Lee Labrada Interviews Johnathan Zamora
Johnathan Zamora was 365 as a freshman in college! As a strike of luck, he was assigned to work at the University fitness center. Through support and determination, he turned things around. Read about Johnathan’s life-changing journey.
Click Here to Listen to Lee & Johnathan’s Interview.
Lee: Hi, this is Lee Labrada, your Lean Body® Coach, and I’m here with Johnathan Zamora who has a fantastic story of how he got himself into great condition. Starting out Johnathan, I think that for our readers here, I’d like to start by talking about your childhood. As I understand it, you were fairly heavy as a child.
Johnathan: Yes I was. I was always overweight as a child. Food surrounded every family event and coming from a family of overweight people my weight was never really a big concern. Until I grew a little older and realized I was twice as heavy as children in my same grade.
Lee: Now my understanding is that as young as six years old you were having trouble fitting into pants with a 36 inch waist, is that right?
Johnathan: That’s correct. I had to instead go to a normal clothing store at age six and get normal sized pants hemmed to my height because I was quite heavy.
Lee: Now Johnathan, how much of that do you think is genetics and how much is just the eating habits that you establish at home?
Johnathan: You know I think genetics play maybe 40 to 50 percent roll in obesity. But equally as important is the diet and the behavioral condition, definitely eating habits and exercise as well.
Lee: Those definitely impact and we’ve seen many success stories where people have utilized a good nutrition program combined with exercise to stimulate their metabolism and literally to turn themselves around. And as our listeners are going to find out here momentarily, you have turned yourself around. I understand that by the time you graduated high school, tell me a little bit about how much you weighed and where things went from there.
Johnathan: I graduated high school back in 2001 and I was right around 325 pounds at age 18.
Lee: And how tall are you?
Johnathan: I’m right about 5’ 7”.
Lee: About 5’ 7”. And so definitely had packed on some pounds and then you went off to college to Johnson and Wales University. Tell us a little about that and what your experience there was.
Johnathan: Going to Johnson and Wales, I originally wanted to open a restaurant. It’s a world-class culinary institution. And I was really looking forward to a really positive college experience. With that comes, as you know, “the freshman 15”, as people refer to it. But for me it’s more like “the freshman 50”. Poor eating choices and no exercise what so ever lead to my weight gain. Probably about December of my freshman year, 4 or 5 months into it, I reached my all-time high of 365 pounds.
Lee: Which is a lot of weight. But again, I think that you had an epiphany there and you started taking the bull by the horns. What would you say was the turning point? What made you realize that you wanted to get into shape and what spurred you to do that?
Johnathan: Well you know I looked around and I noticed that my size was not a normal thing. Looking around college campus, everyone was in shape and getting their activity in. As luck would have it, I was a work study at the school fitness center. Which, at 365 pounds, was the last place I wanted to ever be. But as luck would have it, I got some helpful guidance and support from the gym regulars there. And they kind of took me under their wing a little bit and I learned about the importance of daily activity and eating right and staying with it and being consistent.
Lee: Boy I’ll tell you it can be a little bit intimidating when you walk into a gym for the first time. Especially if you’re de-conditioned and you see a lot of people who are in very good shape. I can imagine some of the feelings that are going through your head at that time.
Johnathan: Absolutely! It was quite intimidating, as you said. But even more so on my end because I wasn’t there just to get in shape. I was there as an employee. So here I am, the first face that members see as they walk through the door and I’m taking their I.D. cards and here I am 365 pounds. It was quite humiliating on my part and very embarrassing that I let myself go the way I did.
Lee: I guess that was the epiphany, you felt that you had to do something about it. So tell me about your first attempt at exercise. What did you try?
Johnathan: I just tried walking on a treadmill actually. We had a big bank of them and I said alright let me give this a shot. I hop on the treadmill, and, at a crawl pace, barely a walk for me. And, I tried to push myself and after four minutes I was absolutely exhausted.
Lee: Isn’t that something! We all start somewhere. Some of us in better shape than others. Obviously that was the first important step for you to do that treadmill. Where did it go from there?
Johnathan: I started learning more, I became very curious and interested about exercise and saw what great shape others were in. I said maybe there’s something to this; let me give this a shot. I started learning and reading more, doing research, and experimenting on myself. Lo and behold I really loved it! I loved the way I felt. Even though I was heavy, I knew I was doing something good for my body and that made me feel good.
Lee: How much weight did you lose and how long did it take you?
Johnathan: From college I lost, from January to end of the school year, I lost those first 50 pounds. I was super-excited! I was really jazzed up about it; I was ready to go home and continue and share my success with my family. It was a really positive experience and it only motivated me to want to do more.
