FROM ARMY PTSD
TO A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
& 160LB WEIGHT LOSS
43-years-young, IPL newcomer Ed Harden was an inspiration at the June 2023 IPL Maryland State Championship in Havre de grace. Ed earned an Inspiration & Transformation award at this contest. This is his story.
After serving for 5 years in the Army with multiple deployments, Ed returned home to Maryland in 2004. Upon his discharge and over the course of several years he battled severe effects of PTSD. Including anxiety, depression, survivor’s guilt, and thoughts of not being around. This created a stress on his marriage and relationships with others.
He sought treatment from the VA, but was met with little assistance in overcoming these issues. Going from a physically fit soldier, Ed gained a large amount of weight over the next few years. Ultimately reaching 350lbs. This extreme weight gain added more pressure to his issues, as he wasn’t happy with himself and the way he had become.
Through many attempts at different diets, workout plans, and several New Year’s Resolutions, nothing ever panned out. The majority of his time was spent at ball fields coaching and on the road. His diet consisted mostly of fast food, ordering out, and quick, easy unhealthy meals.
Finally in 2017 he changed his diet and began a workout routine and began quickly losing weight and seeing results in just a few weeks’ time. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a year later with an extremely high A1C.
His routine now consists of early workouts and making better food choices to control his overall health. His current weight is now at 190lbs, and he has a much better mental state with a much better outlook on things.
“I’d like to thank my wife and kids for their support during this journey. I’d also like to thank Dave and Jon for their guidance and advice over the years.”
Ed is currently registered for his second IPL contest, the October 2023 Sunshine Classic in Destin, Florida.
When I began my weight loss journey in 2018 and began to see the changes in my body, competing crossed my mind. I thought if I put in all the work and dedication, I could transform myself. Then, as I began to follow many bodybuilders for different exercise techniques and such, I thought it wouldn’t be possible to get their size. That being said, many of these guys probably use “supplements” that I choose not to put into my body to get the physiques that they have. And honestly, I really was unsure if that was the physique I wanted.
I had a few friends who competed in a different league in 2021, and when the conversation started about competing, I thought I could compete with them in the same competition. When we met with a trainer, he said I needed a lot of work to compete, and with my type II diabetes he hadn’t had any experience, so I was at a disadvantage. I knew the diets that would be needed were something I couldn’t do while trying to regulate my diabetes properly. The additional cost as well for the trainer and knowledge was out of my price range at the time. So, I put the thought of competing behind me.
It was shortly after this that Megan Roark began to talk to me about how she was hosting a show locally in Maryland. She told me about the Inspiration & Transformation division. I didn’t really dive into the conversation with her much, as I thought there was no way I could step on stage. As much as the thought seemed nice, I began to realize being on stage in front of so many people wasn’t going to be easy with my anxiety.
Seeing Megan regularly, she continued to talk about my entering Inspiration & Transformation and that I NEEDED to tell my story. To me, my story wasn’t that big of a deal. Even though everyone who I had come across was shocked at my weight loss and couldn’t believe the before and after pictures. I mentioned the local show to my friend Dave, one of the friends I thought of competing with before, and he began to tell me I needed to do it. He has been a huge inspiration and motivator for me, so it gave me some confidence.
Finally, after looking more into the division, and MONTHS of persuasion from Megan and Dave, I seriously thought of entering the show at 12 weeks out. I remember sitting on the couch at home and mentioning to my wife about the constant persuasion and what was actually entailed in the division. And she said I should do it. I was kind of surprised because before this she didn’t seem too much into the idea. When I told her about my concern of being on stage and that nobody is going to the show to see me as, “I’m just a guy who lost weight”, she told me how great my story is and if one person who just goes to support someone else gets motivated by my story, it’s worth it. So that night I signed up for the Inspiration & Transformation division. Little did I know how much things would change for me.
While I signed up at Week 12, I had things/events planned and didn’t get serious until I was 6 weeks out. During this time I was shocked that what I thought would be difficult wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, since I had been living a relatively active lifestyle. The hardest part was making cardio a regular event. I always work out early in the morning and am limited on time to roughly an hour. Preparing for the competition meant I needed to add an afternoon session, just to cover cardio, which is difficult to do when your day starts at 3am already.
I knew from past training I’ve done that cardio is a great regulator of my glucose levels for diabetes. One of the main things that I wanted to accomplish during this training cycle was to get better control of my diet and bring my A1C levels down. Being pretty much forced into cardio was a huge benefit of entering into the competition to regain this control, since I was lacking the self-discipline to do it otherwise.
My entire thought for training to enter the competition wasn’t for my physique, but more mental. To kind of force myself into more self-control diet-wise and make changes permanently in my diet. Too often I allowed myself to overlook that extra slice or slices of pizza, grab some of the snacks in the house I shouldn’t have but craved and ate anyway. Having a goal of getting on stage, versus just wanting to have better glucose readings, allowed me to create a lifestyle change that I knew could be sustainable. I knew that if I could make it through this phase, then I could have it be a part of my regular lifestyle. If I could avoid those cravings that are constantly around me, then I could make changes to enjoy things with others and find foods that were healthier and enjoyable.
