Seventeen years ago, Andrea Papas knew his love for food as a kid had finally caught up to him.
“My eating issues were very much emotionally driven because of a very hard up bringing, with food being my comfort and my escape route,” Papas told Men’s Health. “It wasn’t easy being teased and shouted at all the time, so I had no other way to take out my emotions. My only way was through food.”
He had always been overweight as a kid, but by the time he hit 18 years old in 2000, Papas weighed in at 140 kilos, the heaviest he had ever been. He wasn’t happy, he didn’t like the way he looked, and his clothes never fit him quite right.
Now, the 35-year-old health and fitness coach from Johannesburg, South Africa, weighs in at a lean, muscular 89kg. Here are three simple pieces of advice that helped him achieve his goals—and can help you achieve yours, too.
As far back as he can remember, Papas always relied on food as an emotional crutch. “Having had a very difficult upbringing growing up, I would always take my mental and emotional issues out on food, binging and eating to where I was always stuffed,” he says.
As you can imagine, the foods he binged on didn’t really include broccoli. “Cereal, pancakes, biscuits, fried foods, pizza, burgers, sweets, chocolates—you name it, and I ate it,” Papas says. “In just one meal, I would literally have two pizzas, two slabs of chocolate, a whole bag of Doritos, all washed down with two liters of Coke.”
Papas knew it was a problem, but finding a solution was the hard part. After doing some research, he made a big change rooted in a simple concept: swap calorically heavy foods for nutrient-dense ones instead.
So, rather than filling a bowl with sugary cereal, he started filling it with oatmeal and eggs. Fried foods were scrapped from the lunch menu and replaced with chicken, potatoes, and lots of vegetables. As for dinner? Papas goes for fish, usually salmon, with brown rice and a salad. He drizzles olive oil over his meals for some healthy fat.
But that doesn’t mean Papas strips out his favorite foods completely. If you check out his Instagram, you’ll see that he still still eats pancakes, pizza, and burgers occasionally. “There is no need to follow diets that deprive and restrict you from foods you enjoy,” he wrote in one post.
Papas is actually a proponent of flexible dieting. This strategy—also known as If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)—means he sticks to a calorie target by eating a set amount of carbs, protein, and fat.
“IIFYM is a system that one can use to teach themselves balance and moderation, not an all out junk food show,” he wrote in another post. “It’s important that majority of your diet is always based on whole quality nutrient dense foods, especially if you want to be healthy, lean, strong, and fit.”
Papas realized early on in his fitness journey that he loved how resistance training made him feel. “My whole emotional, spiritual, and mental well being is healthier and better than ever before,” he says. “And I now have the confidence to take my top off and wear clothes I could never wear or feel comfortable in before.”
Lifting weights benefits your body in many ways: It helps you build lean muscle, boosts your metabolism, reduces your overall risk of injury, and even adds years to your life.
When Papas first started working out, he did a combination of boxing and strength training three days a week. Now, he hits the gym five or six days a week, most of them spent in the weight room. He could do squats all day, but also utilizes the bench press, shoulder presses, barbell curls, and barbell rows in his routine. As for cardio? He keeps it simple by walking a few miles per day.
“My goal is to build lean tissue to optimize my metabolism. The only way to do this is by resistance training,” he says. That’s because muscle is metabolically active tissue, so you’ll burn more calories at rest.
Finding a workout you love is key, he emphasizes. Going heavy on the weights works for him, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to force yourself to follow a similar routine if you’re going to hate every minute of it. “You have be passionate and love what you are doing, because if you don’t, it will never last,” he says.
“People need to get quick fixes out of their minds,” Papas says. “Give yourself time, because change doesn’t come overnight. It’s a process that requires self-discipline and sacrifice.”
It took Papas two years to lose 100 pounds. If you want to make permanent changes, you have to adopt habits that are sustainable for you, he says. (Otherwise, you may end up giving up and gaining all your weight back.) There will be challenges. Even for Papas, the process of getting in shape was a rollercoaster of setbacks.
“I was constantly falling into cycles of diet fads and supplements, believing there was a quick fix to what took me years to get to.” he says. He hit his share of weight loss plateaus, since the leaner you get, the harder it is to keep shedding pounds.
“You can go months without seeing any change at all, which was very demotivating and emotionally draining, and lead me nearly to give up hope many times,” Papas says. “But if you apply some patience, persistence, and perseverance, those challenges will turn into victories.”