How Tom Lost 30 Pounds and Went from ‘Average’ to Plant-Based Marathoner

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Tom in the summer of 2008

Average.

That’s how Tom Giammalvo describes his health and lifestyle prior to 2010. Not atrocious, not disgusting, not embarrassing. Not any of the extreme, negative descriptors we’ve come to expect with stories of transformation. Just average.

And that’s why his is the perfect one to share. As far as his health was concerned, Tom wasn’t the guy you see on The Biggest Loser. Instead, he was your next door neighbor.

Tom is an RN at Falmouth Hospital in Massachusetts. When he worked night shifts in the intensive care unit, the odd hours made it difficult to find a healthy routine.

The way he describes it, “I ate an average American diet. Food was the least of my worries.”

At the peak, Tom weighed around 190 pounds. Just 0.9 below average.

What does ‘average’ mean?

What’s funny — or maybe the opposite of funny — is what average has come to mean.

Tom smoked between a half a pack and a whole pack of cigarettes a day, partly because he “needed nicotine to stay awake” on his 45-minute commute. He was also fond of energy drinks like Red Bull and Rockstar, “to keep my ‘energy’ up,” he says, looking back.

Tom wasn’t completely sedentary. He worked out some, doing mainly weightlifting and sometimes a 15-minute session on the elliptical machine. Always followed by whey protein or casein powder. His smoking inhibited these workouts, Tom says.

As for his average meal: “Having Portguese, Italian, Polish and French heritage, I mainly had meat for a centerpiece of lunch and dinner. At restaurants I would mainly order beef, chicken, or fish and always end up with that ‘I’m sooooo full’ feeling after dinner.”

To boot, Tom watched about 10 hours of TV a week, and occasionally stayed up until 3 in the morning playing World of Warcraft.

This is what average is.

Tom now

june 2011

Tom in June 2011

I met Tom in Boston at the Vegetarian Food Festival in October. He was fit, slender, energetic and overtly positive. The next day, he would run his first full marathon, and not just lollygagging along, but in a time of 3:48:10. This was barely a year after he first ran a 5K race.

During that year, Tom had run his first half marathon and finished a Tough Mudder event. Most importantly, during this time he lost 30 pounds and six inches off his waistline, en route to completely transforming his lifestyle.

When I sent him the first round of questions to start fleshing out his story, here’s how he began his response:

As I sit here on my stationary bike typing this out, I’m feeling determined! This is how the change makes me feel. I now thrive on inspiration, efficiency, and positive outlook on life. I just went through some before and after pictures and, man, do I feel good.

You sure don’t feel like that, and you definitely don’t do what Tom did last year, by just being average.

So what happened?

There’s another thing about Tom’s story that makes it very real: he didn’t get knocked to the ground by a bolt of lightning, see a burning bush, or have a health scare or near-death experience serve as a wakeup call.

Those things are dramatic and inspiring, and they sure make for good stories. But most of us have heard those stories so often that we tend to wait around for our lighting bolt, our light-bulb moment, thinking that until it happens, we can’t really be expected to change.

If there’s a moment we can point to when Tom’s trajectory changed, just slightly at first, it was when he started working days instead of nights in January 2010.

Tom started to exercise more on his new schedule. He completed the P90X home workout program, and saw some muscle growth as a result. Though he still ate “lots of meat and dairy for protein,” his diet was about to make a major shift.

How Tom went plant-based: “I wanted more”

It’s at this point that Tom did what most people don’t (and won’t).

In what might be the first instance of a recurring theme, Tom wanted more. “I think I may have an addictive personality,” he says. “After deciding to do P90X — and not thinking it was going to change my life — I guess I wanted more.”

So somehow (and to be honest, I’m still not sure how, and I don’t know that Tom is either) his experience with P90X led him to explore a plant-based diet. It was in this search for information that he first stumbled onto No Meat Athlete.

