When he was at his heaviest, Thuan Nguyen recalls feeling as if he was "trudging through life in the mud." He was unhappy with work, had just ended a challenging relationship, and was struggling with depression. A combination of stress and emotional eating—combined with working a sedentary job that involves up to five hours of daily commuting— had caused his weight to peak at roughly 115 kilos. "I had never felt so low in my life," he says.
Nguyen, 33, who works as a UX designer in the Bay Area of California, had struggled to lose weight in the past, but says that the need to make a change "just clicked" in the moment. "This time, I told myself, 'Just keep going. Even if you stumble, just keep going. You'll look back and be glad you did'," he says. "Two years later, I certainly am glad I did."
It helped that Nguyen had spent more than a decade following the latest science around weight loss and bodybuilding, and training with people who knew what they were doing. "I'd cut down a couple times before," he says. "I had the experience, knowledge, and self-awareness to transform. The challenge was: How do I now do it at this scale?" Nguyen's goal was ambitious: He wanted to cut down to around 83 kilos.
The idea of losing nearly 31 kilos would feel daunting to nearly anyone, so Nguyen decided to approach it with a combination of baby steps and milestones to make it feel more manageable. "First, I counted my calories every day for a week to roughly determine my maintenance intake," he says. "Then I decreased the calories by a couple hundred to initiate weight loss. I made incremental reductions, only doing so if my weight plateaued too long. If I reduced my calories too drastically, I knew I would suffer and risk giving up," he adds. Once he had the nutritional component locked in, he aimed to work out three or four days a week.
Meanwhile, he stayed patient, knowing the results would come. "It's science. When consuming in a deficit, weight loss will happen," he says. That's a point he makes often when advising other people on how to begin their weight loss progress. If you're struggling and tempted to hire some outside help, he says to look for a reputable, evidence-based coach. "Make sure they use scientific research to inform much of their thinking," he says. "Even today, I suspect the majority of coaches still believe in myths and bro-science."
No matter what you do, Nguyen's number one rule is to enjoy the process as best you can. (Easier said than done, we know.) Part of enjoying the process for Nguyen meant taking it slow. "That enabled me to have sufficient energy, to enjoy eating, and maintain lean tissue," he says. It took the better part of two years, but Nguyen made it—completing a dramatic 70-pound weight loss transformation. "I feel amazing," he says. "Like a gazelle. I feel athletic, lean, healthy, and more confident—I know that's reflected in my attitude."
While Nguyen hit the goal he initially set for himself, he says he's not finished just yet. He'd like to focus on getting a bit leaner, see how far he can push his physique. "If I get lean enough, maybe—just maybe—I'll enter a natural bodybuilding competition," he says. But as with his previous transformation, he expects to take it slow once again, celebrating the little victories along the way, and tracking his progress on his Instagram account. "It's important to make this a lifestyle change," he says. "Make your approach sustainable, and something you can enjoy every day."
This article originally appeared on Men's Health