On a sun-kissed island off the coast of Florida, 59-year-old Richard Black has just returned from a dock near his home where fishermen display the day's catch.
"They just caught grouper," Richard explained. "They filleted it right in front of me. That's my dinner."
As he talks about the fresh salads and savory vegetable soups that make up many of his meals these days, it's hard to believe that just a few months ago he was unhealthy, unhappy and on medication.
But that was before an extended stay at the Pritikin Longevity Center completely changed his health and outlook on life.
"It wasn't just a diet. It wasn't just exercise. It wasn't just a medical experience. And it wasn't just educational," Richard said. "It was all things equally put together in a way that helped me establish an entirely new lifestyle. I feel like a teenager!"
Beginning a new chapter with a fresh start
After nearly 40 years in the workforce, Richard retired from his job in executive communications management in late 2016. Despite a move to sunny Anna Maria Island, Florida, in January to look forward to hours of leisure time lying before him, Richard described himself as unhappy. He was overweight, had high blood pressure and was on heart medication. Without the demands of a high-pressure job vying for his attention, he knew it was time for a change.
"I felt the need to do a restart, a fresh start for the rest of my life," Richard said. "I wasn't feeling healthy and I knew that retirement after 38 years was going to be a challenge."
"I felt the need to do a restart, a fresh start for the rest of my life."
As retirement approached, he began doing research, hoping to find an experience that would combine both wellness and mindfulness. After evaluating about half a dozen options, he decided that Pritikin was just what he was looking for.
After moving all his things down to his new home in January and settling into the island community, he traveled to Miami for a seven-week stay at the Pritikin Health Resort.
While most guests tend to stay for one to three weeks, Richard knew that he needed a longer commitment to gain the complete life change he was looking for in his Pritikin experience.
"They say it takes 28 days to break habits. I had pretty bad habits, so I figured it would take me twice as long," Richard laughed.
He called the extended stay his retirement present to himself. Instead of a more traditional celebratory cruise – where he said he'd just become "fat and lazy" – Richard decided to use the opportunity offered by retirement to make an investment in his health.
Committing to a new lifestyle, one day at a time
Determined to make the most of his Pritikin experience, Richard threw himself into the program. After a couple days of acclimation, he developed a rigorous routine which he stuck to closely seven days a week.
Each morning, Richard would wake up at 5:30 a.m. and follow a consistent morning schedule:
6:45 a.m. – Breakfast
8:30 a.m. – Core workout
9:30 a.m. – Yoga
10:30 a.m. – Weight training
11:30 a.m. – Lunch
For the first two weeks of Richard's stay, his afternoons following lunch were taken up by wellness classes. He particularly enjoyed learning about mindful meditation and techniques that today help him fall asleep more quickly.
But after taking every course that was offered – twice – he began to use the afternoons for extra workouts, guided by his trainer Andre McCormack.
"Andre sculpted me," Richard said. "He took this piece of rock and over seven weeks kept chiseling away. I give him a lot of credit. I wasn't sure what I needed to do to help me achieve my goals and help was there."
Andre agreed that the personalization of the workout routine was important for Richard's progress.
"I believe Mr. Black had such success with our training because we were able to develop a program that was based on his individual strengths and weaknesses through a functional movement screen," Andre explained. "Body mechanics becomes more and more important as we age and sometimes just fixing how we move can be the difference. Through fixing his body mechanics we were able to activate some muscles that weren't being used effectively before, giving Richard the ability to apply more effort toward the workout."
Week after week, Richard dedicated himself to the Pritikin program, working out five or more hours a day and sticking diligently to dietary recommendations, including cutting out salt, sugar and oils. But while his days were consistent, the process never became boring. Far from it, in fact.
"The structure was one of the things that appealed to me," Richard said. "I needed that structure. I needed that discipline. The days flew by. I still can't believe I was there as long as I was. All I know is the outcome of it has been damn near a miracle."
Embracing a new lease on life
Richard admitted that going into the program he was optimistic, but skeptical. He had done his homework and chosen Pritikin because it aligned with his goals, but would he actually see the results that he was hoping for?
He soon realized that the answer was a resounding "yes."
Before his Pritkin experience, Richard's blood pressure was 145/95 on a good day – and that was while taking heart medication. Now, it's 110/70. His resting pulse before was in the 90 range at best. Now it's 65. He's off his meds and feels great. In his own words, the change is "ridiculous."
And Richard's improved heart health, while dramatic, isn't the only positive change that he experienced. After seven weeks, he left Pritkin noticeably thinner: He lost 35 pounds, eliminating 7 inches from his waistline.
While Richard hoped to lose weight and improve his heart health while at Pritikin, there was one major health benefit he experienced that he didn't anticipate going into the program. After 40-something years, he quit smoking.
"I didn't expect to do that while I was there. But it happened about 10 days in," Richard said. "I'm shocked. I never thought I would. It just wasn't on my agenda. That would have been biting off more than I could chew."
"There are so many positive things that happened to me during this experience."
Richard explained that he was simply getting such momentum around his new healthy self that he "just stopped." It's just one more external manifestation of the completely new lifestyle that he developed over his seven-week stay.
"There are so many positive things that happened to me during this experience," he said. "Clearly my health is the number one benefit. And the function, weight loss, getting off the meds and the psychological aspect. They all contributed to the healthy new me."
Embracing lasting change back home
Though Richard has left the Pritikin campus, his experience equipped him with the skills he needs to continue this new healthy lifestyle in his home. He explained that it's easier than you may expect. You just need to break it down.
"You eat 21 meals a week," Richard said. "The trick is how can you stay as close to Pritkin as you possibly can without the benefit of the chefs and things they have there."
He explained that seven of those meals are breakfast, which, during his Pritikin stay, was oatmeal and black coffee.
"Not hard to replicate here," Richard quipped.
Then he adds a fresh salad every day for lunch and all that's left to worry about is his dinner. To stick with Pritikin recommendations, he limits fish to two days a week and chicken only once a week. While Saturdays are his "cheat days," he plans on using a subscription box service so he can cook fresh, healthy meals for the remaining three dinners.
Using the strategies Andre taught him, Richard is also continuing to exercise regularly. He joined a local gym and works outs for about an hour and 15 minutes or so every morning. He reported that he lost another 3 pounds this week on his own.
"This two-month experience changed my life. When you're 59 change doesn't come all the easy," Richard said with a laugh. "I detoxed myself of all the bad stuff that I'd put in my body over the years. And honestly I feel like a teenager. Everything from the way I'm handling myself to the way I'm thinking and my optimism."
If you, like Richard, find yourself ready to kickstart a healthier lifestyle, consider contacting Pritikin today. Our trained health experts are ready to partner with you on your journey to living your best possible life. For questions and reservations, call (855) 886-2067.