Knowing I had an end goal with an end date forced me to find alternatives for foods that I would have never thought of. It allowed me to experiment with different things to cure that sweet tooth that always gets me, or to make substitutions in dinners with the family. As I went through this process, I saw a tremendous change in my readings and even my doctor was impressed with the changes I was making. Going through this process allowed me to see how feasible it is to have a better diet and to make substitutions when dining with others regardless of where I am.
Once I got to competition day, I was nervous, and I don’t think it was until that day that I really noticed just how much of difference I made in my short time. Following Megan’s advice, I took pictures when I was at the six week mark to see my progress. But when I saw the stage pics, I saw a huge difference in that time. To have not just my family with me on that day, but friends who had been supportive of me through the entire process from when I was 350lbs and encouraged me to do this show felt great!
One of the reasons I chose to compete in the IPL is because I liked the fact that it’s encouraged to be all-natural and it’s regulated to be so. I felt I could compete in this league with a better opportunity than in others. As I waited backstage and had seen other competitors, I thought I should have entered other divisions and competed more. I thought I could have had a real shot to be competitive. But, I had been discouraged from what I saw in other leagues. Immediately my thoughts turned to the IPL Sunshine Classic contest in Destin! Meeting with Megan and talking to her about the show, her experience with running a show now, and having been around the IPL for a years, she encouraged me to do Destin and mentioned that so many people had asked why I had not entered more divisions in Maryland. This just gave me motivation to enter into other divisions and look at future competitions.
The friendliness of everyone in the IPL, from the other competitors in Inspiration & Transformation and hearing their stories, to meeting some of the judges and hosts…the entire event in general was a great experience. I don’t plan to stop at the Sunshine Classic when it comes to competing. I’m looking at the Maryland show next year as well. The Sunshine Classic is my “prep” show. Since I haven’t competed in the divisions I am doing there, I figure I can learn where I need to improve and adjust my training to match.
One important thing for me during this process is that I have done this on my own. It’s difficult to find a trainer who has the knowledge of diabetes and regulation of nutrition with medicine and training cycles. I learned so much about myself and how my body reacts to everything. I keep regular tracking of my glucose and watch the changes after different meals and it allows me to know what I need to do training-wise to keep things well regulated. Without competing, I feel like I could have continued the cycle of allowing myself to have those cheats more often than I should have and been continually adjust medicine for regulation. Regardless of how much I would workout and hit the gym, I always allowed too much flexibility in my diet. Now I feel I have a much better understanding and control over my diabetes.
This experience has been HUGE for me with my mental health. I cannot stress enough how much my mental health has changed. I deployed in 2003 to Iraq and lost a squad member while deployed. I took this very personally. The events that took place on deployment, then returning home from the Army and then readjusting to life created a catalyst of poor mental health for myself. One of the reasons that I gained the weight that I did, going from 200lbs to 350lbs in short time, was I generally just unhappy. I felt many times that maybe everyone would be better off without me around.
I knew the troubles I had dealing with my mental health created a burden for others. My marriage was in turmoil because my wife felt she need to walk on eggshells around me because at any moment I could just lose it. My kids suffered not knowing when dad would be in a bad mood. As much as I tried to be happy and be a “normal” person I had problems.
I sought counseling from the VA and it never panned out. There was always an issue there. Be it cancelled appointments, lack of information, counselors who I felt didn’t provide the attention needed, or in one instance a counselor who dismissed everything I said.
Once I began working working out my mental state improved greatly. Previously I would go through these long drawn out cycles of depression and anxiety. It was a revolving door. Now, I’m not cured from all of that, I do have issues, but it’s much better and I found the gym to be a great escape from it. When I go multiple days without training I can feel the difference. That hour or more I use in the gym allows me to escape the reality. I put my earbuds in and just focus on what I’m there to do.
I enjoy people asking what I have done and giving advice to them as well. I hope that one day I can use the knowledge that I have gained to help other people, especially fellow veterans or diabetics, to learn a better lifestyle and find ways to enjoy working out, versus seeing it as a chore. I want others to not just know the benefits, but to experience them as well. INSPIRE
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More From INSPIRE Fall 2023 Issue
“I was a fraction of a hair from needing a pacemaker put in. That’s how close I was last year.”
“Transformation is possible. All it takes is a DECISION! Let’s decide to Level Up today!”
“I hope that one day I can use the knowledge that I have gained to help other people, especially fellow veterans or diabetics to learn a better lifestyle…”
We all have that little voice inside our heads that is quick to point out our flaws and tell us we’re not good enough. But don’t worry, the good news is your inner critic can become your best friend.
“I never would have imagined six years ago that I would be down 100lbs and standing on this stage.”
“My story is a living testament to the fact that love and faith can change the very air we breathe. And I am grateful to have found both in abundance.”