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For colonel, losing weight feels 'so good'

Madigan Army Medical Center Public Affairs

Published: 02:06PM June 26th, 2014

For Col. John O’Brien, being healthy was part of his job; as the Chief of the Department of Operational Medicine and Deployment Health at Madigan Army Medical Center, he focused on Soldier health and wellness.

O’Brien was good about staying physically active, spending an hour every day training for Olympic triathlons, taking bike trips with his family and eating relatively healthy meals. It wasn’t until he was asked to spearhead a new Army Medicine program that he realized he should make some lifestyle changes for the sake of his health.

Achieving his ideal weight of under 210 pounds, a goal just slightly out of reach even with his triathlon training, was partly motivated by the ever-dreadful “tape test” administered during Army Physical Fitness Tests for Soldiers. He knew he had some work to do.

In 2013, as the new trainer for the Performance Triad program being piloted with 3-38th Cavalry Squadron on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, O’Brien was given a FitBit Flex, a wrist band that served as both a pedometer and sleep tracker. In the beginning, O’Brien challenged himself to achieve 10,000 steps daily.

“(Walking 10,000 steps) proved to be much easier than I expected,” O’Brien said. “I quickly bumped my minimum goal to 12,000 steps.”

With the addition of a cell phone app that linked to his FitBit, O’Brien was then able to calculate calories consumed with the number of additional steps he needed to take in order to lose weight.

“The calories that I burned from walking gave me more calories I could eat,” he said. “As long as I had calories left at the end of the day, I (was able) to lose my one pound per week.”

As O’Brien’s weight loss increased, so did his motivation for the Performance Triad, a program centered on improving sleep, nutrition and activity. He competed against his co-workers to get the most steps in a running seven-day total. In the first two weeks, O’Brien lost six pounds. In 30 days, he lost 10 pounds. After only four months, he was 30 pounds lighter, under his goal weight, his blood pressure was back to normal and he stopped using all medications. He did his fastest 2-mile run for the APFT in 10 years. And not once did he ever feel like he was on a diet.

“I like to go to Five Guys,” said O’Brien, referencing a popular fast food chain. “On those days I go, I just walk a little more. I have not starved myself.”

On June 4, O’Brien shared his story at the Madigan Medical Mall during the Performance Triad KickOff Week and addressed a lingering question about the program: what makes it different from the advice Mom gave to eat healthy, get sleep and be active?

“The difference is the tools,” O’Brien said. As a big supporter of the FitBit, he has been able to track his food intake, the number of steps he takes and the time he spends sleeping. The Army also provides online tools for health and wellness tracking, namely the Global Assessment Tool (GAT) 2.0. The confidential survey provides users with data to assess their comprehensive fitness in different categories – social, emotional, physical and spiritual.

The success O’Brien has achieved by utilizing principles in the Performance Triad has inspired both Soldiers and Civilians to become more proactive about being healthy. He still challenges his co-workers to “walk-offs” and his wife, an active duty Soldier, has also started incorporating principles from the Performance Triad in to her life. With all the weight loss, O’Brien did point out one aspect that could be considered a negative.

“Warning,” he said. “You may need to get new clothes! (I lost so much weight) my pants were literally falling off.”