Danny, one of my best friends since childhood had put on weight … a lot of weight ! We hadn’t seen each other much lately, but every time we met, it caused me pain to see him in this state. He had been an athletic tennis player for years, now he could barely move and, at least from the outside, he didn’t seem to care that much.
When we started talking about me coaching him, he asked for weight loss, but I sold him rewilding. I wanted to guide him towards becoming happy, healthy, strong, and free. Thanks to him being open-minded and ready to get out of his comfort zone he got it all: rewilding, weight loss, less bodyfat and much more lean muscle. I kept my promise, and I took a sip of a gin&tonic.
Here are some of Danny’s thoughts on our 12 weeks of working together (Danny’s verhaal in het Nederlands hier)
Danny: At the end of September 2015, the youth team of Tennis Club Park Vilvoorde played the final interclub of Men 7. Despite being an away game, lots of parents and fans accompanied the young team. I was sitting on the sidelines of the tennis court coaching the boys inch towards victory. I was the head coach, but I hardly played tennis myself anymore. Weighting 130 kg, it would not have been pretty anyway. It was something I didn’t feel proud about but somehow it had become part of life. Of course, I did occasionally take action, mostly in my mind, but almost always without success. It’s much more complicated than just eating a little less and working out when you’re carrying 130 kg!.
After the tennis interclub encounter that we unfortunately lost 6-3, there was a very happy atmosphere, and the champagne and rosé flowed richly. The home team provided a true reception with accompanying snacks. It was there and then, on that radiant late summer day that this story begins.
Some of my tennis companions had just been on holiday to Spain. I’m sure wine and food had had a big influence. Probably during a rosé afternoon, a feeling of guilt hit hard and the gang decided to take on a challenge – climbing the Mont Ventoux by bike the next summer. I was challenged and I vowed to do it. A couple of beers and a splendid atmosphere made me feel strong and confident in conquering the Ventoux myself.
A bit to my surprise, the next day, I wasn’t regretting this decision. This could be the very much needed start of a new beginning for me! But… climbing Ventoux with a weight of 130 kg would mean suicide. I hadn’t a clue about biking. Anyway, my oldest daughter’s lover was selling his spare bike. One week later I was riding that bike.
Many years ago I used to be an athlete, so somewhere underneath that layer of fat, there was still some sort of a sporting body. By the end of 2015 I was feeling good. I had set a goal, I was covering enough kilometers and bad weather didn’t stop me from riding. I watched my diet and had lots of pasta and almost no meat, as I was told by many.
By early November, I had already lost 5kg. During a ride, I happened to drive past the home of my old youth friend, Bert. There was a time when we went out for a drink at least once a week, but for the last 10 years, we lost sight of each other. He had only once seen me play a very “overweighed singles tennis match”.
I had recently explored the world of social media and I made Facebook my main self-motivator. That’s how Bert became aware of my plans and current activities. Proud of my weight loss and my bike performance I decided to pay him a surprise visit. He congratulated me, saying that I was doing well, but gave me a suspicious look. I immediately got some straight-forward advice: “Danny,” he said, “I’m so excited that you’re starting to ride a bike, and anything is better than nothing, but take it from me, just cycling is not enough. You need to gain lean muscle, strengthen your entire body, and learn to use it effectively and efficiently in various circumstances. With cardio and cardio alone you will undoubtedly hit the roof sooner than later.”
His advice had left me puzzled. I thought it was a strange idea to burn fat by gaining muscle. But since my approach was working and I did not see myself going to the gym, I stubbornly continued my own way. I kept cycling, and six months later I weigh 15kg lighter. But because of the good summer with multiple BBQ’s and more beer than was good for me, I got stuck at 115 kg, just as he had predicted.
In August 2016, the climb of Mont Ventoux was successful. Only one year ago this would have been unthinkable, and yet I had realized this goal, After this, the euphoria wasn’t exactly a good motivator, as I took it a little easier and bam, in November the scale told me the cruel truth, 119kg. What now? Was Bert right? It was obvious that I was stuck. I decided to get myself a gym subscription and muscle up, but I soon realized that I did not have a clue about how to get started.
Nevertheless I managed to get back to 115 in 2 months, but more importantly … I bumped into Bert. Bert showed me some basic machines without too much conviction. He was much more enthusiastic about teaching me bodyweight exercises. We met every now and then in the gym, and it felt likethose years we never saw each other never happened, as our friendship was as strong as ever. This didn’t compromise the quality of the workouts; we trained hard, and I tried to keep up as well as possible.
While we worked out together, Bert explained in detail about his new professional direction, coaching, rewilding, teachings, workshops, etc. It triggered some thing in me, and after some consideration in January, I asked him to become my coach. Finally! I had been hesitating because, I wondered if would it work. Would he be strict enough or would that friendship provide too much tolerance or time for play and fun?
