Carl Parnell remembers being a picky eater at 7 years old—so much so, that his parents just fed him whatever he wanted. While he’s been involved with soccer most of his life, the 37-year-old UK native was always a “chubby child,” even through his teenage and early adult years. And he didn't know what to do about it. But in 2012, Parnell got the reality check he needed: His then 4-year-old daughter looked up at him and said “Daddy, you look like you have been pumped up by a bicycle pump.”
“It hit me hard. You can put a brave face on, but it did hurt,” he recalls. “But I really needed to hear that.”
For the next two years, he went through a roller coaster of yo-yo diets and workout plans that didn’t work. It was always the same cycle: He’d lose a little bit of weight and then gain it all back, always tipping the scales at about 100 kilograms (he had already lost some weight in the before photo above). After struggling to find a routine that worked for him, Parnell decided to go back to the drawing board. He signed up for an online nutrition course—and that’s when things really started to change.
“I couldn’t find anyone to help me, so I had to help myself,” he says.
He dual enrolled for nutrition and personal training courses, and studied everything from hormones to hypertrophy. Within the first six weeks, Parnell started transforming the way he looked at food.
Related: 6 Foods to Score a Six Pack
“I used to believe everything I read,” he says. “I would believe everything people told me and I didn’t know anything about food. I never thought about calories. I never thought about what’s in a specific food and what it actually does to your body. All I thought about was how it tasted.”
Parnell’s diet was once packed with convenience foods, like frozen meals, pizzas, fries, plenty of dessert, and fast food. Even though he’d put his time in at the gym, he never really got the results he was looking for because of his poor diet, he says.
But now, a sculpted six-pack has replaced his belly, thanks to his disciplined diet and a healthy dose of abs exercises three days a week. He credits his success to these three tips.
Pay Attention To Your Calorie Intake
Parnell admits he was simply eating way too many calories a day. After he figured out how many calories his body needed with his activity level, he finally started to see results when he stuck to his quota, which is about 2,600 calories a day.
Build a Balanced Meal
A diet full of junk foods means you’re loading up on extra calories, salt, sugar, and artificial ingredients. Now, Parnell sticks to balanced plates full of whole foods, like chicken breast for protein, brown rice for carbs, and a pile of vegetables.
Don’t Deprive Yourself
“I’ve learned that too many people demonize food,” Parnell says. “If you take something out (of your diet) and say you can’t have it, what will you do? You’ll want it.”
Occasionally indulging in his favorite foods made Parnell feel like he could actually stick to his goals without going crazy.
Make no mistake, Parnell has also become a regular at the gym for the past two years: He dedicates four days a week to cardio, strength training, and mobility work. In addition to his abs, he loves working his chest and shoulders with the lateral raise and classic bench press. He could never even do a single pull-up before, and now they’re just an everyday part of his routine. Now he weighs in at a lean 150 pounds, but he hopes to pack on more muscle.
And his journey hasn’t stopped here: Parnell is currently working towards his personal training certification—and is using everything he’s learned to educate children at his local schools about the importance of nutrition. Thinking about his own kid, he remembers why getting fit meant so much to him in the first place.
“As I was progressing, I used to ask ‘Can you see any difference?’ Children are honest,” he says. “(My daughter) would tell me ‘Yes, you look smaller’ and point to my different muscles. She was my motivation.”
For another amazing transformation, see how Apollo lost half his body weight before appearing on the Bachelorette.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health.