“I used your ‘less legs‘ approach,” Tom told me. “I really weened off meat. First beef, then chicken, then fish, then no meat at all. I really did this. My last routine meals with meat were salad with tuna. As for dairy and eggs, I have to give credit to T. Colin Campbell and The China Study. I really had no intention of becoming vegan; it just happened.

And so the positive changes started to stack. He was exercising more and eating much better than before. But there was still a big one to make.

How Tom quit smoking

If you’ve been through a change that’s anything like Tom’s, you know the compounding effect that small changes have. It starts with just one habit, then it’s another, and soon, perhaps out of the desire to be consistent, you change your whole life.

A trip to visit his best friend and his family in Florida seems to have been the catalyst for both Tom’s quitting smoking and becoming a runner. He didn’t bring the P90X DVD’s with him, so to get a workout in, Tom went for a run. It was his first in many months, and just three miles or so.

“I felt great. So I kept running daily that week and by the end of the week I ran for 8 miles. I not only surprised myself but my friend I was visiting as well.”

And so Tom become a runner, almost by accident, the way it happens for so many people (myself included).

So what does this have to do with quitting smoking?

I’m the godfather for my best friend’s three children; Abby, Zach, and Tyler. As I ran that week I thought of quitting smoking and that I’d like to be an example for them in the future. I don’t want them to see their ‘Uncle G’ smoking! I’d rather them see me running.

So I decided when I returned to Massachusetts I would quit. I had one or two cigarettes that month and that was it. The exercise took over and the smoking lost. No meds needed.

tom change

August 2009 (left), August 2010 (right)

Tom, the runner

Excited to have discovered that he could run, and driven by his “I want more” personality, Tom decided that he would run a half marathon.

But it wasn’t just the snowball effect of his own changes that inspired Tom to take on the distance:

I used my father as inspiration to run it. My dad was diagnosed with Gliblastoma Multiforme (a fatal form of brain cancer) at age 56. He was an unbelievable man and fought an inspiring fight for four years. My mother and I, in addition to the entire family, pulled together during that time but he did all the hard work. So 13.1 miles was nothing compared to that.

Tom finished his half marathon in 1:45:45, holding his father’s prayer card as he crossed the finish line. His uncle had met him on the course, with a six-foot high sign supporting him, which “was the boost I needed to finish strong.”

Looking back at the achievement, Tom says, “I couldn’t believe this was me! Not only finishing my first half marathon but ending the training on a vegan diet was an accomplishment. I felt great, recovery was awesome for any injury, and I attribute that to my NMA lifestyle. I felt the healthiest I had in my life.”

The marathon

Three months after completing the half, Tom was — surprise, surprise — hungry for more. He chose the Cape Cod Marathon, scheduled for October 2011, as his next challenge and expression of his new lifestyle.

Tom downloaded the Marathon Roadmap and used it as his training plan. He told me, “I dedicated myself to your schedule and used the advice of yourself and Brendan Brazier (from his book Thrive) for diet.”

Eighteen weeks later, with a time that most first-timers would envy, Tom completed the hilly Cape Cod course in 3:48:10, and became a marathoner.

Of his experience with the Roadmap, Tom says:

The schedule is really helpful and doable; it really is! I never thought I could run a marathon and the Roadmap is what did it for me. It was challenging and it worked.

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Running the Cape Cod Marathon, Oct. 2011

As for the experience, and what that first marathon felt like, “I had a great time out there. It’s your own personal adventure. There were points when I had to talk to myself. Dad’s prayer card came out multiple times during that race. I had a great cheering squad as well; they were strategically placed during the race and were a great inspiration.”

“As I approached the finish line, I prepared to take it all in. I acknowledged my family and then crossed the finish line with Dad’s prayer card in hand and relished every minute of it. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

As you’ve probably guessed by now, Tom isn’t stopping there. His race schedule for the next few months is already booked full: next up is the Martha’s Vineyard 20-miler, followed by the New Bedford Half Marathon in March.

