The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 12, 2013

Inspiring story? There's an app for that

By Robb Murray
rmurray@mankatofreepress.com

---- — MANKATO – Scott Nelsen recalls those days like a bad memory.

Those days when he was gathered with his friends at the pub and the digital camera or smart phone comes out and someone wants to post a quick pic to Facebook. So people lean in to each other, smile, and wait eagerly for that image to show up online. Photo taken, image tagged, upload complete. Can't wait to see it the next day, right?

Wrong. Nelsen, a social guy, hated it those pictures.

“I'd look at the photos and say, 'Look at that fat slob,'” Nelsen says, thinking bad to darker days.

Today, though, Nelsen isn't nearly as self conscious about the way he looks.

Why?

He's dropped nearly 140 pounds. He's happier. He's healthier. He doesn't mind telling the world every day – check out his tweets at this Twitter account, @nelses1 – that his streak of consecutive days with at least a 2-mile run has hit, by today, 280 days.

Simply put, Scott Nelsen's life has been transformed.

“It's amazing,” he says. “I'm not ashamed when I look at those photos now.”

And he thanks an app on his phone for most of it.

Nelsen signed up a free service called MyFitnessPal, which can accessed online at MyFitnessPal.com, or downloaded to an iPhone or Android device. He not only signed up, he surrendered to it.

“If it goes in my mouth, it goes in my phone,” he said. “I don't think I'd be where I am today without it. It changed my life.”

MyFitnessPal, and other similar programs such as Zoom, work by giving you an idea of what you're eating.

For every meal, the program allows you to enter foods you eat – even by brand name – and it calculates for you how many calories and carbohydrates the food has, as well as amount of fat, sugar and protein.

It also lets you log your exercise, giving you accurate (it claims) readings on how many calories are burned in, say, 30 minutes of running or biking. It tracks your progress and lets you go back over time to see trends in caloric intake or nutritional content. Exercise can be tracked as well. Finally, it gives you a community of like-minded fitness buffs to pal up with, and lets you link into Facebook to find social network friends who are using the app.

But all of those features don't mean a thing, of course, if you're not ready. And on Dec. 5 of 2011, after weighing in at 411 pounds and getting a letter from his doctor that said he was prediabetic and needed to make immediate changes in his lifestyle, Nelsen was ready.

He'd spent many years being overweight.

“I was kind of the fat kid growing up,” Nelsen says. “And when I want to college – where it's scan your card and eat whatever you want – it wasn't the freshman 15, it was the freshman 50.”

He remained heavy through his 20s. Then came that fateful weigh-in at his doctor's office. He woke up at that point. And it wasn't just because he wanted to be thinner.

Nelsen and his wife have been struggling to start a family. Doctors had told his wife that losing weight could increase her chances of becoming pregnant. So they started on the quest together, both using the MyFitnessPal app on their phones.

Even before that weigh in, Nelsen had been running. But he was doing it with the mindset that as long as he's running he could eat whatever he wanted. When the weight wasn't coming off, he realized that philosophy was a failure.

So he started running and eating sensibly. He started drinking lots of water and weighing his meat before dropping it onto the grill.

And he started his running streak.

As of today, Nelsen is at 280 straight days of running at least two miles. One hundred and forty pounds later, his life has never been better.

“I hated running at first,” he says. “Now, 99 out of 100 days, it's the best part of my day. I don't take music, I just go out and hammer it out. I use it a lot to pray, to think things out. It's safe to say I'm addicted.”

Nelsen got some advice from Mankato area lawyer Randy Zellmer once regarding the streak. Zellmer, who'd also had a streak going once, told him this: “The thing about streaks is that you're married to it.”

That advice resonated with Nelsen, but perhaps not in the way Zellmer had intended.

Nelsen sees it this way: Every marriage has good and bad days, and just because you're having a bad day doesn't mean you don't still someone. You keep going, push through the rough spots, knowing that around the corner is more good that will outshine the bad.

That thought, he said, has made it easier for him to keep his streak alive.

Down the road – iPhone app in hand – Nelsen says he and his wife hope to keep running and maybe run races in every state. He might even try to complete the so-called “Goofy Challenge” at DisneyWorld. That's where you run a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday. Finishers get the much-coveted Goofy Medal.