Noel Ibon thought it was a great idea to join a Hula group. The 30-year-old purchasing engineer from Indianapolis, Indiana, born and raised in Hawaii, figured it’d be a good way to meet people from home and learn about Polynesian culture. But he hadn’t counted on Ho’ike, the dance show that’s mandatory for new members. “I wasn’t trying to stand in front of 200-something people in a loincloth, half-naked, looking the way I did,” he says. He even started plotting ways he could get out of performing.
It wasn’t that he was terribly out of shape—he weighed 180 pounds. But Ibon had grown up naturally lean and toned, thanks in part to an active island lifestyle. In college he was a cheerleader, hitting practices and weight training sessions nearly every day. Perhaps more importantly, all of his workouts had been designed for him; all he had to do was follow through. He weighed around 155 pounds. “Throughout college,” he says “I felt like I was in the best shape and at my prime.”
The transition to post-college life and a sedentary job left him without the same sense of direction. He’d gone from lean to skinny-fat to fat-fat, as he saw it. Unhappy with how he looked, he’d tried a couple diet-and-exercise plans, but nothing really stuck. Until he was struck by the motivating fear of the Ho’ike.
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He reached out to a high school friend who’d posted before-and-after pics on Facebook, showing how he’d bulked up. The friend pointed Ibon to Jeremy Ethier’s Built with Science program. “At first, I thought, ‘Damn, not another program,’” he says “There’s only so many times I can set myself up for failure.” After some research, though, he gave it a shot.
He started getting up at 4:30 AM to hit the gym, cycling through a typical regimen of compound and major-muscle lifts. He had days devoted to lifting, abs, cardio, and rehab—it was all very familiar, but when he read all the material describing the program, he started getting better results. “Who would have thought reading the instructions would help?” he says.
The hardest part was changing his diet. He used a spreadsheet to track calories and watch his macros. He prepped his meals, but thinking about calories made him more conscious of what he ate, even if that was Subway or Panda Express.
In 16 weeks he dropped 26 pounds, getting back to his college weight, but leaner and stronger. He’s back to wearing tank tops that made him feel self-conscious before. “I’m no Calvin Klein model, but I sure feel like one,” he says. More importantly, he says he’s gotten out of his head when it comes to his appearance. He can appreciate the hard work that got him where he is, without unhelpful comparisons to others. “I stopped paying attention to what I can’t control and focused on what I can control,” he says.
If you’re just starting out, he says, don’t over-complicate things. Remember what you can control and why you’re doing it. You may find yourself stressing over how to eat healthy when out with friends, but he says to remember the decisions are yours. “You always have choices,” he says.
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