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health as it happens

Weight-loss success: Dad loses 190 pounds thanks to his kids - TODAY

As Josh Gretz’s career progressed, he took on larger projects to advance. But that often meant he skipped exercising and eating healthy foods. As he reflected on his life before his 37th birthday, he realized that his self-image wasn’t entirely accurate. While he still viewed himself as athletic, he was 350 pounds. That’s when he decided to make some changes.

“I realized that my kids had never seen that person. They had only seen me when I was larger,” Gretz, 39, chief technology officer of a software company in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, told TODAY. “For whatever reason that struck me at a really deep level and I wanted to get back to that image I had of myself.”

When Josh Gretz realized that his self-image didn't match how he actually looked, he decided to make some healthy changes. Courtesy Josh Gretz

Gretz bought an elliptical so he could enjoy low-impact exercise. But he also made a deal with his three children: He would put money in a bank account for vacation and every day they did not exercise for at least 20 minutes, he would take money from the fund. Suddenly, Gretz had a cheering section, encouraging him to exercise.

“That first day on the elliptical was very difficult,” he said. “It got better as I went.”

He added more time and after about six months, he could do about 40 to 50 minutes on the elliptical. At the same time, Gretz had reevaluated what he ate. He used an app to track his calories and consumed the number of calories it recommended to reach his goal weight. To add more healthy foods, he became creative in the kitchen.

“I love cooking so I cook a lot. I still try to make it interesting. Fresh and tasty food, just eating less of it,” he said. “I like to eat a lot of meat, but we eat a lot of vegetables."

Making a deal with his children helped Josh Gretz stay accountable to his weight-loss goals. Courtesy Josh Gretz

Incorporating more vegetables in his diet was a huge change.

“My wife always had to (add) meat to anything for a long time (for me to eat it),” he said, laughing. “Now I’d say we probably have vegetarian dishes two or three nights a week.”

These changes helped him eat smaller meals while still feeling full. Once again, his three sons, kept him motivated. At the time he started his weight loss two years ago, they were 10, 8 and 6.

“As they’re getting older, part of it was wanting them to understand how to eat and how not to follow down the same path as me,” he said.

Josh Gretz focused on small changes to help him lose 190 pounds in over a year. Courtesy Josh Gretz

While the elliptical and new ways of eating helped him for a while, in September 2020, Gretz felt he needed to shake up his workout routine.

“I couldn’t get my heart rate high enough on the elliptical to continue,” he explained. “Some friends encouraged me to get into running outside, which does get your heart rate higher.”

Gretz quickly discovered he enjoys running and likes the encouragement he receives from other runners.

“Every sport that I always played was extremely competitive and that was how I approached those things,” he said. “This is the first sport I’ve been in where you’re not competing necessarily with other people as much as you’re competing with yourself. Everyone I’ve come across has been very supportive.”

When the elliptical didn't challenge Josh Gretz enough, he started running and enjoyed the support he received from other runners. Courtesy Josh Gretz

Gretz liked running so much that he now regularly participates in 5Ks and marathons. He’s running his next race in August in Pittsburgh called the Yinzer 4.12K with his entire family. From when he started his weight loss in March 2019 to September 2020, Gretz lost 190 pounds to weigh 160 pounds.

“Having the support structure of family was amazingly important,” he said. “The kids were always reminding me that I have to go do something or they would lose money in the vacation fund.”

And always eating at home helped him better control what he ate to help his weight loss.

“The pandemic probably made it a little bit easier,” he said. “There weren’t restaurants to go to.”

Josh Gretz was able to lose weight during the pandemic, in part, because he had fewer chances to go out to eat meals. Courtesy Josh Gretz

Gretz shares advice for others interested in adopting healthy habits.

1. Use ‘peer pressure’ to stay accountable.

For Gretz, knowing that he had to exercise for vacation kept him motivated.

“The peer pressure from the kids wanting to make sure that I stayed in there definitely helped in terms of accountability,” he said. “That was needed and was very helpful.”

2. Make small changes.

Knowing that he needed to lose a large amount of weight felt daunting to Gretz. So he decided to focus on making minor changes and that helped him stay motivated.

While having his children support him helped Josh Gretz stay accountable to his weight-loss goals, he also was teaching them how to develop healthy eating and exercising habits. Courtesy Josh Gretz

“I had to keep my head down rather than looking at the end goal,” he said. “You make the small changes and that can overtime snowball into larger things.”

3. Celebrate small wins.

To keep himself dedicated to the small changes, he offered different rewards for meeting certain milestones. He decided to get his first tattoo after he was under 200 pounds, for example.

To stay motivated, Josh Gretz rewarded himself for smaller goals. When he was under 200 pounds, he got his first tattoo as a gift for his hard work. Courtesy Josh Gretz

“It’s something that every morning when I go to the shower I see and it helps me … set my days in terms of how I am going to make choices. That reminds me of where I’ve come from,” he said. “Celebrating the small wins is important.”

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