• After leaving the Army, Kevin Ozee’s weight climbed to more than 300 pounds.
• A simple weightlifting routine, combined with diets such as keto and CICO, helped Ozee complete a nearly 130-pound weight loss transformation.
• He also successfully completed a Spartan race and is considering signing up for a Spartan Super in July.
As turning points go, it’s hard to imagine anything much more dramatic than the dream Kevin Ozee woke up from three years ago. “I dreamt that my wife and kids were attending my funeral. I don’t know what the specifics were—because dreams are weird like that—but I remember that my wife was furious with me, because I had died of something preventable and self-inflicted, such as heart problems or complications from diabetes,” he says. While the dream itself was bizarre, the impact it had on Ozee was even stranger, he says. “I woke up in a cold sweat, not entirely sure what I was doing in my bed. I felt like I’d been given a glimpse into a very possible alternate future of myself.”
At the time, Ozee, now 34, who works as a network engineer in North Carolina, says he weighed about 345 pounds, which put him well into the category of obese. “I felt deeply that I needed to be a better example for my girls. I needed to be there for their proms, graduations, weddings. I needed to be able to take care of my wife, who I love more than anything else in this world,” he says. With that goal as his primary motivation, Ozee set out to lose weight and get back in shape. Here’s how he did it.
For most people, it’s a combination of poor diet and inactivity that leads to weight gain. Was that true for you, too?
I’ve always kind of had a weight problem. I’ve gained and lost weight several times in the course of my life. I did a six year enlistment in the Army, where I was in pretty good shape, mostly because PT is a mandatory thing, and someone else was forcing me to work out. I got out in 2012 and started going to school. I was probably 230 or 235 at the time. When I got out, I kind of did the typical enlisted thing of, “No one is ever going to tell me what to do again, and I’m not getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to work out ever again.”
I was working full-time, married, had two kids, and was going to school in the evenings. It just wasn’t a good combination. I was eating out a bunch because my schedule was busy, and frankly, I knew I was going to be a guy that used his brain to make a living and not any kind of physical prowess, so I was perfectly okay with being fat. Also, I like to eat.
You said you reached a peak of 345 pounds a couple of years ago. What were some of the biggest challenges that your size introduced?
My blood pressure—which I just happened to take at Wal-Mart, because I don’t go to the doctor for anything—was over 150/90. I’m pretty confident that I was pre-diabetic, because every big meal would send me into a two-hour nap. My scale just said “err”—as in error—when I stepped on it. When I got my bachelor’s in 2015, and my wife had our third kid, I changed jobs and was looking to move into a new house, so I was getting my old house ready to sell in early 2016. I had worked on a construction crew for several years as a teenager, so I’m pretty handy with DIY projects, and I took a week off of work to paint, fix up the yard, lay a hardwood floor, pressure wash the house, and so on. I think I almost died that week. I could barely walk when I went back to work. I didn’t make any changes immediately, but the impact that week had made on me physically was worse than anything I had ever experienced, including strenuous training as an infantryman in the Army. Nothing had ever taken a toll on me like that week.
How did you go about making a change? Was the first step being more active or trying to fix your diet?
The keto thing was kind of in full swing at that time, and I’m a guy that likes a good steak. Eggs are one of my favorite meals, and I’ve never been picky about vegetables, so I thought, if I just have to do without pasta, bread, and potatoes, I can make this work. So I did keto. I remember the first day I stepped on the scale in early November 2016 and instead of “err,” I saw the number 345.4. It scared the daylights out of me. I didn’t know what the scale’s limit was, but I hadn’t registered a number on that thing for over a year. I hadn’t bothered to weigh myself the first three or four weeks that I was eating keto, because the scale would just say “err,” anyway.
It sounds like the keto diet set you down the right path. What about the other side of the equation? When did you start to become more active?
By January 2017, I had lost about 35 or 40 pounds and was hovering right around 310. I set a goal: get to 210. My “fighting weight” from my time in the Army. I decided I needed to start working out. I went to the gym on my lunch break, when there would be the least amount of people there—in my mind, at least, this seemed like it would be the case. I started with walking on the treadmill and the elliptical 15 or 20 minutes at a time. I thought I knew some stuff about being fit thanks to my time in the Army, but calisthenics and running are hard to do at 5’8″ and more than 300 pounds.
What was the rest of your routine like?
