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These are the words I said to myself on Wednesday, May 16th, 2012.
I was 20 years old. I weighed 375 pounds. And I was this close to ending it all.
Since then, my entire life has taken a 180. I went from an addicted, lost, and depressed boy to the fit, happy, and inspired man that I am today.
It’s been a journey — one filled with ample trial and learning — but I can wholeheartedly say that I would not change anything I have experienced in my life.
Before we get into my story, let me introduce myself.
My name is Michael Krug.
I am 30 years old and live in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I was born and raised here and love everything about this city and state.
At this present moment I stand 5’11” (5′ 11 3/8″ to be exact) and weigh 225 pounds. My body fat percent is 18.2. My blood pressure is 112/63. My total cholesterol is 137 with an HDL of 62. I live, work, and breathe health and fitness, and have dedicated my life to helping others start and make immense progress on their own health and fitness journeys.
Though I currently embody being a health and fitness leader, this was not always the case.
My story starts before I was even born. Both of my parents were (are) teachers and had a house built in 1987. They had my sister in 1990 and me in 1992. Although I remember almost nothing before the age of 4, I do know that my parents raised me to have strong values for hard work, respect, and patience. I still live by these values and will forever. I am grateful that they truly loved both my sister and I and allowed us to be ourselves in each moment.
It seems like a common and boring story. We were going through the, “normal,” suburban dream life. Two kids, a fenced in yard for the future dog, family dinner every night. You know, the, “American Dream.” But then, when I was seven years old, life took a turn…
In 1999 my parents began to argue more. The love I felt within my family dissipated and I began to fear being in my own body. It sounds strange, but it is actually a common reality many kids face. I was never sure if the fighting was about me, my sister, or if I did something wrong… I quickly learned to dissociate and leave my body when those episodes would come about. It is a primitive and powerful defense strategy built into our brains — one that is often controlled subconsciously — and it worked in those moments to ease the stress.
Then the big news.
One sunny summer day in the year 2000, my dad brought my sister and I fishing. This was perplexing to me — as my dad rarely (if ever) went fishing. While fishing, my dad brought up this term — divorce. It was a term I didn’t understand then but now know all too well. He was going to be moving out and my mom, sister, and I would be staying in the house on Comstock Avenue without him.
The aftermath of that conversation still occupies a place in my mind clear as day.
When we got home, I went to the refrigerator and grabbed and entire pack — 24 slices — of Kraft Singles American Cheese. I went downstairs to the TV room, hid underneath the coffee table, and ate the entire package, one at time.
After the cheese, I went back upstairs and grabbed an entire package of deli ham and did the same thing. A pound of ham, consumed, piece by piece.
It was, actually, quite amazing. I had never felt so at home in my body — being filled to the brim with processed meat and cheese. It was a feeling that, back then, I wouldn’t have had words for, but now I recognize it as safety.
This set off what has been a lifelong battle with binge eating. Ever since the age of 8 (and to this day) I have struggled with food portions and control. Even as a health coach who has helped dozens of people completely transform their relationship with food — I still find myself overeating and turning to food for comfort on occasions. Back then, these behaviors led to rapid weight gain, and my journey into the depths of the medical system began.
In 2005, at the age of 13 and already weighing 200 pounds, I was diagnosed with hypertension and given a prescription for Lisinopril — an ACE inhibitor — to help regulate my blood pressure. I want to point out that this isn’t inherently right or wrong — it’s just the strategy that my mom and I went with after being advised on how to move forward. What’s more, one of my doctors did began to educate me on nutrition and fitness, but I was completely shut down to those ideas. In my mind, this system was here to, “fix me,” no matter what behaviors I chose to engage in.
Fast forward to 2008. It was the Spring of my sophomore year of high school and I was working out with the football team to start to get ready for next season. Knowing what I know now about fitness (I am a certified personal trainer and board certified health coach) it is mind boggling what they had us doing. We were doing power and Olympic lifts — squats, bench press, and cleans — going as heavy as possible without any attention being paid to form.
I was 16 and set up for a 405 pound squat. A handful of guys, including my coach, were watching. I got down to the bottom of the squat and intuitively knew something wasn’t right. However, because there was a dozen people watching, I was not going to fail on this rep. I used all my effort and on the way up — about halfway — I felt a pain in my low left back that I cannot describe to you in words. It was like a tear, then immediately got hot, and afterwards left me feeling like I could throw up (if it hadn’t been for everyone watching and cheering me on, I probably would have puked everywhere).
That night I told my mom about the pain and she instructed me to put a heating pad on it. I did that for months, every night struggling with immense pain in my low back and entire abdomen. The only thing that soothed the pain on those nights was eating so much food that I was left numb to anything and everything — both around and inside me.
