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|| News Item: Posted 2002-10-01

It's Not a Diet, It's a Way of Life
By Dean Coppola, Contra Costa Times

As I approached this humbling but simple apparatus I could feel my heartbeat increase, heck, I may have even started to sweat a little. I looked at it and it seemed to smile up at me. Not that, "Hi how you doing?" type of smile, but one of those sarcastic "I knew you'd be back" kind of smiles.

So there I was naked, standing before my nemesis, just him and me, alone behind closed doors and I finally decided to step up like a man... and weigh myself. I'd avoided this for months, and for good reason. I was in the worst shape of my life and didn't want to be reminded. I worked long and hard to get there.

Late-night visits to Taco Bell, 20 ounce sodas every day, Snickers for "energy," at Mickey D's "Super-size it" flowed from my tongue as smooth as any poet, and I drank plenty of beer at the local watering hole. My young daughter would run around showing her belly and say, "Look, I have a big belly just like my daddy!" Very cute, but not very flattering. Now I had to suffer my fate. I looked south and read the bad news. I weighed in at 185 lbs. This may be the perfect weight for some, but I'm only 5'7" with my hair standing straight up!

I knew I had to make some changes, but my sofa was so comfortable and Burrito Supremes taste so good especially when washed down with an ice-cold Sierra Nevada. Maybe even an occasional cigarette for dessert. My dad ate like this and smoked and drank and he lived to the ripe old age of …53. At 34 years old, 53 wasn't looking too far off and, yes, it was time to make a change.

In this business many things can happen to cause an early departure but I didn't want it to be my own bad habits. I'm looking forward to telling my great-grand children about the old days when we all shot with digital cameras.

With two young daughters and our busy schedules joining a gym or attending my kung-fu workouts were next to impossible. Running never quite did it for me, and my bicycle tires had since gone flat. This was going to be tough. As luck would have it, it was about this time a friend turned me on to "Combat Conditioning."

A book full of body-weight calisthenics that require no weights or apparatuses, no gym memberships, nothing but a little room, some time and dedication. And so my journey began: Hindu squats, Hindu push-ups, V-ups, grasshoppers, single-legged squats, handstand push-ups, finger tip push-ups and the list goes on-and-on. Exercises I'd never even seen before. I could get a great full-body workout and never have to leave the confines of my own home or pay a yearly fee. Of course this also means they can really be done anywhere, even in your hotel room when shooting on the road.

When I first started this program I looked at some of the exercises and thought, I'm never going to be able to do this. Sure enough with some perseverance and patience I'm able to do things with my body I couldn't even do as a high school wrestler. I feel I've gotten back at least 10 years of my life.

Next was my diet. This is surely one of the main obstacles in getting into better shape. I know people who workout all week long and walk around with potbellies because of their poor diet. So, hang on to your hats kids, all in one shot, cold turkey, I gave up red-meat, white bread, fast food, sodas, junk food, alcohol and smoking. O.K. for those of you saying, "Well what the hell else is there?!" Here's my plan of attack. Instead of red meat I started eating fish, turkey, chicken, tofu burgers and vegetarian chili. Instead of white bread I started eating flaxseed or 100% wheat bread. Instead of sodas, it's water (all day long) and fruit juices.

I started ordering burritos without sour cream, guacamole and cheese. If left with no choice I'd find a Subway and get the 6-inch sandwich, "no chips please!" At the Winter Olympic trials I would get the 12-inch sandwich and eat half for lunch and half for a snack later. Oddly enough I've found most 7-11 stores have fresh fruit, usually bananas and apples.

I also gave up eating certain carbs (potatoes, rice, bread) after 3pm, (except when having sushi for dinner). As I started seeing results it was easier and easier to maintain my new lifestyle. I wasn't really a smoker, so if I wasn't drinking I wasn't smoking.

I had no target weight I wanted to get to. I knew I would lose weight just by the changes I had made. After the first month I lost about 10-15 lbs. I thought that was going to be it. After three months I had reached 155 lbs. I'd lost 30 lbs. and visits with my former nemesis weren't so bad anymore. I've maintained this weight for about the last year-and-a-half.

I eat more now than I ever have before in my life, I just eat healthier foods and workout about an hour a day, 5 days a week. As for drinking, they miss me at the bar but they see my face every once in a while.

Amazingly enough, I encountered some criticism from family and friends along the way. Here are some of the things I was told: "There's nothing wrong with eating lean red-meats." I agreed, but the person in question never ate a lean anything. Another quote was "I promised myself I would always eat good food." In this case "good food" meant fatty, salty foods and the person in question could stand to lose a good 40 lbs. Another criticism was that eating healthy meant eating bland foods.

This could be true, but you can find healthy recipes in newspapers, magazines and books that can open up a whole new world for you incorporating herbs and spices you may have never tried.

As far as avoiding burnout, I try to make up a different work out every day to keep it interesting and when pressed for time I have some routines I can do in about 30 minutes and still get a killer workout. 100 squats, 50 assorted push ups, and 50 assorted abs exercises can be knocked out in no time once you work up to it and can really get the blood flowing.

I try to research new body weight exercises in magazines, books and on-line. It's become a bit of a hobby. I used to be really into weights, but body weight exercises seem to build a wonderful combination of strength, flexibility and endurance. For anyone interested in Combat Conditioning you can check out Matt Furey's website at: Furey wrestled for legend Dan Gable at Iowa University and has an impressive resume. The exercises are for men and woman of all ages and fitness levels, so no one should be intimidated by the name.

I still get sore shoulders, neck, back and knees acquired from years of skateboarding, wrestling, judo and stage diving, and carrying photo equipment. But, I'm sore less often and for shorter amounts of time. I've learned to take a proactive approach to healing myself. Instead of sitting around getting soft when I'm sore I do light exercise and try to keep the body moving.

Recently, when I strained my back, I attacked it with ice and short walks every few hours and some very light exercise. I was back to normal in about 3 days. Usually this type of injury would last me a week. On another occasion I wanted to get a photo of this guy flying some really huge kites as the sun was setting. He told me to go around to the other side to get in. With the sun making a rapid descent I didn't have time so I hopped the 8 - foot chain-link fence with no problem, even the kite flyer was impressed.

I can't guarantee the same results I've had and I would never recommend some one in poor health to exercise with out consulting a doctor, but my life has definitely changed for the better.

I still get a good laugh when we visit my grandmother for dinner and she gets on the phone and tells relatives, "Dean's still on his diet, so were having fish tonight." Grandma, after a year and a half it's not a diet it's a way of life.

(Dean Coppola is a staff photographer with the Contra Costa Times.

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