rest (swim at the beach?)

PS: How do you keep workouts exciting?
TF: I find that the key is to diversify from day-to-day and add cyclicality from season-to-season. On a day-to-day basis, I keep things interesting by mixing classes, runs, and lifting weights. I find new instructors, new gyms, new equipment, and new running courses — there really is no limit to your options when it comes to finding ways to get fit. If you go to indoor cycling every day, of course you will get bored and your muscles will fatigue too quickly. But if you go once a week, then it becomes a variable that helps mix things up and hit your muscles in new ways. When I feel really bored or if I find my routine is just too repetitive, I look for a race on the Runner's World Race Finder website for the upcoming weekend — a 10K is ideal for me because I can push myself without needing to adjust my training schedule too much.

As for seasonal cyclicality, I like running marathons because they require me to change my training regimen. When I am in marathon training, my workout routine is entirely different than when I am recovering between races and trying to rebuild some of the muscles I lost from the intense bouts of cardio. If you are in a place that actually has seasonal temperature and weather changes (unlike here in Orange County), this cyclicality can happen pretty easily. Take advantage of the opportunity to swim in the Summer or cycle in the Fall.

Maria McRoberts

PS: What was the first big difference, other than the number on the scale, that really made you feel proud and excited?
TF: The funny thing about my new love for fitness is that I feel proud and excited all the time. Seriously, the energy with which I approach life is completely different. However, I can think of some distinct memories that have left a mark. First, this may sound trite, but I was ecstatic to be able to shop at a store that wasn't geared towards large men. I used to hate shopping because I just bought whatever fit. I would reach for the XXL sale rack and buy everything there. If there was a 44" x 30" pant, I bought it. If it wasn't a color I liked or if it wasn't a perfect fit, I didn't care. I bought in bulk and went home. Growing up, I dreaded when my friends would want to go into stores like Abercrombie because I knew that I couldn't fit into anything. Now everything is different and I am learning how shopping for clothes can be fun (and dangerous!). I also couldn't believe when my waist dropped to the size I am at now. I was never this size before. I went from wearing kids' sized clothing (XL or XXL) to a 36" pant. I remember when I bought my first 34" pant, as a 30-year-old man.

Secondly, running the Boston Marathon last April was an incredibly moving experience. I was on vacation with my mother when I ran my first mile ever. I remember coming back to the hotel ecstatic that I had run a full mile. My mom's response was, "I'm so proud of you. You will be running marathons one day." I may have replied, "Thank you," but my brain screamed, "Why would she say that?! I can barely run one mile — there is no way I will run a marathon! Why would she undermine my legitimate accomplishment with unrealistic goals?" Fast-forward a couple years when I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill in Boston and saw my mother on the sidelines with her sign. I gave her a huge hug and then ran off with some tears in my eyes and vivid memories of that first-mile victory and her prediction. The tears were either from a sense of sentimentality . . . or physical pain . . . or the mixture of sweat and sunblock burning my eyes. It's unclear.

Source: Tony Forte

PS: How do you track your weight loss?
TF: As I mentioned above, I try to avoid putting too much emphasis on the scale; I focus on other metrics based on fitness. With that said, when I get into marathon mode, I use a calorie counter. When you are very, very active, you can get very, very hungry. And while I fuel my body to meet the demands of intense training, I don't want to go overboard and overconsume. I often say that endurance running can be tricky emotionally. On one hand you feel incredibly fit because you are running for hours at a time, but on the other hand, it is hard to maintain your muscle-mass and also regulate your metabolism. Training can be a bit of a whirlwind, and I find that calorie-counting (using apps like MyFitnessPal) helps keep things in check.

PS: What's the range of calories you eat per day?
TF: I eat between 2,700 and 3,300 calories per day and estimate that I burn around 500 to 700 per day working out.

