The “80-Percent” Approach Helps Jake Masterson Lose 100 Pounds During the Pandemic

October 5, 2020 by
Courtesy of Becky Phelps

One year ago, Jake Masterson would wake up, head to McDonalds for breakfast and “go to work feeling sluggish and gross,” said the 34-year-old paramedic.

At six-foot-two, he weighed 322 pounds. Just getting up out of the recliner at work when he was dispatched was a challenge.

  • “I’d stand up and have to take a second,” he said. “Everything was hard. Moving patients was a lot of work, but so was giving CPR and just lifting stuff. And I also felt so hypocritical. When I had to talk to patients about their diets and exercise, I’d be thinking, ‘Who am I to be lecturing this person when my shit was out of control.’”

It hadn’t always been this way. Masterson grew up running cross country, which he continued to do through college.

  • “Even then, I was addicted to bad food, but I was a collegiate athlete doing so much physical activity,” he said. “But when I stopped that and became a paramedic, I fell prey to the eat what you can when you can get it mentality and wasn’t doing a lot of activity. And I think because of some of the PTSD from work and being exhausted all the time (from long shifts), I started turning to food for comfort.”

The turning point: Tired of living with low self-esteem and confidence, where everything required more effort than it should, last November Masterson decided to listen to a friend who had been bugging him to try CrossFit for quite some time.

  • “We did back squats the first day, and I was like, ‘I can do that,’ and then I couldn’t walk for a couple weeks, “ he said, laughing. Still, he was “immediately hooked.”

From that day forward, Masterson has been doing CrossFit five days a week at Compelled Fitness in Wichita, KS.

Enter COVID-19: By the time the pandemic hit the world, Masterson was already in a good fitness routine, so it was a relatively seamless transition to hitting home workouts during the lockdown, he explained. And as work became more stressful — “especially at the start when nobody knew what we were looking at. Was it airborne or droplets? It was stressful,” he explained — he began to realize just how much working out was helping him mentally as well as physically, he explained.

  • “I actually ramped up during COVID. I was like, ‘Ok, now you have time,’”said Masterson, who has been transporting two to three COVID patients, usually from care homes to a hospital, each week.

COVID also encouraged Masterson to take the next step with his diet, as “being obese is this huge comorbidity that I knew I needed to address,” he said.

Step-by-step: When he started CrossFit, Masterson knew exercise alone wouldn’t be enough to help him lose the weight he wanted to shed, but he chose to take a one-step-at-a-time approach to change.

  • “I knew I needed to get my eating under control, but I knew that I wouldn’t succeed if I looked at change as an obligation. So for the first bit, the only change I made was to workout,” he said. And once he “got comfortable with that,” he started to make slow diet changes.
  • “I didn’t cut everything out completely, but I started to be conscious of calories in, calories out, so if I went to McDonalds at lunch I would eat a smaller dinner,” he said.

Slowly but surely, Masterson started replacing unhealthier choices with healthier ones more and more frequently. While he admits he still isn’t perfect, now he eats whole foods and appropriately-sized meals 80 percent of the time.

  • “I think the key for me was I never set deadlines for myself. I never said, ‘I’m going to lose 10 pounds in three weeks.’ I just waited until I was ready to make another small change,” he said.
Courtesy of Becky Phelps

11 months later: Less than a year since starting his journey, Masterson’s baby step/80 percent approach has helped him lose over 100 pounds. Today, he weighs in somewhere between 215 and 220 pounds.

  • “My life really is night and day different,” he said. Instead of drinking an energy drink and eating McDonalds before work, he wakes up at 3 a.m. and works out before his 6 a.m. shift. “Then I have a coffee or a post-workout recovery drink and I come to work a lot more energetic in a better mindset. It makes a huge difference…And then to be able to burn off the stress that comes with my job has been a huge gift.”
  • He added: “I don’t even know if there are words to describe how much better my life is today.”