Ben Kenyon/Matt Ellengold
Like most people who want to lose weight, Matt Ellengold was good at procrastinating when it came time to do something about it. He knew he’d let himself go a bit, and that he needed to show himself more self-care, but couldn’t seem to dig himself out of his funk.
“The self-loathing just built—and the realization of how much I’d let myself go physically was depressing,” he says. “I even moved into an apartment block that had gym facilities, and I said every day that I’d go tomorrow, and tomorrow that never happened. I promised myself I would change my diet, eat more healthily, and it didn’t happen.” Ellengold, 38, who lives in London and works as an investor relations professional in the private equity industry, admits that fear played a big role—his confidence was low, and he felt self-conscious about his body in the gym.
One afternoon, after going for a walk in the park with his brother, he looked at some photos from their day together. “I thought, ‘wow, that’s me?'” he says. “It really sunk in then—that I had to do something about this.” Ellengold’s therapist helped give him a nudge, too: “For a number of years, he asked me what I was doing for exercise, and of course I wasn’t doing anything,” Ellengold says. Once again, his therapist urged him to change that before their next appointment. “I couldn’t go to see him again without having done something,” Ellengold says. “That was the turning point.”
It was June of 2018 and Ellengold, then 37, weighed roughly 240 pounds. Unsure of how to get started, he decided the first step would be to admit that he needed some help. After some Googling around, he found a nearby gym—Ultimate Performance—that seemed to specialize in dramatic body transformations. As he scanned through the list of men and women who’d gone from overweight and out of shape to resembling full-blown fitness models, he thought it all looked too good to be true. “I was skeptical that it could happen for me,” he says. “Maybe for these people, but not something I’d be able to do.”
After an introductory session with his trainer, James Ellis-Ford, Ellengold was told that if he committed to the plan offered to him, he could realistically get himself down to 185 pounds and 12 percent bodyfat in as little as 24 weeks. “I thought he was crazy,” Ellengold says. “He showed me some photos of what I could look like, and he might as well have shown me a unicorn.” Ellis-Ford explained some basic principles of weight loss—including macros, and how much protein Ellengold would need to shoot for in a given day. Then they got to work.
Ellengold’s regimen involved training three days a week with UP, and doing cardio on his own time to continue building up a caloric deficit, shooting for at least 10,000 steps per day. After the first workout, Ellengold recalls, he thought he was going to collapse: “I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t do anything. I was physically wrecked. James said, ‘You’ll always remember your first session now’, and he was right. I can still remember it.” Ellengold also tracked what he ate using the MyFitnessPal app, and he bought a Fitbit to track his steps. After a few months, he bumped up his training to four times per week. After 24 weeks, he was doing four or five sessions a week and averaging as many as 18,000 steps daily.
The steady progress kept Ellengold feeling motivated: He was losing weight and generally feeling better. “I started to believe that maybe this mythical, too-good-to-be-true transformation could actually happen for me.” In the end, Ellengold met his goal—and then some: After 24 weeks of training and eating healthier, he’d lost more than 60 pounds, and his body fat dropped from an estimated 35 percent to a super-lean 10 percent. “When I showed the before and after photos, everyone was stunned. If I could have seen those photos before, I would not have believed you,” he says.
More importantly, Ellengold adds, his mental health has improved considerably—he feels more comfortable in his own skin, and his self-esteem has risen, too. “The positive side-effects have been immeasurable. For someone that has battled depression for 20 years to now regularly look forward to getting up in the morning…The training and diet have given me structure and discipline, and I now have control over what I put in my body.”
Naturally, when people see the dramatic transformation that Ellengold underwent, they have questions about how to get started on their own path. Ellengold’s first piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Set clear, attainable goals—long and short-term. The momentum will help instill confidence. “Nothing for most of us is easy—it’ll take hard work, dedication, and sacrifice,” he says, “but the payoff could be immeasurable. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Just aim to be a better version of yourself every day.”