Note from Ron: Today’s success story comes from Andy Merkle. I’ve known Andy for several years through the Troops of St. George. He always makes me smile (even though he looks pretty serious in his ‘after’ photo… LOL!) and is a fantastic guy. And, as you’ll read, Andy’s commitment to his health and spirituality has really paid off! He and I recently did an email “interview” of sorts which is what you’ll read below. Keep up the great work, Andy!
1. Tell us about your background… who is Andy Merkle?
I’ve lived in the North Texas area all my life. I grew up in in Hurst, TX and studied exercise physiology at Texas A&M – College Station. Ironically, I studied the Clinical Effects of Dose effects of Exercise while working for the University of Nebraska at Kearney where I received my Masters in Exercise Science.
I’m a life long Catholic… K-12 Catholic school (St. John’s then Nolan High School). After several years of working in Physical Therapy I wanted a change so I went into medical sales.
I’ve spent the last 4 1/2 years working for a German spine surgery company, promoting endoscopic spine surgery techniques to surgeons across the country.
I have 3 boys ages 4, 7 and 9 and I’ve been married 10 years to my wife Elizabeth (who is a stay at home super mom).
2. How was your health before you made a change to the way you ate and took care of yourself?
Well, when I got into medical sales I was promoting and selling products through meetings with doctors, providing them lunches… a lot of catered lunches.
Before getting into medical sales I was an avid runner. In fact, I had been running since my college years (4 miles 4 times a week) and weighed about 165 lbs. It seemed like I could eat as much as I wanted and never get “fat.” After a period of time I somehow lost my way and stopped running. The excess food from conferences and lunches was taking a toll. I put on around 20 lbs in 2 years.
Everyday I would say, “I’m going to start running again” but never would make it more than a week or two. I just couldn’t find my rhythm and I made use of every excuse in the book.
Oh, and did I mention the lunches/dinners? I was still providing and eating “heavy” lunches 2-3 times a week along with many other over indulgences.
The last 10-12 years I have struggled – physically. I’ve always had a genetic predisposition for poor cholesterol. My father had quadruple bypass at age 52 and suffered from high cholesterol and high BP. My Dad and I have the same doctor and we’ve both struggled to “naturally” raise our good cholesterol. My doctor has been encouraging me to get on cholesterol medication for 5 years – and so I started taking the medication 2 years ago per his instructions.
3. What made you decide to make a change? When was it? Do you remember the day?
I do remember when I decided to make a change, but not the exact day. 2 years ago my 20 something year old brother-in-law was living with us for a short time and he bought an “insane” workout video. I remember thinking I can do that! I knew I needed to burn some serious calories and that seemed to be my short-term answer.
He moved out shortly after and said he didn’t want the workout videos… and that’s when it started. I set up my garage with a window unit for A/C and got to work. It felt great and I gained some serious momentum… I lost 5-6 lbs.
4. How did you start? Hard core? Or did you ease into things?
I would say I eased into things. 3 days a week or so. After 4 months of the video I tweaked my knee. I gave up on the video and focused on my running, which I started really enjoying again.
Then I started running with other fathers on my street. This continued to push me as they were in far better shape than me. Slowly, I was down 10 lbs and felt great. I started to add to my workouts with a different strength training video… and the success continued. I was not losing weight as much as becoming stronger. I was becoming comfortable with my situation. I thought this is probably the best I can do.
Then, in the January 2016 campout with Troop 5 of St. George I was intrigued after hearing you talk about nutrition. The more I thought about the sacrifices and commitment combined with prayer the more I liked it.
I NEVER considered daily prayer as part of my workout routine until you suggested it. I prayed, but not regularly, and certainly not daily or “intentionally.”
The next week I told my wife what I wanted to do and with her support I learned a little bit about sacrifice and the power of Christ in my daily life. I never felt so empowered by this journey. I dropped those pesky last 10 pounds in 3 short months when I started to follow the principles you and Mike share on Intentional Encounter.
Since that January day at the campsite I’ve never looked back.
5. What sorts of foods are you eating?
Now my foods are 90% fruit, vegetables and meat cooked with olive oil or butter. My snacks are nuts and organic sweet potatoes chips (sometimes goat cheese). I’ve learned to just double the vegetables when I eat out. For sweets I eat dried fruit and organic dark chocolate. And, perhaps most importantly, I don’t eat bread or grains.
6. What sorts of workouts do you do? You’re a runner, right? Have you always been?
Currently I run 3 times a week (3.5 miles) and work out 2-3 times with some weight lifting (DVD’s help keep me on task/track). I’ve always run and it’s an easy workout for me, but the weights have had the bigger impact and truly challenge me.
7. What sort of results have you realized as a result of these changes?
First and foremost I now weigh 170 lbs (5’8″) down from 195 lbs 3 years prior, but as I mentioned earlier my cholesterol has always been an issue. In fact, I gave up trying to alter my cholesterol with basic diet and exercise and started taking prescription medications… and while it helped my numbers it was not that big of help.
So after discovering Intentional Encounter I decided to keep going with the dietary suggestions you and Mike lay out (Paleo) because it helped me so much and gave me so much energy.
Long story short my doctor noticed a complete change in my cholesterol profiles so he pulled me off my medication! I’m extremely happy to say my HDL improved far beyond any medication or basic diet or exercise has ever done. I’m 100% convinced that my dietary changes have been the key to my improved health.
My HDL went from a permissible 40 (with meds) to an optimal 50 (without meds). I was beyond ecstatic when I first discovered the improvement since I’ve tried, since college, to improve this number (remember I studied exercise physiology).
8. How has this journey to better health improved other aspects of your life (i.e. family, faith, etc.)?
It’s been a great experiment/experience. It’s also been great to be an example of health and spirituality to my 3 boys.
We now, as a family, try to teach our kids why proper nutrition is important and how some food is actually harmful to you (i.e. High Fructose Corn Syrup).
I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved so far but I also feel such deep appreciation for the strength Christ has given me. It keeps me believing in His power. Daily prayer is now part of my routine… it truly gives me balance throughout my day. I have far to go on my spiritual journey but everyday I keep trying and asking for forgiveness when I fail Him.
9. What advice do you have for someone reading this that doesn’t think they could ever do what you did?
Well, I would say pay attention to the signs all around us. Evil and temptation (even with food) is real. You feel guilty after eating a bucket of chicken wings for a reason!
I was looking for a challenge and I didn’t quit. Find a goal, find someone to help you (a wife or friend) and use the support. Make a commitment to God and pray when you’re tempted. Surround yourself with things that help you with your personal goals (i.e. healthy food, get rid of sodas etc.).
What I discovered was my “reboot” button and other people can discover theirs too.
10. What’s next for Andy as it pertains to your health and spiritual life?
That list is lengthy. Confession tops the list. I need to go way more often than I do. I also need to continue to pray more with my children and share the importance of scripture with them and myself.
Health wise, I’d like to continue to increase the weights I lift and stay injury free. I just need to keep on track.
Finally, I’m still interested, and also praying about, committing to “Exodus 90” as this will continue to push and challenge my poor routine and waste of personal time.