Later that year while at football practice the back pain got progressively worse. Initially, I didn’t think much of it and just kept doing my thing — football practice, working at the grocery store, then eating 5000–6000 calories every night between 10pm and 2 am. As the football season progressed it continued to get worse. I told my coach that my back hurt and I didn’t know what to do about it. He told me that it likely had to do with my weight and that if I lost some weight it would go away. This infuriated me — how could it be that simple? Clearly something was wrong that was outside my own control…
In November 2008, after the football season, I was working at the grocery store and noticed that the back pain turned into knee pain and that my knee would, “click,” with each step. It didn’t hurt that bad, so I shrugged it off and kept going about my life. But then, one night after my shift, I got home and as I tried to get out of the car, I experienced pain that rivaled that from my squatting injury. I remember collapsing, screaming, and writhing from the pain in my knee. My mom heard me in the garage and came to help me get inside. We scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the next day.
The next morning we went in for X-rays. They came back and everything looked good and structurally sound. The doctor advised me to rest and take ibuprofen as needed for pain. Hearing this only made me more angry and determined to find the, “issue.” How could they not see that there was something wrong — that I was broken and needed to be fixed?
I went forward in the same way — no changes to my behavior. I would wake up at 7:20 am, get to school at 7:40 and be there until 2:30. Then I would work at the grocery store from 4–9, binge eat even more each night, and go to sleep around 2:30 am. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was self destructing and approaching a breaking point that would alter my life forever.
In January 2009, at the age of 17 and weighing 280 pounds, I had had it with the pain in my back and knee. I convinced my mom that I needed to go in for an MRI because something was 110% wrong with my knee. When we got the MRI back, the doctor gave me a diagnosis (something I was subconsciously looking for since the squatting injury). Osteochondritis dissecans of the lateral condyle of the left femur. In layman’s terms, the outside of the bottom of my left femur never fully developed and was cracked and jagged. On top of that, through years of playing sports, the cartilage around that area was completely shredded, my meniscus was completely torn, and my ACL was partially torn.
Surgery was presented as the best path forward, and I could not be more excited. I thought, “FINALLY! We found out something is wrong with me, and the doctors are going to fix me!” The thought of getting out of pain combined with the attention I would get while on crutches had me more excited than ever. For a heavy set kid in high school who felt invisible, this was a win-win situation. I could tell that my mom was weary, but she supported me and helped me get scheduled for surgery the following month.
In February 2009, I began my first round of extremely invasive knee surgeries. The procedure called for the surgeons to open up my leg and drill holes into my femur in hopes that bone marrow would be released and heal in a bone graft transplant they would put in. It was still a newer procedure at the time, but the doctors who advised us were optimistic it would work.
After the surgeries and ensuing physical therapy, the doctor told me that, although the bone graft looked secure, I would never play contact sports like hockey, baseball, or football again. This was more catastrophic to me than the divorce a decade earlier. You see, even though I was heavy, I was always an athlete. Playing sports was the only joy I experienced many days. Having this stripped away from me left me depressed and devoid of any hope going forward. To cope with this newfound sadness, I turned to drugs and alcohol.
My top priority became partying, and so I went to Saint Cloud State University — the premier party school in my state — to pursue my passion of partying all day and night.
In my freshman year of college 2010–2011 I put on pounds like crazy. I went from 290 pounds when I graduated high school to 350 pounds in March of my freshman year. In that month, I did an experiment that, although it ultimately failed with my weight loss goal, taught me more about myself than I could have ever dreamed to know.
In March 2011, I fasted for 17 days. That’s right — for 17 days I did not consume any food at all. The only calories I consumed were from a Steel Reserve 40 at a party (and that is a story for a different time). My thought process was simple, “I got this heavy because I eat too much. If I stop eating, I will lose weight and become healthy again!”
I would go to the cafeteria with my friends and just smell the food while drinking fruit-essenced water. I went to Chipotle TWICE while fasting and both times just looked at and smelled my friends food. In fact, the only reason I ended up breaking my fast was because my grandparents picked me up to bring me home for my birthday weekend. We stopped for lunch on the way home and I knew this would be the end of the fast. I couldn’t say, “No, grandma, I haven’t eaten for 17 days and don’t plan to for at least 17 more.” If it had not been for that experience, I am confident I would have fasted for at least 30 days or even more.
In doing this fasting experiment I lost about 40 pounds in 17 days. Tons of people noticed, told me I looked good, and asked what I had been doing. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I would say, “oh yeah, I just haven’t eaten in 12 days…”
Like I mentioned, I learned a lot of lessons from this experience. First, it really solidified the scientific truth that calories determine body mass. If you want to lose weight, you must eat less calories than you burn each day, period.
The second (and more important) lesson I learned was that I could do ANYTHING that I set out to accomplish. If I, as a food addict, could go to the all you can eat cafeteria AND my favorite restaurant and say no to eating at both, I can literally do anything.