What's a typical day of meals and snacks?
TF: This is a tough one because I cycle my diet based on what I am doing in my training. Generally, I try to avoid carbs and sugar because I know that if I wake up and eat a muffin, I will probably reach for a snack at 10 a.m. and again after lunch and again before dinner. In other words, I do whatever I can to avoid a sugar roller coaster. I love low-glycemic fruits like berries before workouts and healthy complex carbs like sweet potatoes and brown rice before and after workouts. I also can't run over 10 miles without a banana (or two!). For protein, egg whites are very prominent in my diet as are fish and chicken. I'm not a huge red-meat eater, but every once in a while, I will eat steak.

As for snacking, I am an almond addict! (Always unsalted.) I also love carrots and hummus, especially oil-free hummus because it really cuts the fat and calories, and I often add some sriracha to make it even more fun. A great snack that I eat an hour before a workout consists of shredded carrots, fresh almond butter, some whole cashews, and dried cranberries all mixed together. It may sound crazy, but it's delicious and gives me a ton of energy. As for my less-than-healthy indulgences . . . hello, frozen yogurt with chocolate chips. I have a platinum Yogurtland rewards card.

Ragnar Race Series

PS: What are the healthy staples that are always in your fridge?
TF: Here's a sad story about me: I have a ridiculously bad habit of eating in my sleep. Honestly, nothing is off-limits. I've actually made rice in my sleep (in a rice cooker). I've also polished off a whole jar of peanut butter in my sleep. As a result, I can't really keep much at home. People look in my fridge and think I am a stereotypical dude who doesn't know how to shop for food or cook. But it's actually quite the contrary – I love food and cooking.

When I do shop, here are things that I buy and try to keep either in the fridge or on reserve in the freezer: chicken breast, carrots, salsa, almond butter, eggs, and almond milk. Basically, I need something I can snack on that isn't processed and loaded with sodium, so carrots help with that, and it turns out salsa is good with almost everything. Chicken breast grilled with some seasoning can satisfy a fast dinner. And a spoonful of almond butter is an instant desert.

PS: How do you strategize for meals out?
TF: Unless it's two nights before a marathon, the only "rule" I stick to is no bread on the table. I also avoid the trap of presuming salads are healthier than entrees by default. Salads loaded with fats and sugars can be terribly bad for you. When I get a salad, I always ask for dressing on the side. I substitute starches and carbs for greens. I don't hesitate to order fish or chicken, provided the word beurre (butter) doesn't appear in the description. With that said, I don't consider this strategizing; I don't try to approach eating as if it's a game for which there are winners and losers. I eat food as a source of fuel for my body and as a source of joy for my taste buds. I try to marry those two objectives as best as possible. If I am carbo-loading for a race, I suggest Italian for dinner. If I am driving home from lifting weights, I propose my favorite rotisserie chicken spot.

Maria McRoberts

PS: What advice do you have for anyone starting out on a weight-loss journey?
TF: Take it one day at a time, and don't rush into it or get frustrated. Finding fitness is a process. Even though you may think there is an end in sight or a target you are trying to achieve, there isn't. Once you start this sort of journey you will stay on it forever. If your goal is to lose 30 pounds, don't think: "OK, I will lose two or three pounds per week for the next three months and then I will be done." That may be weight loss, but it's not fitness. Find a routine that you can maintain even beyond reaching your weight-loss goals. I used to be incredibly scared that I would regain the weight I lost. Tabloids always focus on weight-loss stories where the weight "comes back." That terrified me. But then I realized that the fundamentals of my life – how I exist in my body – have changed, and they aren't going to change. I didn't just lose weight. I found fitness.

We need to abandon all the hurdles when it comes to weight loss and healthy living — most of these hurdles stem from fear and anxiety. Don't be afraid to walk into a gym. Don't be afraid to ask your group fitness instructor for advice. Don't be scared if your weight increases by two pounds over the course of a week. Stop sweating the small stuff, and simply start sweating.

Do you have an inspiring Before & After story to share? Message us on Facebook, and give us a few details of your journey. We might even profile you on the site, like Tony!