Ben Pobjoy doesn’t look back fondly on his 20s. Today, he calls them a “decade of destruction” that led him down a road of inactivity and poor eating. By the time he was 32, he was 100 pounds overweight, tired and unhappy with his lifestyle.
“I was the poster boy for being out of shape,” he says. “I couldn’t even walk up the stairs
without getting really out of breath.”
When he moved to Toronto in 2014 to start a new job with an advertising agency, he had an unpleasant epiphany: He was the unhealthy, overweight guy in the office.
“As soon as I showed up and I was surrounded with all of these healthy colleagues, I was faced with [a] stark contrast,” he says. “It was the last little kick in the butt I needed to make a change.”
The question was, how?
Two years ago, he heard Joe Rogan’s interview with biomechanist Katy Bowman, who encouraged listeners to simply get out and move — more specifically, to walk. So Pobjoy laced up his sneakers and started putting one foot in front of the other — first the couple of miles to and from work and soon to dinner, to run errands and to make social calls.
While he’d made plenty of half-hearted attempts to join gyms and start various fitness
programs over the years, he found that walking was something to which he could actually stick.
“Since I had failed so many times,” he explains, “I wanted to choose something that was very slow and sustainable.”
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In addition to tracking his walks — which eventually hit more than 60 miles a week — he began to use MyFitnessPal to get a better grip on his eating and the types of nutrients he took in each day. He’d long been what he calls a “French fries and potato chips” vegan, so tracking his nutrition and seeing what he was actually putting in his body helped motivate him to clean up his diet.
Soon, the weight began to fall off. But his biggest motivator to continue walking had nothing to do with health and fitness. Rather, it was as he puts it, “about converting physical movement to social movement.”
On a business trip in August 2015, Pobjoy took a walk through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area of the city that is known for poverty, homelessness and crime.
“The drugs, the garbage everywhere, it was so depressing and unfathomable to me that this could exist in such an affluent city,” he says.
The next day, he bought supplies to make peanut butter sandwiches, and, soon after, he hit the street and began handing them out to those in need. That, he says, was his light-bulb moment.
“I realized that exercise is quite a selfish thing, and the irony wasn’t lost on me that I was blazing through a pair of shoes each month while passing people who didn’t have shoes,” he remembers. “I thought that there must be something I could do.”
For the remainder of that year, Pobjoy brought sandwiches with him everywhere he walked. By the end of 2015, he had walked 3,600 miles and handed out a whopping 1,000 sandwiches. Last year, he walked thousands more miles and added in boxing and swimming. All told, he dropped 100 pounds.
In addition to handing out sandwiches, he started fundraising via ultra-long walking challenges. Last summer, he completed an 85-kilometer walk in Tokyo to raise money for cats and dogs left behind in the evacuation zone after the disastrous 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In September, he walked 77 miles from Toronto to Buffalo, New York, to raise money for a transitional housing program for LGBT youth.
He hopes the next chapter of his unique brand of “active helping” will include fundraising walks on all seven continents. In the meantime, he hopes his story will inspire others who might be struggling with achieving a healthy lifestyle.
“I never would have imagined what getting healthy would give me,” he says. “Most people aren’t aware how quickly they can transform their lives and work towards a better self. But more than feeling strong and healthy, it’s given me the chance to increase my empathy and reconnect with my humanity.”
Do you or a loved one have a personal Success Story you’d like to share? Let us know on our Facebook page, hit us up on Twitter or tag #MyFitnessPal on your Instagram posts. We’d love to feature it in a future blog post!