The "freshman fifteen" is universally acknowledged for a reason—most college students can't help but gain a few pounds in their first year. For Joseph "J.T." Bugos, however, it wound up being more like the freshman thirty. "I decided the freshman fifteen wasn't good enough," he jokes. "After playing sports like basketball and volleyball in high school, I stopped in college, so I was less active, but continued with the same eating habits," he says. "Froyo in the dining hall didn't help either," he admits.
Bugos, now 30 and working as an online fitness coach and personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Denver, saw his weight yo-yo a bit after college, and then continue to climb, hitting a peak of around 115 kilos. His diet, which was centred mainly on junk food like pizza, buttery quesadillas, and "tacos galore," was the obvious culprit. Less obvious was what motivated his unhealthy eating: "I was really down on myself," he says. "I had a massive disconnect between who I was and who I believed I should be. I was single with no confidence to approach a woman, and my self-love was in the tank. My work ethic and discipline reflected that."
Bugos knew he was far from the person he wanted to be, and felt it was time to take control of his health and genuinely begin to like himself again. "I made a pact to myself that I would start working out and eating healthier. I stuck to that with some inspiration from my dad, who was 55 and worked out every day."
Progress was slow at first, but steady—first, he swapped in healthier foods, trading pizza, tacos, and other fast foods for oatmeal, fruit, eggs, and packed lunches. Instead of going to the gym, he started off by doing P90X workouts at home. Over the course of a year and a half, he lost close to 35 kilos. "I looked and felt great," he says. "My discipline skyrocketed along with my confidence, and I truly began to like who I was." The combined impact of his mental and physical transformation is part of what inspired Bugos to become a personal trainer. "I want to help as many people as I possibly can achieve the same transformation I did," he says.
Likewise, when working with clients, Bugos often pulls from the same lessons that helped him get in shape: Start slow and build momentum. If you can only handle walks right now, then start there. If you don't eat enough veggies, try for one more serving a day. "Too many of us start strong, but we don't last," he says. "Work on building healthy habits, one at a time, and eventually they will snowball and create a compound effect that will launch you to the next level."
This article originally appeared on Men's Health