STERLING – Bob Doyle keeps a picture in his backpack of someone from his past, someone he barely recognizes.
It’s him, 6 years younger, about 130 pounds heavier, but far lighter in the happiness department.
Bob, 63, of Rock Falls, is a strong candidate for the happiest, most encouraging dude at the Sterling-Rock Falls YMCA – and that’s saying something. He checks in at about 215 pounds, although it fluctuates about 5 pounds either way. He maintains it with a 3-hour daily regimen: an hour in the cardio room, another in the weight room, and swimming more than a mile.
“The older you get, the harder it is to maintain,” Bob said.
Especially for a type 2 diabetic. That, and his weight topping off at 344 pounds, prompted him to take a lifestyle medicine class through local weight-loss guru Bryan Frederick.
What really prompted the change, though, was when Bob bought a pair of waist-size-50 pants and an XXXXL shirt at Kmart, then bumped into an old buddy on the way out.
“He stopped me and said, ‘Bob Doyle? Is that you? Boy, you got fat,’” Doyle said.
A couple of days later, on his 57th birthday, Nov. 30, 2010, Bob joined the YMCA.
The gist of Frederick’s program is as follows: He determines a caloric prescription for everyone who takes his class. Despite his day job as clinical exercise physiologist at CGH Medical Center, Frederick doesn’t tell them to exercise, because trying and failing – or worse yet, getting hurt – can squash weight-loss aspirations.
In fact, in his program, exercise doesn’t earn you extra calories.
Bob was prescribed 1,650 calories a day, 6 days a week.
“I was doing about 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day on garbage,” he said. “The first week, I didn’t do it.”
Week 2, he picked it up, logging everything right down to pieces of hard candy. Even though he had surgery on both of his knees about a month after his weight-loss journey began, shelving him for a month, he lost 54 pounds in the first 6 months.
“After I dropped a few pounds, I thought maybe he’d increase my calorie intake,” Bob mused. Instead, “I went back in there, and he put me down to 1,500. I stuck with it as best I could.”
A year later, he ran into that buddy of his again, who was as shocked as the last time they ran into each other.
“He said, ‘I must have said the wrong thing at the wrong time,’” Bob said.
“I told him, ‘No, you saved my life.’”
One step at a time
Bob, a retired power plant worker, started small in his journey to get smaller. He walked around his neighborhood.
Once he recovered from surgery, he got back into his Y workouts. Then he started going twice a day. He just kept building.
Then he hit a plateau.
“You keep losing weight, keep losing weight, until you can’t lose any more,” he said. “Then it seems like if you can’t, you start flipping out. Psychologically, it affected me for a little bit.”
At his peak – or valley, rather – he was 198 pounds, literally a little more than half the man he used to be.
To that point, he felt pretty empty.
“I killed myself to get to 198, though,” he said. “I starved myself. That’s not good for diabetics, either. You tend to bottom out.”
Today, he’s a conscious eater, although he doesn’t count calories the way he did when he’d eat four 400-calorie meals a day.
What he’s given up in terms of daily logging, he’s made up for with workout diligence and mixing things up. He bought a bike last summer and has put 1,500 miles on it, mostly from 10-mile round trips to the Y.
He started swimming in August 2015.
“Back then, all I could do was float,” he said.
It takes 36 laps to swim a mile in the Y pool, and Doyle has pushed his routine to 54 laps. It takes him about an hour and 20 minutes, and he alternates strokes – freestyle one way, swimming on his back the other – to go easy on his left shoulder, on which he’s had six surgeries.
So, let’s review: Bob is a half-dozen years older than the guy in that picture he keeps in his backpack, and has had several surgeries since it was taken.
The explanation for his success is simple: He’s found his happy place.
“Physically, I’m a whole lot better, a whole lot stronger,” Bob said. “Emotionally, I’m a lot better, too. It affected me, because I couldn’t even tie my shoes without running out of breath.”
He still gets short of breath, but there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.
“My doctor, he says, you swim a mile and a quarter a day, you’re in the weight room an hour a day, and in the cardio room an hour a day, I don’t see how you couldn’t be out of breath.”