Jason Urban’s journey to getting healthy started with one important step: getting sober. The now-39-year-old dog walker and pet caregiver from Austin, Texas, used to live a very different life as a drummer, playing shows at least four nights a week.
Urban says his hard-partying lifestyle revolved around drinking and smoking to excess until 4 a.m., and sometimes he would even continue to drink once he was home. He would finally fall asleep around 6 a.m. and wouldn’t wake up until 4 in the afternoon. Major hangover in tow, Urban would get out of bed and do it all over again.
Looking back, he recognizes he was depressed. When he started having terrible chest pains in 2013, he knew it was time to make a serious change.
“I was a chain-smoker who went through a pack in one night of drinking,” he says. “That’s 20 cigarettes in about four hours. I knew I needed to quit smoking and that would only be possible if I was to stop drinking as well.”
Urban decided to quit cold turkey, but it wasn’t easy. He struggled immensely with insomnia and boredom.
“It sounds silly, but just getting tanked can be a cure for boredom,” he remembers. “‘I’m drunk and smoking a cigarette — I’m doing something!’ It’s not exactly true, but the tedium of life can get to us all.”
Unfortunately, giving up his two favorite vices came with an unexpected setback: weight gain. After he got sober, he replaced cigarettes and booze with a surplus of food, sending his weight to the highest it had ever been at 270 pounds.
“When you quit drinking, your body craves sugar since there’s a lot of sugar in alcohol,” he explains. “And when you quit smoking, your taste buds start working again.”
To tackle his overeating, Urban first tried a carbohydrate rotation plan, loading up on carbs one day and then cutting them out completely the next. After about three weeks, he started losing weight and stuck with the plan for six months, dropping 60 pounds. But he knew it wasn’t sustainable as a long-term nutrition plan.
“I was dropping almost a pound and a half a day at one point,” he says. “Essentially, it was a crash diet.”
Once Urban decided to start exercising, his diet couldn’t keep up. He simply wasn’t getting enough calories and was struggling to maintain his energy levels. After he got a suggestion to keep a food log to better understand his nutritional needs, he turned to MyFitnessPal to track his diet and find a more sustainable way to eat healthy.
Urban soon learned about macros, calories and what foods caused him to feel particularly sluggish. He started to tinker with the portion sizes of carb-heavy foods like bread and pasta, so he could eat them and still feel energized. He also learned he was particularly sensitive to sodium.
“It’s very interesting seeing what goes into your body and how it reacts,” says Urban. “I learned what worked and what didn’t.”
Over time, he started noticing huge differences in the way he felt, aside from his weight loss. Previously a night owl, he started waking up at 6 a.m. without an alarm, well-rested and energized.
His physical endurance also improved. In 2014, he ran a mile without stopping for the first time, which he describes as “such a high.” Since then, Urban has run a 5K, 10K and a half marathon.
As for staying sober, Urban found a healthier outlet to replace his dependence on alcohol and cigarettes: his love of movies.
“I decided to catch up on all of the movies I’d missed or always meant to see,” says Urban. “In the first year of sobering up, I watched nearly 700 movies. I stopped keeping track sometime last year, but my total lifetime count of movies exceeds 4,000.”
Urban has now lost a total of 107 pounds. His advice to others is to start with healthy eating and then introduce exercise later, instead of changing everything all at once. He also advises paying attention to how much water you’re drinking, since dehydration can play a surprisingly large role in how hungry you feel. And lastly, he says to aim for progress, not perfection.
“We all have ups and downs, and some days are better than others,” he says. “But just please stick with it and don’t be discouraged.”