The new Tom

33412 406289593579 725123579 4515994 5332694 nLooking at Tom’s lifestyle now, it’s hard to imagine that only two years ago, he was so “average.” He shops mainly in the produce aisle, eats daily salads, and his whey and casein protein powders have been replaced by pea, artichoke, and hemp versions. (His favorites are Tru-Food Vegan and Vega Whole Food Optimizer.) He cooks a lot at home and loves finding new recipes, and says he never has that “I’m so full” feeling anymore. Tom is grateful that his girlfriend, Aimee, and his mother have been so supportive of his new diet with their cooking and support at races:

“Aimee is always looking out for me. On our nights out she will search for places that conform to my lifestyle. She also figured out how to master seitan, so I only eat homemade seitan … I’m spoiled. And my mother is a wonderful cook. She at first had a hard time understanding my choices, but now her spaghetti and meatballs have turned to spaghetti with lentil and leek tomato  sauce. Her Polish golumpkis, which are cabbage stuffed with pork, beef and rice, have become cabbage stuffed with rice and beans. And her rice and bean dish is a staple of mine, but she won’t give me the recipe because she says, “I wanna have something I can make you.”

Tom has ditched the energy drinks, opting instead for a little black coffee or green tea about every other day. “I used to not care about what I drank,” Tom says. “Now I’m conscious. I drink primarily water, about three liters a day.”

He told me that he used to enjoy going out to bars, but “now, there’s no time when you’re running in the morning or training for an event. I’m on to wine now, and that’s usually about once a week.”

Tom’s changes have even shown up in areas beyond diet and exercise: While he was training for his marathon, Tom decided to go to school for National Ski Patrol. In November of 2011, he completed the three-month course and became a member.

To sum up his new lifestyle, Tom says:

I have more energy at work. It feels great to be health conscious while taking care of people. I choose to be active most of the time instead of being sedentary. I actually enjoy mornings and have steady energy during the day. All these healthy lifestyle changes make me sound like a prude, but I find I appreciate the little things in life a lot more now.

Be like Tom

I love Tom’s story. It’s real, he’s real, and it’s a story that could be anybody’s. Your coworker’s. Your neighbor’s. Yours.

There wasn’t a sudden wakeup call. Tom’s doctor didn’t tell him “change or die.” Tom didn’t lose 300 pounds; he lost 30.

But that 30 pounds — and more importantly, the things he did while losing it — changed everything about his every day.

So how did Tom do it? How can you do it?  For those who are tired of being average and are inspired to create Tom’s results in their own lives, here’s how you can follow his lead:

Make commitments to others, not just yourself.

In the goal-setting section at the beginning of the Marathon Roadmap, you’re asked to share your marathon commitment with others, so you’ll have a strong reason to follow through. Most people won’t do it, I’m sure, but those who do will have way more success.

So how did Tom commit? When he filled out the application to sign up for his marathon, he took a picture of the completed form. But he didn’t stop there; he sent it to his friends — so that they could make fun of him if he bailed! We know how that story ended.

Immerse yourself in your change.

When Tom decided to try a plant-based diet, he didn’t just wing it and simply eat the same diet he was eating, minus the meat. Instead, he soaked up every bit of information he could about how to do it the right way, and in a manner that meshed with his training for races.

Tom listened to The China Study on CD while he commuted to and from work. He did research, and found not only this site, but also Brendan Brazier, Robert Cheeke, Forks Over Knives, Dr. Michael Greger,and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, among other influences.

Just as importantly, Tom made it a point to see his physician regularly and get vegan-specific labs like B-12, iron panel, electrolytes, complete blood count, testosterone. “Last check, all were normal,” he says proudly.

“There is a lot to learn about vegan eating,” he says. “You can’t do it without learning. Which is why it’s fun. The research out there is very intriguing.”

Find your mantra.

Tom’s favorite line was “I just want more.” He repeated sayings like, “Go big or go home,” “Shoot for the stars but keep your feet on the ground, and “Never live your life ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda.'” Cliches? Maybe, but anyone who has ever been at the 20-mile marker knows that doesn’t matter.

