Michael Mendoza wasn’t always the rippling torso of sinew and muscles that he is now. One fateful day, only 30 yards into a 10k that he’d signed up for and not trained for at all – despite his lethargic attitude to life – he realized that taking his body for granted was a dangerous thing to do. His life was going to change immediately and it all began with his diet. He explains…
“Going vegan was definitely not an overnight process, which is why it bugs me that so many people think they can guilt someone into going vegan. Look, I knew that we tortured animals, but I could have really cared less. They were our food, so who cared if they were ethically treated before slaughter, right?
Vegans and animal rights activists just have way too much time on their hands! Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely an animal lover, dogs, cats, and anything on the endangered species list, but not our food supply.”
Michael explains that he got to where he is by what he calls his “Matrix Effect”. He decided to take that pill and see just how far the rabbit hole led him. Having already started an exercise regimen with healthier foods and leaner meats, the thought of giving up meat never crossed his mind.
“I was pretty successful in losing a large amount of weight when a book called “Skinny Bastard,” made its way into my hands. I laughed at the notion of vegetarianism but read it anyways. After reading the book, I was horrified and in disbelief. I didn’t want to buy into the fact that our food supply was really tainted. I didn’t want to believe that the government could allow any of these practices to go on. I did more research and eventually adopted a vegan diet. I lost even more weight but reverted into vegetarianism. Years go by as a vegetarian and I had gained a substantial amount of weight back.”
Michael didn’t know another vegetarian or vegan (or “v*gan”, as they are commonly referred to in text) at all by this time. This eventually changed due to social media and he met many others with the same philosophy online. Noticing that many of the vegans he saw online were athletes, he decided to give it a try and go vegan. He bought the book “Thrive” by Brendain Braizer – a successful vegan triathlete – and took his advice.
“I followed his program and had this energy that I never had before. I was able to go faster and further with this new diet. I was running 10k’s and half marathons for fun! I dropped a lot of weight and was in the best shape of my life. All thanks to social media.”
“Another thing that happened was that I learned compassion for animals. I gave up leather and anything related to animal products. Being vegan does open your eyes to the fact that you really don’t need animal products to survive. Heck, being vegan is why I have all this energy.”
But there wasn’t just one tipping point or moments of clarity that Michael puts this down to. He was around 300+lbs, smoked occasionally and drank all the time. He recalls how what he consumed on a daily basis wasn’t good. “My diet was also pretty horrendous. I never ate a single meal without meat and drank at least three cans of diet cherry coke every day.”
“I was at a party and a few friends were talking about a 10K they entered. I had run a 10K for a college final once before, and I was still confident about it. I jokingly said that I was able to run a race, and everyone just laughed at me. To prove them wrong, I signed up for it. It was a scorcher and well over 100 degrees outside. I met all my friends and we headed to the starting line. Keep in mind, I had zero training and did not prepare for this run at all. They shot that gun and we all started running like rats abandoning a ship. I had a good stride until about 30 or so yards. My lungs started to hurt, my legs started to ache, and I could barely breathe! I took a look back at the starting line and seriously thought about heading back in shame.
300 pound guy trying to run six miles? What was I thinking? I decided the shame of turning back would be too much to handle, so I pressed forward. I decided that I would finish this God forsaken race even if I had to crawl to the finish line.”
As he was bent over double, gasping for air, he was passed by a lady that was in her 70’s. The full horror of his own physical fitness was now washing over him like a cold shower. The alarms were ringing and life was slapping his face from left to right and back again. Time to wake up, Michael.
“She looked like someone that I should help cross the street and here she was passing this guy in his 20’s?! This was ridiculous! So I gave all that I had and passed her up. It was a back and forth race for miles with this lady who should have been knitting at home, not competing with me in a race that I was obviously losing! I finally gave up! She passed me and I was embarrassed. I started to hyperventilate and seriously thought I might die that day. But Like I said, I decided to finish even if I had to crawl across that damn line!”
He eventually finished the race in what he considers to be the worst shape of his life. Sweaty, drained of energy and feeling utterly humiliated and beaten down, it took Michael 1 hour and 52 minutes to cover the 10k. Feeling so drained, Michael had to rest for a few hours before he considered himself good enough to drive home, such was the level of his exhaustion.
“Ever since that day I knew that I needed to get into shape but never really knew how. I was so lazy and eventually lost the passion to get fit. A few months later I took a trip to Europe. My life forever changed since then.”