At first I kept at the treadmill plugging away, avoiding the other people in the gym. Trying not to be noticed. Finally, in March, after I had been faithfully in the gym for another couple months, some of the other people who had been watching me offered me some encouragement and advice. They told me if I kept pounding at my joints like that at my current weight, I was going to hurt myself. By this point. I was kind of lightly jogging on the treadmill for about 30 minutes every day. One of the guy—in his late fifties but doing pull-ups with a 45-pound plate—offered to give me a workout program and coach me. I agreed. I found out that I really, really like lifting weights. I started with a barbell complex. I’d put 95 pounds on the bar amd do:
5 overhead presses
5 back Squats
(Rest for 90 seconds, repeat 3 to 5 times)
That sounds intense. What was it like for you? How quickly were you able to progress?
The first time I did this, I made it through two sets. I could just barely overhead press the weight, and I did the push-ups on my knees. By the time three or four weeks had gone by, I made it through all five sets the first time. I felt like I could do anything. Then my coach told me we’re changing that rest period to 60 seconds. It was like a totally different workout. Fast forward a couple weeks and I was making that time hack, and then the rest went to 30 seconds, and then the weight went up. I was hooked.
The combination of the two must have led to some pretty dramatic results at first.
The weight really fell off for a while. By summer of 2018, I was weighing about 260. My wife and I had our fourth kid, my first boy, and it hit me: I’m gonna be at least in my early fifties before this kid is an adult. I’ve really gotta stick with this fitness thing. I need to kick it into gear. I had hit my first major plateau and had to make some changes: Diet had kind of taken a backburner, and keto was starting to drag on me. My once a week cheat meals had turned into cheat days, then cheat weekends. But I’d also hit a personal best deadlift of 420 pounds, back squatted 385, and was benching close to my body weight.
How did you work your way out of that plateau? Did you switch up your diet?
I switched to CICO in the fall last year, and I started making sure that I was getting a good balance of protein, fat, and carbs. I was 245 pounds. I decided that I need some fitness goals to help me stay motivated in the right direction, so I signed up for the Spartan Sprint for June 2019. My daughters, 7 and 10, wanted to do it too, so my wife signed them up for the kids’ races. Some guys from my church and from my work signed up with me (some more accountability). I started shifting my training to include calisthenics, pull-ups, toes-to-bar, box jumps, kettle bell swings, sled drags, and more, all at the insistence of the guy that was coaching me.
In early April, I hit 215. I’m 213 this morning. I’ve lost at least 130 pounds. On Sunday, June 2nd, I ran the Spartan Sprint. My time was so-so—about an hour 28 minutes. But other than doing burpees for the rings and the spear throw, I made it through all the obstacles. Spartan takes good pictures. They got a pretty one of me on the monkey bars at the end. I didn’t even recognize myself.
You see yourself in the mirror every day, and you know that you are making progress, but the change is so slow its hard to spot. I had to go back and find a photo of myself from 2015 or 2016. I had been involved with the reddit community r/loseit and r/progresspics since late last year, because I found a lot of encouragement there. So I posted my picture of my transformation. Wearing my Spartan medal. And that’s how we ended up here.
What’s next for you? Are you still running the Spartan races?
I’m kind of hooked on the idea of Spartan right now. I was surprised at how I was able to navigate some of the obstacles. I am now fixated on the idea of earning their trifecta this year. If family finances and my work schedule allow it, I’m looking at maybe signing up for the Super in Asheville in July. And then possibly the Beast in SC in November. I need some time to work on my endurance for the running, and get my weight down to a reasonable weight for a race the length of a half-marathon, plus obstacles. Hitting 210 pounds was my original goal, but based on my current build, I’m thinking 195 is probably a more reasonable weight for my height.
What advice do you have for people who are just starting out?
Find someone that will hold you accountable. Be persistent. Be patient. Don’t sweat the mistakes: You’re gonna make them. Just get back up and start again. The only day that is a failure is the day that you fail to learn from. The specific diet doesn’t matter. You need to burn more than you take in, and you need to get good nutrition. If you short yourself too much on any one thing, it’s not sustainable and it’s not going work in the long run.
Weight loss is not outside of your control. It’s also not quick. The principles are simple, but that doesn’t mean that the execution is easy. Incremental change, followed by achieving one’s goals, is intoxicating and it can spread to other areas of your life.
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