Name: Max Kohls
Age: 24 years old
Subject: Weight Loss & Mental Health
Original Goal: Lose 105 lbs; reach goal weight of 165lb.
- Reevaluate whether my original goal matters considering the following
- Gain strength and muscle (and therefore weight)
- Continue to choose happiness and health on a daily basis
Advice: You can’t change what you are, but you can change who you are. It’s up to you to choose the person you want to be everyday and remember to choose who you are wisely.
Story: Max is a 24 year old gender-non-conforming Graphic Designer and the newest member of APOP's Fitness Nerd Family. They started their journey back in the summer of 2013 after graduating from Moore College of Art & Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in--you guessed it--Graphic Design. Growing up and going to school in PA, Max decided it wasn't exactly the place they wanted to launch their career. California was where they headed, Los Angeles, where dreams are made. With a background in Graphic Design, Max was well primed for a job in the television industry, but the dreams they ended up accomplishing in California were different than the plans they had previously set for themselves. Alone and without a job due to the relocation; Max saw Los Angeles as a great opportunity to do some soul-searching--to really figure out who they were as a person and challenge themself, but before we jump into how Max improved their life let me provide you with a little more background.
Upon graduation, Max was 270 lbs and unhappy. College was difficult. Like most of us during college, they got caught up in a little thing called stress. Being an art and design student had proven to be more challenging than anticipated. With six hour classes and a ton of all-nighters doing homework and class projects, it was hard to find time to eat, let alone make a healthy meal from scratch. Don't get them wrong, college wasn't the reason they had become unhealthy and depressed; the stresses of college simply added to their unhappiness.
"I wouldn't say that I have depression, I would say that I was depressed. I was just unhappy and uncomfortable constantly and that's why I was depressed, but now I feel better--I don't feel depressed anymore." - Max Kohls
Before the stresses of college, Max encountered other hurdles-- growing up with learning differences, body image issues, and trying to find their place in the LGBT community. Max’s mother always loved, supported, and cared for them, but it was very difficult for her to see her child as 'bigger' and unhappy. Max's mother was always working hard to stay healthy and fit and wanted Max to try new workouts or diets with her. Even though most might see this as supportive, Max felt pressured to be thin which weakened their relationship.
Max wanted to have control over their life--including their body. Max reflects on their thoughts of that time in our interview, "Two boxes of Oreos a week... whatever not a big deal! Who’s telling me what to do? It's my own body!...but now I'm more in control of my body. I go to the gym and make myself eat healthy." They say, "no one can force you to do anything unless your heart is truly in it." Before moving to California, Max always found themself feeling ashamed of eating certain foods and therefore hiding those habits from friends and family. "[My mother] always wanted to encourage me to lose weight and I was always the one who wanted to take back control, so I would eat by myself; I would hide and eat." Max would think to themself, "I'm not going to lose weight for you, I'm going to do what I want." Now, Max understands that for their mother it was difficult to see her child struggling and as it turns out all their mother wanted was for Max to be happy; it turns out their mom was their biggest fan.
"It's hard to feel like people expect things from you and that you might disappoint them...but it really isn't affecting them except for that it makes them happier for you." -Max Kohls
Moving to California was the perfect way for Max to separate themself from the family and friends "Let Down Factor”, their own bad habits, and their negative emotions. Los Angeles is such an encouraging place to begin a mental and physical health journey. The weather is nice, all the fruit is fresh, and the people--well they're beautiful. They never had to worry about their family seeing them workout. They didn’t have to worry that their loved ones would "get their hopes up" just to be disappointed once again. The pressure was lesser in California--if Max failed no would have to know, but if they succeeded they could share their success and feel proud that this time it was their choice...to be happy, to be healthy, to be successful.
Making the choice everyday to work towards being healthy has allowed Max to become more connected with their body. Reflecting on this Max says, "I used to pull a blanket up to my head and I used to think, ‘I wish we were all just heads, I wish we didn't have to deal with our bodies’...and I told my therapist that and she said, 'it's clear that you're not connected with the rest of your body.' Once I started exercising and really getting in touch with my body, I began to feel more confident and empowered."