Lee: That’s awesome! What did your family think when you showed up weighing 50 pounds less?
Johnathan: The funny thing is I didn’t tell them I was exercising. So when they saw me they were shocked, “oh wow look how great you look!”.They were really supportive, they were really excited for me and happy. They started to open themselves up to learning more about living a fitness lifestyle.
Lee: In terms of exercise, do you think it’s more important weight training, or cardio, or both?
Johnathan: I think both are very, very important. But weight training I think has maximal benefits for a whole host of reasons. Cardio definitely complements it quite well.
Lee: Absolutely, and as you and I know both know, Johnathan, the weight training stimulates the muscle tissue and in turn promotes metabolism and burns calories and helps to burn that extra fat off. A lot of times I’ve come across people that have told me “Lee, I’m going to get in the gym but I’m going to lose 15–20 pounds first”. It’s almost like they’re thinking that’s a prerequisite to burn off fat before they get in the gym, when nothing can be farther from the truth. They need to get into the gym to get that fat burning process started and to do the weight training which obviously combined with the cardio training makes such a huge difference.
Lee: So you’re back home, and you and I met back in the summer of 2002. We actually had the opportunity to catch a workout together. Let me tell you, that was a great workout!
Johnathan: It was a lot of fun. It was intense and I really felt pumped about it.
Lee: We did some different exercises and we talked about motivational techniques. Johnathan, let me ask you this, some advice for our listeners, in terms of motivational techniques. What has worked well for you in helping you to drop body fat.
Johnathan: One of the things I realized early on was that living this lifestyle, being active and eating right, is a journey. There’s no finish line. Each person is at a different place in their fitness journey no matter where they are, today. The good news is that regardless of were you are, or what age you are, you can make a choice to live healthier and live better today.
Lee: That’s exactly right. You’re a big proponent of visualization. Tell us a little about that.
Johnathan: Visualization for me was one of the huge keys in achieving this transformation. What I would do was I’d look in a mirror and I would simply, with my mind, visualize the body that I wanted. Visualize the internal self that I saw in the mirror, mentally. Day after day, week after week I started to get smaller and smaller and stronger and stronger. Lo and behold, a year and a half later I had the body I wanted.
Lee: That’s fantastic! It all starts in the mind. The mind is so powerful. It’s almost like you can program the mind to achieve anything that you want. A lot of times people will just harbor negative thoughts and they’ll just leave it at that rather that focusing on things that they want. They don’t really mind their thoughts and their thinking process much.
Johnathan: I definitely agree with that.
Lee: During your sophomore year at Johnson and Wales, you had a slight change of direction in terms of your pursuit of the culinary degree. I think that they had added the culinary nutrition to the degree offerings and I believe that is the direction that you went in.
Johnathan: When I saw that at orientation I said let me give this a try. I had just lost 50 pounds, I was really excited about getting back into the gym and working out and furthering my progress. And it just seemed that I was being guided almost…indirectly. And I followed this path and it led me to a very exciting career.
Lee: What do you do now Johnathan?
Johnathan: I’m a culinary nutritionist, actually, in the New York State Department of Health. I work for the bureau of supplemental food programs, and in particular, certain programs where I educate young children and their parents the proper way to eat right and exercise, and the role that plays in living a healthy overall lifestyle.
Lee: That is just so inspirational! It’s just fantastic, number one, what you’ve done with yourself. It’s truly a testament to your willpower. And secondly, what you’ve done since then. You’re literally becoming a fitness evangelist and taking the word out there and getting other people into great shape. Now, obviously I know that your most important disciple is at home. You have a baby daughter. And how old is she?
Johnathan: Ah yes, my daughter Ellie, she’s four and a half years old, and then I have my little guy, Johnathan James, he’s a year and a half. And, absolutely, I need to be the example for them to follow.
Johnathan: Thank you very much! I’m a big advocate of leading by example.
Lee: That’s exactly right. So much of it starts at home with parents setting the right example for their kids. When you get the whole family involved it’s so much easier to eat properly. Because a lot of times you just don’t bring the bad foods in, at all. Let me ask you this, how much weight have you lost total? And tell us a little about your waist size when you started and what it is now.
Johnathan: When I first started, at my heaviest, I was at a size 62 waist. You don’t have to be an expert to know at 5’ 7” that’s quite heavy. I lost a total of 170 pounds over the course of 18 months. It was a nice, healthy weight loss; about 10 or 11 pounds per month and currently I’m in a 36 waist.
