How This Guy Changed His Expectations and Lost 110 Pounds

This story is part of our ongoing “First Steps” series, where we share extraordinary stories of men who transformed their bodies, minds, and lives with a focus on the first steps it took them to get there (because, after all, nothing can change without a first step!). Read all of the stories here.

Mike Barker, 55, who’s now retired from a Los Angeles law enforcement agency, found weight creeping on as a result of injuries and life in general. All of a sudden, he found himself carrying 280 pounds, and knew it was time for a change. Here, in his own words, he explains the steps that helped him lose 110 pounds:

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN physically fit. Unfortunately, with my job, I got some injuries, and with those injuries and the lack of mobility, I started to put on weight. I won’t make any other excuses and I know because of the injuries I got lazy, and I ended up at about 280 pounds.

My blood pressure rose, and I was on medication for it. The injuries got to the point where I just couldn’t move, and in May of 2022, I went for an MRI on my back. And I couldn’t even fit in the MRI tube. That was my rock bottom. Half an hour later, I was at Ultimate Performance in Los Angeles. I’d already made the decision I was going to U.P. and I had booked the appointment for later that day, but after the MRI incident, I showed up at U.P. an hour-and-a-half early. I was paired with my trainer, Cristian Nuques, and these steps got me where I am today:

I Adjusted My Expectations

WHEN I FIRST started, I was grossly overweight and hoping for huge drops in my weight, which initially didn’t happen. But Cristian kept me motivated and assured me it was totally normal. Looking back, I’m glad we did it that way, because slower drops in my weight made it easier to sustain in the long term, versus dropping 10 or 12 pounds a week. In the past, I’ve been on a couple of weight loss journeys, and I’ve been able to lose maybe 25 pounds in 30 days without blinking. But then I would gain back 40 pounds.

barker with his trainer cristian nuques

Ultimate Performance

Barker, with his trainer, Cristian Nuques, who helped him stay injury-free.

When we started out, we started using the hack squat machine with no weight on it, just to work on my mobility. Being a big man, it was difficult at best. I remember after the first workout session, I had trouble walking to the elevator! My muscles were saying: “What the hell you doing to me?” I think that’s a prime example of where I was at. But now I’m up to three plates.

At the beginning, pull-ups were non-existent. When you’re trying to pull up close to 280 pounds, it’s nearly impossible. But now I can incorporate pull ups into my workout routine, so I’m happy.

The one piece of equipment that I developed a love-hate relationship with, which I loved and hated the most, was the pendulum. But I got to the point where I enjoyed pushing myself, and getting to a point where even though it’s hard, you enjoy it.

We Worked Around My Injuries

I DON’T KNOW how Cristian managed it, but working around my injuries has been amazing. It was one of the biggest concerns I had at the start. I have some bulging discs in my back, my knees are bad, the blood pressure all goes in with the injuries, but Cristian designed a program where I don’t even feel my injuries. They’re still there and they will probably need surgery down the road, and every once in a while I’ll get a little flare up, but that’s more of a case of me resorting back to bad habits and kind of cheating on a rep or something like that.

“Slower DROPS in my weight made it EASIER to sustain in the LONG TERM.

Because I’ve been in the military, and then the police department, I’ve always been in alpha-dominated professions where there’s always been a spirit of competition between the guys. I think when things are highly competitive that form sometimes goes out the window and it’s more about how much you can do versus doing it safely and correctly.

What I realized when I started working out with Cristian is that I didn’t know anything! For years I’d been lifting incorrectly. Now, I’m functioning, and Cristian made the supporting cast around my injuries so much stronger. It has made daily life so much easier.

My Grandson Helped Me Get My Steps In

ONE OF THE things that made it fun for me was getting my step count high while playing with my grandson in the pool. My grandson and I have a really good bond and because of his autism, he is like the Energizer Bunny. He is on the go from the moment he wakes up until he goes to bed.

Because we’re so close, whenever I’m at home, he would just grab my hand and we’d walk out to the swimming pool, jump in, and just spent two hours playing in the pool. But I found that a really cool way to get my steps in. I took it to another level doing my steps in the pool and I’d be doing like 22,000 steps a day, which was crazy but pretty cool.

I Keep Meals Simple—and I Cut Out Beer

I’VE NEVER BEEN a terribly bad eater. Eating was not really the problem. To me, the problem was beer. Beer, for me, was like the equivalent of someone eating a bowl of ice-cream every night. It was like a comfort food to me.

But since May 9, 2022, I’ve not even had a taste of beer and that’s been a huge change for me. I’ve got no cravings and I’m 100 percent dedicated to this program I’m on.

During the early part of my transformation, I used a meal prep service and that really helped me to hit all my macros and calories without having to think too much about it. It was a no-brainer at the beginning because the company sent me food with all the macros pre-calculated and I could concentrate on showing up with Cristian and doing the work in the gym.

Now, because I’m really in the last phase to try and get rid of that last little bit of fat around my waist I’ve changed my diet around to try and get rid of that last bit of stubborn fat.

barker at the gym

Ultimate Performance

Barker once had high blood pressure and had trouble putting his socks on.

barker lifting weights

Ultimate Performance

Now he’s off the meds and feels better than ever.

So, meal one I’ll have ten egg whites with a cup of rice. Meal two is exactly the same. Meal three I’ll have eight ounces of ground turkey with some spinach, broccoli, or some green vegetables. I’ll probably have a protein shake or a chicken thigh on its own at some point, and for my last meal, another 10 egg whites. So, I’m probably eating about 30 egg whites a day. That keeps it simple, and it keeps it easy if you’re traveling.

When I started at U.P. in May 2022, I was close to 280 pounds. Since then, I’ve lost 110 pounds. When I started, my body fat was more than 40 percent. Right now, I’m sitting at about 14 percent.

I’m no longer taking blood pressure medication daily, and I feel great. My health is getting back to where it was. But this journey I’ve been on isn’t only about me. I’d say it’s 50/50 between Cristian and me. He’s just been freaking great and a huge part of where I am today.

When I was at my biggest, I had trouble just putting my socks on. It was a chore. In terms of my mobility and getting around, it’s just night and day. I’m 55 now, so I don’t need to prove anything to myself or try and lift 350lb. I just want to be able to train to keep myself in shape so I can run around with my grandkids.

Headshot of Jesse Hicks

Jesse Hicks is a Detroit-based writer and former features editor at The Verge who specializes in longform stories about science, health, and technology. He has written for Men’s Health, VICE, Harper’s, and many other publications.


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