Cary Higginbotham was in good shape throughout high school and college. His weight had never been an issue. "At 5-foot-11, I'd stay between 175 and 185 pounds, and I always felt athletic," he recalls. "I even raced motocross when I was in college and during the first few years of my marriage, which kept me in great shape."
Soon, however, things began to slow down. "My weight issues started out as the now-popular 'dad bod,'" he says. "I was still working out occasionally, but I was eating whatever I wanted. Initially, I only gained a few pounds."
But poor diet combined with inertia caused Cary's weight to increase. Healthy activities took a back seat to adult responsibilities, and a desk job and diet of sugary drinks and fast-food lunches set Cary back even more.
Binge-watching TV on the couch replaced an active lifestyle. It wasn't until his mother passed from heart complications associated with type 2 diabetes that Cary decided to implement change.
This is Cary's story.
You Were Fairly Active As A Child And Teen. What Caused Things To Slow Down?
As I got older, my metabolism slowed, and I focused more on being a good father, husband, and provider, and less on my personal health. I had a desk job, and my daily diet consisted of a high-calorie latte first thing in the morning, followed by sugary drinks throughout the workday to keep me going. For lunch, I'd grab fast food and down some high-calorie vending-machine snacks. I started slowly inching toward having a "middle-age bod," which is not a popular look.
Once I got home, my diet didn't improve. I would eat another unhealthy dinner, or I'd overeat even if it was healthy. Then you have to finish the night off with dessert with the kids, right? This poor diet combination and zero physical activity shot my weight up to 220 pounds by 2009, 40 pounds more than I'd weighed in college.
Did You Have A Wake-Up Moment?
My wake-up call was twofold. The "wow, you're out of shape" moment came at work one day when I had to renew a badge. I was astonished how different my face looked when comparing it to my photo from five years before. I could see the weight gain in my face, and I took notice of my overall weight gain looking in the mirror. I hated what I saw.
When I lost my mom in 2013, due to the heart complications she developed from type 2 diabetes—and the damage it did to her organs—I developed a sense of urgency to turn things around. My mom passed on the morning of her 60th birthday, which was way too early to lose a loved one, especially when it could have been prevented with proper diet and exercise.
My oldest child was in the fifth grade, and I started thinking about all of life's big moments she would miss. For my children's sake, I wanted to make sure I'd be around for as long as possible for moments like school graduations, weddings, and grandchildren.
How Did You Go About Implementing Change?
In 2010, my job responsibilities changed, and I started working from home. I took this opportunity to start planning better meals and eating healthier. I also got my home gym in order and started working out more. I slowly lost weight and developed better eating habits. I still had cheat meals and desserts with my kids, so my transformation was not in full swing yet, but I was making progress.
Did You Hit Any Stumbling Blocks Along The Way?
I did a complete 180 and became so focused on dieting and eating healthy that I took things too far. My weight dropped down to the 160s that year—much less than I weighed when I graduated high school! My wife told me I looked like a skinny version of Tim McGraw, which was not the look I was going for. After that, my diet fell by the wayside, and by January 2015, I was back to over 200 pounds.
How Did You Turn Things Around And Find That Balance?
I saw the BodyBuilding.com 200K Transformation Challenge advertised, but initially, I didn't make the decision to commit. Then, on my 39th birthday, after overeating at dinner and not liking what I saw in the mirror, I promised myself to see my abs again before turning 40.
I had my wife snap a photo and uploaded my "before" pics to complete my 200K transformation registration before I could change my mind. Even though the photo was initially embarrassing, uploading it forced me to be accountable. It was one of my best fitness decisions.
What Do You Think Was The Real Catalyst In Sparking Change?
It's amazing how motivated you can get from knowing how bad your first picture looks and wanting to improve your body before your next progress photo rolls around.
There was just something about knowing that my bodybuilding peers would be looking at them that gave me the extra kick to keep going. It lit a fire underneath me. Not only did I see my abs before turning 40—I saw them by the end of the 12-week challenge!
How Did You Accomplish Your Goals?
Diet, diet, diet! Oh, did I mention diet? I started eating above maintenance calories before the challenge started. After that, I dropped my calorie intake to 10 times my body weight, about 2,000 calories. I adjusted it as my weight dropped. I ate about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, and only my fat and carb intake changed.
Carbs started off at about 1.5 grams per pound of body weight per day and dropped to 0.5 grams per pound of body weight per day as I started cutting. I only ate only three or four meals per day while cutting. This helped me tremendously with cheat meals at night, which is usually my worst time to cheat.
What Aspect Challenged You The Most?
By far, the most challenging part of my transformations was my diet. By just cutting calories and working out, I was able to get under 20 percent body fat. I had to be much more disciplined with my diet and cut out all cheat meals to get under 10 percent. To get lower than 8 percent, I had to change my whole way of thinking.
I had to start eating what I needed versus what I wanted. It required me to say "No thanks" a lot, when I really want to say "Yes, please!" This was especially hard at social events with friends and family. I had to eat ahead of time or plan ahead and take my food with me. In the end, it was worth the extra effort.
What Did Your Meal Plan Look Like?
I started skipping breakfast, since I was busy working and could keep my mind off food. This also gave me a bigger window to perform fasted cardio before lunch, which was usually my first meal of the day. Then I would have one or two small meals or snacks before my workout at 5:30 p.m. I had a smaller post-workout shake immediately after my workout, then ate a big meal later for dinner.
This approach allowed me to eat more calories at night, kept me full until bedtime, and eliminated the cheat snacks. It was sort of my unique twist on intermittent fasting.
What does your diet look like these days?
How Is Your Workout Program Set Up?
I trained three days on and then took one day off. I'd "rinse and repeat." This was challenging at first, but I think it had the largest impact on my results other than my diet.
I did ab work and cardio workouts before my first meal in the morning to help drop my body fat. I also added weekend lunchtime cardio sessions as my schedule allowed. My workouts focused primarily on compound exercises, because they are so effective and efficient.
How Do You Feel Now?
At less than 8 percent body fat, I feel so much better and love what I see in the mirror each day. I also know that maintaining a lean body increases my odds of staying healthy, while also providing a good example for my three children. Knowing that is what drives me each day. I am going to make sure I do everything possible to stay healthy and live a long life so that I am there for all my children's and grandchildren's major life events.
What Suggestions Do You Have For Aspiring Transformers?
Do your research, and find a workout plan and diet that work for your lifestyle. Workout and diet templates are great starting points, but customize the plans so that they work better for you. You don't have to eat a set number of meals or do a certain workout on a specific day. Making things work for you will increase the chances that you'll stick with it instead of getting frustrated and quitting.
Plan out your meals and workouts. Juggling life and your fitness goals is hard enough as it is. Simplify things as much as possible, and you will be successful.
How Has Bodybuilding.com Helped You Reach Your Goals?
I've always worked out at home and never had a training partner. Bodybuilding.com became that partner to help lead me through my journey. I got—and continue to get—all of my information, motivation, and supplementation information on the website.
I gained motivation through the transformation challenges and encouragement from the BodySpace community. I would have never thought I could get so much support from hundreds of people I have never met, but our common fitness goals brought us together.
The store helped me choose products based on my goals, and user reviews helped me make my selection. Fast shipping ensured I had my supplements when I needed them.