By Staff Sgt. Sherree Grebenstein, 167th Airlift Wing
/ Published November 18, 2013
In the end it all comes down to crunching the numbers, and a lot of self-discipline.
Both have been instrumental in helping an Airman from the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing undertake a life-altering journey more than a year ago.
The physical transformation of Senior Master Sgt. Dave Stevens is nothing short of awe-inspiring. One look at the man reveals just how much weight he's dropped.
"I'm about a third of my old self," he said.
In a span of six months Stevens lost 40 pounds, but didn't stop there after trimming six inches from his waist. The operations superintendent for the 167th Airlift Wing's Security Forces Squadron dropped another 25 pounds - not to mention more inches - on his quest to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
"I needed to get myself squared away," Stevens freely admitted.
At 6'2 inches, Stevens once topped the scale at 275 pounds. While his large frame may have been able to handle the extra weight, he wasn't happy and he definitely wasn't the picture of health. Medical restrictions limited the Airman's ability to participate in the annual Air Force Physical Fitness Assessment.
He failed the walk in lieu of the standard 1 ½ mile run in February 2012. Due to some arthritis throughout his spine, the doctor had previously advised Stevens not to run, but the Airman knew it was time to make some lifestyle changes.
With more than 25 years combined service in the military, the former Marine turned Airman had a lot to lose if he didn't literally shape up.
A month after failing his physical fitness test, Stevens signed his 20-year letter.
Joining the 167th Airlift Wing in June, 1992, Stevens has been a member of the unit's Active Guard Reserve for the past 11 years. Ironically, less than a month after signing his letter, The Adjutant General for the state of West Virginia implemented a policy providing fulltime staff with the opportunity to exercise for one hour each day while at work.
"Here's the writing on the wall," he remembered. "I'm signing the policy letter and it's telling me that I could either put up, shut up, move on and get out."
But Stevens wasn't ready to retire.
"I was like, I need to do something," he recalled.
Back in his doctor's office, Stevens reached out for help.
"I sat down with the doctor and said, 'Look, realistically, what weight should I be at?'"
Doing some quick calculations, his doctor determined that with Stevens' frame and body size a healthy weight for him would be about 220 pounds.
Stevens said his motivation for shedding pounds and adapting a healthier lifestyle was three-fold. First, his military career was in jeopardy and hence livelihood.
"If I don't do this I can't support my family, bottom line," he said of making healthy food choices and becoming more active.
The then 47-year-old father of two young boys didn't have to look very far from home.
"I have young boys and it's important that I can be around for them and be a part of their lives," Stevens said of his sons Tyler 10 and Benjamin, 7.
But the Hedgesville man also didn't have to look any further then the mirror.
"I needed to do it for me," he said matter-of-factly.
With a target goal in mind Stevens began his weight loss journey and adoption of a healthier lifestyle at the end of May 2012.
"My first goal was to eliminate soda. I just eliminated that," he said. "When I did that within the first month I lost 20 pounds."
And he didn't really miss that one 16-ounce Pepsi a day that was costing him over 210 calories.
Stevens found that calories add up quickly and the surefire way to lose weight is really rather simple.
"Calories in, calories out," he said.
"I also looked at my diet and where I needed to be. The first 20 pounds was easy. I eliminated soda and started to work out," he said. "I started working out slowly. I began to do the elliptical then the treadmill and then both."
"Initially on the elliptical I was doing a mile and a half because that's what the standard was."
His goal was to make the distance within his age group time of 13:30 to 14:30 minutes.
"That would have been a passing score," he noted. "That is what I looked at and set the perimeters for initially."
At first there was nothing quick about his exercise on the workout machines.
"I wasn't getting there, it took some doing but I finally got there," he said.
So then Stevens progressed from the low impact of the elliptical to a more rigorous treadmill workout with the same perimeters.
"I kept that going for a period of months knowing that I had to retest," he said.
Along with his aerobics regiment Stevens did core conditioning as well to include crunches and weight lifting.
