What started off as a nine-month weight loss journey for Mike Lee turned into a way of life. Today, Lee, 38, is a fitness instructor who helps motivate and inspire others to live their best lives possible by embracing healthy lifestyles. But just a few years ago, the father of three was overweight and unhappy.
Born and raised in Detroit, Mich., Lee joined the U.S. Army shortly after high school. He served for four years before receiving an honourable discharge. But by age 31, Lee say he had developed a lot of poor habits. He blamed his lack of exercise on a surgically-repaired knee, being diagnosed with asthma and lack of time due to having three kids, work and college.
“This led to zero fitness after I left the military,” Lee told Yahoo Canada. “It led to gaining 40 pounds of fat and being diagnosed with pre-diabetes.”
Lee was easily consuming more than 3,000 calories per day.
“I worked as a cable tech so I was always out on the road. I ate a lot of fast food — burgers and fries back then. I also ate a lot of sugary food, like cake,” Lee said.
“At my highest weight I was eating fast food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Lee knew he had to drop the excuses and live a healthier lifestyle. Five years prior he had already experienced one of the biggest losses of his life — his father passed away from complications to type II diabetes.
“I figured I was next if I didn’t change my ways,” Lee said.
In September 2010, Lee and his family packed up and moved to Colorado. He started a new job and attended college part-time. At 5’11”, his weight had ballooned to a staggering 232 pounds and he sported a 40-inch waist. He was only 31-years-old.
“I was terribly out of shape, out of energy and at an unhappy time in my life,” he said.
Lee’s low point came when he saw a picture of himself at a water park — extremely overweight, with a flabby belly — he took one look at that picture and instantly knew he had to become healthier.
“I didn’t begin this journey to build a muscular physique. I began it to survive, to live, to not die early like my dad. I wanted to be around for my three children,” he said.
Lee’s initial objective was to weigh under 200 pounds — he didn’t have a trainer, he just had a goal in mind. By Jan. 1, 2011, less than four months after he started his journey, he successfully dropped 30 pounds of fat and five inches off of his waist.
“I started this journey not at the gym, but in my kitchen. I started with tracking my food with the Lose It! app, and eating healthier,” Lee said.
Before his transformation, a daily meal plan would include two McDonald’s sausage sandwiches for breakfast; a Jimmy John’s sub, cookies and chips for lunch, and a Burger King whopper meal for dinner. He swapped these foods for a cup of egg whites and half a cup of oatmeal for breakfast; a lean, skinless chicken breast, steamed veggies and yam for lunch; and a lean protein, veggies and a baked white potato for dinner.
“When I was in the army, they cooked all of my food, so I never learned what healthy eating truly meant until after my dad died, and I had to learn how to cook healthy meals for myself,” Lee said.
For exercise, he primarily did cardio — running (long-distance and sprinting), push-ups and other simple exercises he learned in the army.
“After that I joined the gym,” he said. He combined weight training and cardio, and “started to build a drug-free physique.”
By June 20, 2011, Lee’s weight dropped to 185 pounds. In nine months, he had successfully lost 47 pounds and lowered his body fat from 22 per cent to 12 per cent (the average body fat for a male is between 18 to 24 per cent, while 6 to 13 per cent body fat is considered athlete level).
In addition to 30 minute cardio workouts every other day, typical training sessions for Lee included:
- Monday – Chest (Flat Bench Press: 4 sets of 10; Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets of 10; Captain’s Chair: 4 sets of 12; Bar Dips: 4 sets of 15)
- Tuesday – Back (Deadlifts: 4 sets of 10; Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Flyes: 4 sets of 10 Cable Pulldowns: 4 sets of 10)
- Wednesday – Rest
- Thursday – Shoulders (Military Press: 4 sets of 10; Seated Dumbbell Press: 4 sets of 15; Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raises: Planks: 4 sets of 15)
- Friday – Legs (Barbell Squats: 4 sets of 10, Leg Press Machine: 4 sets of 10; Quad Extension Machine: 4 sets of 15)
- Saturday – Biceps and Triceps (EZ Bar Curls: 4 sets of 10; Skullcrushers: 4 sets of 15)
- Sunday – Rest
Over the past seven years, Lee continued training and added 20 pounds of muscle, “without steroids.” He has cut soda and candy from his diet and has incorporated whey protein, creatine and pre-workout. It hasn’t been easy but he’s committed to his diet and training.
“I hardly ever eat food outside of healthy home-cooked meals,” he said. “The biggest advice I can give is to focus heavily on improving nutrition. Less sugar, more protein-based food. Less processed carbs, more fresh veggies. You can dabble into sweets every so often, but overall, those treats should be far and few.”
“Although I lost my dad to Type II diabetes, it taught me the true value of health and fitness. When I embraced health and fitness, my income increase and my career turned around. I still work a day job while keeping my fitness efforts going. Life is much better now,” Lee said, noting that it’s best to give yourself time to plot out a weight-loss strategy that can be sustained.
“I went from a 232-pound, 40-Inch waist, pre-diabetic ‘dad bod’, obesity, and binge eating, to a ripped and lean, 11-time physique model champion and Musclemania Pro,” said Lee, who is also a finalist in the 2018 Bodybuilding.com Spokesmodel Search.
“I will live the rest of my life dedicated to living a healthy and fit lifestyle. And, I am fully committed to helping others do the same.”
Fore more on Mike Lee and his awesome fitness routine, visit @mikeleefitlife on Instagram.
Check out these other body transformation stories:
- ‘Morbidly obese’ woman drops 126 pounds and becomes fitness model
- How this 45-year-old dad got a six-pack in 12 weeks