Tom says of his desire for more, “I couldn’t be satisfied with eating healthy so I turned vegan. I couldn’t be satisfied with ‘just’ a half marathon so I did a full. I’m now a vegan marathoner … hmm … Ironman?”

Follow a plan.

P90X is what started everything for Tom. He actually completed it a second time, before he started training for his marathon with Marathon Roadmap. (And he excitedly tells me that the next version, P90X2, includes a vegan meal plan.)

P90X and Marathon Roadmap worked for Tom. Whether or not those particular programs are for you, the point is that when you want to make a change, it’s extremely helpful to have guidance from those who have done it before. Find something that fits your personality and your goals, and let it lead you where you want to go.

If you want to go vegetarian or vegan, do it in small steps.

“I like the word ‘wean,'” Toms says. “That’s how to go about it if you’re thinking about it. Don’t be pressured, try the ‘less legs’ approach. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it.”

If you want to quit smoking, try replacing it with exercise.

In Tom’s words: “I suggest a total reverse when you quit smoking. You don’t need to run, maybe just start walking while you’re weaning off cigarettes. Hopefully you’ll find yourself wanting to walk more distance and you can see how less and less cigarettes will help you to do it. I would suggest aerobic exercise versus weightlifting, because you can definitely see the difference in your endurance.”

Plan ahead and be smart about eating out.

Tom used to stop and eat fast food when was hungry. Nowadays, he packs a cooler for the day: “Now I can control what I eat, versus what I feel society tells us to eat.”

When he does eat out, Tom calls ahead to see if they can make him a vegan meal. As he says, “At first I felt a little pretentious, but good chefs like to create amazing dishes for me.” (This has been my experience as well — most chefs love the challenge and a chance to do something different.)

To sum it up, and for those who want to do what he did, Tom offers these words:

This is a true story! I used to watch lots of TV, play World of Warcraft ’til 3 in the morning, smoke, work nights, not care about what I ate … and I changed. It’s small steps.

The lifestyle is very addictive. For me, I just wanted more and more as I worked hard and got results. Quitting smoking feels better period! Working out feels great period. Eating better and eventually choosing this lifestyle feels great. Put all three together and that is where I ended up. Losing 30 lbs 6 inches off my waist, and from my first 5K at the end of August 2010 to a marathon in October 2011. I challenge anyone to try it. Just get a taste of it.

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How I Took 104 Minutes Off My Marathon Time to Qualify for Boston



blueprint-cover-791x1024Less than 10 percent of marathoners will ever qualify for Boston. Ten percent is a pretty small number, but you know what’s much smaller? The percentage of marathoners who take over 100 minutes off their time to get there. But that’s exactly what I did: after taking almost 5 hours to finish my first marathon, I ran a 3:09:59 and got into Boston. In this free, 9-page PDF report, I explain the biggest mental keys I used to take so much time off my marathon and get to Boston — and more importantly, how you can apply them to help you run your own BQ. Click here to get instant access to the Blueprint email series and start planning YOUR BQ today.

Comments

  1. I never get enough of reading stories like these! Thanks for sharing your tale with us Tom! Congratulations on a life being well lived and taking back control of your precious health, time and setting an example for all those around you to follow. I too, come from a smoking-drinking-crappy eating background and the transition to plant-based triathlete has been phenomenal! Keep up the good work :)

  2. Girlfriend????

    Wanted to ask for Tom’s number…*sighs*

  3. I love this! Like Tom, I officially lost 30 lbs. as of this morning. But unlike him, I am not so much an athlete. Yet. Just trying to make my other ordinary/average life before Sep. 2011 better. These stories are very inspiring. Thanks, Tom!

  4. I love the “average-ness” of this story! I love working nights at my current job… but I’m very much looking forward to how I’ll feel when I have a new job (hopefully!) this summer!

  5. brian allado says:

    Hi Tom

    You are awesome. I can relate to your experience…I went on a plant based diet about 2 years ago. Before that I use to smoke, drink a lot, eat a lot of meat and dairy, lots of fried stuff, never looked at the ingredients, lots of fast food, and obese weighing 275. Now I weigh 205. I do triathlons, trail runs, and this week will be my first marathon. I am enjoying this lifestyle as you are as well. Great to read your story! PLANT STRONG!