Now, here is the kicker to this story. Although I lost 40 pounds during the fast, when I started eating again it was like open season. I ended up putting that 40 pounds PLUS 25 more back on — leaving me at 375 pounds at the age of 20…
Fast forward 9 months and not much was different — I was drinking and eating myself toward an early grave. Then, in January 2012, karmic dé jà vu gave me another chance to really reflect on my choices and life. I was playing hockey outside and fell on my left knee — the one I had already had 2 surgeries on 3 years prior. The bone graft that was implanted in 2009 cracked out — a physical pain that I cannot explain to you in words — and my mom brought me in to the doctor’s office again. I had an emergency surgery to get the original bone graft out 3 days later. Then, on March 25th 2012 — the day after my 20th birthday — I had my second major bone graft transplant surgery in just over 3 years.
That was at the darkest period of my life. I had to drop out of school. I was severely depressed. I was in pain. I hated my body. I lacked even an ounce of hope for my future. And, honestly, wondered what it might be like to just end it…
But then, on Wednesday, May 16th, everything changed in one moment.
I went into the doctor’s office for a follow up from what had been my 4th knee surgery in just over 3 years.
We got called back and I stepped on the scale — 375 pounds.
We went into the office and took my blood pressure — 160/100. That was WITH a 10 mg dose of Lisinopril — a heavy dose for a kid who couldn’t even legally drink yet.
In that moment I had a grandiose realization that ultimately has led me to where I am today.
“I need to change or I am going to die.”
I literally said these words to myself in the doctor’s office that day.
On top of that, I had a massive realization — the only person responsible for my health and well-being is ME. Not the doctors, not my mom, not my friends. ME.
And so, on that Wednesday afternoon in Saint Paul, I committed to myself. I knew it would be a long road — one doesn’t put on 150 extra pounds overnight and it doesn’t come off overnight, either.
I had little to no knowledge of nutrition. Intuitively, I knew that; vegetables would be healthier for me than McDonalds, protein was important for building muscle, and that I needed to cut back on drinking alcohol. But that was about it…
What came out of this hardship and heartache was a completely new Michael Krug. I had determination like I had never experienced in my life to change, become healthy, and turn my life into heaven on Earth rather than a living hell.
It wasn’t easy, and there were trials an tribulations galore on the journey.
First, I had to get back into school and finish my degree otherwise I thought my family would disown me. I decided to leave the school I was at and transfer to Winona State University for a smaller, more quaint experience.
After I moved, I got into legal trouble with alcohol that set me back financially. On top of that, I was experiencing a plateau in my weight loss and became frustrated when the scale wouldn’t move (and even went back up) for 12 months from January 2013 to January 2014.
Ultimately I was able to persist and completely redesign my life from the ground up. I tried all sorts of diets — from vegan to keto to the lemon juice/cayenne pepper nastiness… I learned quickly that no matter HOW you eat, you can accomplish your goals, and that the WHAT and HOW MUCH were the most important factor with nutrition.
As I started changing, people noticed. One particular picture of me that was posted to Facebook in 2014 led me into coaching. I had over 40 people reach out to me directly telling me I looked great, and about a half dozen asked me to help them get healthy.
I began health coaching shortly after in 2015 for free before I realized it was even a real thing…
Since then, I started my own health coaching practice and have dedicated my life to helping others tap into their own power to change their lives for the better. I specifically help busy people adopt simple, efficient strategies to make living healthfully easy and fun.
Along the way I have had clients urge me to share my story online. I plan to continue writing and sharing more of my story, as well as actionable and powerful strategies anyone can use to up-level their health and life.
And so, here are the 3 most important things I have learned in my journey — and that you need to adopt to live healthfully, too.
First, I have learned not to blame myself for the experiences I had. Read that again — in no way am I sloughing off responsibility — but rather, I do not blame myself anymore for the upbringing I had nor for using the tools available to me to cope. We must take responsibility for our current state to be able to change it, but at the same time we cannot blame or shame ourselves for decisions we have made that got us to this point. Shame, blame, and guilt only keep you in a downward spiral of malady and disease.
Second, the basics of health and well-being are the basics for a reason — they work. Focus on eating whole/real foods, move your body daily, drink ample water, get proper sleep, and learn healthy stress management techniques. It does not need to be complex, it needs to be sustainable.
And lastly, if you leave this story with any takeaways at all, I want it to be the knowing that you can transform your life and design it into whatever you want it to be. It will likely be tough, challenging, and full of trials and learning — but the best things in life aren’t supposed to be easy. Take it one step at a time and above all else, never give up.
As I reflect on my life and write it out here, I realize something.
Michael Krug died on May 16th, 2012 — at least the old Michael Krug did.
And the new Michael Krug will never stop changing, learning, growing, and loving.