Lee: Man, that is just amazing! From a 62 inch waist down to a 36 inch waist. And over 170 pounds lost. Congratulations! Your doctor must be freaking out when he seen this. What did he say about all this?
Johnathan: He said it was absolutely unreal. He did blood work on me and he says, you know, in his 30 year career, he had never seen anyone achieve this kind of weight loss naturally, and keep it off; it’s almost been five years now. He did my blood work, which was done fairly recently, and he says if I didn’t know any better I’d think you were training for a triathlon. He says you’re definitely an athlete.
Lee: That’s amazing. When the medical community sees the results that people can get when they apply proper diet, nutrition, and training techniques, I think it amazes them. Too many people now days want to go get a prescription from a doctor, get weight loss pills, and they’re looking for a miracle in a bottle. And there’s good supplements out there. There’s certain supplements that can be used intelligently to help. But the backbone of any good program, as you already know Johnathan, is the nutrition and the exercise component.
Johnathan: There’s no magic pill. If you’re looking for a miracle in a bottle you’re not going to find it. It has to start on the inside first. You have to make a decision to live better, and to live well, and things will fall into place.
Lee: What are some of the supplements that have worked for you?
Johnathan: I’ve used protein powder. I really like the ProV60® from Labrada. It’s helped me quite a bit. I take a multivitamin, essential fatty acids, some meal replacement shakes; everything to kind of maintain my weight loss and build more muscle. It’s definitely given a boost in my daily nutritional habits.
Lee: How many meals per day do you eat?
Johnathan: I eat between six and seven meals a day.
Lee: Now when you tell people that you eat six or seven meals per day, what’s their reaction?
Johnathan: They say wow, you eat all that food and you’re not overweight?
Lee: I think it comes down to eating small meals and stimulating the metabolism rather than eating two or three large meals and taking in too many calories which then get deposited as fat. So it’s kind of like grazing during the day versus overeating.
Johnathan: I take about 15 to 20 minutes to finish each meal. I eat slowly and it keeps my energy sky high and my metabolism torching calories and I feel great.
Lee: How do you prepare all that food? In other words, most of us don’t have time to cook six, seven meals a day. So the obvious question that comes up is “how do you do it?”
Johnathan: I make it part of my lifestyle. The night before I have a fantastic wife who’s very supportive and has lost quite a bit of weight herself. We work together. We prepare the meals at home and store them away so the next day everything’s prepared to go. You don’t even have to think about it. Just throw it in your bag and it’s ready. One less thing to do.
Lee: That’s right. I typically do the same thing Johnathan. I’ll have some chicken breasts grilled up and some steamed brown rice, some vegetables and the like and then I’ll put it in small individual Tupperware containers and I’ll put that in the refrigerator and then I’ll just pull from that the next day. Throw it in my cooler and I’ll take that to work and just heat it up in the microwave. But the preparation is key, because if you wait until you’re hungry to say ok what am I going to eat, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Johnathan: If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.
Lee: Now I understand that you have a weight loss program, you have custom nutrition plans, comprehensive nutrition notebook, and weekly emails and the like. If our listeners want some more information on your story, what is the website address they should go to?
Johnathan: They can go to www.fitchefnutrition.com
Lee: What will we find there?
Johnathan: You’ll find my back story, some information on myself. My before and after pictures. You can see for yourself; real life there. You’ll see exactly what my program is and the things I can offer. I really look forward to offering some really motivational aspects to this plan.
Lee: I congratulate you on what you’re doing and reaching out to people. And Johnathan, as we have discussed, you’re going to be coming on to the Labrada Nutrition blog on our website and you’re going to start blogging and sharing your success tips with others.
Johnathan: I’m just so excited about this. I really have an interesting aspect. Because not only do I know nutrition now, but I’m also a food expert as well, and I think that’s sort of the missing link; is combining the two. That’s what hopefully I can offer to the readers and hopefully they will enjoy it.
Lee: Well I can tell you that for one, I’m excited, I’m looking forward to reading your articles and your posts. I’ve got to tell you Johnathan, you’re such and inspiration to all of us. Any words of advice for our listeners.
Johnathan: Yes. Make a decision. Decide to be successful. Decide to change your life for the better and everything will happen as it should.
Lee: That’s great advice. Johnathan, thank you so much for joining us today. Ladies and gentlemen, that is Johnathan Zamora, and be sure to check out his website www.fitchefnutrition.com, and be sure to check out the Labrada Nutrition blog for more updates and informational articles on how you can get into great shape as well. Johnathan, thank you so much!
Johnathan: Thank you Lee, I appreciate it.
Lee: You bet. Take care.
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