  6. FYI — Your links to Brendan Brazier & Robert Cheeke go to blank pages.

  7. Very inspiring!!!

  8. Such a great story. The “change or die, I lost 100 pounds” stories are GREAT and totally inspiring, but this hits much closer to home for me. Much. Closer. Thanks for sharing! This is one I won’t soon forget.

  9. Kristy Doyle says:

    This story is so similar to mine! I love it!

  10. Jeff Giammalvo says:

    Great story! Tom is my cousin and also a dear friend. I couldn’t be more proud of how far he’s come and excited to see where this journey will take him. This story has motivated me to make some changes with both diet and exercise. Keep up the good work man! Love you……Jeffrey

    • Tom Giammalvo says:

      This is yet another positive outcome of my change; the support of my family. Thanks Jeff for the comment. Love ya man!

  11. As others have said, I appreciate the story of an “average” person. I’ve lost 45 pounds over the last six months and have about 30 more to go. In the last few weeks I’ve hit a wall on my motivation. I’m still maintaining my previous weight loss, but I’ve been searching for ways to get my initial determination and excitement back. It’s so helpful to read Tom’s story and to remember that I still have great adventures and accomplishments and most of all, more JOY ahead of me. Thanks for posting this great story.

  12. Way to go, Tom! You are an example of what so many “average” Americans can be! What a great testament to plant-based eating and exercise! Thanks for sharing your story!

  13. I know Tom G. and he is an amazing man. My son is married to his god daughter. I am happy that they have become good friends and running companions.

    • Tom Giammalvo says:

      Wow! The story alone was pretty awesome (thanks so much Matt!) But, all these comments are very inspiring as well and I thank you all. And I would also like to thank the support of my family and friends. The change is fun but challenging at times and it’s great to have people who care about you. A special thanks to Thomas Crabbe, DC MS CCSP from Crabbe Chiropractic in Acushnet, MA for keeping me injury free and med free during my training and my best friend and “consultant” Tom Mulligan for all his orthopedic advice.

  14. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Hey Tom, I live on the Cape and work for CCH. So glad you have made the lifestyle changes for all the right reasons. I still fall into the occasional pile of nachos or pizza but trying to clean itup completely. I guess I’ll check out Thrive, as I a,ready have the roadmap(thanks Matt!). Maybe I’ll see you in New Bedford. It’s a fast course and great one to attempt a PR. Congrats again. Very inspiring,

  15. Elizabeth says:

    This story is very similar to mine. I’m on my third round of p90x and the strongest I’ve ever been. I lost 20 pounds (on a 5 foot tall frame that’s a pretty noticeable amount) I also PRed at the half marathon distance at 2:04 right after the second round of p90x. Now I’m looking to get under the 2 hour mark. I ran my first full Marathon last November and have plans for more in the future. I think the p90x program is a great way to bust through the plateau and shake up your exercise routine.

    Also I heard somewhere that Tony Horton (p90x developer) is vegan… not sure if this is true or not.

  16. John Wilkins says:

    Tom, your a machine. I met Tom before the transformation and have been running with him since. There once was a day I could beat him easily now he kicks my butt. He’s definitely a perfect role model for this lifestyle. Nice work

  17. Sue Clough says:

    Way to go Tom! I am coming up on my 1 year vegan anniversary, have lost 20 pounds, am off my blood pressure meds, and feel great. I have been a runner for over 10 years and recovery is so much faster now. I do a lot of races in Massachusetts as well so maybe we’ll run into each other sporting our No Meat Athlete shirts sometime. (Love this blog, Matt)

  18. Congrats on your transformation Tom! Excellent work, and truly inspiring!!! Thanks so much Matt for sharing such an excellent post with us. Man, I just LOVE your blog!!!! KEEP IT COMING!!!!!!!! :)

