An excursion to Pictured Rocks completely changed the way Matt Bailey pictured life.

“I went on a trip with my family and we all piled on a pontoon boat,” Bailey said. “We were going to look at the Pictured Rocks. We got a few feet out and the boat started sinking. I was very close to jumping off so the boat didn’t sink.”

During that 2018 boat scare, Bailey weighed 350 pounds. Even at 6-foot-2, he said it was too much to carry. He blames himself for endangering his parents, brother, aunt and her two little girls on Lake Superior that day.

“I went to the middle of the boat to try to balance it out,” the Middleville, Michigan, resident said. “That got me to thinking—maybe I had to change something about myself. I was the heaviest one on the boat.”

Bailey battled weight gain since his teens. He’s now 32. And perhaps in the best shape of his adult life. He’s lost more than 140 pounds, and set a goal of another 25 pounds by this spring.

The boating incident sparked self-reflection, motivation and dedication.

And a new way of living.

He stumbled upon a YouTube video about a man who lost 150 pounds in three years.

“He had way more problems than I did,” Bailey said. “He had medical issues. After (seeing) that, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I sat down with my mom and said, ‘I want to lose 100 pounds this year. That’s my goal.’ She said, ‘If you want to do this, I’ll support you. We can figure out the best diet.’”

He started with portion control and mindful eating.

In the past, he’d eat a whole pizza and then later sit down with his family for a full meal together.

“I just never got full,” he said. “After I started, I would still eat pizza, but maybe two or three slices. I would still eat dinner with my family, but not as much.”

Hunger gripped him. His stomach roared, rearing an ugly “Little Shop of Horrors” kind of tagline “feed me.” He paced the halls. Back and forth. Trying to ignore.

“After about a week, the hunger pains died down,” Bailey said. “With the stomach, it’s not really hunger. It’s a chemical getting sent to your brain. You can control it if you do the proper things.”

Diet diligence

As he ratcheted down his consumption, he studied. Hard. He combed seemingly every strand of the Internet for weight-loss wisdom.

“I have done well over 100 hours of research on dieting since I began this journey,” Bailey said.

As success grew, so did confidence. And a desire to drill down even deeper into dedication. He changed up his diet, kicking processed foods to the curb.

“I mostly eat vegetables now—a good portion of my meals are vegetables,” he said. “The weird thing about this entire thing is my brain, all the time, even now, keeps telling me ‘why are you eating these vegetables?’ I just ignore it. I do it because I must. It’s willpower I guess. I found your taste buds change over time.”

Bailey eats homemade meals. Non-processed meals.

“I start making food from scratch at about 4 p.m.,” he said. “I’ll be eating by 5 p.m. In a typical day, I’ll have spinach, some eggs and a potato (no butter or sour cream), maybe some cheese. That’s it for the day. On weekends, I allow myself a little bit more. I allow myself to have a dessert or eat with the family—whatever they’re eating. I’ll maybe go to the movies and have a little popcorn.”

When the weekend winds down, “it’s back to the grindstone,” he said. “I found out during my research that the brain works in 30-day cycles. You can establish new habits in 30 days.”

He vowed to change one thing about himself each month. The magic multiplied when he set a goal of making regular exercise a habit.

Three months into his diet he set up an appointment with Dean Ford, a fitness specialist at the Spectrum Health Pennock Health & Wellness Center, to develop an exercise routine.

“I sat down with Dean and basically told him, ‘Just tell me what to do. I don’t care if it’s hard—I need to lose weight,’” Bailey said.

Gettin’ a move on

On the first day exercising at Pennock Health & Wellness Center, he felt lightheaded. His body rebelled.

“He had me doing free weights and cardio,” Bailey said. “I could barely walk down the hall after that. I kept thinking I was going to faint.”

Ford spoke with him about the importance of nutrition and matching calories to the amount of exercise an individual is participating in.

Kelsey Townley, RD, a Spectrum Health Pennock registered dietitian, suggests individuals follow USDA daily caloric guidelines. This means:

  • Carbohydrates should account for 45% to 65% of your daily calories, with less than 10% of those from added sugars.
  • Protein should account for 10% to 35% and fats about 20% to 35% of daily caloric intake, with less than 10% from saturated fats.

“Ranges differ from person to person depending on their lifestyle and health factors,” Townley said. “Individuals should speak with their physician or registered dietitian before making drastic dietary changes.”

Bailey exercises at the center three times a week for 45-minute workouts and meets with Ford every month to evaluate his progress.

“The first 30 days were insanely difficult,” Bailey said. “After those first 30 days, I adjusted to it. I still hate going to the gym. I do it because I have to.”

During a recent session, Bailey lifted barbells.

“Perfect,” Ford said. “Now switch. Good.”

Next, Ford had Bailey move to a cable machine for more weight lifting.

“A little bit wider,” Ford told him as Bailey pulled the cables to lift the attached weights. “Keep your wrist straight. There you go. Perfect.”

Next, Bailey did step exercises, first with his right leg, then his left. Then onto the leg press and next the rowing machine.

Lying back on the rowing machine with a determined look on his face, Bailey clenched his teeth and pulled, his muscles rippling and his knees bending in rhythm, alternating between sprints and steady motion.

“Nice work,” Ford said. “Bet you didn’t think you would be sweating so much.”

Dean said he’s proud of Bailey and all the hard work and sweat he puts into his weight-loss plan.

“When we first started, we laid out what his goals were,” Ford said. “Losing 100 pounds was his original goal. He’s hit that. I took his weight circumference and it’s pretty drastic.”

His waist dropped from 52 to 37 inches; abdomen from 58 to 43 inches; shoulders from 54 inches to 46.5 inches; biceps from 15 to 10.5 inches; thigh from 24.5 to 19 inches and chest from 51 to 41 inches.

His body fat percentage plummeted from 37.3% to 21.5% and his BMI went from 41.9 to 26.4.

“It’s pretty significant,” Ford said. “He puts in the work. I just give him a little push.”

Ford said as Bailey’s weight drops, his confidence rises.

“He looks totally different,” he said. “His clothes started to fall off of him. There’s just a confidence about him. He’s come a long way for sure. He’s definitely a rare case. He’s willing to put in the work, absorb everything like a sponge and act on it.”

Bailey’s mom, Hope, 62, said she’s seen a big difference in her son, too. She long encouraged him to lose weight, cautioning him that his legs, or heart, would eventually give out on him.

When they used to walk in the park together, he would get out of breath, and sit down at every bench they came upon to rest.

He’s miles from where he started.

“He started working with Dean and now, he’s really pushing it,” she said with pride. “He’s walking 3 miles a day and walking around the park three times. He was motivated to lose the weight. It’s so nice to see him reach a goal.”

Bailey plans to continue setting goals, and vows to remain immersed in his new lifestyle.

“You just have to do it,” he said. “Forget about what your mind is telling you and just go do it.”