“In the States I was huge but there were others that were equally large around me. In Europe however, I was the biggest guy in the Continent! It didn’t take very long to realize why! My first day in Venice Italy, I went to a local shop and ordered a pizza and soda. It was such a tiny slice of pizza and the smallest soda I have ever seen! I laughed and thought I must have ordered in the over-priced tourist area!
Later on for dinner, I went to another restaurant and ordered some ravioli. Oh I was super excited! I mean, I’m in Italy eating Italian. Awesome right? Nope! Here comes the waiter with my bowl full of ravioli, 4 pieces. 4 freaking pieces! It was the Twilight Zone here!”
Reverting to type, Michael resorted to what he knew – American fast food. Going to Burger King and McDonalds, he knew he would be in familiar territory. Sadly for him, he soon found that there wasn’t a “Super Size” option for him to fall back on. He quickly understood that he would “either starve or go broke.”
“Slowly but surely I started realizing that these Europeans didn’t have tiny portion sizes, but we Americans had gigantic portion sizes. I also figured out another thing, my feet were killing me. I was walking everywhere. In California, walking was for people who didn’t have cars, not for everyone else.
I came back with a new outlook on life. There was a Starbucks about a quarter mile from my apartment that I would drive to. I never took my car again and started a portion control diet with exercise.”
In regards to training, Michael was a rudderless ship. Not really knowing what he wanted to do, or even how to do it, he was all over the place.
“I started this popular diet called “Atkins.” It was great! I got to eat tons of bacon and eggs and didn’t have to worry about anything. Well, that didn’t last long. I didn’t lose any weight and I felt horrible. I started researching different programs and eventually found one that I liked. It was superset lifting with 33% protein, 33% carbs, and 33% fats. It told me to stay away from fruits and not to do any cardio. I cheated and ate fruits and started to run.”
His vendetta was consuming him. He had a score to settle with 10K of asphalt. He wanted to be able to run a distance that he considered a man of his age should easily be able to do.
“I calculated a full 3 miles around my whole apartment block. It wasn’t easy at all but I was completely motivated. My first run was similar to that 10K I did months before. After about 30 yards in, I was done, but pushed myself to keep going. Days that I wasn’t attempting to run, I started to lift. I was way too embarrassed to hit up a local gym, so I used my apartment gym instead. Luckily we had a decent amount of weights and exercise equipment. I didn’t know what I was doing so I just followed a workout plan.”
The difference in his body wasn’t something he noticed at first. Not overly concerned with how he looked, moreover how he felt, he eventually saw that, over the months, his body was changing in a positive way.
“After months of running, months of eating healthy, and months of dropping pounds, I ran 6 miles without stopping. I didn’t even really notice that I had reached this level of “athleticism.” It was everyday work for me and I had never taken notice.”
There was a quote that I printed up and went like this, “Unless you’re giving 100% every time, you might as well stay at home. So that’s what I did, gave it my 100% every time I went out! Granted, you’re going to have good days and bad days, but I never limited myself.”
“What really made me realize the difference were the compliments from friends and family at how much weight I had lost. I honestly did not notice much changing, it was only till my friends said something that I was able to really look at old pictures of myself, and notice the change.”
But as every Spartan Racer knows, there is an area that every single person has, regardless of strength, stamina, build, body shape, age or mental fortitude. A common bond that we all share and one that we all have to push past in order to make it worthwhile – the comfort zone.
“Yes! Getting out of your comfort zone!”, Michael laughs, “the hardest thing for me was getting rid of the people who were negatively influencing me and hanging out with those who would positively influence me. You cannot get into shape if you’re hanging out with people who do nothing but drink, smoke, and eat horrible food.”
“I put friendships, nightlife and fast food on hold. I told myself that it was a temporary inconvenience and that it would be worth it in the end. Boy did it pay off. I seriously felt like a whole new person afterwards. Accepting that everything I knew about food was completely wrong was hard but necessary. Admitting being wrong about a lot of stuff was tough but was the first step to recovery. Once I accepted that I had no idea what I was doing, I was then able to move forward and learn about food and fitness.”
Offering advice for those open to what he experienced, Michael is quick to lay out some pointers, should anyone want to follow his example.
“It is hard and boy is it tough! If it were easy, everyone would be in shape! You have to want it bad and be willing to struggle for it. Once you get to that point where you have that, “nothing is going to stop me,” mentality, you’ll be successful! Most people quit at the first sign of a struggle and wonder why their “diet” doesn’t work. If there is a wall, you climb it. If there is a ditch, you jump over it. If there is a lake, you swim across it. That’s it. That’s the secret! For every object that gets in your path, you have to overcome it. And that is how you will succeed.”
Obstacles are not there to prevent your progress. They are opportunities to show what your mind and body can do.