  19. “If you’ve been through a change that’s anything like Tom’s, you know the compounding effect that small changes have. It starts with just one habit, then it’s another, and soon, perhaps out of the desire to be consistent, you change your whole life”. This is so very true, at least it’s the case in my experience. I became vegan after watching “Earthlings” and have never looked back. I was already running and in 2011 ran a 10K, 15K and two half-marathons and did very well in 3 out of 4. But as I researched here on your site and others regarding nutrition, etc. I became more and more conscious of other “habits” in my life that did not contribute to physical, mental and spiritual development. Thanx for the great read! ~ Ricky

  20. Leslie Fotiu says:

    Tom is a great guy and an awesome co-worker!!!! Loved the article!!

  21. Sooooo PROUD of you Tom!!! You look MARVELOUS !! Love ya, xoxox

  22. A very nice read, because I think many people can relate to it, including me. Indeed no life-changing kick-starters, but just getting aware of health and nutrition and doing something with it. Great story Tom! I can relate to what you feel, and it feels awesome :)

  23. What an inspiration, Tom!!!! Your story is very similar to that of my husband. He’s was the 200 lb. guy with sky-high cholesterol eating a whole sausage pizza and washing it down with beer…fast forward 3 years…the vegan athlete in top shape that qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon in 3:07:58. Congratulations on changing your life!

  24. Congratulations to Tom. I hope your story helps to motivate others to make a change . You are an inspiration.

  25. Rick Pearson says:

    I really love this story. Not a super 300 pound weight loss, not a superman, but one of us. Way to go, Tom!

  26. Thank you so much Tom for sharing your story! Thank you so much NMA for getting it out there! I can read and re-read this a gazillion times, so great!

  27. Great story! And I love how you summed this up: “It starts with just one habit, then it’s another, and soon, perhaps out of the desire to be consistent, you change your whole life.”

    That is SO TRUE! There are times when I start to feel like maybe I’m getting obsessive about my health and fitness because I keep going deeper and deeper…but you’re right, it’s just a natural progression. The more changes we make, the more aware we are of our bodies and what we need to be healthy. It will inevitably start to permeate every area of our lives. :)

  28. How old is Tom?

  29. Tom Giammalvo says:

    Thanks again everyone for the comments. It’s great to hear similar stories especially from plant based diets. In response to a few, I’m 37 and I agree with Natasha, its truly a healthy addiction. Websites like NMA keep ya going. Thanks to family and friends for all your comments on here and FB its been a fun experience. I’m wondering if anyone is running Marthas Vineyard 20? And also T Collin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn will be at Kirpalu in Western, MA. I plan on attending. Looks like a great event.

  30. Great story. I have only recently started to go vegetarian/vegan and this motivates me to keep on atruckin’!

    Keep telling these stories, Matt.

  31. I love these success stories. Keep em coming!

  32. That’s fantasticly inspiring! I’m training for a 10k and Tom’s story is just what I needed!
    So proud of him!
    Keep the great stories coming, it’s not the big steps, it’s the little ones that get us to where we want to be.

    Shelley

  33. Great stuff. Running saved my life. I shared your story as mine is similar. Good luck to you Ian

  34. Great story Tom! I’ve also done P90X and that plus running helped me lose 45 lbs I put on due to stress from being laid off. Never want to go back. I went vegetarian 3 months ago and will be doing my first 1/2 in 6 years in Nov. I hope I have results like you did.

    I’m also interested in the food festival mentioned in this story. I’m in NH and it sounds like it would be great if I could figure out how to navigate the T.

  35. I first met Tom on the wrong side of the hospital bed in Falmouth. (Liver cancer, it turned out–devastating news.) He was so UPBEAT with everyone and to everyone. All the patients and nurses loved him; a couple of the nurses spoke of him with awe. I didn’t know anything about his turn-around until we started talking “running” when I was in the the middle of a paracentesis procedure at the “cath lab” there. Keep up your good work, Tom and the No Meat Athlete.

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