On January 9, we started a 12-week rewilding program, aiming at maximum weight loss. And of course, Bert explicitly added “wilder” to the goals.
From day one he introduced me into the world of rewilding. Not in an intrusive way, but talking and telling stories while doing different exercises and natural movements in the park or a quiet forest, and even in the gym. It required a very open mind from me. The first time in the park, I felt very awkward, but fortunately not many people were there. Squatting with a tree trunk in your neck makes people look at you with astonishment, something that Bert couldn’t care less about. Despite my still sluggish body, I managed to do it. At that point I didn’t know, but in fact he was introducing me to MovNat, a way of working out made popular by Frenchman Erwan Le Corre.
When working out, we stopped being “friends”. Bert told me exactly what I had to do, and there was no way that I would refuse a particular exercise. In the gym, outside or in his living room, the workout was always very inventive with lots of surprises and new things. When in the gym, most of the “fitness machines” were completely denied.
The first 4 weeks were pretty tough for me. I worked out for about 10 hours a week, including my once in a week tennis double match, but the hard work was paying off. Every day Bert asked me face-to-face, texted me or contacted me on Facebook messenger about all I had done the day before and especially how I was feeling. He used this information to determine, change or adapt the workout for the following day. And I have to say he did that incredibly well! Changing and adapting with even more surprises kept fascinated, and helped me to hang in there in the long run.
One day, driving together to a nearby forest for a training I had a Coke Zero in the center console that I wanted to drink before the workout. When the Coke can caught his eyes, he shook his head but did not say a word. I’ll never forget it, but I have not drank any Coke products since then. From the beginning he told me to eat the best a Wild Diet, quality meat and fish (I don’t eat fish) with lots of vegetables and salads. Being a carnivore, I could adapt easily to the “regime.” I kept a diary, taking notes of my workouts, sleep, diet and overall feeling. The first weeks Bert wasn’t very tough on the diet. I suppose he wanted to let me adapt to the new lifestyle without forcing or hurrying it too much. But on Week 4, I was encouraged to really reduce carbohydrates (sweet potatoes are ok). From then on, he kept repeating: “natural food, “smart food,” and “no dieting” with the motto, “20% is workouts, 80% is kitchen”.
Week 5 was a strange one. I had to put in a rest week. A rest week? And we are doing so well … I argued, but it was clear that he meant it. “You can go for a fast walk in the woods,” he said, and so I did. And much to my surprise, even that week, I lost another half a kilo. It was clear that that rest week had done some good to my body.
Then came the next step … Bert explained me the fasting feasting principle and proposed that I give it a try. You do your workout in the early morning, skipping breakfast. Your body will tell your sugar/fat reserve to deliver the needed energy. You have dinner early in the evening, to give your stomach a long rest between dinner and the following meal. It took me some time to adapt, but I managed, and never gave up doing it.
The following weeks, Bert continued to mix up the workouts. The weather improved considerably and we trained almost 100% outdoors. Often, I had no clue where he was taking me for the next session. He showed me pieces of nature nearby where I had never been before and where I would probably would never had come without this challenge. The trainings became heavier, but I could handle it. I gained confidence and took on a new shape.
Every week, after overlooking my diary, Bert urged me to sleep more. Sleep is key for recovery. But to be honest, that must have been my weak spot throughout the 12-weeks challenge. Getting to bed two hours earlier is something that I haven’t achieved yet.
As the weeks progressed, Bert was delighted with the results (me too), and even convinced me that lowering the scale to 100 kg was all but impossible. I took up this new challenge, but not without Bert promising me he would drink a gin & tonic with me when I getting close to that goal of 100kg. You must know that, unlike me, Bert never drank any kind of alcohol whenwe use to go out together long ago.
There were two more highlights in the last few weeks. The hike in the High Fens in the company of some of my Mont Ventoux friends was, despite the miserable weather, a great experience. I never thought I would like hiking so much! It was a good workout and lots of fun receiving survival tips and tricks along the way.
The second featured a Rewilding Lifestyle Workshop at Bert and Kiki’s home. It was a very sunny and surprising day to be introduced to rewilding as a lifestyle. My wife Esther came along, and boy, did we enjoy the day! Bert and Kiki, thank you very much for what you did for both of us.
A run in the forest was our way of ending the 12-week program. It had been inspiring, beautiful and successful. I had become fitter, stronger, even wilder, and my body had really changed. Back home after the run, the scale told me I was only grams away of my goal, 100 kg! I would not miss the opportunity to have a gin &tonic with Bert for anything in the world. I pulled on my running shoes and went for another 5K run. Yes … 99.3!
I had asked for weight loss; Bert had proposed me rewilding; I got both! Amazing coach. Amazing motivator. Amazing Bert. Amazing performance. Amazing me