"My goal was to at least lose some of the weight - preferably 30 or 40 pounds - and be able to retest and pass the test."
"It was Aug. 30th - I stretched it out as long as I could - and retested. I lost six inches off my waist and a total of 40 pounds."
And he passed his physical fitness test.
While many Airmen would be relieved to have a passing mark under their belt, Stevens wasn't satisfied. Granted he had lost 40 pounds in half a year and inches off his waist, but he knew he hadn't met his personal goal.
"My goal was 220 pounds. I wasn't there yet," he said.
While trying to shed those last unwanted 10 pounds Stevens hit a plateau.
"It was just a struggle to keep pushing myself," he said, as he fixated on those stubborn pounds.
Shortly after 2013 dawned Stevens met his goal plus five pounds. But his lifestyle change moved him to want to trim more pounds.
"Once I got down to 220, I said, `Okay, I think I want to get back down to 210.' The old Marine Corps standard for me was 209, back in the 80s," Stevens said with a grin.
"What I did to challenge myself was look at the Air Force standard and I passed that. I was good with that and I looked at the Army standard and the two mile run in 18 minutes for my age group. Then I looked at the Marine Corps standard."
With those numbers in mind he set out to challenge himself even further.
His goal for his run time when he retook the fitness test in August of 2013, was 13 minutes.
"My goal was 13 and I came in at 12 ½," he noted.
Adding: "I retested and passed but now I was into it."
Working out had become a part of his daily routine.
"I changed my diet and workout schedule."
But he didn't spend hours in the gym.
Instead he worked out an hour a day during the week and took weekends off.
Stevens watched what he ate, read labels and was cognizant about portion sizes. He tried to consume roughly 1,500 calories a day instead of 2,500. He eschews diet pills, but did take a GNC Vitapack daily.
"I watched everything that I took in," he said. "Read labels and be smart about the foods that you are eating."
Understanding what good calories are versus bad calories is essential too.
Stevens said it takes more calories to burn fruits and vegetables so if you are looking to lose weight he encourages these as a mainstay in any meal plan.
"It was a lot of self-discipline," he freely admitted. "I like baked goods. I like cookies. I like pie. I like what everyone else likes. Even as a cop I liked donuts. You just have to understand that you can take them in. You just have to take them in moderation."
Adding: "500 calories in means 500 calories out."
Again, it all comes down to crunching numbers.
"You just have to watch what you are eating and make sure you have an output, he said. "There is no magic bullet. It comes down to self-discipline."
Once he was able to get his weight under control he wasn't about to stop his workout routine. Instead he started training for a half-marathon. He prepped for 12 weeks for the challenge as his wife, Carrie, and sons cheered him on.
"I enjoy running now. I never enjoyed it before. It's a mindset. You have to embrace it," he said. "Once I started to meet my goals and realized that I could do it, I stayed with it."
"The big challenge was when I decided to run a half marathon," he said with a laugh. "I didn't think I could run that far."
But on Oct. 12 he ran the Freedom's Run in Shepherdstown in two hours flat.
And while it may have taken him two days to recover from his first half marathon, Stevens said it's one of his proudest milestones.
Earning an overall score of 97.6 on the fitness assessment he took last June is another.
He hopes to achieve that score again next year as well as run the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Fredericksburg, Va.
While people have various reasons for wanting to adopt a healthier lifestyle, Stevens said it all comes down to the person staring back in the mirror.
"You have to want to do it for yourself," he said. "Everyone says I have to do this because it's the PT standard. People will start prepping the month before (for their fitness test). That's not the way to live."
Speaking from experience he said the best way to see results is to set realistic goals and stick with it.
"It's getting out there and doing it."
"It's definitely a personality change, going from the old Dave to the new Dave," he said. "I didn't want to be that guy anymore, the fat kid on the block anymore."
Adding: "Originally I was going to do it for the job and wife and kids. But now I want to do it because I enjoy doing it."