And even after moving back to the east coast they’ve continued to choose to be their “higher-self” on a daily basis--with the full support of their family and girlfriend. Max knew they had finally reached a point where they didn’t have to be ashamed of what they ate in front of their mother. “When I came back from LA after 5 months 35lbs thinner my mom saw that I could take care of myself.” It was at this point they both knew that Max was in control of their health and would continue to be.
For the last two years, back in Philadelphia, Max continues to be in control. They go to the gym five days a week, two days of which are spent with a personal trainer. When asked more about their fitness goals in relation to having a personal trainer, Max states, "I'm not just trying to lose weight anymore, I'm trying to gain muscle and heighten my testosterone levels naturally." As an non-binary individual Max is trying to find a comfortable balance between masculine and feminine. With this in mind, Max’s trainer has developed a exercise regime for Max to continue to achieve an androgynous appearance. “Its an amazing feeling to look in the mirror and be pround and happy with my reflection.”
Want to know more about Max? Continue reading the Q&A portion of the profile below.
C: Many people have had a similar parent/child relationship as you and your mother. With this in mind, what would your advice be to parents who want their child(ren) to begin living a healthier lifestyle?
M: I honestly think therapy would be the best choice. I think therapy has a really bad stigma. You don’t have to be clinically depressed or suicidal to talk to a therapist. As someone who was just unhappy, talking to a third-party who wants to support you is wonderful. Her training has been more than helpful with not only weight loss but my relationship with my mother. I have been seeing my therapist for three years and even while I was in California for five months. I called her once a week and we would talk for an hour. It's so freeing to have her in my life. It's too difficult to talk to a parent that's just too close to the situation. I was always encouraged by my mother to make health a priority, but it wasn’t enough. Having a therapist for an objective opinion or point of view, has been extremely helpful in achieving my goal of being the best I can be.
C: You talk a lot about continually choosing your higher-self ; can you elaborate on that?
M: "Willpower is so important in weight loss--willpower and dedication. You have to get up every morning and say, 'This is who I'm going to be today.’ You have to be your higher-self. There is an opportunity to be your lower self: not go to the gym, eat poorly, etc., but you have to choose to be your higher-self. It's a choice. It's all choices. Everyday is a choice." Max later referenced the podcast that they had listened to previously that informed this conversation: http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/willpower-works/
C: How do you feel about Jennifer Aditison's quote "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."?
M: That's so not true. First of all, I had had like nine s'mores the other week and all I could think is I'm going to have to workout really hard next week, but then I thought, 'no'...like how often do I really have s'mores...they are so worth it. Second of all, it's not about being skinny, it's about being healthy and your livelihood. It's about feeling good about yourself.
C: How do you manage the stresses of life and remain healthy?
M: "By being selfish sometimes...I always use the word ‘selfish’, but...it's not selfish if it's for your own well-being." I make the choice over and over again to be healthy. I remain healthy because I choose to and because I have a support network that helps me make that choice daily.
C: What does one of your typical workouts look like?
M: 45-60 minutes of cardio. If I’m on the treadmill, I start off running for as long as I can, usually 30 minutes, then I walk--sometimes on an incline. If I’m on the StairMaster, I usually just do 45 minutes while I watch TV shows like F.R.I.E.N.D.S. After that I do back, triceps, and biceps then head over to the free weights and do 20 hammer curls, 20 squats, you know, different exercises.* I love cables and free weights…I feel bad ass not using the weight machines. When I work out with my trainer Ralph Gilmore at Body Dynamics, I do more challenging exercises. He pushes me to try new things like weighted squats and leg lifts. He loves to remind me, “If you weren’t working out with me you wouldn’t be lifting this heavy,” and it’s true! He shows how much weight to lift, corrects my form, and reminds me to breath. I am so thankful to have someone so knowledgeable helping me reach my goals.
*Recommended Resource: Bodybuilding.com's exercise database--it's an exciting and interactive online encyclopedia of exercise how to's and how not to's.