Think of two photos, side-by-side. One is of a large, overweight person who looks uncomfortable in clothing that is clearly bursting at the seams. The other is of a smiling, vibrant person who looks healthy and trim. You might think I’m talking about the weight-loss transformation photos you see at @rp_transformations, but I’m not. In this case, the healthy photo is the before, and the overweight one, the after. I’m talking about the effects of a career in law enforcement. With over 15 years in this profession, I’ve witnessed the distinct deterioration of health in most of my colleagues. Back when I worked patrol, we would occasionally find old pictures from someone’s swearing-in ceremony. We always got a good laugh at how young and skinny they looked! But actually, it’s not that funny. Today’s cops are not just up against dangerous criminals, they’re also under constant attack by the damaging lifestyle of the job.
I almost said that I’m one of the “lucky ones” because I’ve gotten healthier and fitter throughout my career, but then I caught myself. I haven’t been lucky at all! I’ve worked really hard, and somehow I did it while everything was working against me. I got hired during graduate school, so I was already carrying a few extra pounds from college. Once I started working patrol, things went the wrong way. It was easier and more fun to hit the pizza shop with my squadmates than it was to buy groceries, meal prep, and eat alone in my police car. Soon I was loosening my gun belt to accommodate an increasing waistline thanks to my daily buffalo chicken cheesesteak. I was becoming just like everyone else that had a few years on the job. Fortunately, one thing saved me: the uniform. For civilian clothes, I would go to the store, try them on, and buy what fit. As I gained weight, I just bought bigger sizes that fit comfortably, but the uniform… The uniform stayed the same. Every shift, I was confronted with a pair of pants that were too tight. It was uncomfortable. I couldn’t ignore it. I had to do something. Well, I suppose I could’ve asked for a new set in a larger size, but I didn’t. I stopped using my 12-hour shifts as an excuse and started hitting the gym on the way home. I started carrying a cooler with all of my meals in it. I started passing on the gatherings at the pizza shop. I didn’t exactly achieve my ideal body composition, but during those 10 years, I never needed a bigger uniform. Just avoiding the transformation into a big fat cop was a win.
By the time I became a federal agent, I knew the importance of a healthy lifestyle, but that didn’t make it any easier. My new job was awesome. It combined criminal investigations, dignitary protection, and overseas travel. No two days were the same, and I loved the unpredictability and adventure. Fortunately, we had a gym in the office, and we were expected and encouraged to make exercise a part of our workday. Unfortunately, the lack of a steady schedule made it hard to maintain a healthy routine. Working a 20-hour shift on a protection detail or living in a hotel for a few weeks meant that I had to get my meals from a restaurant. I tried to make the best choices I could. I avoided sugary snacks and overly-processed foods. I didn’t drink soda. I loaded up on vegetables. I read books on nutrition and listened to podcasts about health and fitness. I felt like I was trying harder than everyone else, so I couldn’t understand why I was gradually gaining weight again. I was still athletic and active, but I didn’t look the way I thought I should. I was about to transfer to my next assignment, a full-time tactical team that responds to security threats around the world. That’s when I discovered Renaissance Periodization and really took control of my health.
Working in tactical crisis response means being prepared for anything: terrorist attacks, violent protests, dignitary protection in a high-threat environment, evacuating an embassy, or securing and reopening one that had been closed. If my team got attacked, would I be able to carry or drag my biggest teammate “off the X” and to safety? I had to be as strong and fit as possible. I read RP’s Renaissance Woman e-book, which detailed how a periodized approach could help me preserve muscle mass while shedding excess body fat. I purchased the fat-loss templates and got to work. It was difficult at first. I was in a six-month training pipeline for my new assignment, and we bounced from hotel to hotel. I lugged my cooler of prepped meals everywhere I could. I carried a travel food scale and travel bodyweight scale. I grabbed packets of tuna, microwaveable rice, and bags of spinach from the local Walmart. I ate a lot of the same meals over and over again. I ate them hot when I could, and cold when I had to, and after a little while, something shifted in my brain. I stopped looking at food as comfort or entertainment. Food was food. It was sustenance. It was something to fuel my activity and help me reach my goals. For someone that always felt emotionally connected to food (and that’s a whole ‘nother blog post entirely!), it was immensely freeing. I finally learned that a healthy body composition wasn’t going to happen by accident. Sure, over the years, I had gotten pretty good about eating a higher quality of food. I stopped reaching for products and drinks that were heavily sweetened or artificially sweetened. I no longer ate fast food. I filled my plate with “whole foods” that didn’t come packaged in a box or a bag. I shopped around the perimeter of the grocery store. I thought I was making all the right choices, but RP taught me that I needed to pay attention to the quality and the quantity of my food. Using the templates to eat the correct amount of food, I went from 153 lbs to 140 lbs over the course of a 12 week cut, which was a huge transformation on my 5’3” frame.
When I got assigned to my operational team, I had teammates telling me that my diet would be impossible to sustain. They constantly told me that I could never eat healthy on deployments to different countries. Challenge accepted! When we went to Somalia and I expected fruits and vegetables to be scarce, I packed a case of spinach and kale baby food packets. When we flew to Pakistan, one of my checked bags held some canned chicken, green beans, pineapple, and a jar of peanut butter. Sure, it was a strange meal combination, but being able to hit my macros as soon as we arrived at the hotel was a great feeling. It allowed me to stay on track the first couple days until I could figure out what was available in the chow hall or the commissary. Every mission is different, so I’m constantly trying new and creative travel diet strategies.
On one trip to Germany, I forgot to bring my scale. I figured it would be fine since I was on maintenance, but after a few weeks of going out for meals with my team, I had definitely gained weight, and the cravings for off-template foods were back. I turned around and went right back to Europe on a family trip. I was in full-on “vacation mode” and kept gaining. Shortly after that, I had shoulder surgery, and gained even more weight. (I don’t recommend using ice cream as a painkiller!) In the past, I would’ve felt helpless, but thanks to RP, I knew that I could take control. I knew exactly what I had to do. I downloaded the new RP app. Recognizing the importance of fueling my body so it could heal from the surgery, I spent four months maintaining a weight I wasn’t happy at. When I was time to cut again, I learned a valuable lesson. Just because I had gained back most of the weight I originally lost didn’t mean it was a “failed maintenance.” In fact, I had successfully maintained that new number for about eight months before falling off track. The RP science is sound, and I had changed my body’s “set point” by following a period of weight-loss with a period of maintenance. When I started my cut on the app, my body seemed eager to drop back to that point, and I lost weight easily. I went from 150 to 137 pounds in 12 weeks without ever having to reduce my macros!
There have definitely been some ups and downs in my health and fitness journey. Sure, if I had access to RP Strength 20 years ago, I could’ve lost weight way back then and not spent so many years unhappy with my body composition. But looking at the bright side, I realized that during all that time of trial-and-error, I was slowly building discipline and setting the stage for success on the RP diet. If you are working in law enforcement, or just beginning your career, know this: everything about this job is working against your health. Long hours; shift work; lack of sleep; critical family, friends, and coworkers; the desire to fit in and not seem like a weirdo for weighing your food, bringing your food, not eating the food, etc. You will need to be strong, determined, and supremely focused on your goals if you don’t want to end up just another backwards before-and-after photo. Fortunately, there’s an entire community of weirdos like me ready to support you on your journey to maintain and/or recapture your health!